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Community Contribution

Modern Communities of Practice: Recommendations for Building, Maintaining and Measuring Impact

Soma Goshal, James BonTempo

Modern communities of practice (CoP) built on a foundation of technology and social media are emerging on a global scale. Considering the speed at which technology evolves, best practices also continue to evolve for building, maintaining and measuring the effectiveness of these modern communities. This report attempts to outline and discuss key lessons learned to date and provide several recommendations based upon available evidence and expert opinion. But each CoP – defined here as a group of professionals with similar interests – is unique in purpose and must find its own path to success. 

While communities once interacted entirely face-to-face, modern communities interact both in person and online, though some purely virtual communities do exist. Typical in-person interaction includes activities such as meetings, seminars, workshops and conferences. Virtual interaction leverages various internet-based tools to simulate similar interactions: social networks to link members to each other and interest groups; social media to share content and materials; listservs to facilitate conversation and exchange; and websites to create their “home” on the Web and provide an opportunity for others to learn about them. While face-to-face interactions provide a depth not easily recreated online, virtual ones provide greater access for those unable to attend in-person events. Successful modern communities find a way to integrate both approaches.

Three broad categories are discussed in this report: building a community, maintaining a community and measuring the impact of a community. After each section, a mini case study illustrates some of the report’s recommendations. 

Recommendations for building a community are centered on conducting thorough research and setting expectations around the timeline and purpose of the community. Although a working and appealing technology platform is integral for reaching a broad audience, technology is not the most important facet for building a strong community base. High-quality content, participation incentives and meeting the needs of the community must be preeminent.

After a community is built, community managers must work hard to maintain and expand membership. Recommendations for effectively managing a community include ensuring the community manager has a visible role and actively facilitates the development of content. In order to keep the community engaged, it is also important to have periodic events, face-to-face or virtual, to keep the momentum of the community going. Even though the community may never transition to being “community-owned,” rotating responsibilities and involving members as often as possible will enhance community members’ experiences and a sense of ownership. Providing ongoing incentives will also keep the level of engagement high. 

Methods for monitoring and evaluating communities vary depending on the ultimate goals of the community and how it functions. Several resources are available that discuss specific indicators and methodologies for measuring a community’s success. A mixed-methods approach serves the complex nature of community building well; quantitative data on membership and activities can be supplemented with qualitative measures exploring user satisfaction and the application and use of information shared through the community. While there is no definitive methodology that fits the monitoring and evaluation needs of every community, methods used for social network analysis, website engagement and social media monitoring can be helpful when applied to measuring community impact.

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