Thursday, June 22, 2017

What are Communities of Practice and what is CDPS Doing with Them?

The Colorado Department of Public Safety is taking a page out of implementation science and launching groups called "Communities of Practice" in order to achieve more consistent, measureable outcomes. But what exactly is a Community of Practice?

Etienne Wenger, widely known as the leading authority on Communities of Practice, describes them this way: “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

Simply put, it is a group of people who gather on a regular basis to learn together about their mutual interest. It could be any type of group, such as coworkers, community members, single organizations, partnering agencies, cities, concerned citizens, etc. And the topic could be anything that they share—a value, a process, politics, agency procedures, a love of something like books—anything they collectively want to learn more about. They do a variety of activities that they mutually agree upon such as talk about the topic, bring examples to discuss, practice, review recorded sessions of someone trying out the learning, read and discuss, etc.

The groups at CDPS are being led by the experts at EPIC within the Division of Criminal Justice. EPIC works with its partner agencies to implement best practices in evidence-based ways, specifically using implementation science as its backbone. Implementation science is the study of methods to promote the use and integration of research evidence into policy and practice. Implementation science indicates that there are three main buckets of consideration for effecting the outcomes agencies are hoping to impact: staff competency, leadership, and organizational/administrative operations and interventions.

Communities of Practice are one component within the staff competency bucket, as are training and coaching. These ingredients, along with selecting the right people to engage in them, are contributors to a learning culture where people don’t just attend a training with the expectation that they will understand it and deliver it every single day. Instead, with ongoing learning structures, they become fluent in that practice and outcomes are therefore impacted and sustained over time. Over these past few months, EPIC has been partnering with other units within the division and other divisions within the department to create a learning culture around two initiatives, described below.

Fierce Conversations
Fierce Conversations is a curriculum designed to enhance relationships and work output based on authentic communication. It is a Department-wide training priority and, to date,  more than 130 employees from every Division and the EDO have participated. In order to make course curricula come to life and become part of the CDPS culture, a Fierce Community of Practice has formed and is meeting monthly. The Fierce CoP has met twice. The group utilized Trello to track topics and “aha moments,” applied the “Lean Coffee” concept for group agenda-design, and explored elements of Fierce Conversations most important to participants.

"We are thrilled to have this tool at our disposal that we hope will drive effective integration of course material deeper into the collective organization," said Beth Roome, who leads Fierce Conversations training for CDPS and is organizing the Fierce CoP.

Curriculum Development
How many of us have been to a training where we listened to a speaker read from PowerPoint slides for hours on end? The Curriculum Development Community of Practice is working to make this training style a thing of the past. This CoP meets twice a month to brainstorm ideas for converting “training” into learning experiences, emphasizing adult learning theory and the creation of interactive programs. Participants bring existent curricula that needs to be updated or improved, and the group works together to make the learning accessible and transferable. That last concept, “transfer of learning,” is a big focus of the Community of Practice. The community is interested in how to help learners convert training into practice on their jobs, and ultimately to a better-performing agency.

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