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2.4. Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice

In his book Cultivating Communities of Practice, Etienne Wenger proposes seven principles for successfully cultivating communities of practice. Anyone who is responsible for moving a community forward towards its goals should consider reading it.

2.4.1. Design for evolution

When starting a new community effort, it's difficult to know what form it will take. Volunteers are not employees; they can only be influenced, never ordered. Some may take passionately to the proposed project; others may only be able to give some of their time.
Be ready for that. Concentrate on simple lists that encourage accountability. Know who's doing what. Maintain a flexibility of structure, so that if someone to have an idea that takes your effort in a completely different direction, you don't have to change all your rules. Only have as much "governance" as you need at the time, never more.
Also: volunteers leave. It's a fact of life. Make it easy to hand off tasks to newcomers, and work to generate newcomers, so that your old-timers don't feel obliged to continue doing work that they no longer have the time or inclination to do.
At, there are a number of working groups. Some of them are active; some of them are not. Creating a new working group is deliberately kept simple; identify a "leader" in charge of moving things forward, and claim a wiki page, and you're all set. Working groups are evaluated periodically by the entire group, and if it's generally agreed that no progress is being made -- often because the leader doesn't have the time required -- the working group either finds a new leader, or is disbanded. Simple process, until more complex process is needed.