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Man is a social being thriving from human interaction. Human beings come together for the purpose of achieving common goals and practices. These common interests may include passion, experience, dreams and desires. A group of singers and instrumentalists come together because of their interest to form a band. Business persons may come together to form a cooperative society or a company.
Wenger, (2006) describes Community of practice as a group of people who constantly interact while sharing passion for what they do. These people share concern for what they are interested in and always find ways of doing it better as they move on.
It should however be noted that the description of community of practice does not apply to a group of people who are together because of circumstances. People working in the same company or office and people living together in an estate are referred to as a community, but not community of practice.
An organization is structured and managed to achieve a collective purpose. The relationship between activities in the organization depends on the management structure.
Characteristics of Community practice
The description above presents three characteristics of the community of practice:
Domain: Example of workmates clearly indicates that community of practice is not a club or a network of people coming together or grouped together. Community practice is characterized by a domain of interest that binds members of that community together on the basis of specific competences that identify them. However, domain should not be confused with expertise.
A clear example is a football coach who is part of a team but does not play for the team, or a band manager who manages and identifies himself with a band but does not play in it. Community of practice members enjoy values and learn from each other. The general public sees them as professionals and enjoys their expertise.
Communal being: As members of community of practice engage in their domain, they live as brothers and sisters. They engage in different activities, help each other and always lead discussions. Constant communication is paramount to their existence.
This communication is a key factor in holding meetings. Community of practice members relate cordially to each other and always have the opportunity to learn from other members of the community.
Practice: The members of community of practice have a lot to share. They share resources, tools and recurring problems. They always come up with new ideas. These new ideas require shared resources. The community put resources together in form of tools, money experience and knowledge. They practice using these resources to achieve their goals. This practice is usually self conscious.
Nature of Community Practice
Problem Solving: This nature enables the group to work together by brainstorming ideas. Effective communication plays a great role in ensuring that challenges are well managed. Members consult one another in the areas of difficulty.
Experience: Members of community of practice find out whether one has experience in handling a situation or a challenge. For example, if business members have a cooperative society and would like to market it, a member with experience in marketing will be appointed to the position. A member with public relation skills is likely to be appointed as the public relation officer.
Asset reusing: Members of a community group will cut down on the expenses by modifying ways of handling the situation. The best way to handle this is to put the resources of all members together. The assets could be in form of human resources that include people they once served.
Material asset consists of what members posses such as computers, property and vehicles. A member can give space in one of his buildings to be an office of the community. Another one can offer his car to assist in logistics. The sense of belonging is a driving factor to this kind of arrangement and participation.
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Coordination: Community of practice capitalizes on combined efforts to achieve more at a minimal cost. They have a well coordinated network which helps in achieving its goals.
Coordination helps the community of practice members get discounts, for instance, school teachers can come together to solicit for funds to buy a large territory of land to establish their own school. Buying a large track of land in bulk is cheaper because it is bought at a discounted rate.
Development oriented: Community practice members are always engaged in discussions to look into ways which can help them make progress in their endeavors. New ideas are always brought on the table for discussions for members to brainstorm. All strategies are put down for analysis to evaluate whether the risks involved are worth taking for the benefit of the community.
Visitation: Community of practice is characterized by visitation. Members visit each other on a regular basis to consult, get some encouragement, or brainstorm about some issue and get an advice. The visitation can be planned or unplanned. Members always check with their diaries to find appropriate time for meetings.
Networking: Members of community of practice know the strength of each individual member. This strength is emphasized on to fill the missing gaps. Members network with other communities sharing the same ideologies and spirit.
How community of practice develop
Cambridge, Kaplan and Silter, 2005, stated that that community of practice has a life cycle. They emerge, grow and develop into a whole community. Initially, community of practice exists as only ideas in peoples’ minds. These ideas are in form of wishes, dreams, desires and goals. The desires and goals prompt people to share; through this sharing, the ideas are put into practice and a group is born to implement them.
The development of community practice occurs in phases. Each design has a facilitation and strategy which enable it to move to the next level. The life cycle of a community practice is described below:
Inquiries: The initial phase of community strategy is inquiries. People have ideas, dreams and constantly inquire about discussions, surveys, interviews and assessments to identify who belongs to the community. The inquiries reveal who the sponsors and stakeholders of the community are.
This phase is important because it identifies the goals and the outcome of the group. Mission and vision statements are designed at this stage. Estimates of cost are created. Recruitment is also done at this stage.
Design: This is the phase that defines activities and all the enabling mechanisms that can make a community of practice move forward. It involves creating activities that will generate energy for the group.
The phase is important as it defines and identifies the tasks that a community of practice will carry out. Active communication, interaction, learning and collaboration are well defined at this stage. Face to face meetings are common and deadlines are always set to ensure that the goals are well achieved.
Pilot phase. Having identified the ways and modes of achieving the stated goals, community of practice will carry out a pilot programme. This is done by staging short term goals that help the community to orient itself. At this stage, the community members sort out brand image, domain and mode of operation.
The goals are meant to test the viability of the community. Examples include a newly formed band staging, free concerts at schools, churches and local community, or a football team holding friendly matches with already established teams.
Launch: Once the prototype phase is completed, the group gains wide coverage and confidence to reach a wider community. The stage is characterized by the maturity and experience of members handling issues of the community. Experience gained at the pilot phase is actively used to improve the areas of weakness.
Charters are developed at this stage and all members are actively involved. Missions, objectives and agreements are clearly stated as communication and marketing plans are well designed. New members are brought on board and Calendar of events is published at this stage.
Growth: At this stage, the community of practice is fully developed. This is a period that involves active participation of members to ensure that the group reaches its maximum stage. Continuous communication still exists. Members are assigned to other sub groups to support the upcoming activities. Opportunities and sponsorship are well defined. Members are rewarded for their contributions.
Sustain: It is the highest level in the life span of the community of practice. It is a stage which involves the developing processes and policies for reaping the fruits of the community of practice. Members identify opportunities for gaining new skills and ideas which can bring new life in a community.
The group comes up with new ways of ensuring that the community of practice is still relevant. New products, skills and learning processes are created to form new strategies for the community. This stage is usually characterized by rebranding. Change of names is done at this stage for the community to remain relevant.