Etienne Wenger-Trainer literally wrote the book on Communities of Practice. He describes himself as a marriage counselor for CoP.
These communities exist across sectors even though we may not be aware of them. Knowledge is social and it represents a fundamental human property. In an ideal world, knowledge is the property of a community because knowledge is rarely created in a vacuum.
I like this concept of “becoming a knower” as a social theory of learning. This theory encompasses: Practice (what are doing), Comunity (where do we belong), Identity (who are we becoming), & Meaning (what is our experience).
He related a tale of sampling wine with a colleague who was able to articulate the tasting experience at a significantly higher level than most people. Because this friend had been sampling wine and working with like-minded individuals for many years, this analogy underscores the value of making the learning happen in that community. It is equally important to relate the experience.
We have to be conscious of the barriers of these communities as well. He speaks of being a tourist in a community without becoming a native/citizen…but he also speaks of an implied accountability for the rules/norms of that community when you are within it. So there’s a note of caution that your community experience could be transient depending on your needs/drivers, but you’re still expected to (in essence) play by the community’s rules, even when visiting.
Wenger also asked people to think about the things that define the body of knowledge for OUR profession? E.g. is it through publications? regulations? Individual/tacit knowledge? We also have to think about how this BoK is shared and grown in the community.
There are some implications for the work I’m currently doing. First, I’m in an environment that embraces the concepts of “apprenticeships” and “journeymen”, but it’s also one that has a strong social culture that operates as a CoP without even having it formalized. What I think we could do is help to bring those Communities to the forefront in apprentice-level training, but also to help our new cadre of instructors at all levels.
For my own part, I see this Community concept as extending into some of my current Personal Learning Network efforts. While I establish my own “community” among the people I connext with, based on Wenger-Trayner’s definition) I’m really a tourist. I don’t have as much of a feedback loop or shared experience mechanism as a full-blown CoP would have and much of my work is completed outside the community. Having said that, I’d like to bring some more of these concepts to the forefront and get a more active CoP happening at work…I just think I’ll have to leverage some of Steven Johnson’s Innovation concepts to make it work. (more on that in another post)