Examining the Relationship between Communities of Practice and Climate of Innovation in the U.S. Federal Government Environment

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Virginia Tech

A recurrent justification for knowledge management initiatives in the U.S. federal government workplace is the assertion that knowledge sharing groups, such as communities of practice, positively impact their members and benefit the organization by fostering a work environment that results in innovation. However, limited quantitative research existed to support the claims. The purpose of this research was to discover evidence for and explain the relationships between two of the dimensions of communities of practice (i.e., participation and connectivity) and a climate of innovation (e.g., vision, participative safety, task orientation, and support for innovation). This study provided empirical support for the relationship between participation and climate of innovation, as well as the relationship between connectivity and climate of innovation. Given the current economic and security challenges such as the global recession, homeland protection, and industry bailouts, the need for innovative products and services is paramount. Incorporating the results of this study and placing an emphasis on building or solidifying relationships, members of knowledge sharing groups within and across the federal government environment may better develop and implement strategies to address the current stresses and work toward stabilizing the worldwide situation.

Perceptions were collected from 384 community of practice members within the U.S. federal government environment about participation, connectivity, and the community's climate of innovation. Items from three existing instruments, Communities Assessment Tool (Verburg & Andriessen, 2006), Sense of Community Index (Chipeur & Pretty, 1999; Peterson, Speer, & Hughey, 2006), and Team Climate Inventory (Kivimäki & Ellovainio, 1999), were consolidated into one online questionnaire. Once the data were collected from the respondents, they were checked for completeness, reorganized and relabeled as necessary, and then transported to SAS JMP, version 7. The reliabilities in this study were comparable to previously published reliabilities. Demographic data indicated that the respondents tended to see themselves as experts, were active within their community, and relied on virtual contact with community members, although they had the opportunity to meet face-to-face in the past. After a review of the correlations, a parsimonious model containing four variables (i.e., climate of innovation, perceived benefits of participation, nature of participation, and connectivity) was generated. In response to the research questions, multiple regression was conducted. The results showed that participation variables accounted for 22% to 26% of the variance in climate of innovation, with support for innovation being the best explained and vision following close behind with the second largest percentage of its variance explained. The connectivity variables explained 18% to 29% of the additional variance, with participative safety responsible for the largest percentages of the variance and vision having the second largest percentage. Together, the four participation variables explained about one quarter of the variance in each of the climate of innovation criteria. Adding the four connectivity variables explained more than an additional quarter of the variance for vision and participatory safety. Given the results, two themes emerged: The first was the importance of connectivity within communities of practice and in relation to a community's climate of innovation. The second was the refinement of the contemporary definition of participation within communities of practice. The findings signify that social approaches to knowledge management, such as communities of practice, may contribute to a climate conducive to innovation. Suggestions for future research and implications for practitioners are discussed.

community of practice, climate of innovation, government, knowledge management