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Communities of Practice:
Distributed Collaborative Work?
Communities of Practice provide a particularly interesting example of Distributed Collaborative work. Firstly this is because they do not fit comfortably within the previous categories of
home based work or
task based teams (see
Task groups and communities compared for a further discussion of this point). Secondly, while Communities of Practice are clearly collaborative, there is also some discussion as to whether they can ever be virtual, and hence, if their work be distributed (see, for example,
Communities of Practice: Going One Step Too Far?)
Lave and Wenger first introduced the concept of a Community of Practice (CoP) in 1991. Since then, the notion of a CoP has now been expanded to encompass a far wider range of groups. The term Communities of Practice is now applied to a range of different groups, from project teams to functional departments. There have also been several attempts to redefine CoP's 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 (1991) described a Community of Practice 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 motivated to do something about them and (2) that CoPs are self-generating, the membership is self selecting and they not necessarily co-located.
For supplementary reading on Communities of Practice see
Communities of Practice: The social dimension to the virtual world? from the undergraduate
Finally, you might also like to look at some of the
publications relating to Communities of Practice from the
MIS Research Group.
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 involves significant conceptual problems.
- 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. CUP, 1998.
- Lave J and Wenger E, Situated Learning - Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge University Press, 1991
- Wenger E and Snyder. WM. (2000). Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier. Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb, pp 139-145
- Seely Brown J. and Duguid P. (1991): Organizational Learning and Communities of Practice. Organization Science, 2(1) pp 40-57
- Nonaka, I. (1994).
A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation. Organization Science, 5(1), pp. 14-37.
- 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.
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.
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.
Communities of Practice: the Invisible Key to Success
A short article from the Fortune archives - "Organizational learning depends on these often invisible groups, but they're virtually immune to management in a conventional sense - indeed, managing them can kill them"
The People Are the Company -
Revolutions start in the most unexpected places and with the most unlikely heroes. Who would imagine that the conventional wisdom of the Industrial Age would be challenged by copier repair technicians - "tech reps" - at Xerox? Or that field research by anthropologists would support a new set of management principles for competing in the Knowledge Era? Learning is less about absorbing information than it is about becoming part of a community: a social process built around informed participation
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.
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.
Collaborative Information Environments for Innovative Communities of Practice
In the information age, lifelong learning and collaboration are essential aspects of most innovative work. Fortunately, the computer technology which drives the information explosion also has the potential to help individuals and teams to learn much of what they need to know on demand. In particular, computer-based systems on the Internet can be designed to capture knowledge as it is generated within a community of practice and to deliver relevant knowledge when it is useful.
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 non-canonical communities-of-practice. Two contrasting case studies illustrate how these concepts result in different learning environments.
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