The ACT Community of Practice Co-Creation Toolkit to support Communities of Practice in promoting gender equality
The simplest way to explain a Community of Practice (CoP)? It is a group of people who are passionate about a topic, get together to deepen their knowledge and share good practice. It doesn’t matter whether people are motivated to participate because of the domain they want to see develop, or because they crave a sense of belonging to a community, or because they want to interact with others to share or learn something interesting - all these reasons are meaningful. However, what is really important is how a CoP develops and the tools we provide to them to foster participation, development, contribution, relationships, and feeling comfortable to open oneself to the learning process. Just as Etienne Wenger et al. (2002) suggest, community development is a practice like any other, and CoP Facilitators have an opportunity to “walk the talk”.
This is why we have designed a unique Co-creation Toolkit for CoPs and their Facilitators to foster CoPs development through participation and co-creation, which will be introduced in this post. First, we will explain the aim of the toolkit as well as its structure, and then we will sketch the theoretical framework of the Toolkit. Next, we will take a closer look at the tools and methods the toolkit provides. Finally, we will outline a short outlook on how the toolkit will be further developed.
WHAT ARE THE AIMS?
The aim is to provide the CoPs with useful information and tools to enable and support the CoPs to work towards their specific goals, accompanying them at different stages of their undertaking. The Toolkit will help the CoPs to successfully operate and self-develop, with a view to implementing gender equality plans, strategies, actions and measures in their institutions and across other institutions to improve gender equality, as well as to promote institutional change. Those aims are to be achieved through the use of co-creation activities which foster working and creating together, sharing knowledge, cooperating, and facilitating equal contribution and strong diversity of perspectives.
WHAT’S IN THE TOOLKIT?
The toolkit has great potential as it supports CoPs with a combination of theoretical knowledge on CoPs and how they develop, grow and operate, helpful information on GEPs and concrete methods and activities for their cooperation. Although this Toolkit has been developed for the CoPs in the ACT project it can be used beyond that in other organisations working towards gender equality. The Toolkit consists of four parts: it provides a theoretical framework that is composed of the EIGE GEP guide, CoP success factors, CoP lifecycle phases, CoP primary areas of activity and eight tips for gender equality projects. Based on that, several participatory methods and co-creation activities have been selected, which are explained in detail in the Toolkit. Furthermore, the Toolkit provides information on different visual methods, such as photo documentation. The last part is an introduction in online tools for CoPs.
We will now take a closer look at the 5 theoretical pillars:
1. The first one is the EIGE GEP guide, which is a step-by-step guide on the process of setting up, implementing, monitoring and evaluating GEPs in organisations. Nonetheless, the given instructions can also be used for the development and implementation of other actions and strategies towards more gender equality and institutional change.
2. Secondly, to help CoPs to operate successfully it is important to have a look at what makes CoPs successful. By conducting a literature review, nine success factors for CoPs have been identified (Community interaction, Sharing best practice, Supporting tools and resources, Mutual culture and belonging; Knowledge production and access to it, Learning, Leadership, Illustrating results and performance, Strategy). Those factors reflect the core aspects that need to be supported and promoted to enable CoPs to work successfully.
3. Next, CoPs have a lifespan that has been divided in six different lifecycle phases by McDermott (2002, cited in Cambridge et al., 2005). They start off in the Inquire-phase and continue to develop towards the Sustain-phase via the Design-, Prototype-, Launch- and Grow-Phase.
4. Furthermore, each CoP is characterised by having a unique goal, purpose and members with different characteristics and needs. Those purposes are categorised into four main areas of activity: Building Relationships, Learning and Developing Practice, Taking Action as a Community and Creating Knowledge in the Domain (Cambridge et al., 2005). Focusing and defining the purpose of a CoP will lead the way to success and sustainability.
5. Last, but not least, the Toolkit presents eight tips for gender equality projects based on the elaborations of Joan Acker (2000). Those tips help the CoPs by preparing them and raising their awareness for obstacles and contradictions they might have to face so that CoPs will be enabled to conquer obstacles and continue their work successfully.
Based on these theoretical pillars participatory methods and co-creation activities have been selected to support the collaboration within the CoPs. These methods aim to actively encourage everyone to take an active and influential part in the work of the CoP and they leverage the worth of knowledge and experience exchange. Another asset is that new perspectives and views can be included by involving other people. The Toolkit provides general information, detailed content of the toolkit, descriptions of the activities with activity templates, and online adaptations. Each activity is linked to a particular primary area of activity, a lifecycle stage, EIGE GEP step and success factor (or multiple).
We are currently working on enhancing the Toolkit considering increased online working during the Covid-19 situation. We recognise our CoPs and the Facilitators need methods and activities that can be adapted to virtual meetings as well as web-based applications to make such meetings more attractive. As the virtual mode of working might be here to stay even after international lockdown, it is important to run effective online meetings when it is not possible to have them face-to-face, which – in a globalised world – is and will get more and more important. The updated version of the Toolkit will therefore have a separate section providing support CoPs and other interested parties that need information and guidance for virtual meetings
Acker, Joan. 2000. “Gendered Contradictions in Organizational Equity Projects.” Organisation, 7(8): 625-632.
Cambridge, Darren, Soren Kaplan, and Vicki Suter. 2005. “Community of Practice Design Guide: A Step-by-Step Guide for Designing & Cultivating Communities of Practice in Higher Education.” EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI). Available from: https://library.educause.edu/resources/2005/1/community-of-practice-desi....
European Institute for Gender Equality. 2020. “The GEAR Step-by-Step Guide.” Available from: https://eige.europa.eu/gender-mainstreaming/toolkits/gear/step-step-guide.
Thomson, Aleksandra und Rabsch, Kathrin. 2019. “Co-Creation Toolkit.” Available from: https://www.genderportal.eu/resources/act-co-creation-toolkit-version-12....
Wenger, Etienne, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder. 2002. Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. USA: Harvard Business School Press.