Virtual communities of practice (COPs) are fast becoming a basic work unit in a networked world. The relationship between COPs, Knowledge Management, and the Learning Organisation is a question of priority for social sector leaders, researchers, policy makers, and practitioners as they seek to establish ways to maintain relevance and effectiveness in the volatile environments in which they work (Thomas et al, 2005). When well executed, virtual COPs produce results because the knowledge is stewarded: organised for learning, poised for action, and planned for sustainability. In this paper, we document and analyse the actors and factors that, in our experience, contribute to success: Enlightened Leadership, Compelling Work, Appropriate Technology and Knowledge Sustainability. Over the last two years we have worked with new virtual COPs in both the public and non‑profit sectors. The outsized successes prove the power of this approach to work. The under‑performers help define the parameters for more effective implementations. Perhaps surprisingly, the critical success factors for a high‑performing virtual COP have absolutely nothing to do with technological aptitude. The two key determinants of community success harken back to Business Management 101: the strategic clarity and capacity for collaborative leadership in the organisation, and the specificity and practicality of the community mission.
Keywords: Communities of Practice, Innovation, Knowledge Management, Virtual Communities, Non-profit Management, Public Administration