Communities of Practice: What is a Community of Practice?
A community of practice is a group of people with a shared problem or interest who have come together to fulfill individual and group goals. Communities of practice focus on sharing best practice. An important aspect of communities of practice is ongoing interaction whether it is face-to-face or through various online means of communication or a combination of the two.
There are three characteristics of a community of practice:
- Domain: members of a community of practice have a shared domain of interest
- Community: The shared interest is pursued through joint activities, discussion, information sharing and relationship building
- Practice: members of a community of practice are practitioners and use the resources and information in their work.
Types of Communities of Practice:
- Helping Communities: where members help each other with everyday work needs
- Best Practice Communities: where members develop and share best practices, guidelines and strategies
- Knowledge Stewarding Communities: where members organise, manage and develop a body of knowledge for their own use
- Innovation Communities: where members create and develop new ideas, knowledge and practices
Communities of practice can be an effective means of professional learning as they have the ability to:
- Connect people who have may not have interacted before or interacted infrequently
- Enable dialogue between members
- Create a channel in which members can share experiences and gain new insights
- Stimulate learning
- Share knowledge and resources
- Encourage collaboration
- Create new knowledge and resources
Communities of Practice as a Process
Being involved in CoP means that interpersonal activity is activated through the sharing of tacit knowledge and common goals. Within this process, participants support mutual learning through discussions, training, the expansion on knowledge achieved by the CoP, i.e. a reading group session may lead the group to developing repositories, toolkits, seminars and similar products of the interactions that occur. The process of CoP means that a continuous stream of active knowledge exchange and building is maintained by its members.
Phases of a Community of Practice
A typical community of practice has a finite lifespan and goes through a series of overlapping phases. Each phase involves activities that help participants build knowledge and achieve goals.
Wenger (2011) has identified a a number of factors that can contribute to the success of a community of practice. The top three factors identifies are:
- Identification: Having the domain of the community of practice, clearly identified is a critical success factor. Members having a passion for the domain is vital.
- Leadership: Having a dedicated people to manage and nurture the community. Communities of practice can fail simply because there is nobody who will take care of the logistics.
- Time: Time is always at a premium. In order for a community of practice to be success, it must provide its members with a "value for time".
Contents of this guide are available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 unless stated otherwise.
This guide has been adapted from Creating Communities of Practice by Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium (ERLC) which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.