Paper Analysis: “Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice”


Pub, H., Etienne Wenger,  by, McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice.

Communities of Practice are voluntary and their ability to generate enough excitement, relevance, value and “aliveness” to attract and engage members is what makes them successful.

Organic growth and “aliveness” are critical for communities of practice.


Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice:

  1. Design for Evolution
  2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives
  3. Invite different levels of participation
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces
  5. Focus on value
  6. Combine familiarity and excitement
  7. Create a rhythm for the community

1   Design for Evolution

  • design elements should be catalysts for a community’s natural evolution
  • their dynamic nature is the key to their evolution – as the community grows, new members bring new interests and the focus of the community may take a new direction
  • the purpose of a design is to help the community develop rather than impose a structure
  • life-long learning
  • “Alive” communities reflect on and redesign elements of themselves throughout their existence,
    • e.g. start with very simple structure of regular weekly meetings rather than sharing the community’s possible goals at the very beginning – instead make the first goal to draw potential members to the community and once members are engaged in the topic and have begun to build relationships, the core members can begin introducing elements of the community structure
  • social and organizational structures, such as community coordinator or problem-solving meetings can accelerate the evolution of a community

2   Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives

  • The Insider
    • an insider’s perspective is needed to discover what the community is about
    • an insider can appreciate the issues at the heart of the domain
    • they understand the knowledge that is important to share, the challenges their field faces, and the untapped potential in emerging ideas and techniques
    • an insider requires a deep understanding of community issues
  • The Outsider
    • it takes an outside perspective to help members to see the possibilities
    • bring information from the outside into the dialogue about what the community could achieve
    • e.g. a outsider could educate community members about the role of communities in other organisations and it might mean bringing them into a conversation with the community leader and core members
    • they can acts as agents of change

3   Invite different levels of participation

  • people participate in communities for different reasons
    • some because the community directly provides value
    • some for personal connection
    • others for the opportunity to improve their skills
  • 3 main levels of community participation in a CoP
    1. small core group who actively take part in group discussions, take on community projects, identify topics for the community to address, move the community along its learing agenda (10-15% of whole community)
    2. active group who attend meetings regularly and participate occasionally in community forums (15-20% of the community forum)
    3. large portion of community members are peripheral and rarely participate. They watch the interaction of the core and active members. These peripheral activities are a essential dimension of communities of practice
  • outside these 3 main levels are the people surrounding the community who are not members but have an interest in the community – customers, suppliers, intellectual neighbours
  • community activities that allow members at all levels to feel like full members is the key to good community participation and a healthy degree of movement between levels

4   Develop both public and private community spaces

  • orchestrate activities in both public and private spaces that use the strength of indvidual relationships to enrich events and use events to enrich individual relationships
  • public events include face to face meetings, online meetings and are open to al community members
  • every day phone calls, emails, or problem-solving conversations strengthen the relationships within the community
  • public networks usually allow for time to network informally – foster one-to-one connections

5   Focus on Value

  • communities thrive because they deliver value to the organisation, to the teams which the community members serve and to the community members themselves
  • value is key
  • it often changes over time
  • communities need to create events, activities and relationships that help their potential value emerge
  • many of the most valuable community activities are the small, everyday interactions
  • early discussions on the value of the community help community members and potential members and other stakeholders understand the real impact of the community

6   Combine familiarity and excitement

  • the familiarity of events such as regular meetings, teleconferences, projects, web site use and other activities create a confort levvel that invites candid discussions
  • it becomes a “place” where community members can ask questions, share their opinions and try other ideas without repercussions
  • vibrant communities also supply divergent thinking and activity
  • conferences, fairs, talks, workshops
  • they provide novelty, excitement and common adventure
  • the communtiy members need excitement to be fully engaged

7   Create a rhythm for the community

  • the tempo of the members interactions is influenced by the rhythm of the community events
  • the events give the community a beat around which other activites find their rhythm
  • the rhythm of the community is the strongest indicator of its aliveness
  • examples of rhythms in a community – the syncing of familiar and exciting events, the frquency of private interactions (one to one communications), the ebb and flow of people on the periphery into active participation and the pace of the community’s over all evolution

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s