Why Promote Communities of Practice?

Teamwork is one thing, the community of practice is another. Within a given territory, or within a network of companies, it is worthwhile to create communities of practice. Why, and how do you go about it?

Imagine math teachers, from different schools across the country, who want to develop new pedagogical practices together or share digital tools. Now imagine a group that brings together urban planners, municipal councillors, heritage specialists and jurists in environmental law, determined to develop their thinking together about development of the region. This is what a community of practice is: a space for discussion and collective learning, which is not linked to a specific project and which aims to emerge from the usual framework to broaden horizons.

In Canada, communities of practice are multiplying in both the private and public sectors. Theorized in Quebec at the Université Laval by Swiss researcher Étienne Wenger, the community of practice aims “to create new knowledge and to learn collectively”, as explained by Mélanie Normand, CEFRIO project director.

Participants of a community of practice seek to improve their professional practices and to share their successes, among others. The communities are increasingly interdisciplinary, bringing together, for example, people from the business community and the academic world.

“The community of practice is becoming more and more virtual,” adds Mélanie Normand. “Digital collaboration tools enable more flexibility and more inventiveness, in addition to breaking down geographical barriers. Different types of discussion forums, document sharing or video authoring tools are used.”

How do you go about it?

There are as many models as there are communities. “The members make their own rules of the game,” explains Mélanie Normand. The CEFRIO, however, identifies a classical operation, which begins by identifying a theme or a supporting idea, then continues through the establishment of the community (particularly recruitment and setting up of tools), and finally by constant interactions and regular assessments of the process.

For the community of practice to function, a skilled facilitator is needed, who is both the  discussion moderator, the guarantor of good collaboration, the technical support manager and the archivist and disseminator of the knowledge produced. “It is clearly a new profession that requires both technological and organizational skills, and a state of mind as a researcher,” says Mélanie Normand. A funding model also needs to be found: communities of practice always end up with significant costs. But the effort is worthwhile.

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