often have you come away from a staff meeting….a conference… a training
course with fresh perspectives and practice possibilities gleaned from
the conversations you have participated in over lunch and in the coffee
breaks - the informal opportunities to meet other practitioners, to
share concerns, to learn from what other people are doing in situations
similar to your own.
these social contexts you are able to connect with others with a shared
focus, a common purpose and relevant practice. If such opportunities
are regular, perhaps you establish and maintain a network of
relationships on which you can draw for information or advice when you
encounter new challenges in your work. It could be said that you are
participating in a ‘community of practice’.
term ‘community of practice’ is now widely used in relation to
collaborative working, sharing experience, learning together and the
development of practice. The use of the term may be recent, communities
of practice, according to Etienne Wenger, are, however, age-old.
Etienne Wenger developed the theory of learning in communities of practice in his work with Jean Lave, studying how people learn to become professionals by working alongside colleagues in a practice context. According to Wenger, communities of practice are everywhere, they develop organically and we all participate in multiple communities of practice, not just at work but in other aspects of our life too as we connect with other people who share an interest, a purpose and common language. He suggests that in these situations our main aim is to feel that we belong in a group with which we identify. Learning is inherent but may not be an explicit aim of our participation.
‘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.’ (Wenger circa 2008)