Best case studies (or at least top-of-mind in CPsquare)

Published community of practice case studies: What are your favorites? Which are the best?

Where I’m coming from: Several people have recently asked me, “John, what are the good published case studies of communities of practice? My first reaction was variously, “How many do you want?” and “What angle — there are so many that you have to specify what context to have a useful answer”. Well, maybe there are even more angles to the question, like deliberately cultivated (by an outsider) vs garden-variety? in an what organizational context? in what country or cultlural context?

Here is an extract of what people in CPsquare offered in response to my question:

Aimee deChambeau: while not a case study per se, my dissertation addresses CoPs among graduate students and how they contribute to student success.

Jenny Mackness:

Lotte Krisper-Ullyett:

Marco Bettoni:

  • A Case Study from the Automotive Industry: Dr. Patricia Wolf, Hochschule für Wirtschaft (HSW) Luzern, Switzerland ( and Dr. Abdul Samad (Sami) Kazi, VTT – Technical Research Centre of Finland (
  • R Michaelides, M. Tickle and S.C.Morton, Online Communities of Practice for innovation and knowledge transfer: A case study in the U.K.
  • Saint-Onge H., & Wallace, D. (2003) Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. 400 pp. Download the book at:

Joitske Hulsebosch:

Alice MacGillivray:

John Smith:

Reporting on Systems Convening and Landscapes of Practice conference

1. Introduction to Landscapes of Practice and Systems Convening with Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner

About Beverly and Etienne Wenger-Trayner.  Session recording on YouTube.

2. Habiforum Case – spatial planning in The Netherlands, with Marc Coenders

About Marc Coenders.  Session recording on YouTube.

Shared resources:

3.  The IDEA Partnership Project with Joanne Cashman, Mariola Rosser, and Patrice Linehan

About the IDEA Partnership Project.  Session recording on YouTube.

Shared resources:

Special thanks to Patrice Linehan for contributing so much convening skill and energy.

3 webinars on Landscapes of Practice and Systems Convening


NOTE the corrected dates!!!

Getting better at engaging different stakeholders, agencies, geographies, and people in other silos for learning projects and conversations is an increasing challenge for many of us. Uniting those with interest in a common learning agenda requires a new kind of leadership, which we are calling systems convening. Who are these systems conveners and what are the challenges they face? Have you experienced similar challenges or successes?

Join us on April 22-24, 2014 (not 21-23!) for a series of three webinars featuring some early work on systems convening. We hope to share our experience and hear from others whose work could be seen as that of systems convening.

The webinars are being hosted by John Smith and Barb McDonald of CPsquare: The Community of Practice on Communities of Practice. In addition to the members of CPsquare, each of the presenters will invite people from their networks who can add to the conversation.

We will gather in CPsquare’s Web Crossing space and on Adobe Connect for each webinar. Readings are available in CPsquare or on the KM4Dev wiki.  Additional details are provided when you register.

Tuesday April 22, 2014 – 3:00 pm Eastern Time; Noon Pacific Time; 8 pm London – During the first webinar, Etienne and Bev Wenger-Trayner will introduce their theoretical framework of learning in a landscape of practice. They will talk about the discipline of systems convening – a new leadership for the 21st century – and explore the challenges systems convers face as they forge partnerships to open new avenues for learning, ultimately reconfiguring the landscape as they find solutions to complex problems. They will share their experience and hope to hear from others whose work could be seen as that of systems convening.

Wednesday April 23, 2014 – 3:00 pm Eastern Time; Noon Pacific Time; 8 pm London – The second webinar will focus on the story of the Habiforum Project. Marc Coenders will recount how the used a systems convener approach to reinvent spatial planning in the Netherlands. He will describe how Habiforum has convened stakeholders from different fields in ways that engage them in a broader and more involved process of land use development. He will highlight some of the convening practices that contributed to its success.

Thursday April 24, 2014 – 3:00 pm Eastern Time; Noon Pacific Time; 8 pm London – The third webinar will feature the IDEA Partnership Project, which has spent the past 15 years convening learning partnerships to solve persistent problems in education. The IDEA Partnership engages families, practitioners, administrators and policymakers across levels of scale (i.e., national, state, local) create lasting change in the physical, academic, and social lives of students. Joanne Cashman, Mariola Rosser, and Patrice Linehan will share their challenges and successes over the years.

Additional details about participation are provided when you complete the short registration form.

Supporting the independent online learner — while supporting ourselves

Save the Dates!

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, October 16, 17, 18 and 19, 2013

We wish to convene a Community Inquiry in CPsquare on

Supporting the Independent Online Learner while Supporting Ourselves


Last fall, Brenda Kaulback, Doris Reeves-Lipscomb, and Lisa Levinson opened a Community Inquiry in CPsquare on The Learning Facilitator’s Role: How is it Changing? The conversation that ensued was provocative and thoughtful and raised additional questions about the changing nature of online learning and our role both as learners and as facilitators. Outcomes included a summary report, the results of a survey of participants, and a treasure chest of resources related to the topic. This inquiry is designed to take up that topic and address it from the point of view of the learner, and, at the same time, to advance our understanding of our place in the ever-changing learning process.


The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) nature of online learning has accelerated over the past few years, putting the online learner in control of his or her own online engagement and knowledge creation. Each online learner can create “learning bubbles” that enlist a few or many others in exploring, seeking, and creating knowledge. These learning bubbles are ephemeral – connections may or may not form into more substantial bubbles – communities of practice, perhaps, and connections that have been in existence fade away.  They may exist in the context of organizations or may float on their own. With the new learning designs’ emphasis on self-directed learning, facilitators and learners alike often grapple with navigating the new terrain.

In what ways can we as learning professionals in various settings support the new learner? Through creating spaces for learning bubbles to occur and grow? In helping learners to create their own plans and learning bubbles? Or by being a learning concierge, as Jane Hart has creatively described the role?  In what other ways do we see a role for ourselves?

How does our work in supporting communities translate into this new world of MOOCs (massive, open, online courses) and DOCCs (distributed, open, collaborative, courses)? And, how do we create a business model based on what we envision? Jane Hart has imagined new support roles and we have used her chart on “Emerging New Roles for Learning and Evaluation Professionals” as a starting point.

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We invite you* to join us in this asynchronous inquiry into supporting the independent online learner while supporting ourselves. Discussion will begin at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, October 16 and conclude at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, October 19.


We three – Brenda Kaulback, Lisa Levinson, and Doris Reeves-Lipscomb – have backgrounds in social services, public policy, and higher education and six years of working together designing, supporting, and evaluating online dialogues and learning communities. Because we appreciate each other’s practice and wish to continue learning from each other, the three of us meet regularly in our own Community of Practice where we share struggles and insights from our independent consultancies.

Everyone is invited.  To obtain a user-name and password, email When you email John, please copy the person who invited you, if you know who that is. When the event begins, you can log in with your user-name and password on  Here are instructions to log in and join the conversation. We are looking forward to your participation!


Learning Facilitator’s Role Report

Several months ago, a group of CPsquare members proposed to share a question they had been struggling with and to lead a conversation about it.  We invited people to join us in the inquiry The Learning Facilitator’s Role: How Is It Changing?  After a rich discussion, several people culled from the accumulated text and produced this:

Report on a CP2 Community Inquiry; The Learning Facilitator’s Role: How Is It Changing?
(2/1/2013: Synthesized by Brenda Kaulback, Lisa Levinson, and Doris Reeves-Lipscomb in collaboration with Lotte Krisper-Ullyett).

Field Trip to SCoPE

SCoPE logoWHAT: We are visiting SCoPE for our CPsquare Field Trip

WHEN: on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 16:30 PST, 00:30 GMT.

WHERE: in the SCoPE Community Enthusiasts Blackboard Collaborate Room

This is a free, open event so pass along the invitation!

For this field trip we have a special group of participants. Graduate students enrolled in Simon Fraser University’s Educational Technology and Learning Design program are learning about communities of practice and the online spaces to support them. Alyssa Wise, professor in the Faculty of Education is using the Digital Habitats book to guide this process.

Full details, including an archive of the session, will be posted on the CPsquare Wiki.


The learning facilitator’s role: how is it changing?

Save the Date!

In a co-evolutionary search for the best in people, organizations and the world around us, we wish to convene an inquiry on Wednesday and Thursday, November 7 and 8, 2012, in CPsquare about

The Learning Facilitator’s Role: How is it changing?

Background:  From 2006 to 2011, we three facilitators with backgrounds in human services, public policy development, and higher education worked virtually to design, support, evaluate, and improve both short-term purposeful dialogues and blended learning communities in education. Because we appreciate each other’s practice strengths and wish to continue learning from each other, the three of us—Brenda Kaulback, Lisa Levinson, and Doris Reeves-Lipscomb — began an appreciative look-back at our work during the previous six years. The review, coupled with our enrollment in the Change MOOC led by Stephen Downes and George Siemens, made us wonder about the changing role of the learning facilitator.

Issues:  The incoming tide of online work in open networks such as MOOCs (massive, open, online courses) presents challenges and opportunities to the facilitator who supports online learning in communities. These new learning models exhibit a more individual approach with greater self-direction and personal networks and less focus on joint meaning-making and support than previous, more community-based models. This shift raises questions about the role of the facilitator, since these new models do not present the same focus on community building which is more central to the earlier approaches. In the dark hours of night, we have even asked ourselves:

Is the facilitator of online learning communities becoming a dinosaur?

Despite our sometimes gloomy nocturnal outlook, daylight brings a renewed interest to understand the changing role of the online learning facilitator better. We invite you to inquire with us on such questions as:

  1. Has your scope of work moved from cultivating walled gardens to supporting do-it-yourself landscapes?
  2. Are you spending less time on convergent activities which create a sense of belonging, a sharing of common interests, and forging of mutual norms and more time on divergent activities in which individuals control their own learning choices, build their own personal networks and land for short periods of time in ad hoc gatherings?
  3. Do you see these new developments as creating possibilities for your role or as putting you out of business?

We invite you* to join us in this asynchronous inquiry into the changing role of the online learning facilitator. Discussion will begin at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, November 7 and conclude at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, November 8.

* Everyone who is a member of CPsquare, has ever been a member, has participated in a workshop or has participated in a CPsquare event is invited.  You need to use your user-name and password on  To verify that you remember both and request a reminder at the beginning of the event, click here.  (Page has additional details, such as steps for getting reminders when the conversation gets going.)

Leadership, CPsquare doings, and the Foundations Workshop

Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner chapter on Leadership

Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner recently released a very useful summary and contribution to the practice of community leadership with “Leadership groups; distributed leadership in social learning“.  In that first chapter they promise to publish others over time, so well worth subscribing if you haven’t already.

Jonathan Silk’s R&D Series Presentation

Last week we had a session in CPsquare’s R&D Series by this year’s recipient of CPsquare’s Pepperdine Award. Jonathan Silk  conducted a lively online discussion and presented his work on his action research project in a webinar.  His project is titled: Building an On-Line Community of Practice with Digital Storytelling (Leadercast).

Jenny Mackness has offered a reflection and summary about the power of the videos that Silk is studying in MILSPACE (familiar to many of us as Company Command).  She notes:

“The stories can be highly emotive and elicit deeply reflective thinking. This requires careful, sensitive and experienced management by the interviewer. Trust and positive relationships are essential to the story collection process and it is understood that the videos are ‘owned’ by the interviewees. No videos are published without the consent of the interviewee, although they are carefully screened for any potential security issues.”

There was another interesting angle that came up during the webinar. Silk is part of a community of community leaders that has been working together since well before the publication of
Dixon, Allen, Burgess, Kilner, and Schweitzer, CompanyCommand: Unleashing the Power of the Army Profession in 2005. (In fact Allen and Burgess were working on these issues in their 2001 book Taking the Guidon: Exceptional Leadership at the Company Level.

And Silk not only shared his action research project, but he walked the talk by inviting partners and mentors to our webinar, including Pete Kilner and Tony Burgess. Pete Kilner, didn’t say much that day because he was home with a cold. He’d presented his dissertation in CPsquare’s R&D series back in 2007 on “The effects of socially relevant representations in content on members’ identities of participation and willingness to contribute in distributed communities of practice.”  During the webinar, Tony Burgess contributed a lot of history and insight (he also presented his dissertation “Understanding the core group in a distributed community of practice” in 2007).  Because Silk, Burgess and several others were in the same room during the webinar it was interesting to listen to some social interactions at West Point: how they used titles like “Major” or “Dean” or “Mr.” and the way they so scrupulously acknowledged each other’s leadership and contributions.  It felt like we got a glimpse into Silk’s research project and into his community and its finely honed norms.

Who am I, what is my role?

After the question of how to support communities of practice and social learning interactions, one of the most difficult but persistent questions that comes up in CPsquare run along the following lines:

    If learning and communities are fundamentally self-organizing, what, if anything, can I do to help?  And, how do insights into social learning affect my work or the value that I seek to bring to communities or organizations?  And, how do I explain my job to others?

They are persistent and come up in many different forms.  Recently Susan Stewart raised them in a “My Practice” session.  Marc Coenders has been working on it during during this year’s Shadow the Leader series as he reinvents himself and an offering called Campus-X.

A group of us are organizing an intensive conversation on the subject during the first week of November.  Anybody who has ever been a member of CPsquare or participated in a CPsquare event is invited to a free two-day immersion in this important question.

Foundations of Communities of Practice

We are offering the Foundations Workshop again beginning October 22.  If you know of someone who’d be interested, please let them know that it’s time to register!

Digital Storytelling in the US Army


This week Jonathan Silk, a US Army Officer stationed at the United States Military Academy at West point, NY, shared his digital story telling practice with the CPsquare community. For this digital storytelling work he won the 2012 Pepperdine Award for outstanding work in community development.

Storytelling is used in many organisations as a knowledge management strategy. Through storytelling tacit knowledge is elicited and shared for the benefit of the whole organization. Jonathan has shared his own story in a blog post ‘Why I tick when I run’.

In the US Army, storytelling has been used to great effect within the MILSPACE Community of Practice to share leadership stories from the field; this has been the subject of Jonathan Silk’s action research.


The key point that came out of Jonathan’s CPsquare presentation and the discussion, was that although storytelling is a powerful tool for binding a community, it needs to be managed carefully in terms of the technology, in terms of the stories and commitment to gathering those stories, and in terms of learning from the stories.

The technology

The MILSPACE community uses an ordinary video camera. Videos are edited on a Mac with Final Cut Pro . The Army has a designated person to do this editing and to date has over 1500 video stories of 3-5 minutes in length.

The main issue for the MILSPACE community has been to make the videos easily accessible to community members, easy to search, and easy to comment on and discuss. JCarousel is used to support this and recent work has focused on tags and video titles. Appropriate titles have been found to be very influential on the number of times a video is viewed (see Jonathan’s report for further details).

Managing story collection

The MILSPACE community has over 20,900 members and focuses on the leadership development of cadets, lieutenants and captains in the US Army. Stories are collected in the field. A dedicated team went out to locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan to create the videos. Leaders were almost universally keen to be interviewed and understand that sharing their stories and learning adds value to the whole community.

Video interviews can be conducted with a single leader or with a group and are usually around a given topic, e.g. eight leaders have given video interviews on the topic of ‘Your first 30 days in a country’.

The stories can be highly emotive and elicit deeply reflective thinking. This requires careful, sensitive and experienced management by the interviewer. Trust and positive relationships are essential to the story collection process and it is understood that the videos are ‘owned’ by the interviewees. No videos are published without the consent of the interviewee, although they are carefully screened for any potential security issues.

Learning from the video stories

The collection of over a 1,500 videos does not necessarily mean that they are used effectively for learning. The MILSPACE community is currently exploring means of increasing discussion around the videos. Recent work has involved developing a more structured approach to the management of discussion around the videos, through establishing groups of topic leaders (peer panels) who make personal contact with interviewees and seed discussion and comments around the videos to build learning relationships. This is work in progress.

Final thoughts

It is not difficult to understand what a powerful effect video stories could have on the learning of a community, particularly one such as the US Army where as Jonathan Silk has put it the cycle between action and reflection is so fast and chaotic that it’s difficult to capture the learning.

This potential has been recognized and supported by the hierarchy in the US Army, which has devoted technology and manpower to the process.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the process and potentially the most interesting is yet to be fully developed, and that is an exploration of just how do video stories add value to a community of practice. This is a process that has recently been highlighted by Wenger et al in their publication

Wenger, E., Trayner, B., and de Laat, M. (2011) Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework. Rapport 18, Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open University of the Netherlands.

I found Jonathan Silk’s presentation very interesting and valuable, because it helped to clarify the issues surrounding the collection and management of video stories. It will be interesting to see how the work develops.

(This has been re-posted from my blog – Jenny Connected)