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Clare Strawn on Evaluating Communities of Practice

Greetings from Oregon. My name is Clare Strawn and I am an independent consultant primarily interested in community building of all kinds. I have had the privilege of helping to launch and evaluate multiple Communities of Practice with adult educators, NSF STEM grantees, and international STEM innovators. Hoping to be a good citizen in the rich and active AEA Community of Practice, I offer this post.

CoP offers a powerful and deep theory of change. Please don’t be satisfied with a superficial references and jumping on the CoP bandwagon. Etienne Wenger and colleagues have done a lot of excellent theoretical work and made the effort to publish guides for practice that are well worth study and discussion with organizations implementing such as design. Here is a logic model template I have designed based on their work:


Hot Tip: Evaluation data are embedded in your web site. Google analytics are a source of aggregate usage data, but you can get more detailed back end data reports at regular intervals by asking your developer to build in “hooks” for individual user data. You can also dig into content analysis to find out to what degree threads are informing practice, whether questions are being asked and answered. Social network analysis can also be creatively used to map activity across affinity groups. For examples of data capture and measurement see How Online Communities Create Value For Educators: Lessons From NSTA (Cambridge, Perez-Lopez, Kellogg & Boot, 2013).

Lesson Learned: Defining the community is trickier than anticipated. COP theory differentiates different levels of community, which suggest different functionalities and permissions in an online environment. Inward facing and outward facing components support trust building (more privacy) and dissemination (more public). Thorough planning conversations with diverse stakeholders about the domain, community identity and practices are very important before choosing software functionalities and identifying desired outcomes.

Rad Resource: Digilit offers a great guide to evaluating CoPs.


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