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Learning and Knowledge Exchange

Online Communities (a process)

Connecting online to improve a shared practice and to spark innovation

A community brings together people who 'share an interest or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly' (Etienne Wenger). In a community, people empower each other in their work by 'communicating about what they do, so they can do it better' (adapted from Matt Moore). Facilitators help catalyse and maintain a productive and inclusive experience for the community members.

In organizations, communities are typically cross-cultural and cross-functional, with staff, partners and experts dispersed around the world. When they function well --  meaning that people trust each other and engage and work effectively with one another -- communities enable people to quickly share and search for knowledge, inspire and empower one another, and maximize their potential contribution to programme results.

Successful organizations and companies typically have a strong culture of community. Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, attributed the studio's success to its 'vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people coming out of schools or working at other places' (Henry Mintzberg).


  • Peer-to-peer collaborative networks.
  • Engaged in asking and answering questions, exchanging knowledge, developing
  • expertise, and solving problems.
  • Driven by willing participation of members.
  • Focused on learning and creating 'actionable knowledge' for achievement of development objectives.
  • Cooperative across geographical locations.
  • Collaborative in their use of tools and technologies.
  • Both formal and informal, and members can interact online or in person

Download the full module on Online Communities (PDF), including:

  • why to use (key benefits, push and pull, people/focus/practice, 'more than simple knowledge sharing', a clear purpose).
  • how communities work (how communities create knowledge, keys to success).
  • who makes up a community (leader, facilitator, members, sponsor, and champion, with roles and tips).
  • the 90-day plan (key steps to build a community, key steps to engage a community, additional elements of successful online communities).
  • references.



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