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Knowledge Management and Communities of Practice
Lave and Wenger first introduced the concept of a Community of Practice (CoP) in 1991. Lave and Wenger saw the acquisition of knowledge as a social process where people can participate in communal learning at different levels depending on their level of authority or seniority in the group, i.e. whether they are a newcomer or have been a member for a long time. Central to their notion of a CoP as a means of acquiring knowledge is the process by which a newcomer moves from peripheral to full participation in the community as they learn from others; they termed this process Legitimate Peripheral Participation (LPP). Since then, the notion of a CoP has now been expanded to encompass a far wider range of groups. The term Communities of Practice (CoPs) has now been applied to a range of different groups, from project teams to functional departments. There have also been several attempts to redefine CoPs in such a way that they are relevant to the needs of commercial organizations and attempts by some management consultancies to formalize methods to create them.
Lave and Wenger's (1991) originally described a CoP as "a set of relations among persons, activity and world, over time and in relation with other tangential and overlapping CoPs". For the discussion of CoPs in this section we will add (1) that members of CoPs have a shared set of interests and are motivated to do something about them and (2) that CoPs are self-generating, the membership is self selecting and CoPs are not necessarily co-located.
CoPs provide a particularly interesting example of the relationship between Knowledge Management and Distributed Collaborative work (see The Duality of Knowledge for a further discussion of this point). Based on our previous discussion of KM and DCW, we might expect CoPs to be concerned solely with soft knowledge and Hot DCW. However research into the way that geographically distributed CoPs work has shown that aspects of hard KM, such as the use of shared documents which act as boundary objects, also play a vital role (see Communities of Practice in the Distributed International Environment for examples of this). Additionally, although CoPs have recently been the subject of much interest in the business world, the notion of using a CoP in such setting is itself problematical.
Firstly, CoPs do not fit comfortably with the notion of work within a formal organizational setting. For Lave and Wenger (1991), legitimacy was gained by being accepted and gaining informal authority through consensus within the group. This notion often sits uncomfortably with the more formal view of a CoP where rank or position in an organizational hierarchy is seen as the principal source of authority. (See Kolbotn, R (2004) Communities of Practice in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Chapter 7 in Knowledge Networks: Innovation through Communities of Practice, Paul Hildreth and Chris Kimble (Eds), Idea Group Publishing for a further discussion of this point.)
Secondly, while CoPs are clearly collaborative, there is some dispute about whether they can ever be truly virtual (see, Communities of Practice: Going Virtual for a further discussion of this point). However, if CoPs can become virtual, what effect might this have on the nature of a CoP? For example, through electronic networking, it may be possible for members of a CoP to make links with individuals at other locations who do similar work. These individuals might also be members of CoPs. This process could continue and one CoP could link with a CoP in a different area of the organization, possibly in another organization or even in a different country. If this were to continue we could be left with a situation as shown below where a CoP could continue to expand until everybody who had an interest in a particular area became a member.
From Computer Mediated Communications and Communities of Practice
In Lave and Wenger's (1991) original view of a CoP this could not happen as the CoPs they studied were co-located. Later Wenger (1998) proposed a view of an organization, not as a single CoP, but as a constellation of interrelated CoPs that reflected how membership of CoPs overlapped within an organization to allow the transfer of knowledge and learning through social links. More recently, Brown and Duguid (2000) coined the term Network of Practice to describe these wider but more diffuse social networks. (See Teigland, R and McLure Wasko, M (2004) Extending Richness with Reach: Participation and Knowledge Exchange in Electronic Networks of Practice. Chapter 19 in Knowledge Networks: Innovation through Communities of Practice, Paul Hildreth and Chris Kimble (Eds), Idea Group Publishing for a further discussion of this point.)
- Nonaka, I. and von Krogh, G. (2009). Perspective - Tacit Knowledge and Knowledge Conversion: Controversy and Advancement in Organizational Knowledge Creation Theory. Organization Science, 20(3), pp. 635-652.
- Wenger. E, McDermott. R and Snyder, W.M. Cultivating Communities of Practice, Harvard Business School Press, 2002
- Seely Brown. J and Duguid, P. The Social Life of Information, Harvard Business School Press, 2000
- Wenger E and Snyder. WM. (2000). Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier. Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb, pp 139-145
- Davenport T and Prusak L. Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know. Harvard Business School Press, 1998
- Wenger E. Communities of practice. Learning meaning and identity. Cambridge University Press, 1998
- Lave J and Wenger E, Situated Learning - Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge University Press, 1991
- Seely Brown J. and Duguid P. (1991): Organizational Learning and Communities of Practice. Organization Science, 2(1) pp 40-57
- Organizational learning and communities-of-practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning, and innovation
'Work in Progress' by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. Recent ethnographic studies of workplace practices indicate that the ways people actually work usually differ fundamentally from the ways organizations describe that work in manuals, training programs and organizational charts. Conventional descriptions of jobs mask not only the ways people work, but also significant learning and innovation generated in the informal communities-of-practice in which they work.
- An Analysis of Key Factors for the Success of the Communal Management of Knowledge.
This paper explores the links between Knowledge Management and new community-based models of the organization from both a theoretical and an empirical perspective. From a theoretical standpoint, we look at Communities of Practice (CoPs) and Knowledge Management (KM) and explore the links between the two; from an empirical standpoint, we present the results of a survey involving the Chief Knowledge Officers (CKOs) of twelve large French businesses.
- Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System
We frequently say that people are an organization's most important resource. Yet we seldom understand this truism in terms of the communities through which individuals develop and share the capacity to create and use knowledge. Even when people work for large organizations, they learn through their participation in more specific communities made up of people with whom they interact on a regular basis. These "communities of practice" are mostly informal and distinct from organizational units. However, they are a company's most versatile and dynamic knowledge resource and form the basis of an organization's ability to know and learn.
- Communities of practice and organizational performance
As organizations grow in size, geographical scope and complexity, it is increasingly apparent that sponsorship and support of communities of practice can improve organizational performance. Lesser and Storck argue that the social capital in communities, which may be virtual or co-located, lead to changes that positively influence business performance.
- Learning in Context: Extensively Computerized Work Groups as Communities-of-Practice
The current focus in the management information systems literature is on individual training and teaching methods. The context in which people and groups learn is overlooked in these studies. Work groups provide different types of learning environments; some that encourage learning while others discourage it. Three characteristics of work group environments help explain why learning varies: differential valuation of work roles in organizations; differential participation in legitimate peripheral learning and differential levels of participation in communities-of-practice. Two contrasting case studies illustrate how these concepts result in different learning environments.
- The Impact of Structural Characteristics on the Launching of Intentionally Formed Virtual Communities of Practice
Since information and communication technology (ICT) can transcend space and time, a growing number of large organizations rely on virtual communities of practice (VCoPs) as a knowledge management tool. This paper investigates how 13 organizations attempted to implement 17 different VCoPs. The results show that the environment and the relevance of the VCoP's objectives to the members' daily work are the two structural characteristics that are more likely to explain the success or failure of a VCoP at the launching stage.
- Where is the Action in Virtual Communities of Practice?
Communities of Practice have become increasingly popular as ways of sharing of knowledge effectively. This paper argues that the transfer of a concept that is deeply rooted in the lived-in world to the virtual world involves significant conceptual problems.
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