An Overview of the
Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice
By: E. Wenger, R. McDermott & W. M. Synder
Wenger, McDermott and Synder (2002) offered seven practical aspects to consider for maintaining and supporting the growth of voluntary communities of practice. This is an interesting read focusing on the significance of generating sustainable energy within the group. Communities of practice (CoPs) are voluntary and Wenger et. al. noted their success over time is dependent up “their ability to generate enough excitement, relevance and value to attract and engage new member” (p. 1)
They put forth seven key principles:
- Design for evolution
– At first you design to attract group members, but overtime the needs and goals of the group will change. To effectively sustain a CoP your design must continue to evolve.
- Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives
– A well connected leader will thoroughly understand the needs of a group and be able to invite relevant outside perspectives to help the group grow.
- Invite different levels of participation
– People participate in groups at varying levels of intensity and frequency and that’s okay. Each group member contributes in their own way. What I found interesting was Wenger et. al’s ongoing reminders to purposefully design for interaction. Just as you would place a park bench along a path to invite people to sit and talk, so to must you create those opportunities within the CoP.
- Develop both public and private community spaces
– All interactions both public and private have an opportunity to benefit the group through the interconnected relationships of the community. The authors explained that conversations at formal meetings are important, but don’t underestimate the value of the conversations that happen after the meeting or at the water cooler. Those formal or informal discussions will enhance the individual relationships within the community.
- Focus on value
– People participate in communities because there is value. Work to ensure that both formal and informal interactions add value to the community.
— What is it that draws people to the group?
- Combine familiarity and excitement
– A familiar routine creates a comfort level which facilitates the sharing of knowledge; however, to remain vibrant a community needs some exciting events that draw members together in a shared sense of adventure.
- Create a rhythm for the community
– All communities have a rhythm, finding the right tempo for your community ensures that people are not running to keep up or stalled when it’s time to move. Wenger et. al. noted that “the rhythm of the community is the strongest indicator of its aliveness” (p. 7).
- As an educator, your classroom is an ever evolving community of practice just like a business team working toward a common goal. Wenger, McDermott and Snyder offered 7 thoughtful practices to keeping the community alive in an easy to read format. Regardless of your team’s context, reflecting on these principles will provide a framework to better support the growth of your community and in turn grow the social and intellectual capital of your team.
Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. (2002). Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice. Retrieved from http://www.askmecorp.com/pdf/7Principles_CoP.pdf