Workspace/E-Moderator-Course/Running CoPs Successfully


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(see also the WaterWiki Toolkit)
UNDP/BRC KM Approach | E-Moderation | On-line Community of Practice | Virtual CoP | Facilitation (based on an Interview with Patricia Keays)
On-Line Tools (emerged mostly from an online Course on E-moderation): Chat-Rooms | Wikis | Emails | The On-Line Classroom | SKYPE | Doodle - Easy scheduling of events | Time and Date | Create free on-line surveys
Other Resources: Learning Game | Brainstorming on "Running CoPs Successfully" | E-Moderator-Course#E-Moderator.27s_Toolbox E-Moderator Toolbox | Oxfam - Sharing Knowledge Handbook 2 | Web4Dev Nairobi 2007 (WaterWiki-presentation Nairobi web4dev-conf Nov07) | KM as tool for Tsunami Response | Communities of practice for development in the Middle East and North Africa

This is a brainstorming page! - So feel free to add/edit... !


How to set up succesful CoPs

CoPs are Communities of Practice; These communities can dialgue through different means, among which e-moderation platforms are one instrument;

For a quick start read this: Start-up_guide_PDF.pdf

Incentives (carrots)

Incentives and disincentives are the main factors making a CoP being active or not.

Incentives for CoP-members to share knowledge and contribute to CoP-activities can incude:

  • "visibility" / recognition for ("intelligent") contributions from the peer
  • recognition by supervisor (or positive consequences for career etc.)
  • possibility to launch/test ideas and to see how colleagues respond
  • "give-and-take": if you offer something, you can expect support when you need support once
  • need for specific information that is provided through being a member of the CoP
  • technical support with easy step by step instructions for the ones that have a respective barrier.

Negative incentives (sticks)

Another possibility to mobilize/activate a CoP is to use "negative incentives" (or pressure) to make people participate, such as:

  • negative appraisal of inactivity in yearly performance review exercises (that's actually being considered e.g. in UNDP..)
  • ...

Minimal number of members for starting a COP - and maximum numbers for sustaining it

This is a very interesting dicussion held on the news goup on CoPs (see link below on this page). Maybe some of the posting sounds familiar to jane and others.

Hello Halbana,

Thank you for putting this question up - it's very practical, and with Kaye's intervention it leads to a similar question from me.

We have been creating open (non-organizational) Communities of Practices for development practitioners in India, after setting up organizational CoPs in the United Nations Development Programme among practioners in 136 offices worldwide. The Indian communities were begun from scratch, but were informed from my 5 years of experience in UNDP. For India we simply hired network moderators - reputed and well-networked professionals in the field - and told them to contact everyone in their rolodex, and then get their contacts to do the same (a social networking approach). Our critical number for a Community launch was 100 persons. In UNDP the starting threshold had been 40 (e.g., about one rolodex worth of names). This was simply because the boundaries for UNDP's internal networks were easier to define - e.g., everyone with the same job description - while in India we weren't yet sure about the boundaries for our development practitioner categories so we gave ourselves more room. In the back of my mind in both cases was research that Larry Prusak once mentioned in a talk, that any one person can get to "know" at most about 60 people well. I hope this is helpful.

My question is from Kay's point - what do you do when a Community tops out? I have set an outer limit of 2000 members, and beyond that we have to transition to another arrangement. We track "vibrancy" in our groups - percentage of contributing subcribers to total subscribers - and our average for 8 communities is a comfortable 22%. Our largest Community is now climbing above 1400 and the number of questions and members' responses to them are still managable. We are looking at two models so far, or a combination of both: a "nodal" approach, where members of a 2,000-member national Community set up their own regional communities, and the nodes feed relevant conclusions of their conversations into the larger one; and a "sub-community" approach, dividing up, say, our Local Governance group into Rural and Urban Governance.

I recall a few helpful threads in the CP forum about transitioning communities a while back, but nothing straight to my point: Could any of you offer creative approaches to share, or lessons from experience, or readings on the topic - on models that worked or didn't?

Thanks - and apologies to Halbana for changing tracks on your thread.

Steve Glovinsky The Knowledge Management Partnership, UN Country Team in India

Hi Steve, Halbana, Kaye,

I've been managing one such thing for a while now :-).

We've topped 30.000 registered members (that's "people who can write in the forums") this month. They generate content that was viewed by over 300.000 unique users in March. It grows by over 7'5% a month, both in members and in new topics.

The "core" community shares something as basic as the type of computer they use. But we've fragmented the community into several thematic areas, according to the use they put the computer to; some generic support areas; and some cohesive community areas. Professionals gather mostly in the thematic areas (CoPs in themselves), but share technical tips and participate in common social activities.

This allows most areas to be quite manageable (no more than some hundred new messages per day) while retaining a very clear task-oriented goal: both a "familiar" size and a clear purpose are key for "vibrancy" or participation. And it keeps the original community spirit going strong. Plus, it's like having many horses to a chariot: the combination is really powerful for doing cross-skill things (such as videocast training).

But I can tell you something: the work to keep everything connected, to keep a common set of criteria, of methods, of ethics... is hard. We have over 40 collaborators and moderators from every background, we use every trick in the book to enhance coordination, and still we have to manage things very actively to keep the machinery running like clockwork. Else (as happened once) centrifugal forces grow, break-ups happen and parts of the community become so distinct that it makes no sense to think of a single entity.

I don't think there's an upper limit of members for a CoP. As long as there really is a core (of values, of practices, of something) and you can make it visible and shared, you can always give a larger role to the most frequent topics by setting up sub-CoPs.

About the lower limit... I agree, 40 people is more or less the minimum seed. But I'd rather measure it in activity, not in people. Ten involved people (more a team than a CoP) can be a powerful engine. 100 apathetic people are no CoP.

Best regards,



My reaction to your posting was "How can 30,000 remote people possibly be a community?" This really seems to be a long, long way away from the early ideas Etienne talked about in his vignettes of small groups of nurses on a ward, or a group of insurance clerks.

What characterises a community and what characterises a large group in your experience?



Yes, 30.000 does not quite fit the norm... indeed I usually rather speak of a "CoP system" than a CoP.

But I can see many more possible instances of the same. Say you enable all the doctors in a country's medical system to access a set of reliable forums, sharing a group of practices but splitting in branches according to specialties. Project managers in different fields who use the same methodologies could be another example.

Online CoPs link people with a practical (professional) interest in a subject, regardless of location. You can link enormous numbers of practitioners once you remove the largest barriers (location, and the complexity of many-to-many synchronous communication). In this sense, the early CoP literature is completely outdated by the new tools.

IMHO what defines a "community" is the culture, the set of rules or values it adheres to, the way it organises, and the common purpose: it's organised, it shares values, it collaborates. Even the specific toolset it uses can be defining, as it sets the boundaries.

A naked group, on the other hand, doesn't need share anything, aim for anything, or collaborate in any way.

When a community shares a practice as well, however many ramifications it may have, I do think it fits the CoP definition to the letter... however different its shape may be from the original observations :-D.

Best regards,


Success stories

Have a look at Local Learners - you also have access as a guest only. This platform also hosts the project I have been visiting last week, and kept me away from the training!

I (Jane) have uploaded a file on experience with CoPs in India, which is perhaps of interest to everyone. We in the IC Delegation comissioned a study last year on the functioning of CoPs in the development sector in India - the result was a rather long report, and this is a summary version! Ic-india-wp-1-CoPs.pdf

Moderating and cultivating an on-line CoP

E-moderator cultivate and facilitate what Wengers call a distributed community of practice.

Definition of distributed community of practice

According to Wenger any CoP that could not rely on face to face meeting and interactions as primary vehicle in connecting its members can be defined as a distributed CoP. In a distributed community members could be geographically distributed and linked across different time zones, countries, organisational units.

Special conditions of distributed community of practice

Distributed communities have a peculiar environment. In order to successfully promote and facilitate an on line CoP the e-moderator should be specially aware of:

Connections and visibility

Distributed communities are generally less present to their members. For a distributed CoP the phisical distance between participants can create a feeling of remoteness in the community. This make more difficult to remind to community members that the community exists.

Knowing people

In a distributed community is much more difficult to know other members and develop a personal relationship Even if in a distributed community size and geographical distance are not related (You can have a small global community and a large local community), in general distributed communities are larger then local ones. Thi makes more difficut to develop personal relationship with others members, also cause unlike in person meetings (and coffee breaks), e-communication and networking gives less opportunities to informal communication.


Priorities and intellectual copyright could represent a problem in e-moderating a distributed CoP. The distance between people, the difficulties of knowing each other can reduce the availability of people to genuine dialogue and knowledge exchange.

Communication and values

In distributed communities communication and dialogue couldbe more difficult then in local ones In a large community member belongs to different cultures and organisations, different cultural backgrounds etc. This could lead to communication difficultuies and to misinterpretation, as well as reduce the will of members to really share their knowledges.

Design distributed community of practice

According o Wenger designing and nurturing distributed CoPs in order to overcome the barriers of time, zones, size, affiliation, culture requires an additional effort in four key developmen activities:

  • Achieve stakeholders allignment: Moderator need to devote special effort in defining community domain and develop commitment of community members
  • Create a structure that promotes both local variations and global connections: the moderator should not consider a distributed community has a massive monolith. He should work in order to built it around subcommunities, arranged by topic or any other way. Its structure should be designed in order to aloud variations in culture, language, organizations, and work without sacrificing the development of trust and connection between its members.
  • Build a rhythm strong enough to mantain community visibility: the moderator should be aware that a distributed community needs much more then a local communities of a set of regular events to give community a heart beat and increase its visibility among its members.
  • Develop the private space of the community more systematically: the moderator should devote time to personal networking and to create with community members a personal relationship

Tools to mobilize/wake a CoP

On-line tools

Good tools to mobilize or wake up a sleeping community are Learning Games! - Check it out!

basics for skillful e-moderation to keep a community active

Scripts and scenarios for online teamwork methods, techniques, roles to design interesting collaboration settings

Online activities workshop A vast collection of creative and inspiring online activities - an e-moderation toolkit for different purposes/situations

Different behaviour patterns of online team members How to make use of the strengths of the different personalities - for the benefit of the whole group

Lurkers and free-riders How to engage, invite and activate quiet community members - as they are valuable multipliers and explorers

BRAINSTORM on "How to make a CoP sleep"

Outcome of the Group Brainstorming on Thu, 13 April 2006

Never answer to member mails - and when you answer be very very critical

Write Looooong e-mails

Look for impossibilities

Strongly comment on member's mistakes

never give ideas - try NOT to be creative

never help who has a problem

be very negative about people asking the same thing


  • technical language
  • inside joikes / jargon

bypass the slow members - but encourage the fats ones to slow fdown!

no activities in back channel / never record activities done in back channel

Give evidence to not useful contributions

react once very critical and then not again for 2 weeks or longer

Do not give enough time to contribute

Never give deadlines, never define task and goals

No structured communication - no milestomes - never define roles of each member - etc...

give people very strict guidelines for contribution

long and complicated (and impossible) guidelines

keep posting same old and stale materials

promise outputs/contributions, but don't deliver

make a small group within the group, people that know each other & each others language.

ask people to choose options - and.or take sides

keep posting same old and stale materials

react strongly & emotionally. like: NEVER DO THIS AGAIN!!!!NEXT YOU WILL BE *&^%%$#!!

never enquuire about people not contributing. Just write: so and so is not contribiting. they are so ...

be toooo demanding not realising others capacity

do not make the purpose and objectives clear to stay together

do everything yourself after you have asked other people to contribute. and do it in a sloppy way

tuype fatsre than others can copy-paste!  ;(

de l... says: be rigis in working procedures - never accept suggestions from member on how to go on with the work

pick a very technically advanced system for communications

send mails to all members even if you are talking to only one member

Bombarding with lots of non-relevant information

start conflicts and discussion and don't finish them. but if they are finished, challenge the decision

set (too) high quality expectation and tell everyone

Give strict framework and ask to be creative

tell everybody that your expactions will never be met. That you don't belief the group can succeeed

give very short answers - yes, no, rubish etc

give very long answers blablabla..

Some "pilotting work" (= trying to get the brainstorming group asleep) but it didn't work..:

  • [14:56:46] E-MODERATOR Gerbina says: <<nice work juerg>>
  • [14:57:15] Juerg Staudenmann says: T H A N KS !!!! (Is this trying to set off Gerardo and Usha?)
  • [14:57:29] Juerg Staudenmann says: I mean applied make-us-sleep?
  • [14:57:42] Juerg Staudenmann says: I also like Gerbinba most!
  • [14:57:49] E_MODERATOR gerardo de l... says: Succeeed
  • [14:57:54] Juerg Staudenmann says: just kidding! ... I STOP NOW
  • [14:57:57] E-MODERATOR Usha Manan... says: I am not getting it friends.
  • [14:58:07] E-MODERATOR Gerbina says: OK i think we should stop - someone's alarm is going off. Let's have a look at the WIKI
  • [14:58:47] Juerg Staudenmann says: Usha, sorry! We just said earlier in this brainstorming that "getting personel" is a good way to make a community sleep - I just tried it.. ;)</i>

reversal of reverse brainstorm : Good practices in CoPs


The ‘slowest’ members sets the pace!

Allow space for slower (less online) people

Contribute regularly

Be realistic to yourself & your co-members about your time investment

Keep your promises

Keep personal debates and messages separate

Write short to-the-point messages

Consider whether or not the information you are about to send is relevant to the majority of the group

Think before reacting (don’t write messages when angry)

Use inclusive language (no inside jokes, jargon)

Be supportive to each other and especially to people with problems

Be patient (The ‘ slowest’ members sets the pace!)

As moderator

Be encouraging

Give ideas & support creativity (think outside the box)

Be flexible

Pick a communication tool that fits the members best (bandwidth)

Pick up loose threads: ( Try to make sure all mails are answered)

Define tasks & goals

Set deadlines and milestones

Use a combination of tools to contact and motivate participants

Contact ‘lurkers’ and ‘absent’ members personally

Contact people personally (outside the discussion)

Structure communication: keep returing to goals & tasks at hand

Use members’ capacity

Praise people, ideas, successes

Celebrate successes

Prevent or solve conflicts pro-actively

Stimulate people to be creative

React positively on initiatives from the group (members)

External Links

CoPs and Moderation

    • CPsquare The community of practice on communities of practice.

Group Dynamics in general

  • Com-prac-study: is less active and focuses on research and scholarship related to communities of practice

The "5 Stages of Groups": [1] or [2] (from Gerbina)






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