A community of practice is a group of people involved in sharing similar concerns, interests, passions, or problems in a way to create and optimize a collective learning environment. In other words, a community of practice, or CoP, is a group of people who exchange information and develop relationships.
Some of the examples can be a group of architects attempting to break away from the status quo, a family seeking new ways to express themselves, an ensemble of engineers addressing common problems, a clique of pupils defining their school identity, a network of surgeons exploring cutting-edge procedures, and so on.
What is a Community of Practice?
Definition: A community of practice is defined as a group of people who care about or are passionate about similar sorts of things and learn how to do it better as they interact frequently. The community of practice concept has been widely adopted in a variety of fields, including education, business, and government. It also refers to informal communities of people who share a common interest in a particular topic, issue, or problem and who interact regularly to discuss their ideas, experiences, and best practices.
The community of practice concept has its origins in the work of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, who argued that people learn best by doing (i.e., through apprenticeships) and by sharing their knowledge with others in their community. The community of practice framework has been used to understand a variety of phenomena, including how organizations learn, how knowledge is distributed in organizations, and how new ideas and practices spread. Knowledge management practices have been found to be particularly effective when implemented within a community of practice.
History of Communities of Practice
The community of practice concept was first introduced in 1991 by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in their book Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. In this book, Lave and Wenger introduced the idea of learning as a social process that takes place within a community of practice.
They defined a community of practice as “a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”
Lave and Wenger’s work was influential in the development of the field of a community of practice research. In the years since the publication of Situated Learning, the community of practice concept has been further developed and elaborated upon by a number of scholars, including William G. Tierney, Diana Laurillard, and John Seely Brown.
Types of Communities of Practice
1. Helping Communities
A helping community is a community of practice in which members share their expertise with others in order to help them solve problems or improve their skills.
2. Best Practice Communities
A best practice community is a community of practice whose members share their best practices as well as guidelines, strategies, etc in order to promote and develop best practices.
3. Knowledge Sharing Communities
A knowledge-sharing community is a community of practice whose members share their knowledge and expertise with others in order to improve the overall understanding or collective knowledge of the
4. Innovation Communities
An innovation community is a community of practice whose members share their innovative ideas with others in order to promote creativity and innovation.
Applications of CoPs
The community of practice concept has been used in a variety of fields, including education, business, and government.
In education, the community of practice framework has been used to understand how teachers learn, how instructional practices are disseminated, and how new educational reforms are implemented.
In business, the community of practice concept has been used to study how knowledge is created and shared within organizations.
In government, the community of practice concept has been used to examine how policies are developed and implemented.
The community of practice is a key element of the apprenticeship system because it provides a forum for apprentices to learn from each other and to share best practices. Such communities were functional even before the formal apprenticeship system existed.
Characteristics & Activities of CoPs
The community of practice concept is often used to describe groups of people who share a common interest or purpose. A community of practice typically has the following characteristics
- Membership is voluntary
- Members have a shared interest or passion
- Members interact regularly
- Members learn from each other
- Members share information and resources
- Members work together to solve problems
A community of practice typically engages in the following activities
- Sharing information and resources
- Collaborating on projects
- Developing new practices
- Solving problems together
- Reflecting on their experiences
- Learning from each other
Pillars of CoPs
The community of practice is not simply an ordinary community group that anybody can join as long as the admins allow it to do so. Finding out what makes the CoP unique, according to Etienne Wenger, a theorist, aids in preventing it from becoming a typical social media group. As a result, if you’re thinking about establishing a community of practices, you should keep the following items in mind:
This is the identifying terminology for your company’s communities of practice. For example, group A was interested in marketing, and their field of study might be referred to as “marketers.”
Group B shared an interest in improving a website’s performance, therefore their domain should be termed “SEO.” Members of organizations’ communities of practice are all dedicated to working within their specialty area and collaborating with other workers to overcome business problems.
The activities going on within a company’s domain are part of CoPs pillars. Members interact and learn from one another on how to improve themselves and tackle discoveries in their chosen fields as a portion of CoPs pillar.
The communities of practice may, for example, hold a question and answer session to find out what the major issues are for customers rather than making a list of which product or service you presently provide needs improvement. The members of the communities of practice in this case will be aware of the effects your goods have on customers as well as resolving concerns on their end.
The most crucial component of CoPs’ pillars, is the final part. This is where members provide tools that may assist the domain in strategizing and strengthening its motives, as well as managing identical situations simultaneously.
For instance, the members of this stage’s communities of practice are all geared towards strategizing and defining which of your consumer locations require more advertising to boost sales revenue. This aspect may also imply that community members should choose which marketing tools are ideal. Members of the community at this stage can also come up with new products with a fresh viewpoint, targeting a distinct audience that still meets the company’s goals.
The communities of practice are not only focused on fixing issues, achieving the company’s aim, and preventing your competitors from doing bad things. They can further enable you to discuss developments, reuse assets to lessen your expenses, find out and resolve gaps within the company, etc.
Why are CoPs Important?
Communities of practice are important because they provide a space for members to share information, collaborate on projects, and learn from each other. In today’s world, where knowledge is constantly changing and evolving, it is essential for people to have a community of practice to rely on for support and guidance.
Communities of practice are also important because they can help to spread new ideas and practices. When members of a community of practice share their knowledge with others outside of the community, they can help to create change in their field or discipline.
The community develops new knowledge through their activities, which may include sharing information and resources, discussing issues, and collaborating on projects. The community may also be involved in other activities such as teaching and mentoring.
The Harvard Business Review has written about the importance of communities of practice, and how they can help organizations to create new knowledge and improve performance.
Organizations can form communities of practice around specific topics or areas of interest. For example, a community of practice could be formed around a product, a service, or a particular process.
Informal networks of people who share a common interest can also be considered communities of practice. For example, a group of people who are interested in the same hobby or sport may share information and resources, and discuss issues related to their interest.
Hence such a community creates an environment where like-minded people, professionals, and organized groups perform community activities to share knowledge, share ideas, inspire members, and optimize growth.
Advantages of CoPs
There are a number of advantages to using the community of practice framework-
- First, the community of practice concept provides a way to think about learning that is situated in the everyday experiences of people. This is in contrast to more traditional views of learning that emphasize individual cognition and formal education settings.
- Second, the community of practice concept highlights the importance of social interactions in learning. This perspective has important implications for how we think about learning in organizations.
- Third, the community of practice concept is useful for understanding how new ideas and practices spread. This is because the community of practice framework emphasizes the role of social networks in knowledge sharing.
Disadvantages of CoPs
There are also a few disadvantages to using the community of practice concept.
- First, the community of practice concept can be difficult to operationalize. This is because it is often hard to identify the boundaries of a community of practice.
- Second, the community of practice concept places emphasis on informal learning processes. This can be seen as a disadvantage if one wants to focus on more formal learning processes.
- Third, the community of practice concept can be used to justify existing power structures within organizations. This is because the community of practice framework can be used to legitimize existing social relationships.
Steps of Cultivating Successful CoPs
Wenger suggested seven steps that may be taken to create communities of practice
1. Designing the community to evolve naturally
The community should not be designed around a specific goal or outcome. Instead, it should be allowed to evolve naturally.
2. Fostering a culture of open dialog within and outside perspectives
The community should be open to dialog from both inside and outside perspectives.
3. Welcoming and allowing different levels of participation
The community should be welcoming to different levels of participation such as core group, active group, and peripheral group levels.
4. Developing both public and private community spaces
The community should have both public and private spaces. Despite their name, CoPs are not limited to public areas. They should also provide secluded interactions. Different members of the CoP might work together to develop connections and resources in a personalized manner based on individual requirements.
5. Focussing on the value of community
The community should focus on the value it provides to members. This can be done by providing opportunities for members to share their knowledge and expertise.
6. Combining familiarity and excitement
The community should combine aspects of both familiarity and excitement. This can be done by offering new challenges to members while also providing a sense of community.
7. Finding and nurturing a regular rhythm for the community
The community should have a regular rhythm. This can be done by setting up regular meetings or events. CoPs should plan a healthy cycle of activities and events to ensure that members regularly socialize, reflect, and grow. The rhythm or speed of the community’s activity should be kept at an expected level to keep it vibrant, yet not so rapid that it becomes difficult to manage and overwhelming in its intensity.
Companies with CoPs
Some of the popular companies that use CoPs are
1. American Management System or AMS
It is a community of developers who design and maintain software for the federal government.
It has a community of engineers who work on designing and developing networking products.
3. General Electric or GE
It has a community of scientists who work on developing new technologies.
It has a community of researchers who work on developing new computer technologies.
It has a community of developers who work on developing new software products.
It has a community of engineers who work on developing new technologies for office equipment.
There are many more companies that use the community of practice concept for their business operations. These are just a few examples.
The community of practice concept is a useful framework for understanding how groups of people interact and learn from each other.
It has many advantages, such as its ability to create social relationships, its focus on learning, and its openness to different levels of participation. However, the community of practice concept also has some disadvantages, such as its potential to legitimize existing power structures within organizations.
Overall, the community of practice concept is a valuable tool for understanding how groups of people interact and learn from each other.