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Communities of Practice – one year on

Just a year ago, a new idea took its first steps towards implementation, as “Communities of Practice” formed and held their first meet-ups at Informed Solutions. So, what was the idea and has it worked?

Peer-to-peer learning is hardly new – learning on the job, from individual colleagues is part of 'business as usual'.

By contrast, groups of peers getting together voluntarily to learn from each other and to learn together is less common. Yet that is the journey which commenced at Informed Solutions early in 2018, following our Staff Conference in winter 2017.

In simple terms, we identified particular areas of knowledge and skills key to the business: DevOps, Software Development, Geospatial Information Systems, Delivery Management, and Business Analysis, User Research and User Experience (BA/UR/UX).

Staff development in these areas was already well-covered via formal in-house and external sessions, as well as informally, via our InformedACADEMY development framework. The ‘so how can we do this even better?’ question prompted the formation of forums which colleagues could subscribe to voluntarily and meet up roughly once a month. The groups got together and drew up their own Terms of Reference.

A year on, all the groups are still going strong.

The outcomes to date have included knowledge-sharing and the development of resources e.g. by the User Research / User Experience Community of Practice, which has overhauled the materials available to our user researchers.

The Delivery Management Community of Practice illustrated project planning techniques just before Christmas as they took on an assignment from Mr Claus (address: North Pole) to help him manage his schedule better.

Soft skills development is also a benefit. On the one hand, that can be planning and delivering input at Community of Practice sessions. More significantly, the Communities have worked through their ‘leaderless group’ state in the early meetings and the team formation process in a situation where the agenda is set entirely by the – volunteer – team members. Those experiences then flow back into ‘business as usual’ project work.

Interestingly, whilst the sessions are primarily focussed on practitioners sharing their experience, skills and learning needs with fellow practitioners, colleagues in business support roles have been invited to attend. So, what’s an accountant doing in a GIS or Delivery Management Community of Practice? Broadening their understanding of the business, of course. Opening up the Communities of Practice to business support staff helps cultivate the ‘one team’ approach Informed Solutions values both internally and in our work with clients

A year on, Communities of Practice have progressed from being an ‘interesting idea’ to a feature which has found traction within Informed Solutions, supplementing formal training and accreditation with active engagement in vibrant communities of experts to share learning and emerging trends.

We will outline some examples from the Communities of Practice over the coming months.

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