The story of a Community of Practice: Baby steps towards the destination

Sharing ideas for priorities at the first Gender CoP planning session

Sharing ideas for priorities at the first Gender CoP planning session

Riding on the wave of enthusiasm of the plenary session on gender-responsive research at the beginning of Bioversity’s Science Week, after three years of scoping and defining, it was time to actually do something.

For once I took my own advice! Back in 2013, writing about how to set up a community of practice for a capacity strengthening programme called AWARD, I had written:

Various authors suggest that the most important step is simply to get started rather than ‘spending endless hours on trying to develop shared visions in the abstract’ (Jiggins, Roling and van Slobbe 2007*, 431) or experiencing ‘paralysis with questions about the permanent structure’ (Waddell 2009**, 6). These authors suggest reflexive learning through doing. If the alumni begin ‘doing things’, reflecting on and sharing what they do, the community is expected to emerge from these interactions. A focus on production of concrete outputs can be useful to create intention and solidarity in the group. (Bailey 2013)

So that’s what we aimed at: ‘production of concrete outputs’ and ‘doing things’ together. OK we did start with a short discussion to make sure that we were all interested in more or less the same purpose and we did try to make sure that this becomes and remains a learning space through identification of some ‘principles’ but then we focused on action.

Purpose: To improve our individual and collective practice in gender-responsive research


  1. Bring your Ignorance. Must be a space where people are comfortable to expose their ignorance. No one is an expert. We are all people on a trajectory of increasing competence.
  2. Participants must have an interest in developing their competence in gender and participatory research.
  3. Bring your half-baked ideas. Learning space. Mistakes, naïve questions and knowledge gaps are welcome here.
  4. Freedom to criticize the way we are doing our gender and participatory research practice. And to look for or suggest solutions to make it better.
  5. A place where we celebrate our common interest but also seek to improve our practice in a practical way by sharing everyday problems, tools, developments in the field, things that work and things that don’t, technical problems such as anomalous data, specific problems with methods in the field.
  6. Participation is a gift. Not to the organization but to other community members. Leverage what you know. Share it out – educate your colleagues, help someone, mentor someone with lower competence
  7. Where we go depends on you. Topics to address, tasks, projects, conversations, meetings, will happen if you suggest them. All members have responsibility for voices what they would like to see as the value of the CoP

And so to action

Over the years from the scoping study and various workshops we have built up quite a list of potentially useful tasks that people could work on. Also the Community of Practice literature (list at the bottom of this other post) suggests some tasks that are helpful for managing a CoP (like having a directory of participants, organizing regular meetings). We used a Prioritization Matrix from Workshop Bank to prioritize this huge list into those that were simultaneously easiest and most impacful. The matrix might have been overkill for what we needed. Ewa Hermanowicz suggested we might have simply asked people to select three tasks that they considered most important and would be willing to get behind. Either way, we did end up with a priority list. And even more exciting we have a list of tasks with people’s names attached to them and dates by which they think they can work on them.

The list is not extant. Only 14 people made the meeting and we know of many more who want to participate but who had conflicting meetings in parallel or were not at Science Week. Those people will bring their own needs and contributions which we can add as we go along. The list is simply a first list of actions that the people who attended are willing and enthusiastic to do. Small and actionable baby steps that will take us the first part of the way towards our destination. We also have some tasks that we all agreed would be really useful but no one in the room felt like taking them on. Fingers crossed that those tasks too speak to someone’s enthusiasms.


Here are the actions that we will be working on. Next meeting towards the end of the month or so.

  • Create a directory of CoP members with expertise and interests
  • Research options for best technologies to support our goals (DGroup, Ning, Intranet, LinkedIn, combination)
  • Organize regular meetings
  • Bridge with CGIAR Research Programs’ gender network
  • Pull together case studies of methods that have been used successfully at Bioversity to provide more gender-responsive knowledge and data
  • Discuss with HR how to institutionalize gender (and diversity) aspects better in our workplace routines and processes
  • Come up with some suggested options for how to institutionalize gender in our project development processes
  • Develop a way of sharing tools, methods
  • Pull together a list of resources relevant to Bioversity/biodiversity…
  • …. And make them accessible
  • Collaborate on a proposal
  • Organize a reading group
  • Agree on the institutional support needed
  • Agree on how to measure progress of the CoP
  • Organize a mentoring scheme
  • Develop a tool kit

The tasks range from short time horizons, like organizing a Directory, to long time horizons like actually writing a publication or a proposal in a different way so that it has a strong gender focus. Each task in the list, however big or small, belongs to one or a group of people and contributes to our moving towards our shared destination. Wish us luck on our journey!

*Jiggins, Janice, Niels Roling, and Erik van Slobbe. 2007. “Chapter 23: Social Learning in Situations of Competing Claims on Water Use.” In Social Learning: Towards a Sustainable World, edited by Arjen E. J. Wals, 419–34. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.

**Waddell, Steve. 2009. “Global Action Networks: An Organizational Innovation.” Reflections 9.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: