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2.1 Communities of practice

Communities come in many forms. When the concept of ‘communities of practice’ was discussed in Week 3, it was noted that communities can develop wherever a common interest exists between individuals, such as a shared profession:

‘Communities of practice are 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. 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 members’ interactions.’

(Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner, 2015)

The Wenger-Trayners, who are leaders in this area, suggest there are three key characteristics of a community of practice:

  • A shared domain of interest. A community of practice is not just a group of friends; membership implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people.
  • An active community, sharing and exploring the 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 and they care about their standing with each other. However, they do not necessarily work together on a daily basis.
  • An impact on the practice of those involved. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared set of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems – in short, a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction.

The Wenger-Trayners state that ‘it is the combination of these three elements that constitutes a community of practice, and it is by developing these three elements in parallel that one cultivates such a community’. Networks can develop into communities of practice but will usually require sustained effort and contributions to persist.

Activity 3 Your communities of practice

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Make notes on the range of social and professional communities you belong to. Reflect on why they work so well (and if they do not work well, why not). Is there a difference between a ‘network’ and a ‘community’? Are these inclusive communities?

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This activity is intended to help you reflect on the way communities you belong to operate and how they support those who belong to them.