What Are Communities of Practice ?

The foundational concept  of learning is deeply rooted in the power of social collectives. Since the dawn of time, communal leaning  was the norm and people used to get in communities of practice and sit around the fire to discuss strategies for cornering prey, the shape of arrowheads,or which roots were edible. From the corporations of metalworkers and craftsmen in ancient Rome, through the guilds in Middle Ages and Industrial Revolution, communities of practice have continued to proliferate to this very day.

Communities of practice, according to Wenger et al. , are ” groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis”. The importance of communities of practice stems from the fact that they provide a systematic and structural blueprint for the management of knowledge.

communites of practice

Communities of practice are everywhere and we are all  part of a number of them be it at school, at work, in our community. Some of these communities have label and others do not but what ties members of any community of practice is their shared passion to learn from each other. Participation is a key factor in power relations or better say in status stratification among members. Heavy  participators tend to lead and tutor newly joined members.

In ” Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge” Wenger et al. provide a detailed and insightful analysis of the concept of communities of practice. I highly recommend this work for anyone interested in researching communities of practice.

Here are some highlights I grabbed from this book :

One of the primary tasks of a community of practice is to establish this common baseline and standardize what is well understood so that people can focus their creative energies on the more advanced issues.

Without commitment to a domain, a community is just a group of friends. A shared domain creates a sense of accountability to a body of knowledge and therefore to the development of a practice.

Homogeneity of background, skills, or point of view may make it easier to start a community of practice, but it is neither a required condition nor is it a necessary result. In fact, it is not even an indicator that a community will be more tightly bonded or more effective. With enough common ground for ongoing mutual engagement, a good dose of diversity makes for richer learning, more interesting relationships, and increased creativity.

Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge” by :William M. Snyder, Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott.
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