A Step-by-Step Guide for Designing & Cultivating Communities of Practice in Higher Education
Why Are Communities Important?
This guide was developed based on the shared experiences of several organizations working together in ways that embody the spirit of collaboration. These included the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative at EDUCAUSE (http://www.educause.edu/nlii) and a community it sponsored, the Bridging VCOP; the
American Association for Higher Education.
(http://www.aahe.org); and iCohere
(http://www.icohere.com). We would also like to specifically acknowledge the NLII VCOP Facilitators
Team and four generations of NLII Fellows for their ongoing contribution to and successful demonstration of many of the processes and tools presented in this guide. Today, organizations, workgroups, teams, and individuals must work together in new ways. Interorganizational collaboration is increasingly important.
Communities of practice provide a new model for connecting people in the spirit of learning, knowledge sharing, and collaboration as well as individual, group, and organizational development.
How to Use This Community Design Guide
This guide provides a practical approach to creating communities of practice (CoPs) based on experiences working with corporations, nonprofits, associations, government organizations, and educational institutions. While it is important to recognize that every organization and community is different, this guide provides a structure to help clarify the most important design elements that go into defining, designing, launching, and growing CoPs—both online and face-to-face. The first three pages of the guide are designed for those who are considering the strategic use of CoPs to facilitate collaboration, learning, or knowledge generation and want to know more. The subsequent pages of the guide are designed to help CoP designers and facilitators understand the questions, issues, and options involved in planning and cultivating communities.
What Is a Community of Practice?
A community of practice is a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or interest in a topic and who come together to fulfil both individual and group goals.1 CoPs 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. A community’s specific purpose and goals inform the appropriate activities and technologies that should support it. Many virtual communities of practice rely on face-to-face meetings as well as Web-based collaborative environments to communicate, connect, and conduct community activities.
Communities of practice are important because they:
Connect people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact, either as frequently or at all.
Provide a shared context for people to communicate and share information, stories, and personal experiences in a way that builds understanding and insight.
Enable dialogue between people who come together to explore new possibilities, solve challenging problems, and create new, mutually beneficial opportunities.
Stimulate learning by serving as a vehicle for authentic communication, mentoring, coaching, and self-reflection.
Capture and diffuse existing knowledge to help people improve their practice by providing a forum to identify solutions to common problems and a process to collect and evaluate best practices.
Introduce collaborative processes to groups and organizations as well as between organizations to encourage the free flow of ideas and exchange of information.
Help people organize around purposeful actions that deliver tangible results.
Generate new knowledge to help people transform their practice to accommodate changes in needs and technologies.
How Do You Build CoPs?