Paper Analysis – “Sustaining Communities of Practice”


Stuckey, B., & Smith, J. D. (2006). Sustaining communities of practice. KM World, 15(3), 8.


  • This paper reports on the activities and practices of leaders whose efforts to sustain their successful communities of practice have lessons for practitioners and researchers
  • This paper offers stories from the field, where community leaders describe how they sustain the lives of their CoPs
  • Data was collected in a one and half hour telephone semi-structured interview. A community story was built from the interview responses from each leader of the diverse web-based communities of practice
  • This work can be mapped directly against the stages of CoPs proposed by Wenger, McDermott and Snyder –
    • the sustaining of community takes it focus from the mature through the sustain and transform stages where maintaining the dynamic and energy of the established system is vital
    • the mature stage is where much of the work of managers and leaders involves encouraging new participation and engagement while trying to maintain high value for early adopters
  • For practitioners the kind of knowledge that makes up the practice of the community cultivation is more situated and more accessible when communicated through stories rather than just as theory, decision points or sets of principles
  • the 3 main themes which emerged from conversations with community leaders were:
    • sustaining the community’s being together around practice
    • maintain boundaries around the community that are clear, permeable and distinctive
    • carefully draw nourishment from the environment and respond to environmental challenges creatively
  • leaders engaged in sustaining the dimensions of a CoP as proposed by Wenger equally – domain, community, practice
  • Results:
  • Sustain the community’s being together inside the community
    • leaders participated in the life of their communities
    • preserving the quality and focus of the discussion was vital to most communities
    • community leaders worked at keeping members involved in the community – people stay involved for the meaningful and legitimate work in the community
    • acknowledge the work of the community and it’s members, e.g. holding a 10 year birthday bash where members told their personal stories and where community members in general can celebrate and reflect on their time together, reconnects the community, sustains it and moves it forward
    • sustaining a CoP involves deliberately responding to change in a community’s life together as well
    • sensitively and systematically gathering feedback from members at the centre and periphery is a key activity describes by all community leaders
    • a community’s very success can lead to changes in how it organizes its togetherness
  • Maintain boundaries around the community that are clear, permeable and meaningful
    • communities need to be closed and open at the same time, e.g. one community never advertises or recruits members butu it readily accepts new members when a national government asks to join
    • As they sustain the clarity and integrity of their community’s boundaries, community leaders deal with and promote change in those boundaries, e.g. one community is an email-centric community and the leadership team’s attempts to involve members in teleconferences to plan future events have so far been met with low attendance
  • Carefully draw nourishment from the environment and respond to environmental challenges creatively
    • drawing appropriate nourishment (i.e. new topics, new blood, new money) from the environment is a key consideration for community leaders
    • Each community and leader has a unique approach to linking those benefits to the resources needed for the community – through tenders, government funding, temporary funding, part-time leadership support, volunteer labor
    • the resources that are drawn in to support the community have a subtle but somehow relentless transformative effect
    • inviting guest speakers into an ongoing conversation is another kind of community nourishment

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