‘Communities of Practice’

The increasing interest in ‘communities of practice’ (CoP) among many leading organisations, such as Hewlett-Packard, Shell, DaimlerChrysler, and the World Bank, highlights a recognition by many managers of the importance of informal and emergent networks to the vitality of an organisation, coupled with the desire to encourage and direct such informal relationships and interactions toward specific goal-orientated activities and problem solving. In this sense, the use of a CoP is an attempt by managers and organisations to ‘capture’ the benefits of informal organisation, and in particular, informal relationships and social networks that extend out across and beyond the organisation, spanning organisational boundaries and tapping into a knowledge-base that is both distributed and varied. This is important for the sustenance of creativity and innovation.

A ‘community of practice’ (CoP) is essentially a ‘social learning system’, populated by individuals who “share cultural practices reflecting their collective learning” and who are “informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for a joint enterprise”. This ‘joint enterprise’ often concerns the spreading of domain specific good practice and problem-solving.