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.
- Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner
I'm a huge fan of Communities of Practices, I've spent most of my community career focused on building them. Most of what I've learned has been through people, conversations, ideas and content that people share—and within communities.
I love and believe in them so much that I feel they can and should be part of any learning, personal development and career plan. There are many ways to learn, communities of practices can be so powerful from that perspective.
They don't replace qualifications, they support ongoing learning and the ability to understand how others are doing things 'today' and in 'practice'. Importantly, employees should be able to sign up to paid offerings or spend their work time learning from community of practices as part of their allocated training and work budgets.
What kind of communities of practices exist?
The few types of communities of practices that I tend to see in the world at the moment:
- open or membership based communities of practices: these tackle a specific niche and can be free or paid, or a mixture of both. Rosieland, Ministry of Testing and DevTo are examples of this. On a smaller scale, and often how many communities start are local meetups or smaller scale chat/Slack communities.
- internal communities of practices: typically set up within companies to explore more social learning and knowledge exchange. These often tap into the learning and knowledge that is shared in open communities of practices.
- product communities of practice: this is perhaps a somewhat newer category where product-based companies invest in a community to support the personal growth of their customer base. Figma and Notion are examples of these and I suspect we'll only see more of these over the coming years.
- local communities: gathering over a cause (e.g climate change) or a skill (e.g. jujitsu) are also great examples of communities of practices, sometimes these can turn into bigger online communities, other times they are just best off serving a core group of local people.
Would you add anything else to the list? Let me know!
What are the pros and cons of Communities of Practices?
Let's start with the positives:
- topics and themes tend to be relevant and trending
- reap the benefits of peer to peer learning
- challenges people have can be solved together
- often opportunities arise to collaborate or partner on projects that are meaningful to support the practice
- relationships are built that can last a lifetime
- members often benefit from the network knowledge and opportunities
What about the cons?
- it can be a thankless task where the value is often not appreciated
- as with all community things, getting involvement from people can be hard
- organisers can burn out easily, especially if it's added on as one of many things they do
- the community ops and keeping information and communicating all the things can become a task within itself
- the results and benefits are often not credited to the Community of Practice
Would you add anything else to the list? Let me know!
Looking to the future
As with all things community, I feel this is so much room for improvement and innovation:
- every niche should have at least one independent community of practice to represent them
- collaboration between internal communities of practices and external and open ones should be encouraged
- curation and knowledge management is something I don't feel has been tapped into enough
- you know me and tools, we need better tools to manage communities of practices well. Is there room for a tool just for communities of practices? Quite possibly.
- we could do much better to understand the diversity within humans and how we learn, everyone I speak to has different preferences, how can we get better at creating Communities of Practices that cater for them?
Could we start some conversations around Communities of Practice?
Do you have an interest in Communities of Practices? I'd love to encourage you to start and share conversations.
- Do you run a Community of Practice and what can you tell us about it?
- What is the tech you use to run them?
- What challenges do you face building it?
- What have been some great and not so great outcomes of leading a community of practice?
- Would you like to host an AMA on your community of practice?
- Would you like to take and share notes on any of the curated resources below?
🏘 Drop into The Village and start a post tagged with community-practice.
🌈 Curated Community of Practice Resources
Curation is a pathway to help communities find and explore topics of interest, below are some resources to get you going with your learning journey. I hope along the way you would consider sharing any insights or experiences in The Village.
- A community and a practice are not the same, but they are brilliant together - Emily Webber
- Tacit’s Community of Practice Maturity Model - Emily Webber
- How to Create a Vertical Professional Learning Community - Victoria Thompson, Edutopia
- Lessons learned from six-years leading a community of practice - Scott Colfer
- Here be dragons - Mike Washburn
- Six tips for building communities of practice - Software Sustainability Institute
- The importance of having a safe place to listen and learn - Kim Morley
- Communities of practice: Straight from the open source - Walter Bentley
- Introduction to communities of practice - Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner
- What is ‘community’ when everyone is isolated? - Carter Gibson & Max Saltonstall
- How to build an online community of practice - Chris Lysy
- Why Community Belongs at the Center of Today’s Remote Work Strategies -Dion Hinchcliffe
- The fractal structure of communities of practice: Implications for business organization - Emily Webber, Robin Dunbar
- Community of practice kick-off canvas - Emily Webber
- Steps to Success when building a Community of Practice - Doug Belshaw
- View of Communities of making: Exploring parallels between fandom and open source - Rachel Winter, Anastasia Salter, Mel Stanfil
- Communities of Practice with Emily Webber - MadeTech
- Creating Internal Communities with Google’s Carter Gibson - Create Community
- Think digital, act human: why are communities of practice good for organisations? - Gov.uk
- S05 Episode 05: Communities of Practice - The Tao of WAO
- Episode 6: Nataly Blas & Jennifer Masunga on Communities of Practice and Mentorship - LibVoices
- Finding Connection and Meaning through Communities of Practice - BC's Path to Universal Child Care
- In conversation with Michelle Stowe, Director of Connect RP - restorative practice, professional learning communities and more! - Lighting a Fire
- EP-32 Building a community of practice - The Delivery Manager Daily
- The Community of Practice: Don't Agonize, Organize featuring Theo Pride, PhD and Frank Romo, MURP - Equity Matters Podcast
- Alison Cohen, Advocate and Coordinator of the National Right to Food Community of Practice - The Food Sleuth
- Building Successful Communities of Practice - Emily Webber, Mind the Product
- Three tips for developing Communities of Practice - Bev & Etienne Wenger-Trayner, LivUni CIE
- Community of practice as a social learning theory - Rachel Grant
- Dr Etienne Wenger: Learning in landscapes of practice - University of Brighton
- The Communities of Practice Playbook - European Commission
- Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge — Etienne Wenger, Richard A. McDermott, William Snyder
- Building Successful Communities of Practice — Emily Webber
- Learning in Landscapes of Practice: Boundaries, identity, and knowledgeability in practice-based learning — Etienne Wenger-Trayner , Mark Fenton-O'Creevy, Steve Hutchinson, Chris Kubiak, Beverly Wenger-Trayner
- Internal communities in many companies 😋
- Ministry of Testing
- No Code Founders
- Mind the Product
- Women in Product
- 100 Days of No Code
- Online Genuises