Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Good CoP, bad CoP

Posted by Janet Shucksmith and colleagues

A few dogged staff members in Fuse had been talking for a while about the need to share experience of Knowledge Exchange (KE) in public health across the UKCRC Centres of Excellence. “After all we are the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health” they would say.

And so with all the Centres descending on Durham for conference and summer school fun this was an opportunity not to miss.

We were going to attempt to form a super-group, well not quite, more what is known as a Community of Practice (CoP); inviting anyone (not drawn away by one of the other workshops) with an interest in KE.

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.
Excitement grew. What could we share? What could we learn from one another? These questions were newly critical with the second phase renewal bids for centre funding being drafted. Here was the chance to see what crept out of the woodwork when the invitation was issued.

A dozen or so good souls heeded the call. Introductions first, and the meeting immediately assumed the air of an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering..."I'm Stephanie and I am a health statistician.."..this in a very apologetic tone. Never mind, Stephanie. We can see past this failing and will be able to glimpse your inner beauty. The group thus reassured, it turned out that several participants were similarly (dis)abled. What was going on? Was this some crazy research version of the Mystery Shopper schtick? Anyway, it looked like there were enough fuzzy qualitative people to make the group viable, so on we sailed.

CoPs come in all shapes and forms but have the same essential characteristics. They bring together like-minded individuals keen to share thoughts and ideas on a specified theme, often to share resources, news and updates, as well as to argue and reason together to learn more about the chosen theme. So you can have a CoP on almost anything. Try Google if you don't believe us. Best of all the community of practice acronym opens up a whole new range of possibilities. Taxocop is, disappointingly, not a virtual community dedicated to improving the ability of its members to swindle the Inland Revenue, but rather a group of people who like putting things in taxonomies. Hmmm, I think I know where I'd put them in my taxonomy of strange colleagues…

Discussion swirled around, producing some new vocabulary for a few of us...'hive thinking' and 'hackathons' as a way of brainstorming practical problems in the field of computer software (not just for the geeks then).

We emerged with an agreement to continue and develop the CoP. First steps after a note of the meeting involved setting up a virtual community. Kevin Balanda from the Northern Ireland group volunteered. ‘We need to talk about Kevin’* was the comment on the following Monday morning after the first attempt at this went somewhat awry, but we quickly recovered and are now locked into the Health Well website and starting to explore how to use it. We will meet in the too, too solid flesh at least once a year at Centres of Excellence conferences, and may meet for events in between when we have specific issues to ‘hack’ over. It has in the first instance set us off exploring the importance of policy and practice partners being able to access the sorts of journal and report resources in which public health evidence is embedded ... Watch this space!

If you are interested in joining the Community of Practice please contact 

*It is thanks to the hard work of Kevin that we now have a forum for discussion

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