Supporting communities of practice

>> New Workplace Learning

The term “Community of Practice” or CoP for short, is a term that is often used to refer to any kind of community, but it does have a distinct meaning. It’s actually a term that pre-dates the Web and certainly social media. Etienne Wenger, in Communities of Practice: an introduction defines a community of practice as

“groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

In fact, Etienne Wenger says:

“Note that this definition allows for, but does not assume, intentionality: learning can be the reason the community comes together or an incidental outcome of member’s interactions. Not everything called a community is a community of practice. A neighborhood for instance, is often called a community, but is usually not a community of practice.”

Harold Jarche gives his definition of a CoP, in Communities of practice enable the integration of work and learning.

“So what is a community of practice? Maybe we should start with what it is not:

  • It is not a help desk filled with subject matter experts.
  • It is not a work group, or even task focused.
  • One is not appointed by management to join a community of practice.

Some characteristics of communities of practice:

  • People want to join them.
  • They usually have a higher purpose, that one person alone cannot achieve.
  • People feel affinity for their communities of practice.
  • There are both strong and weak social ties.
  • You know you are in a community of practice when it changes your practice.”

Supporting Communities of Practice

Here are three key features of supporting CoPs

  • Ownership: If it is your own or your department’s CoP then you will undoubtedly “own” it. But if you are setting up (or helping to set up) the community for another group or part of the business, they will need to “own” it  (or be seen to “own” it) and that you are seen as supporting it.  Unfortunately, the very fact that  such an initiative is perceived as “training” and/or as being imposed upon a team or group – means it is less likely to thrive than if it is seen as being the department’s or team’s own initiative .
  • Community management: Every community needs a “manager” or “leader”. It is not enough simply to put the technology in place and then expect the community to run itself. It will need someone who will guide and steer the community along its path. However, if the community is “owned” by another group or part of the business, then it does make sense that someone from that group/part of the business should take on the role (with help from you), as this will give out the right messages as to who “owns” the community.
  • Time involved: Although it is ideal for most communities to become self-sustaining over time, it is likely that the Community Leader will continue to have a continued role in maintaining the community, although their role will likely change over time.  But do not underestimate the amount of time and work that will go into nurturing and feeding an online community.

Social tools and platforms

The infrastructure for online communities might be provided by: ENTERPRISE SOCIAL COLLABORATION PLATFORMS  or social media tools to CONNECT & CONVERSE with members, SHARE knowledge and resources, CURATE CONTENTCREATE & SHARE CONTENT as well as COLLABORATE on projects.

Workshops at the Social Learning CentreOnline Communities
This online workshop considers the general principles behind setting up and maintaining an online community

Selected quotes from selected reading

“In discussing how communities of practice can bridge the gap between innovation (new ideas) and getting work done (usually in project or work teams), I derived this graphic.”

“Organizations need to extend the notion of work beyond collaboration, beyond teams, and beyond the corporate fire wall. They need to make social networks, communities of practice, and narrative part of the work.”

“A key role for any learning and development department today, and for the near future, is to enable and support communities of practice that integrate learning and working.”

More articles

Get your personal hub to this Guide to access the rest of this online resource

Download PDF version

Comments are closed.