Since early 2019, subject experts across Shelter have been setting up Communities of Practice (CoPs): cross-organisational groups of practitioners of the same discipline who meet regularly. The goal? To bring alignment, collaboration, and a shared understanding of what good looks like. CoPs can define best practice, create learning opportunities, reduce duplication, or be used as support networks.
Two years into that process, we caught up with some of our practice leads and others involved in the running of our CoPs, for a blog series about what they had learned.
In the second instalment, we go inside the UX CoP.
The UX CoP started in 2019, and its members include UX specialists as well as service designers and user researchers (at Shelter, they all sit in the same team). Having considered various meeting patterns, they settled on once a fortnight, for a day of learning and collaboration. Sessions are facilitated by group members on rotation, and are focussed on either learning, sharing or doing. They might watch and discuss a video, run a workshop, or work on a shared project.
They have, says former UX Lead Caylee Farndon-Taylor, considered splitting the group into specific disciplines in the past, but always decided against it.
‘We do every now and again, get asked, “Oh, are you going to create a service design, community in practice or research community of practice”, which I've always been very hesitant about,’ Caylee explains, ‘because I'm quite proud of the fact that our UX team have grown really close together. And I think it's good that we're all kind of educating each other on these different parts of our job, because research is always relevant to designers and design is always relevant as to service designers and so on.’
Extending an invitation to guests
Every now and then, the group invites a guest to join – someone from another team or department within the organisation that the session might be particularly relevant to – something many CoP experts advise against.
‘I think it's because the idea is that you're creating a really safe space for learning and development for that group of people,’ says Caylee. ‘However, there have been some sessions that we've run, that we've just felt were really, really relevant to other people.
‘And so we've had various product managers join us. We've been quite open to having people from different disciplines in Shelter, and also people external to Shelter, coming and joining and doing guest sessions. But they're never added [to the CoP] by default, is always because there's some relevancy for them.’
How the CoP supported the rebrand launch
In 2021, Shelter underwent a rebrand in which the UX team played a pivotal part, designing how it would be applied to our digital platforms and products. As well as providing a space for regular review sessions, which was invaluable, the CoP had already started work on a design system, which provided the foundation for the rebrand roll-out.
‘The main thing that was really useful for the rebrand is that we had already started working on our design system,’ Caylee explains. ‘We had already mapped out, as part of the migration work, all the key design patterns that we use a lot all across the site. And we had an idea of the visualisation of those and how prominent they were. So we could quite easily prioritise things that needed to be done first, and things that needed to be changed in order for it to look and feel like the new brand.’
As work on the re-launch intensified, the group set up a spin-off from the CoP, time set aside specifically for reviewing work.
‘Towards the end of the project, we were making so many UI changes that we were having almost weekly design crits,’ Caylee added. ‘And so in order to do that, we actually created another session.
‘If no one had anything they need to share that week, then we just didn't do it. And often we didn't. But by reserving that hour and not allowing it to be taken up by other meetings, it meant that if anyone had anything to show, we would all be available.’
The next steps?
The plan for now is just to keep the CoP running as it is. ‘We kind of feel like our UX COP is the best,’ laughs Caylee. ‘Everyone's always like, “Oh, you're amazing, I want to join”. So yeah, we’re kind of proud about what we've been able to create.’
If you would like to find out more about Shelter’s Communities of Practice or cross-organisational working, please get in touch with Caspar Below or Eleanor Young.
 Caylee has now left Shelter.