What is a community of practice?
- A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to fulfill both individual and group goals.
- Communities of practice often focus on sharing best practices and creating new knowledge to advance a domain of professional practice. Interaction on an ongoing basis is an important part of this.
- Many communities of practice rely on face-to-face meetings as well as web-based collaborative environments to communicate, connect, and conduct community activities.
What is the origin of the term ‘community of practice’?
While people have learned together through informal communities of practice throughout history, the primary use of the concept originated in learning theory. Cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger coined the term “community of practice” when studying apprenticeships as a learning model—the term referred to the community that acts as a living curriculum. Once the concept was articulated the researchers started to see communities everywhere, even when no formal apprenticeship system existed.
To learn more about the origins and theory of communities of practice, see:
What are the characteristics of a community of practice?
There are three characteristics of a community of practice:
- Domain: Community members have a shared domain of interest, competence, and commitment that distinguishes them from others. This shared domain creates common ground, inspires members to participate, guides their learning, and gives meaning to their actions.
- Community: Members pursue this interest through joint activities, discussions, problem-solving opportunities, information sharing, and relationship building. The notion of a community creates the social fabric for enabling collective learning. A strong community fosters interaction and encourages a willingness to share ideas.
- Practice: Community members are actual practitioners in this domain of interest, and build a shared repertoire of resources and ideas that they take back to their 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 collective knowledge.
Types of communities of practice
Today, communities of practices are increasingly being used to improve knowledge management and connect people within business, government, education, and other organizations.
The design of the community will look different depending on the purpose and needs of the participants. There are four basic types of communities:
- Helping Communities provide a forum for community members to help each other with everyday work needs.
- Best Practice Communities develop and disseminate best practices, guidelines, and strategies for their members’ use.
- Knowledge Stewarding Communities organize, manage, and steward a body of knowledge from which community members can draw.
- Innovation Communities create breakthrough ideas, new knowledge, and new practices.