A community of practice is a form of action research. Having a data-collection plan in place from the beginning of the project will guide planning. A clearly articulated data collection plan will also help guide participants as they prepare to collect and share success stories and lessons learned.
Detailing what kind of data will be collected also helps clarify the purpose, goals, and focus of the community and ensures there is a robust and relevant data set to share with sponsors.
Throughout the life cycle of the community, three basic kinds of data can be collected:
There may be some types of data that can be used to report both participation and impact.
Surveys at the beginning of the project are useful for establishing a baseline that can be used to analyze future data about the impact of shifts in attitudes and practice as a result of community of practice work. The first survey can also provide useful data about the needs, preferences, and level of expertise of participants. This data can be helpful for planning activities, knowledge building, and developing the collaborative workspace.
Some communities have made the survey the first activity of the face-to-face orientation session to increase completion rates, provide data for informing the day, and begin the conversation about the purpose and the work of the community.
The final survey should have some questions parallel to the first survey so results can be used to identify specific changes in attitudes, knowledge, practice, or results.
For more information and samples of surveys, see Surveys in Sharing Results.
In communities of practices focusing on improving learning for students. Consider how to introduce data gathering strategies from the beginning of the project. The list below identifies potential data sources of school and classroom-based data:
In addition, data can be collected from interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, and onsite visits. Online meetings can also be a valuable source of data. Structured questions, transcribed notes, records of chat room content, and poll results can be analyzed for questions, evidence of shifts in practice, and reoccurring themes.
Data collected throughout the project can inform ongoing planning, provide information and motivation to community members, and be used for interim reporting to sponsors. To make the most use of data, it must be collected purposefully and systematically from the beginning of the project and used strategically throughout the lifespan of the community to inform planning and build knowledge.
For additional examples of data collection strategies for communities of practice, see Sharing Results.