In March Etienne went to Singapore for his fourth annual visit with the initiative to cultivating communities of practice across the Public Service. Is this going to be a model for the Public Service in other countries?

Four years ago, I became involved as an advisor with the KM group at the Center for Organizational Development in the Singapore Civil Service College (CSC) as they started to support the cultivation of communities of practice across the entire Public Service. My role also includes workshops and courses for practitioners, speaking at government-wide events, and participation in managerial meetings, including a private conversation with the Head of Civil Service. During last year’s visit, Bev and I even had a review session with the design team of “Cube,” a social networking platform being deployed across the Public Service with great potential for supporting communities of practice.

At this year’s open event, there was participation from 45 different Public Service agencies. Today the questions of these agencies no longer concern “why” they should foster the formation of communities of practice; the questions have now moved to “how.”

As in past visits, we met with community leaders to talk about their challenges and opportunities. These conversations always give rise to good insights. For example we had a meeting with the leaders of a new community of practice on International Relations. It is an important community at a time when all agencies, even domestic ones like transportation, become involved in international contexts. We noted three broad types of activities through which such a community can serve people in various roles across agencies:

  • Practice-oriented exploration of basic approaches, principles, and techniques involved in international relations
  • Opportunities to learn together when people are going on an international trip or are returning from a mission abroad and can offer the community a debrief
  • Discussions of current events that influence international relations, such as the debt crisis in Europe or changing prospects in China.

So far, the initiative has achieved a good foundation of concrete cases, both within and across agencies. From communities of school principals at the Ministry of Education to IP managers across the Public Service, we have solid evidence that this mode of learning can function productively in the Singapore context. There is growing awareness of the potential of social learning and communities of practice, both among practitioners and among managers. The initiative is at a turning point. It can reach critical mass with some strategic attention and capability development.

We see the potential for Singapore to demonstrate what a national government can achieve when it becomes systematic about leveraging the potential of social learning and are looking forward to our own learning in this ground-breaking initiative.

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