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What is a "Community of Practice"?

Bonding by exposure to common problems
There are many shades of definition of this concept, but we define it as "a group of professionals, informally bound to one another through exposure to a common class of problems, common pursuit of solutions, and thereby themselves embodying a store of knowledge."
 Peter & Trudy Johnson-Lenz, Awakening Technology

Common practices and language
"Communities of Practice" is a phrase coined by researchers who studied the ways in which people naturally work and play together. In essence, communities of practice are groups of people who share similar goals and interests. In pursuit of these goals and interests, they employ common practices, work with the same tools and express themselves in a common language. Through such common activity, they come to hold similar beliefs and value systems.
 Collaborative Visualization (CoVis) Project

Commons sense of purpose
They are peers in the execution of  'real work'. What holds them together is a common sense of purpose and a real need to know what each other knows. There are many communities of practice within a single company, and most people belong to more than one of them.
 John Seely Brown

Groups that learn
Groups that learn, communities of practice, have special characteristics. They emerge of their own accord: Three, four, 20, maybe 30 people find themselves drawn to one another by a force that's both social and professional. They collaborate directly, use one another as sounding boards, teach each other.

Communities of practice are the shop floor of human capital, the place where the stuff gets made. Brook Manville, Director of Knowledge Management at McKinsey & Co., defines a community of practice thus: "a group of people who are informally bound to one another by exposure to a common class of problem." Most of us belong to more than one, and not just on the job: the management team; the engineers, some in your company and some not.
 "The Invisible Key to Success"
Fortune Magazine , August 5, 1996
by Thomas A. Stewart

Members evolve more creative practice
A community of practice is "a diverse group of people engaged in real work over a significant period of time during which they build things, solve problems, learn and invent...in short, they evolve a practice that is highly skilled and highly creative."
 Robert Bauer, Ph.D., is director of strategic competency development, Xerox PARC, in Customer Inspired Innovation: Creating the Future

From water coolers to commitment
More than a "community of learners," a community of practice is also a "community that learns." Not merely peers exchanging ideas around the water cooler, sharing and benefitting from each other's expertise, but colleagues committed to jointly develop better practices.
 George Pór, Community Intelligence Labs

Communities of Practice
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Last updated on 02/26/00
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