Communities of Practice are currently attracting much interest among academics, consultants and in commercial organisations. Academic researchers are undertaking research into how CoPs can be supported, the relationships within them and how this can help support the generation of new knowledge. Similarly, consultants in the field are developing tools and techniques for supporting, coaching and facilitating CoPs, advising organisations as to how they can identify and nurture CoPs and seeking to demonstrate how organizations can benefit from them.
Meanwhile, outside the Universities and Consultancies, Communities and Networks of Practice continue to grow and spread: both online through e-mail, bulletin boards and newsgroups and offline through meetings, lunches and workshops.
The network of relationships that develop in a CoP, the inner motivation that drives them and the knowledge they produce, lead to the creation of an environment that is rich in creativity and innovation. CoPs can help in finding and sharing best practices and serve as engines for the development of social capital. Many organisations now regard CoPs as a vital component in their KM strategy. We hope that this book will help the reader to unlock the secrets of CoPs in their own organisation.
There have been a large number of academic papers about Communities of Practice but, so far, only a few books. Most of the books have, by necessity, taken a rather theoretical approach. This book however will examine CoPs from a practical viewpoint; it is directed at the general reader rather than a specialist audience. Our aim is to draw on the experience of people who have researched and worked with CoPs in the real world and to present their views in a form that is accessible to a broad audience.
In this book you will find a blend of the best of current academic research in the field of Communities of Practice, observations from groundbreaking consultancy in the field of Knowledge Management and the accumulated wisdom of practitioners working at the cutting edge of Knowledge Networks. It is presented in a series of chapters each of which seek to offer pertinent and practical guidance for those involved with building or managing knowledge networks in their day to day work.
First, the editors would like to thank the authors of the chapters in this book. The process of creating the book was very much a collaborative effort and would not have been possible without the patience, understanding and commitment of all involved. Particular thanks are due to the people at groupjazz for creating the online collaborative environment through which the authors could communicate and help each other.
Secondly, although most of the authors also served as referees for chapters submitted by other authors, we would also like to acknowledge the help of all those other people who were involved in the review process. We are sure that this has helped to ensure the high quality of chapters that form the finished version of the book.
Although not directly involved in the book, a note of thanks must also go to Andy Swarbrick from TecLAB at the University of Illinois whose work as an undergraduate at the University of York provided the original inspiration for this book. Similarly, we must also thank the staff at Idea Group Inc. for their guidance and support through the eighteen months of work on the book.
Finally, and in closing we would like to reiterate our thanks to all of the authors for their excellent contributions and thank our friends and families without whose ongoing support we would never have been able to complete this project.