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FOCUS on... Communities of practice

PHCRIS Infonet, Volume 11, Issue 5, June 2007, ISBN 1832 620X
Eleanor Jackson Bowers, PHCRIS

PHCRIS has developed a new publication, FOCUS on... Communities of practice.

"Communities of practice 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." 1

Lave and Wenger developed the concept of Communities of Practice (CoPs) as a social theory of learning. Rather than learning through taking in written or presented information, learning occurs through interacting with other people in the real world with all its complexities and contradictions and building up a communally developed body of knowledge.

While a network will disseminate information, lobby or collaborate on an issue a CoP is more concerned with learning and innovating. CoPs share a basic structure: "a domain of knowledge, which defines a set of issues, a community of people who are passionate about this domain, and the shared practice that they are developing to be effective in their domain". 2

Groups of passionate individuals can achieve extraordinary things and CoPs are increasingly being supported by organisations that have come to see that, in a complex, fast changing environment, an organisation must be able to innovate quickly to survive. CoPs are also valuable to share know how and to make things happen ‘between the cracks' where formal structures are not sufficiently context sensitive or synchronised to make things happen.

Viewing the community as a communally held repository of knowledge and organisational memory has led to knowledge management applications. There are also examples of communities of practice being used to support the movement of evidence into practice and policy through group learning. CoPs are also being supported in the virtual environment to support geographically distributed communities of practice.

Our latest FOCUS on... Communities of practice has lots more information, examples and resources. It is available at

For further information contact:
Eleanor Jackson-Bowers, Research Associate

1 Wenger, E., Mc Dermott, R., Snyder, W. (2002) Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Harvard Business School Press. (p4)
2 Ibid p 22

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