Introduction

Some Inter-agencies have valued added to the general benefits of networking by becoming Communities of Practice. Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.  

They become in effect Learning Networks focussed on improving outcomes for service users by:

  • sharing what they are learning in their day to day experiences
  • developing new approaches to more holistic support for service users
  • sharing resources and information
  • providing support and encouragement for network members.

The basic principles that underpin Communities of Practice are:

  • learning is social and comes from the things we do everyday
  • knowledge and activity are strongly connected
  • growth is nurtured and promoted.

Advantages

  • Connect people through their passion.
  • Connect people outside their ‘silos’.
  • Enable issues to be dealt with holistically.
  • Ensure input of everyone involved is valued.
  • Provide opportunity for flexibility and creativity (that is service pathways).
  • Support adaptability to change.  
  • Build trust and reciprocity.
  • Enables the ongoing reflection, negotiation and learning to balance the tensions essential in seeking solutions to complex social problems.

Disadvantages

  • Require commitment and a real interest in learning from each other for them to work effectively.
  • Require people willing to acknowledge that service delivery can be improved using existing resources.

Case study

Rockhampton Mental Health Interagency Community of Practice

The Rockhampton Interagency Community of Practice Group provides an environment where people learn by applying the approaches discussed during scenario sessions and build on the relationships and connections made during the meetings. The approach has received very positive feedback from workers who are time poor and need to see outcomes achieved for time spent at meetings. Meetings are held monthly and the original one and a half hours has been extended to two hours to allow more time for scenario discussion.

The idea for a local whole of mental health sector network was originally proposed and endorsed at the Rockhampton Mental Health Action Day held on August the 25 August 2009. The idea was translated into action through a working mentoring partnership between the Queensland Alliance Sector Development Worker and the Business Development Officer (Disability and Mental Health) from Centacare, Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton under the oversight of the Rockhampton Mental Health Action Coordination Group.

Several meetings were held between the Queensland Alliance and Centacare Workers to develop a meeting framework that would effectively support learning, collaboration and improved outcomes for clients. It was agreed that the “Community of Practice” (CoP) approach provided a sound structure that would support adaption to meet local needs.

Etienne Wegner, one of the founders of “Communities of Practice” notes:

“Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”

The Rockhampton group incorporates the principals that:

  • Learning is social and comes from the things we do every day.
  • Knowledge and activity are strongly connected.
  • Growth of the individual and the sector needs to be nurtured and promoted.

An open meeting held on 21 November and attended by 18 participants agreed to support a Terms of Reference (TOR) that endorsed Centacare to host and facilitate for a period of 12 months the Rockhampton Mental Health Interagency Community of Practice. 

This collaboration has now been running for more that 12 months. In 2010 it took out a Workforce Council Award for “Encouraging a learning culture within the workforce” and feedback notes demonstrated outcomes for clients.

 

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