Communities of Practice

What are Communities of Practice?

"Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something that they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly"                                                                                    Wenger, 2006

They do not have a uniform look or shape, but are made up of a group of practitioners with a shared interest.

Communities develop their practice through a number of activities including:

  • Problem Solving
  • Requests for Information
  • Discussing Developments
  • Mapping Knowledge
  • Identifying Gaps

What Elements Are Needed to Develop A Community of Practice?

  1. Domain - the definition of the area of shared interests and of the key issues.
  2. Community - the relationship among members and the sense of belonging.
  3. Practice - the body of knowledge, methods, stories, cases, tools and documents.

Wenger, 2002

What are the Guiding Principles for Developing A Community of Practice?

  1. Design for evolution. 
  2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.
  3. Invite different levels of participation. 
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces.
  5. Focus on values. 
  6. Create both familiarity and excitement.
  7. Create a rhythm for the community.  

Wenger, 2002

How are Communities of Practice Being Applied?

The concept of Communities of Practice are being applied in a number of areas including:

  • Organizations
  • Government
  • Education
  • Associations
  • International Development
  • Social Service Sectors

In the social sector, there is a focus on building communities among practitioners to support peer-to-peer connections and  learning opportunities.

Wenger, 2006; 2004

Why Focus on Communities of Practice?

Adapted From Wenger, 2006



 Short-Term Value

 Long-Term Value

  • Help with Challenges
  • Access to Expertise
  • Confidence
  • Fun with Colleagues
  • Meaningful Work
  • Personal Development
  • Reputation
  • Professional Identity
  • Network
  • Marketability


 Short-Term Value

 Long-Term Value

  • Problem Solving
  • Time Saving
  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Synergies Across Units
  • Reuse of Resources
  • Strategic Capabilities
  • Keeping Abreast
  • Innovation
  • Retention of Talents
  • New Strategies



Wenger, Etienne. (June 2006). Communities of practice: A brief introduction.

Wenger, Etienne., McDermott, Richard., & Synder, William. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, Etienne. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. New York, NY:  Cambridge University Press.