Evaluation of a Community of Practice model
Duration of Project: 2013 -2014
Geographical base for project: National
Evaluation conducted by: Khulisa Management Services (Khulisa)
Evaluation period: 2013 – Jan 2015
This document reports on the final evaluation of the BRIDGE Project. It outlines key findings and recommendations on the effectiveness of the Community of Practice (CoP) model and methodology, through a detailed study of the National Mathematics and Science Learner Support Community of Practice and its Tertiary Access Focus Group.
Communities of Practice (CoP) are groups of people who share a passion for something they do and who interact regularly to learn how to do it better.
The overall objectives of BRIDGE were:
- information and knowledge management, including information sharing and dissemination; and
- convening dialogues and establishing and consolidating CoPs.
Key Findings from Phase 1 of the evaluation
The model, using CoPs to create linkages between different stakeholders and to spread successful practice that may contribute to the education system, was implemented according to best practice for CoPs, and was the only such initiative in the South African education space. The report reflects that over the evaluation period, eleven groups had been established, some as focus groups within a CoP.
The evaluators found that BRIDGE had maintained a high level of participation in their CoPs. Support from a wide range of stakeholders (NGOs, businesses, Foundations, CSIs, government, academia and individuals) attested to the value of participating in CoPs. This included the high quality of dialogue and presentations, networking and sharing, quality information products as well as knowledge generation and management.
Given that CoPs go through different phases in their lifecycle, the role of the facilitators was critical in managing the CoPs’ developmental growth as they moved in and out of these phases. The evaluators reported that BRIDGE generally “leads from behind”, and the study found that successful facilitation of a CoP meeting required substantial planning and preparation time to nurture the outcomes. Once established, the CoP was led by the group in terms of its direction and actions.
In the Mathematics and Science Community of Practice, the evaluation found that stakeholders benefitted from broader networks; shared resources and knowledge, increased; collaboration and partnerships. The Mathematics & Science Learner Support group had reached 130 individuals over two years (i.e. 2012 and 2013) through eight sessions and online activity. The community was actively maximising resources and reducing duplication. Effective practice was spreading within the community and its associated stakeholders.
The Tertiary Access Group, which was a sub-group located in the Mathematics and Science CoP, was in the “maturing” phase of the CoP lifecycle. Trust had been built, there was a clear shared focus and members of the group were working collaboratively on innovations. Of all the sub focus groups, the Tertiary Access Group has been identified as the most effective in terms of consistent participation, the sharing of working practice and jointly created knowledge products.
Key Findings from Phase 2 of the evaluation
Phase 2 focused on issues of innovation and sustainability of CoPs, their influence on policy and practices, and knowledge management capability.
The evaluation highlighted that BRIDGE was both an innovative model and had enabled innovation within its CoPs. Its sole focus on establishing, supervising and enabling CoPs in its various focus areas was a central innovation. It had built an understanding of the lifecycle of CoPs, and how each stage was facilitated.
BRIDGE had also integrated the use of social media and its website to enhance the functioning of the CoPs. Over time a community of associates who were experts in CoP-related fields had also been identified.
The evaluation found that the factors that drive an “innovation” that can lead to changing practices were:
- when CoPs have a common purpose and members begin to trust one another;
- when a CoP has a compelling goal or challenge that can be met only through innovation;
- although the CoP may come up with the innovative idea together, it is necessary for the CoP to have at least one champion to drive the innovation forward; and
- good facilitation of the CoP is important in igniting the innovative ideas and supporting the CoP in planning to take it forward.
BRIDGE’s knowledge management capability
The evaluation identified that knowledge generation and management was required to support the linking of policy and practice. BRIDGE facilitated the development of new knowledge, collected and collated knowledge which was generated by the CoPs, and sourced and organised existing knowledge. In its knowledge management role, BRIDGE distributed and shared this knowledge both internally and more widely to the education sector.
Overall, BRIDGE had grown in terms of sharing effective practices through effective knowledge management techniques. More knowledge products had been generated internally and shared and the BRIDGE website had been revised to become more efficient and effective, especially as a repository for information, resources, tools, videos and other knowledge management products.
The methods BRIDGE uses to share the work of the CoP both internally and with the larger public education community was through its Knowledge Hub on its website and its online portal. Social media was also used extensively.
BRIDGE had the capacity and capabilities to provide knowledge management services in addition to the dissemination of information emerging from the CoPs. Knowledge management and dissemination services also supported the sustainability of BRIDGE, as providing these services allowed BRIDGE to have a bigger footprint in the sector and build on their expertise.
The overall key findings were:
- BRIDGE had an important role to play as an “honest broker” that brought government, donors and the NGO sector together in a first step towards effecting policy and practice change;
- actively involving policy makers in the process of generating knowledge can facilitate their engagement and strengthen the link between policy and practice; and
- practice and policy change is ideally bi-directional, with practice influencing policy and vice versa.
It was also acknowledged that Communities of Practice as a model of bringing education actors together, shift and develop naturally and have shortcomings intrinsic to their nature. In other words, CoPs are as strong, effective and committed, as the people sitting around the CoP table. However, as this evaluation clearly demonstrated, BRIDGE had successfully mitigated against many of the risks and vagaries of the CoP model and was well aware of its virtues and limitations.