Sharing Concerns & Passions

Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a group of engineers working on similar problems, a group of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of doctors exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.

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.

The communities of practice concept has been adopted most readily by people in business because of the recognition that knowledge is a critical asset that needs to be managed strategically. Initial efforts at managing knowledge had focused on information systems, with disappointing results. Communities of practice provided a new approach, which focuses on people and on the social structures that enable them to learn with and from each other. Today, there is hardly any organization of a reasonable size that does not have some form communities-of-practice initiative.

Three characteristics are crucial in the creation of a community of practice; the domain, the community and the practice:

The Domain: A community of practice has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people.

The Community: In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other.

The Practice: Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems.

Communities of practice are groups of people who have a shared concern for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

The CoPs Structural Elements

The structural characteristics of a community of practice are defined as a domain of knowledge, a notion of community and a practice.

Domain: A domain of knowledge creates common ground, inspires members to participate, guides their learning and gives meaning to their actions.

Community: The notion of a community creates the social fabric for that learning. A strong community fosters interactions and encourages a willingness to share ideas.

Practice: While the domain provides the general area of interest for the community, the practice is the specific focus around which the community develops, shares and maintains its core of knowledge.

CoP communities take on knowledge stewarding tasks that were formerly covered by more formal organizational structures. There is a great deal of interest within organizations to encourage, support, and sponsor communities of practice in order to benefit from shared knowledge that may lead to higher productivity. Communities of practice are now viewed by many organizations as a means of capturing tacit knowledge, that which is not so easily articulated.

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