Scalable, multi-faceted community for a mission-based organization


The solution described here emerged from examining a case study not-for-profit organization with multiple types of practitioners, each engaged in providing service to an individual in need. Coordination across the sets of practitioners to provide the service was complex. Some practitioners were paid staff of the not-for-profit, some volunteers, and others were civil servants working for government organizations.

Three key challenges faced the organization:

  • Growth – to reach additional individuals in need of the specific service provided.
  • Quality – to maintain high quality service. Service recipients faced severe life consequences if services were not coordinated and provided with care.
  • Implicit/tacit knowledge – Providing quality service depends a great deal on implicit/tacit know-how of volunteers. Tacit know-how in the organization’s current state depended largely on one-on-one interactions between paid staff and volunteers.

The innovation in this ESN solution is in its scalable design coupled with a phased-out implementation.

Who is this for?

  • Organizations that have minimal implicit knowledge exchange practices and therefore need to start constructing the collaborative culture in a step-by-step process, with a clearly defined core CoP as the model learning group and initial producer of key outputs.
  • Organizations where peripheral stakeholders, such as volunteers or contractors, have a high degree of involvement with the customers, but have limited access to resources, information, and on-going support

How might it work?


The core Community of Practice serves as the lead link for the larger network in the initial stages of the network implementation and functioning.  The membership of the key CoP would be defined by the high degree of touch with the organization’s customers and/or influence on the realization of the organization’s mission, not simply mirroring the hierarchy of the organizational chart. (The recommendations for design of the network for the case study organization included calling the network “the neighborhood” – a metaphor intended in part to address the need to focus more on mission than organizational roles).

Members of the core CoP would participate in the design of the broader network, lead the production of artifacts and initiate the interactions with other stakeholders. A menu of potential activities were considered to facilitate these interactions and inspire sharing implicit/tacit know-how:

  • Formal courses, based on the Community of Inquiry framework, in which expert practitioners can share know-how with volunteers.
  • “Working out loud” sessions focused on particular practice areas.
  • Internal MOOCs – open learning programs run within the network to share know-how.

The outputs produced by the core CoP might nudge greater connectivity between the different stakeholders and foster emergence of other Communities of Practice, thus enabling the development of a collaborative culture within the organization and a greater flow of information.


  • Embedding CoPs into the larger network, having the core group participating in its design, and/or controlling all the initial outputs might demotivate other stakeholders.
  • The existing organizational culture might hinder the success of the network.  If the organization functions in silos and does not exercise transparency in their current communication style, it might be difficult to create a knowledge sharing practice via an ESN.
  • It also might be challenging to motivate the peripheral stakeholders to participate in the core Community of Practice.  The value might not be as clear and obvious to them. 


To flatten the structure of the network, organizations might want to experiment with launching multiple Communities of Practice within the network simultaneously.  It might be especially beneficial for organizations where peripheral stakeholders, such as volunteers and contractors, are isolated from the internal ways of working and information exchanges.  Initially, internal and peripheral stakeholders might need to operate within separate CoPs to build familiarity with the tool and the practice before the two (or more) groups merge.  The transformation of the practice into greater transparency in online interactions might also need to coincide with an overall increase in trust, as well as, a shift to higher quality interactions within the organization.  Knowledge exchange meetings would help create consistency in the message.

Innovation developed by:

Yulia Carson
Mercibel Gonzalez
Tamika Pumphrey
Chao Yu

MSLOC 430 Spring 2016