In a Word Communities of practice are groups of like-minded, interacting people who filter, amplify, invest and provide, convene, build, and learn and facilitate to ensure more effective creation and sharing of knowledge in their domain.

What are They?

According to Etienne Wenger, communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something they do and who interact regularly to learn how to do it better. Communities of practice define themselves along three dimensions: what they are about, how they function, and what capabilities they produce. Table 61.1 summarizes their principal attributes. Each community of practice has a unique domain, community, and practice (and the support it requires).Footnote 1 But, in connecting and collecting, communities of practice share the following common characteristics:

Table 61.1 Communities of practice: what are they?
  • They are peer-to-peer collaborative networks .

  • They are driven by the willing participation of their members.

  • They are focused on learning and building capacity .

  • They are engaged in sharing knowledge, developing expertise, and solving problems.

Topics, Focal Areas, and Sample Technical Features of a Hypothetical Community of Practice

Table 61.2 lists the topics for interaction of a hypothetical community of practice in monitoring and evaluation and the areas that it might focus on in each case. On each topic for interaction, the members of a community of practice would ask one another

Table 61.2 A community of practice in monitoring and evaluation —topics and focal areas
  • What challenges do you face?

  • Are the challenges you face the same or different from mine?

  • What resources do you have that can be shared?

  • What ideas do you have about how to move ahead?

  • How can we be mutually supportive?

Table 61.3 is the menu of combinations of some technical features that might support specific goals of that community.

Table 61.3 A community of practice in monitoring and evaluation —sample technical features

Design and Management

To continuously design and manage a community of practice, members typically follow the 5D model depicted in the below figure (Lave and Wenger 1991). It involves

figure b

Fig. 5D model for designing and managing sustainable communities of practice. Source Author

  • Discovering—exploring relationships to the community through individual narratives.

  • Dreaming—synthesizing individual narratives into a community story centered on joint purpose and mutual engagement.

  • Designing—developing operational processes for the community.

  • Documenting—engaging in learning and documenting knowledge.

  • Disseminating—disseminating and reconnecting the community’s learning.

Building a Community of Practice

The members of a community of practice will need to plan and ask themselves key questions on strategy

  • What change(s) in the work we do will take place in the next 3–6 months because of the community of practice?

  • Why is the community the best way of bringing about this change?

  • What is the one thing that I need to do next week to facilitate the community?

Sample domain-related questions will include

  • What specific topics do we want to address in the community of practice in the next 3–6 months?

  • Why are these topics relevant to our organization?

  • What kind of influence do we want to have on our organization?

  • Who will assume leadership in promoting our domain?

Sample community-related questions will include

  • Who will be the members of the community of practice in the next 3–6 months?

  • How can ownership and management of the community of practice be fostered?

  • How often will the community meet?Footnote 2 How will the members connect?

  • How can the community balance the needs of various members?

  • How will members deal with conflict?

  • How will new members be introduced into the community?

Sample practice-related questions will include

  • How should we identify, create, store, share, and use knowledge?

  • How should we evaluate the effectiveness of our community of practice in the next 3–6 months?

  • How should we ensure ongoing connection between the members?

  • How should we deal with conflicts between our own work and community work?

A sample support-related question will be

  • What support do we need to be successful in achieving changes to our work through the community of practice?

Communication Platforms

Before the advent of the internet, the operations of communities of practice were defined by face-to-face meetings in specific locales. Today, they can span a variety of contexts and geographies. With Web 2.0, technology will continue to change what it means to be part of a community. The cost of entry is lower than ever and practitioners often straddle two or three online communities. Yet, to draw value, they must contribute value. From now on, communities of practice will have to pay more attention to harnessing the commitment and energy of members.

An appropriate medium of communication is critical to the success of communities of practice.Footnote 3 It should be monitored continuously. The box below suggests what its main attributes might be. Specifically, the communication platform would

  • Serve as an ongoing learning venue for practitioners who share similar goals, interests, and concerns.

  • Help connect members to the right people and provide a platform for rapid responses to individual inquiries from members.

  • Provide news of community activities and events to members.

  • Develop, capture, and transfer good practices on specific topics by stimulating active sharing of knowledge.

  • Promote partnership arrangements with interested knowledge hubs and other networks .

  • Influence development outcomes by promoting greater and better-informed dialogue.

  • Promote innovative approaches to address specific challenges.

Box: Communication Platforms for Communities of Practice—Architecture


  • Home page: relevant information and news, latest news on the progress of related activities and projects, ongoing activities and online discussions

  • About the community: background information, expected outcomes and impact

  • News and announcements: news archives, email newsletter archives

  • Library (repository of relevant documents and tools)

  • Discussions (online discussions on particular topics of interest)

  • Members: list of members with background information and email addresses

  • Photo gallery

  • Links to other websites

  • Help (information on how to use the site and how to get assistance)

  • Contact us


  • Search facility

  • Email this page/notify members of this page

  • Download and print this page

  • Optional: online chat facility, an events calendar


  • Lively and dynamic

  • Friendly and accessible

  • Professional and credible


  • A memorable phrase to brand the communication platform and awareness of it

Optional Orientations

  • Rooms for working groups, face-to-face events, or special-interest topics

  • Business opportunities and advertisements

  • Podcasts/webcasts

  • Web logs

  • Wikis

  • Enhanced member profiles including an individual member’s website bookmarks and web log

Source Author