Edited by David Rooney, Greg Hearn and Tim Kastelle
Chapter 9: Communities of Practice: Reflections on Lessons Learned at Rio Tinto and the Interdependent Relationship between Technologies and Communities
Mark Bennett INTRODUCTION Over approximately the last 20 years, Communities of Practice (CoPs) have been seen as an increasingly important and highly practical aspect of knowledge management (KM). This chapter explores some concepts from the perspective of KM and knowledge transfer, and then applies lessons principally learned from working at Rio Tinto, as well as from conversations with people at Shell International Exploration & Production, BP and ExxonMobil to give concrete evidence of when CoPs can add value to commercial organizations. Different types of value are considered, and then the interdependence between technology and communities are explored using insights gained from Digital Habitats (Wenger et al., 2009) and Here Comes Everybody (Shirky, 2009). KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER: WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? I’ve been interested in the broad concept of KM for most of my career, but it wasn’t until 1999 that I was given a role within a functional unit of a global company that had a direct relationship with KM. At the time, there seemed to be so much promise and unfulfilled expectations in this field, and yet senior management in most large organizations struggled even with the name, let alone what it meant in terms of improved revenue or decreased costs. To make matters worse, many KM practitioners at the time insisted that you couldn’t introduce a KM programme without first dealing with an obscure and indigestible mix of people issues such as culture change, empowerment and incentives. Executive management would then typically ask questions such as ‘what’s the return on investment...
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