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Communities of Practice

3Cs is built around the concept of Community of Practice
Knowledge cannot be separated from the communities that create it, use it, and transform it. In all types of knowledge work, even where technology is very helpful, people require conversation, experimentation, and shared experiences with other people who do what they do. Especially as people move beyond routine processes into more complex challenges they rely heavily on their community of practice as their primary knowledge resource.

What is a community of practice? John Seely Brown, VP and Chief Scientist at Parc Xerox describes such communities as "peers in the execution of real work. What holds them together is a common sense of purpose and a real need to know what each other knows." What sets these apart from teams, however, is that communities are defined by knowledge rather than task. Further, a community life cycle is determined by the value it creates for its members, not by project deadlines.

There are important distinctions between work groups, teams, communities of practice, and knowledge networks. Etienne Wenger www.ewenger.com, a global leader in community of practice development describes three important dimensions of communities of practice:
  • Domain. People organise around domain of knowledge that gives members a sense of joint enterprise and brings them together. Members identify with the domain of knowledge and a joint undertaking that emerges from shared understanding of their situation.
  • Community. People function as a community through relationships of mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity. They interact regularly and engage in joint activities that build relationship and trust.
  • Practice. It builds capability in its practice by developing a shared repertoire and resources such as tools, documents, routines, vocabulary, symbols, artifacts, etc, that embody the accumulated knowledge of the community. This shared repertoire serves as a foundation for future learning.
Since the beginning of history, human beings have formed communities that accumulate collective learning into social practicescommunities of practice. Tribes are an early example. More recent instances include the guilds of the Middle Ages that took on the stewardship of a trade, and scientific communities that collectively define what counts as valid knowledge in a specific area of investigation. Less obvious cases could be your local magician club, nurses in a ward, a street gang or a group of software engineers meeting regularly in the cafeteria to share tips. Such communities do not take knowledge in their specialty to be an object; it is a living part of their practice even when they document it. Knowing is an act of participation.