Sustaining and Embedding Innovations - wiki JISC Sustaining and Embedding Innovations / Developing communities of practice
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Developing communities of practice

A recent trend has been the emergence of practitioner-driven communities of practice (CoP) (also called SIGs – special interest groups), some of which have emerged from Higher Education Academy/JISC funded innovation/transformation programmes e.g.


  • The QA-QE in e-Learning SIG: The QA-QE Special Interest Group is a group of practitioners, both academic and professional support staff, interested in using technology to enhance the quality of learning, teaching and assessment. This SIG aims to invigorate QA-QE and make it relevant to everyday practice in enhancing teaching, learning and assessment through technology. It receives a small amount of funding from the Higher Education Academy and is actively engaged with the QAA on reviewing the QAA Code of Practice (Section 2).


  • ELESIG (Evaluations (and Investigations) of Learners’ Experiences of e-Learning): ELESIG is an international community of researchers and practitioners from higher and further education who are involved in investigations of learners' experiences and uses of technology in learning. ELESIG members work together to share knowledge and practice and develop a shared repertoire of resources which will be of benefit to the community and the sector. ELESIG also receives small funding from the Higher Education Academy.


  • MEL SIG (Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group): MEL SIG (formerly the Podcasting for Pedagogic Purposes SIG) invites practitioners from HE and FE in the UK to share their experience and expertise in the uses and benefits of podcasting (both audio and video) to support learning and teaching. It aims to be a focal point that can add value, build capacity and stimulate partnerships.


An example of a non-UK CoP is the Australian e-Portfolio project which focused on using an online forum and e-portfolio symposium activities.



Critical Success Factors

There are a number of critical success factors associated with successful Communities of Practice, as follows:


  • Ownership primarily needs to lie with practitioners, not HE agencies.
  • A core steering group should drive forward the CoP/SIG aims and objectives.
  • CoPs/SIGs should develop a communications and stakeholder engagement strategy and plan.
  • Communications with stakeholders should be regular, high quality and profiled to different stakeholder needs.
  • Appropriate technologies should be adopted.
  • Communications need to be co-ordinated and facilitated – though this does require significant effort to achieve (some CoP/SIGs rotate responsibilities for this in order to lessen the “load” on one individual).
  • Steering Group members should commit to agreed “sweat labour” in respect of CoP/SIG activities.
  • The CoP should aim to produce useful outputs, resources and toolkits (as appropriate) for use by its membership.
  • Sustainability of CoPs/SIGs must be a core focus for the steering group and this must take account of what contributions the steering group and membership can make.
  • It must be recognised that the community membership and steering group will have limitations on how much time they can contribute without being funded or rewarded in some way. It is not good practice to adopt a total-funding approach, however, the steering group should consider potential reward mechanisms e.g. sector recognition of member’s work, publication of shared articles, journal and conference papers and aligning the CoP/SIG goals/activities with development/innovation projects and programmes.   
  • CoPs/SIGs should aim to seek funding – this could be in the form of e.g.

o   Agency funding to cover basic operational costs (typically low-amount funds from agencies such as the Higher Education Academy, JISC, QAA).

o   Project funding to fund specific collaborative projects which have defined outputs.

o   Advertising/sponsorship.

o   In-kind contributions e.g. institutions hosting meetings, travel funding.

  • If operational funding is available, it should be prioritised towards effective communications and stakeholder engagement.
  • CoPs/SIGs should not become “funding junkies” – they should primarily be driven by “sweat labour” from its membership and using micro-funding to cover operational essentials such as travel/meeting budgets. 




Highlight messages from the JISC Innovation Forum (JIF2010)

Helen Beetham

  • People who both “care and can” are often those who become members of communities of practice – and have the power to effect change.
  • JISC should support communities that support people with vision.


Jenny Mackness

  • ELESIG is an excellent example of a UK-based community of practice.
  • The community receives small amounts of funding but largely depends upon voluntary effort.


Ross Gardler

  • Do not fund the community – fund activities that the community is supporting.
  • Leadership is vital to sustaining communities – it is not about ownership but empowering others. If you are a good leader, people will follow you.
  • “Community over Code” – if you focus on community, the code will emerge.
  • “Community of People” – rather than “Community of Practice”.
  • Let the community decide on revenue streams but don’t let it trigger competition within the community.
  • An important role of communities is to manage records, data, code and information for software developments.
  • A clear community governance is important, with clear managed IP.


Terry McAndrew

  • Concepts and approaches should be sustained.
  • Key features of communities that support adoption and sustainability of innovation include funding and advancing teaching.


Paul Walk

  • We need to learn lessons from companies who innovate in market downturns.
  • In order to innovate, “organisational space” needs to be created.


John Slater

  • Sustainability is more likely to occur when you are close to the practitioner.
  • Researchers are fickle – they are after recognition and money – therefore the key to sustainability is money.
  • More than one community should be involved.


Richard Goddard

  • Initially, engage users locally to meet their needs.
  • Go international through existing communities and link with open source communities.
  • Interoperability for sustainability. 


Key features of communities:

  • Terminal curiosity: a desire to do new things.
  • Passion.
  • Desire to establish reputation.
  • Frequent necessities.
  • Share practice and mutual engagement.
  • Willingness to share deep problem solutions.
  • Project holders with clout and securing on-going SMT buy-in.
  • Clear governance and an organisational space in which to innovate.
  • Ability to add project resources to existing resources.
  • Sustainability dialogue, including newsletters and face-to-face.
  • Continuous need for funding.
  • Constantly evaluating the community.
  • Constant movement and change is essential – different people and different activities including the development of regional groups.