Encouraging participation in communities or repositories

Someone on the Taxonomy Community of Practice (TaxoCoP) recently wrote about methods to improve usage of knowledge management repositories. The challenge of encouraging and measuring participation is a tough one. You might build a terrific application with a great taxonomy and people may not use it.

A repository is only as good as the content it contains – in order for it to contain valuable information, people need to contribute. People will not contribute unless they see the value. Think of the creation side of the equation – forums like the TaxoCoP are places where people collaborate and share knowledge. We have great contribution because we have… great contribution…

So how did that start? It started with a few people driving it. We started with an “event” – the “Metadata and Taxonomy Jump Start Series” – a series of four calls that featured a variety of presenters and perspectives. This had enough value to get people interested. They naturally had questions and wanted to discuss the issues that were covered.

I recently started two other CoP’s in a similar way – one public CoP and another inside of a client organization. Now, the discussion forum is not the same as a structured knowledge repository. In most cases a repository supports a process instead of a community. Discussions are ongoing and provide ‘just in time’ knowledge, but are difficult to harvest for lessons learned. In our case, the accompanying Wiki provides that vehicle – but people need to either pull information from the conversations and summarize that information or they need to find the time to post what they feel is valuable for themselves and for the group.

Why do people do that when it is not part of their job or they are not getting paid? It’s really about the value that people receive from being social and interacting. A few core people are devoting significant time and energy to the process because they get some sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from it – esteem in the eyes of their colleagues, improvement in their knowledge and expertise, etc.


In an organization, there are similar drivers – contribution needs to be recognized and rewarded – whether through formal measures or through people saying “nice job” or “thanks for your help” and so on.

Processes for capture of lessons learned or key project deliverables can also be made part of the work process. For example, in one consulting firm I worked with a project was not considered closed until deliverables were submitted to a repository and properly reviewed and tagged. Bonuses were based only on “closed” projects. That was an incentive to contribute.

Stan Garfield of Hewlett Packard recently presented about the topic of CoP’s for another CoP and spoke about how contribution is part of employee evaluation. This means that it is recognized by the organization and formalized – “operationalized” and made explicit.

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