Norman, C. & Huerta, T. (2006). Knowledge transfer and exchange through social networks: Building foundations for a community of practice within tobacco control. Implementation Science, 1(20). doi:10.1186/1748-5908-1-20
Relevance for Public Health
Communities of practice (CoPs) provide opportunities for knowledge transfer and exchange activities in public health. This strategy will be useful to those who are planning and developing CoPs that include multiple sectors and involve the collaboration of many disciplines. Individuals and organizations involved in health promotion and disease prevention across geographically dispersed communities/ populations may find this approach especially useful.
This resource describes a strategy (method) for organizing individuals and organizations around a common purpose or goal. The researchers used a network mapping model to facilitate the development of a community of practice (CoP) around smoking prevention and cessation [Web-assisted tobacco intervention (WATI)]. CoPs are self-organizing, adaptive and responsive learning systems. They use simple rules and procedures to guide collective learning across organizations. This learning can occur when individuals with different but complimentary skills and expertise actively share their knowledge. The method draws on social networking methodology, complexity theory, science of networks and organizational behaviour. It can help with planning, organizing and evaluating knowledge dissemination and exchange strategies involving CoPs.
Accessing the Method/Tool
Implementing the Method/Tool
Time for Participation/Completion
More than 8 hours
Implementing this strategy requires more than eight hours, and is likely to be context-dependent. Individual participants attend a three-day professional event involving a series of meetings and interactive educational sessions. Those implementing this strategy should expect to invest a considerable amount of time in planning the three-day event. Organizers will need to: develop the agenda and session content; invite and register potential participants and speakers; and figure out logistics including accommodation, meeting space, meals and transportation.
Additional Resources and/or Skills Needed for Implementation
Steps for Using Method/Tool
The authors suggest the following steps:
- Hold/host/organize an interactive meeting and educational session for individuals/ organizations sharing a common area of interest.
- Determine participants’ expectations and knowledge, the nature, frequency and intensity of their relationships and their motivation for collaborating.
- Use network analysis procedures to produce and present a network map of the participants and other potential members of the CoP, including the strength, direction and centrality of their relationships.
- Extend the network by engaging peripheral stakeholders (increase the number of links).
- Develop core activities and communication processes for the CoP.
- Work through the stages of CoP development proposed by the Wenger et al. (2002) (potential, coalescing, maturing, stewardship, transformation).
Who is involved
Practitioners, funding representatives, policymakers, governmental representatives (at all levels as appropriate) and researchers involved in health promotion and disease prevention may find this to be a valuable strategy. It would also be useful for community-based organizations and NGOs to exchange knowledge.
Conditions for Use
Evaluation and Measurement Characteristics
Has been evaluated.
The researchers evaluated the impact of activities that took place during a three-day professional meeting. Participants completed a questionnaire prior to the research meeting and again three weeks following the meeting to evaluate the strategy. Researchers used mapping processes to illustrate social and professional networks in the area of Web-assisted tobacco intervention (WATI) at baseline. The questionnaire assessed expectations, knowledge, motivation for collaborating and interpersonal relationships, and took less than 30 minutes to complete. This process encouraged the formation of new network connections, increased participants’ engagement in knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) activities and formalized collaborative CoPs involving multiple disciplines and sectors.
Method of Development
This method draws on social networking methodology (social network analysis), complexity theory, science of networks and organizational behaviour.
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These summaries are written by the NCCMT to condense and to provide an overview of the resources listed in the Registry of Methods and Tools and to give suggestions for their use in a public health context. For more information on individual methods and tools included in the review, please consult the authors/developers of the original resources.