IT professionals working in the public sector may have many great ideas and best practices they’ve collected over the years. So how can they come together with their peers to share them?  One way is to develop what’s called a “community of practice.”

A community of practice, often called a “CoP,” is a network of individuals who “collectively address issues and draw upon the knowledge and energies of their members regardless of whether they work on the national, state or local level,” according to the nonprofit New York State Forum of organizations and IT professionals that work in the region’s state and local government.

This month the NYS Forum released a starter kit for developing a community of practice that it believes will help within the state and is also applicable for professionals who work elsewhere in the U.S. The kit, a 40-page document, can be e-mailed to users for free in either PDF or Microsoft Word format from the NYS Forum's website. 

The starter kit’s guidelines should help those in the IT field create a network with other IT professionals to discuss issues, policies and best practices, said Deborah Buck, executive director of the NYS Forum. Depending on how the community is developed, individuals can either arrange in-person meet-ups to discuss IT topics or can communicate online.

“The collective pool of knowledge that is available to members of CoPs goes beyond what might be available to an individual on a day-to-day basis within their physical work environment,” Buck said. “They can draw upon their informal relationships with other CoP members and have timely access to a wealth of knowledge and practices from trusted sources.”

The kit addresses topics like assigning individuals to roles and responsibilities, initiating a first meeting and maintaining interest from participants.

Some communities of practice in New York include the Webmasters’ Guild and the IT Accessibility Work Group — both of which are affiliated with the NYS Forum. While some government agencies in New York that develop a community of practice may be affiliated with the NYS Forum, the starter kit can be accessed by anyone looking to start a community of practice, Buck said.

Communities of practice also have formed outside of New York.

IT communities of practice exist among agencies with similar missions, constituents and data, according to the Pennsylvania Office of Administration. The communities are grouped by topics such as environment, general government operations, health and human services and public safety. Each community is also guided by its own Office of Administration IT deputy CIO, and each has planners and coordinators who help with issues like approving IT projects of 100,000 or more and building multi-agency IT strategic plans.

In February, the Federal CIO Council launched a Data Center Consolidation Task Force that will help the federal government reach its goal of closing 800 data centers by 2015. According to CIO.gov the task force will serve as a community of practice for agency CIOs and data center managers to efficiently carry out the task.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.