Communities of Practice

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani | published 25th Mar 2011 | last updated 30th Mar 2011

weADAPT is about planting the seed and nurturing the growth of a new community of practice: a group of people collecting around a shared concern and interested in how we adapt to climate change, interacting across organisational boundaries to share ideas and expertise in order to develop a body of knowledge, good practices and approaches.

The video above, We Think by Charles Leadbeater, itself an object of web sharing, gives a sense of what this platform is about and some of the associated opportunities and challenges... weADAPT is about forming a community and sharing ideas to generate mass innovations necessary for a more sustainable type of development, resilient to climatic (and other) changes!

We-Think the Book

The video is based on a book of the same name which is a very interesting and easy read. I've just been having a look at Chapter 3: How weThink works (and doesn't). There's a lot there, but the core elements needed in order for this sort of mass collaboration to work appear to be:

  • You need a core of work and contributors around which a community can form.
  • The tools to add content need to be simple.
  • Contributors should have diverse view-points in order to create the most innovative solutions to problems, the argument being that 10 experts with the same perspective are not much more likely to solve something than 2 experts with the same perspective. Importantly contributors need to have the self-confidence to contribute.
  • It won't work if people can't connect to each other; contributors won't keep contributing unless they feel they are part of a community and can discuss and receive feedback on their ideas.
  • Enough people must find the problem challenging and stimulating to want to put in the extra time and effort to work on it.
  • It works well when small groups work around certain themes/problems, which then fit into the whole.
  • Decision-making needs to be clear and the community has to work out a way of governing itself.
  • There has to be a good peer-review system to weed out bad ideas and validate good ones.

Other Literature

There is some interesting literature emerging on the topic of communities of practice (CoP) as organisations realise the value of these distributed networks and intentionally focus on cultivating and supporting them, purposefully removing barriers to such engagements. Here are a few reference documents worth looking at on this topic (please do add more if you have found others).

A good place to start looking into the topic is this report, prepared by the CentrePoint Institute for the W.K.Kellogg Foundation. It reviews recent literature on the idea of communities of practice (CoP), the different types of CoPs, how they are characterized and what the value is of these communities:

An article by Forte and Bruckman of the Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Computing, Why Do People Write for Wikipedia? Incentives to Contribute to Open-Content Publishing, gives interesting insight into what motivates people to contribute to such collaborative online endeavours (comparing them with more traditional scientific communities of authorship). The authors find that while Wikipedia does not give direct attribution to authorship, within the community of authors people do recognise one another and claim some form of ownership of articles. Through this authors claim and receive credit in reward for contributing to the community. This credibility is accrued in order to move into the ranks of administrator, and thereby to be in a position to influence the character of Wikipedia content. However, it is noted that many members of the community felt that such status should not be sought, taking rather an egalitarian view of knowledge production; and that a more rigorous peer-review process resulted in the demise of the Nupedia (the original form of Wikipedia).

Recommendations from the study suggest that the design of online communities must meaningfully structure participants' contributions in a way that sustains involvement, allowing productive participants to achieve great capacity to produce a desired effect and higher levels of responsibility in the community. This need not, and possibly should not, result in a "hard coded" stratification of participants, but rather should allow for incremental and and socially agreed upon gradations of credibility and power. Providing some obvious indication of what activities warrant higher levels of credibility may help fledgling communities grow.

See the full article at: Forte, Andrea and Amy Bruckman. (2005). Why do people write for Wikipedia? Incentives to contribute to open-content publishing. GROUP 05 workshop: Sustaining community: The role and design of incentive mechanisms in online systems. Sanibel Island, FL.

Other interesting reads include:

  • Harvard Business School: A Guide to Managing Knowledge - Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice


  • The Success of Virtual Communities of Practice: The Leadership Factor

Authors: Anne Bourhis, Line Duba and Raol Jacob (HEC Montréal, Canada)

Abstract: Contrary to the 'one-fits-all' approach used in the literature on how to sustain virtual communities of practice (VCoPs), this paper advocates that successful management practices should be contingent upon their basic characteristics. More specifically, this study of eight virtual communities of practice investigates how the actions taken by the communities' leadership teams may influence their success. The results show that decisions regarding the operational leadership of a VCoP are crucial elements to counteract the challenges arising from its structuring characteristics. Among those decisions, the choice and availability of a leader and the support of a coach are shown to be crucial.

Keywords: Virtual community of practice, virtual group, leadership, knowledge sharing, organizational learning

Available at:


  • Managing intentionally created communities of practice for knowledge sourcing across organisational boundaries: Insights on the role of the CoP manager

Authors: Garavan, Thomas N.; Carbery, Ronan; Murphy, Eamonn

Abstract: Purpose - The purpose of this article is to explore strategies used by communities of practice (CoPs) managers when managing intentionally created CoPs. Design/methodology/approach - Four intentionally created CoPs in Ireland are explored, using a qualitative research design with data from observation, interviews and analysis of documents. Findings - The study identified a number of specific strategies CoP managers use to develop trust, facilitate collaboration, facilitate the negotiation of shared meaning and manage power issues within the CoP. These strategies were shared by the four managers who participated in the study. Research limitations/implications - The study is based on a small sample of managers in Ireland. The context and process imposed constraints and the findings are context specific which implications for the application of findings to other CoPs. Originality/value - The study highlights the concept of CoP is not confined to traditional understandings but includes intentionally created highly structured time-bound groupings of individuals who work in a collaborative manner to share knowledge. The paper offers learning from CoP managers and highlights the practical implications of their experiences.

Keywords: Communities; Ireland; Knowledge sharing; Managers; Strategic management

Source: The Learning Organization: An International Journal, Volume 14, Number 1, 2007, pp. 34-49(16)

Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Limited