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Guide to Establishing Communities

Building a new community is accomplished in three phases:

Phase I: Get Started

Step 1: Hold Initial Concept Meeting. 

The purpose of the initial concept meeting is to:

  • Determine if the request is appropriate within the context of a Community of Practice center
  • Review the community-building process 
  • Determine the timing of next steps

At the conclusion of the initial concept meeting, participants should walk away with an understanding of the potential scope of the new community, suggested persons and organizations believed to be critical to eventual success (e.g., potential core membership), a proposed timeframe for the implementation of a community, and a draft agenda for the initial core member planning workshop. If participants determine that a community is not appropriate at that time, a collaborative workspace such as a Team site may be established as an alternative or as a building block for a potential future community.

Step 2: Conduct Core Planning Workshop

Upon finishing this workshop, participants will have identified the following:

  • Focus areas to start the community
  • An organizing framework for its content
  • Suggestions on specific content to populate the site
  • Proposed individuals to fill key community roles and responsibilities

The purpose of this workshop is to have participants identify problem areas and critical issues the community faces and then prioritize and weigh those issues in the context of whether knowledge sharing will have a positive effect on them. Depending on the scope and complexity of the community, this workshop typically lasts 1 or 2 days, and it aims to engage participants in conversations about the following topics:

  • Purpose and intent of the community: what is the purpose of the community? What are its objectives?
  • Problems the community is trying to solve: can knowledge sharing assist in solving these problems?
  • Critical business issues and challenges in the community: should the community focus on these issues and challenges?
  • Target audience and membership of the community: who is the community's target audience?
  • Community roles: what roles should be assigned?
  • Measures of success: how will success be measured?

At the end of the day, usually about five or six issues will emerge and form the base of the community's focus. To help plan the workshop, please review the Sample Agenda for Core Community Planning Workshop.

Step 3: Draft Community Memorandum of Agreement

Each community must complete and sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that outlines, among other things, its purpose and objectives. The output of the workshop should provide much of the input for the MOA, and drafting the community's purpose and objectives allows members to reflect on the true focus of the community. To learn more about the structure for this document, please refer to the Sample Community Memorandum of Agreement. 

Phase II: Implement and Build

Step 4: Establish Community Structure 

The actual implementing and building of the online community begins with establishing a structure. A logical, useful, and intuitive structure serves as the cornerstone for a successful community. When developing a viable organizing structure, the structure should be based on critical business issues that the community can identify, and it should be flexible enough to accommodate growth while being rigid enough to locate information quickly and easily. The intended audience should also be considered to ensure that the content best serves their needs and interests. 

Step 5: Inventory Knowledge Assets

Knowledge mining or mapping is used to define where the knowledge "nuggets" or objects reside and to determine the persons responsible for their upkeep. The intent is to not only fill the community with content, but also select the knowledge objects that support the identified focus areas of the community and provide useful information to community members. Additionally, all knowledge gaps are also identified.

Step 6: Organize the Content 

The community as a whole or by assigned roles must decide where each knowledge contribution should reside within the community structure. If a knowledge object can easily fit in more than one topic area, the community members must decide which topic area will serve as the primary residence where the topics of the knowledge object will be shared. Ideally, there should be only one instance of the knowledge object to save time in keeping the information updated and accurate.

Step 7: Identify and Develop Content

Although this step is optional, we encourage users to still complete it. During this step, content is developed to address any knowledge gaps that were identified during the knowledge inventory. During the process of establishing a community, core members will identify knowledge gaps or areas that would improve under further instruction. This content can be created and submitted to the community as Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), learning materials, or other appropriate forms. All additional knowledge contributions should be created and housed appropriately within the community's structure.

Step 8: Identify the Community Moderators/Editors

Once the above steps are completed, the community members must identify the appropriate moderators/editors. Community Moderators/Editors are crucial to a community’s success. To learn more about all of the key Community Roles and Responsibilities, including the Community Moderator/Editor.

Step 9: Train Community Moderators/Editors

To effectively perform their job, Community Moderators/Editors must be properly trained in using the portal and fulfilling their roles and responsibilities. Two or more editors should be trained in the functionality of the community to ensure built-in redundancy and an equitable distribution of the workload. For a comprehensive summary of training for Community Moderators/Editors, please review the Community Moderator Learning Roadmap.

Phase III: Launch and Operate

Step 10: Launch the Community

The official opening of the community begins communication efforts to reach the appropriate audience and raise awareness.

Step 11: Market the Community 

Effective marketing of the community is essential to its growth. From telling a friend to distributing brochures at a conference, marketing can be accomplished in various ways. This role should not rest with just a single member, but instead be embraced and shared by all. Community leaders should start and set the example for the others by doing this himself. All members serve as ambassadors and representatives for their community and should therefore use any opportunity to spread the word and encourage others to join. For more information, please read Tips for Engaging Community Members and become familiar with the Outreach, Marketing, and Communications Support team.

Step 12: Manage the Content

Managing and operating the community is an iterative process. Community Moderators should regularly refresh and purge content, monitor discussions, and review content based upon its potential value to the community. Moderators must also decide if a knowledge object should be featured within the community, and as the community evolves, new issues will arise and areas of focus may change. The Community Leader and the Community Moderator are responsible for keeping the community and its content relevant to the needs of the members. To do this, ensure that the content is current, accurate, reliable, useful, credible, and valuable to the community. Members should also be encouraged to contribute relevant and useful content as well as report any incorrect, outdated, uninteresting, or unnecessary content. Complete content reviews are recommended at 6-12 month intervals.

Step 13: Facilitate Interaction

The moderator of the community is responsible for encouraging community growth by engaging and encouraging interaction and relationships between all members. Methods for encouraging interaction and fostering relationships include arranging community meetings, open discussions about topics of concern to the members, and connecting anyone who may have questions with subject matter experts who have the answers. For additional suggestions, please read Tips for Engaging Community Members.

Step 14: Determine the Effectiveness of the Community

The final step of the community-building process aims to measure the success of the community in meeting its intended objectives. Metrics provide a way to measure the growth and effectiveness as well as identify areas of improvement. For more information, please read  Tips for Monitoring Community Performance.

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