Creating and measuring value in a community of practice

1. A community of Practice (CoP) is a group of people with a shared interest in a topic. 2. A Community of Practice are a place for learning and personal development 3. CoP create value in two ways: Story-telling and a shared sense of identity

Creating and measuring value in a community of practice
Photo by Rachel / Unsplash

Welcome from Spain, where the summer never ends. Still not yet fully settled, but that will take some time. June and July were packing, organizing, and moving months. Unbelievable, how much stuff comes together in 3 years and how attached you can get to it. One new thing I’ll try out is work with a new structure: 7 weeks on, 1 week off. The hard part is going to be staying-off during 1 week. To help me be off from work, I decided what I wanted to learn during that week (django web development).

I'd love to tell you that the start of my entrepreneurial career was a string of successes. But that wouldn't make for a good story. It took a tragic event to have the courage to start doing something different. And then it took many little actions that led me where I'm now. One of the challenges was finding a group of people from whom I could learn. You know, around me were mainly public servants - not the most entrepreneurial group of people.

In the end, it isn't one group, but a collection of groups: Indie Hackers Women, Women Make, Teachers of the Internet, to name just a few. I'm learning from them thanks to the stories shared and questions asked by others. That's my community of practice. What is yours?

Key Points

1. A community of Practice (CoP) is a group of people with a shared interest in a topic.

2. A Community of Practice are a place for learning and personal development

3. CoP create value in two ways: Story-telling and a shared sense of identity

What is a CoP - a Community of Practice?

A Community of Practice (CoP) is a group of people that share similar interests and support each other. It might not be purposefully set up as a place for professional development. Still, its value can be clearly described in terms of professional or personal growth.

In the medieval ages, guilds would be a community of practice (CoP). A CoP is a group of people with the same profession where some are experts, and others are novices. The goal of a CoP is to support each other in their professional career. This is done through the obvious way of answering questions, but also more subtle through storytelling.

Communities of Practice as a Learning Place

CoPs are like many other communities. People join, ask questions, learn on the way and become better at what they are doing. A key aspect of CoP is social learning. Social learning is all about people making sense of their environment. The environment with all its resources (people, books, articles, tools) is the learning environment. In addition to this, social learning isn't just about the brain and knowledge but includes the whole person. That extends to a person's aspirations and other aspects which make a person a human being.

How to create value in a CoP: Sharing stories

For members of CoP, one learning tool is storytelling. Through storytelling, not just knowledge is shared with others, but also emotions, (professional) values, and career goals.

By telling stories, members create value for others in two ways: First, through the direct interaction between members, knowledge is shared from one person to another. The beauty of storytelling is that it does not necessarily require 1:1 but can also be done in a 1:many format. A good example is AMA's. You see many communities host them.

However, stories shared in 1:1 are exceptional. They aren't generalized to fit a larger audience but are unique to the listener. They can include more details and provide direct answers to a person's questions. If you are in a community that facilitates meetings between strangers, take the opportunity of these. Examples of tools to stimulate these encounters are Donut and Randomized Coffee Trials.

How to create value in a CoP: A shared sense of identity

Another way a CoP creates value is through a shared sense of identity. This is not something community managers can impose but needs to facilitate. It is a bottom-up process. Of course, community managers create the general framework by deciding who can join and how the onboarding process is structured. But once in, community members, through their interaction, shape the identity of the community.

The identity of a community is like its personality. If the community would be a person, who would it be? How would it behave? What would it wear?

For a community to create a shared identity, its members need to interact with and observe each other. When they do this, they try to make sense of what is going on inside community members' heads and within the community. This sense-making helps people discover the norms of the community: What is acceptable? What are grey zones? What language is ok and what is off-topic?

As the shared identity of a CoP arises from the interaction between community members, this identity can change over time. A new generation of community members can introduce new ways of working, looking at a problem, or a new focus.

For example, when I started to study human resources, strategy and strategic human resource management were at the forefront of the agenda. But nearly nobody talked about employee experience, employee wellbeing, or diversity and inclusion. These topics are now essential and changed the shared identity of human resource professionals.

The value of storytelling can be measured. If you like to know how, become a paid subscriber or purchase the paid version of this article.

What now?

I talked about two ways a CoP generates value for its members. It's not just up to community managers to do this. But every member should try doing something that creates value for someone else. Remember that in a CoP, novices and experts share the same space. The CoP wouldn't exist if it would only have experts or only novices. Go and ask questions and tell your story. Someone will benefit from it.

In August and September I will be speaking at three events.

AMA on HR analytics in collaboration with Groove HR: 18th August 2021


HR is not any more pure support and back-office role in companies. The role of HR has evolved into more active responsibilities like shaping business strategies and proactively developing the workforce. But HR teams can't do this successfully without having the necessary data to support and influence people-related decisions.

Sign-up: AMA on HR analytics

Data strategies for community management: 14th September 2021


Interested in becoming more intentional about evaluating your community? I'm running a practical work session for community and team managers on September 14th. During this session, participants will

  • reflect and decide on the purpose of their community
  • determine members' most essential behavior and actions
  • decide which data to collect (data plan)

The session is open to everyone responsible for the success and experience of a group of people, such as a business unit, a team, an online community, or an offline group. No technical skills are needed.

Learn more and sign up: data-class

Trust and communities in collaboration with the Remote Leadership Accelerator (paid):


A learning platform and community for team leads, managers, and founders navigating a new reality where offices are one option out of many. A four-months program for leaders who want to succeed in a remote or hybrid environment by supporting their teams to move from surviving towards thriving - wherever they happen to work.

Learn more and sign up: Remote Leadership Accelerator

Background reading

  • Anna Grigoryan community weekly: Track community metrics
  • Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (1991). Organizational learning and communities-of-practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning and innovation. Organization Science, 2(1).
  • Dror Poleg on the office leak hypothesis: He talks about things that are contagious that normally are not associated with contagion (in academic business terms it’s called isomorphism. It’s what happens when companies become alike because they use the same standards, metrics and goals)
  • Liou, Y. H., & Daly, A. J. (2019). The lead igniter: A longitudinal examination of influence and energy through networks, efficacy, and climate. Educational Administration Quarterly, 55(3), 363-403.

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