The design of effective communities of practice can benefit from the best available evidence and the professional experience of technical assistance providers.

“Communities of practice were originally envisioned as groups that worked together in the same location. Today, proximity is no longer a necessity. Technology can overcome the challenges of time and distance and provide opportunities for interacting with peers, even if those peers are widely dispersed and in remote locations…Another advantage of virtual communities is that the work of the group can be structured so members can participate whenever they have time” (p.2).

“The same benefits hold true for any group of organizations or practitioners working within a similar domain. For instance, nonprofits seeking to capitalize on their use of volunteers can benefit from sharing practices around volunteer recruitment, development, supervision, and support. Regardless of the area of practice, organizations of all types benefit from shared learning” (p.2).

“EnCorps—a community of practice hosted by Education Northwest for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)—was a three-year professional development opportunity that resulted in an online treasure trove of national service resources. Members of the community vetted hundreds of resources from 81 programs across the country. The program directors who participated were able to discuss and share practices and tools on common concerns such as volunteer recruitment and training, site management, resource allocation, and transition out of service” (p.2). (Abstractor: Author).

Major Findings & Recommendations

The following lessons learned are based on work in the field and expertise accumulated through multiple projects: • “Work from the needs and interests of the members. Although the advantages of online communities are significant, there are potential disadvantages as well. It is easier to opt -out of online communities than it is to avoid local, face-to-face commitments. Therefore, community members will need compelling reasons to make time for participating” (p. 2). • “Take an active role in nurturing the community. Cultivating participation usually takes time. For most virtual communities of practice, participants will need encouragement to participate and interact. The key to success is to create easy and meaningful opportunities for all members to contribute” (p. 3). • “Blend different approaches to maximize participation. Even when the majority of group work will take place online, it may be helpful to provide at least one opportunity for community members to meet face to face. This allows participants to develop personal relationships and build trust with each other and the facilitators” (p. 3). • “Support members who are unfamiliar with the technological tools. Sometimes lack of participation is simply related to a potential participant’s lack of knowledge regarding technology. The community members are likely to have varying expertise and levels of comfort with technology. Some members may need extra guidance in how to use the tools” (p.4). (Abstractor: Author)