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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 MIS course.

Finally, you might also like to look at some of the publications relating to Communities of Practice from the MIS Research Group.


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