Improving knowledge sharing through intentionally developed communities of practice

Rasmus Jørgensen

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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The management of knowledge is important for organizational performance in public and private organizations. The importance of knowledge has increased organizations’ focus on connecting employees in collaborative entities called Communities of Practice (CoP), because CoP facilitates knowledge sharing and knowledge development resulting in improvements to how the work is done. Communities of Practice is defined as a ‘Group of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an on-going basis’ (Wenger, Snyder and McDermott, 2002, p. 4).
The two different strategies for managing knowledge: codification and personalization have different knowledge perspectives and solve different knowledge related problems; codification can reduce complexity through e.g. written guidelines and personalization support overcoming equivocal situations by e.g. developing a shared understanding of different observations. The two strategies complement each other and a coherent knowledge strategy combines elements from both and support managing the duality of standardization and continuous development. Communities of Practice (CoP) is an element of a personalization strategy that can be combined with a codification strategy (e.g. written guidelines) and bring benefit to an organization.
The PhD project proposes a framework for managing knowledge sharing in regulated operations, and studies how to intentionally develop CoP to improve knowledge sharing and practice improvement. The framework is proposed by identifying factors for CoP development, linking the factors in sequential steps and combining the steps into a framework, which can be applied by practitioners. One overall question and four research questions frame the PhD project:
The overall question: How can operations managers in regulated organizations improve knowledge sharing and how the work is done through intentionally developed CoP?

The answer to this overall question is informed by four research questions:

Research question 1: Which initiatives, in the form of steps, are necessary to intentional develop a CoP?
Research question 2: What are the contextual factors affecting intentional CoP development?
Research question 3: What is the impact of intentionally developed CoP on knowledge sharing and practice improvement?
Research question 4: What initiatives support continuous intentional development of a CoP?

The first academic contribution is an empirical tested framework with six sequential steps for intentional CoP development within operations: The CoP development framework is called ‘The framework for intentional CoP development (I-CoP framework)’ and comprises six sequential steps (See Figure 1). A framework prerequisite is the presence of a CoP promoter, and the framework adopts the perspective of a CoP promoter (e.g. a senior manager or consultant) who wants to develop a CoP.

The study presents new insights regarding specific CoP development steps: Having management define the CoP focus can attract CoP participant, and the coordinator does not need to function as a facilitator to have the CoP develop and function. The PhD project confirms that particularly voluntary participation, CoP coordination, and resource allocation (time and an undisturbed space) are important for CoP development.
In addition to the framework steps six contextual factors influencing CoP and knowledge sharing was identified: CoP responsible for written guideline, fluctuating CoP activity, SME introduction, Standardization shaping conversations, boundary spanning, and globally dispersed workforce. Because these factors are found to influence CoP development and CoP activity they must be considered and handled when intentionally developing CoP. If for example a workforce is distributed across different countries, the CoP must be supported by a collaborative ICT e.g. an Enterprise Social Network solution.
The PhD study demonstrates the benefit that CoP brings to an organization in terms of impact on knowledge sharing and practice improvements: The CoP participants reported having discussions in which knowledge was shared as the following quotes characterizing CoP activity demonstrate:

- ‘We discussed how we work and how we should work’
- ‘We explored differences’
- ‘We got a new perspective on old habits’
- ‘It [the CoP conversations] made you reflect on your own practice’

The study demonstrates that the codification strategy and personalization strategy can supplement one another, as CoP conversations inform development of written guidelines. Employees whose work involve the CoP focus must be active in the development and implementation of the written guidelines. Through conversations in the CoP individual experience is shared and a collective way of working is developed, which is added to the organizational knowledge repository. Thus employees’ engagement in sharing and developing knowledge is increased and their experience can be brought to benefit of the organization.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages349
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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