What is a Community of Practice? (CoP)

Reference: http://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/

What is a Community of Practice?

Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly, e.g. a gathering of first time managers helping each other to cope or a group of engineers working together to solve similar problems.

What differentiates a community from a community of practice?

A community of practice has three characteristics that define it:

  1. The Domain:
    • shared domain of interest
    • membership implies to a commitment to the domain & shared competence that distinguishes members from other people
    • topic doesn’t have to be of “expertise” – e.g. a gang of youths surviving on the streets
  2. The Community:
    • members engage in joint activities and discussions
    • members help each other & share information
    • members build relationships that enable them to learn from each other
    • members don’t have to meet on a daily basis but having the same job title as someone else is not enough to form a CoP unless you are learn and interact together
  3. The Practice:
    • members of a CoP are practitioners – not just a group of people who like the same thing
    • they share a practice –  a repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems
    • this takes time and sustained interaction

What does a community of practice look like?

CoPs develop their practice through a number of activities such as the most common ones listed below:

  • Problem-solving
  • Request for information
  • Seeking Experience
  • Reusing Assets
  • Coordination and Strategy
  • Building an argument
  • Growing Confidence
  • Discussing Developments
  • Documenting Projects
  • Visits
  • Mapping knowledge & identifying gaps (i.e. what’s missing?)

What size is a community of practice?

Communities of practice vary in size from:

  • Small
  • Very large with a core group and many peripheral members
  • Local
  • Global

Some meet face-to-face and other communicate mostly online.

Some are within an organisation and some include members from various organisations

Some are recognized and often supported by a budget while others are informal or completely invisible

Where does the concept communities of practice come from?

The origin and primary use of the concept has been in learning theory.

Anthropologist Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger coined the term while studying apprenticeship as a learning model.

The practice of a community is dynamic and involves learning on the part of everyone.

Where is the concept being applied?

  • Organisations
  • Government
  • Education
  • Associations
  • Social Sector
  • International Development
  • The Web

The concept of a community of practice has become the foundation of a perspective on knowing and learning that informs efforts to create learning systems in various sectors and at various levels of scale.

What are the myths about CoPs?

  • Communities of practice are always self-organizing = False
  • There are no leaders in a CoP = mostly false
  • True CoPs are informal =False
  • The role of a CoP is to share existing knowledge = partially true
  • It can be difficult to measure the impact of communities of practice = mostly false
  • Good facilitation is all it takes to get members to participate = false
  • CoPs are harmonius places = maybe
  • There is technology that is best for a CoP = false
  • CoPs are the solution to everything = false






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