Communities of Practice – authentic open learning

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We know that creating long lasting social change isn’t easy.

For leaders working in complex and changing circumstances, such as a collective impact initiative, there can be a real sense of isolation. This may seem counterintuitive when collective impact is about working together and moving away from isolated impact, but this work is about thinking and acting differently, and that is often met with resistance.

To support these leaders and connect peers across the country, Opportunity Child initiated three Communities of Practice (CoP). These emergent learning spaces prove that distance is no barrier when it comes to creating opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.

Through regular live video linkups, the Communities of Practice are designed to create a safe space for people to connect and learn from one another, share resources and ideas, and build the relationships that can open up opportunities for collaborative planning and action.

And it doesn’t end there – during these practice sessions we mine the information shared to build a picture of themes as they emerge and share the lessons. Sounds simple enough, but in fact cultivating an open and honest, warts-and-all learning environment is not without its challenges.

2 challenges of this shared learning approach

Here’s what we have found out during the Communities of Practice:

  1. Participating in these spaces requires a mindset for shared learning, including being vulnerable and showing that we don’t have all the answers; being courageous and sharing what we do know
  2. Leaders are busy and engaging in national learning environments takes time and effort.It’s not just what you can bring during the session, it’s a bigger commitment than that in connecting with peers, sharing tools and resources and building trusting relationships

3 reasons why Communities of Practice are critical to accelerating our progress

  1. They build a culture that values learning that translates to results for children nationally
  2. These spaces value relationships and provide connections for greater opportunities
  3. They hold the container tight for collective impact practice by modeling collective impact in every step – through co-design, shared power, leadership, building alignment, and pooling resources

By getting the right conditions and foundations in place, this is what the backbone leaders, communications and engagement professionals and evaluation practitioners in our learning network are a part of:

  • A digital learning platform enabling them to overcome barriers of distance by letting people see one another, work on collaborative documents, and share resources in a contained online workspace
  • Helping others to become learning leaders

  • Reducing isolation and providing peer support

  • Sharing ideas, inspiration and resources

  • A platform for raising issues to a national level of action

  • A space for sharing the challenges as well as the successes

  • Learning codification – picking up lessons on what works and what doesn’t across the Opportunity Child Pathway to Scale, to gather hundreds of stories and lessons from those doing the work

  • Synthesising the lessons to form strategic learning themes for national prioritisation

During the CoP I’ve observed genuine sharing and a spirit of collaboration, deep dives into shared problems and the evolution of a ‘warts and all’, open and honest learning environment.

The emergent Communities of Practice complement learning opportunities provided by others in Australia. They are a means of illuminating and amplifying the lessons learned as we all join together in our collective impact work. Our hope is that these strengthened connections add momentum to the systemic change we want to achieve for the children of Australia.

About the author:
Jess Compton is Learning Manager at Opportunity Child

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