ICE Book Review – Cultivating Communities of Practice

By Rob Cooney (@EMEducation)

Cultivating Communities of Practice
By: Etienne Wenger, (@etiennewenger) Richard McDermott, and William Snyder

The concept of Communities of Practice (CoP) has garnered significant attention in recent years as a framework for supporting the growth of knowledge in learning organizations. Prior works have focused on the theoretical approaches. This book builds upon that theory in a pragmatic and approachable fashion.

In a post-industrial “knowledge age,” the importance of knowledge management cannot be understated. Initially, technology was felt to be the key. We are now recognizing that, due to the social and contextual nature of “knowledge,” the development and support of CoP may be a better method for advancing organizational abilities. What is a CoP? They are, “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting in an ongoing basis (pg. 4).”

This title provides a “user’s manual” for anyone interested in forming a CoP. From the initial values they provide to organizations (the Why), to the structural elements, to the developmental process, each stage of a community’s development is outlined within the chapters. Included are stories and examples as well as a discussion of managing distributed communities and the potential downsides of CoP. You will learn about the importance of the Domain of Knowledge, the community, and the shared practice. Also helpful is the discussion about the similarities and differences between CoPs and departments, organizational teams, project teams, communities of interest, and informal networks.

Ever since Peter Senge wrote the Fifth Discipline in 1990, institutions have wrestled with the difficulty of becoming an effective “learning organization.” CoP offer leaders the ability to advance the educational mission while simultaneously supporting our faculty and providing value. This book helps to show how to cultivate this value.

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