What is a Community of Practice?
Enter "Community of Practice" into a Google search and you'll get over 65 million hits. But where did the idea come from? What are they? How do they work? What are the benefits?
Ever since the early 1980s, for different reasons, organizations in both the public and private sector have been under increasingly intense pressure to improve the way they work. To do what they do in new, better, faster, more efficient and effective ways. To achieve this, many things have been tried and applied over the years - the redesign of business processes, the ever wider use of information technology, the introduction of team-working, total quality management, benchmarking, the hunt for best practice and inevitably a lot of re-organizing and re-structuring.
Amidst all this activity, one thing has become clear. Organizations cannot improve without first learning something new because in the absence of such learning they can only go on repeating old practices. While the early, and still prevalent, expedient was to pay for consultants to import fresh thinking, interest grew during the early 1990s in the concept of becoming a "learning organization". A learning organization is one that intentionally develops its own skills in creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, and most importantly, at modifying its ways of working to reflect that new knowledge, because, unless such changes actually occur, only the potential for improvement exists.
Proponents of the Learning Organization argue that to learn, organizations need to foster an environment that is conducive to learning, to open up organizational boundaries and to stimulate the exchange of ideas. This also means that they need to develop ways to challenge conventional wisdom, to encourage experimentation by searching for and then testing new knowledge, to provide the means for people to come across different ideas and fresh thinking, to learn from experience, to learn from others and to share and transfer knowledge. No mean task.