The “Communities of Practice” concept was first used in relation to the learning process in 1991 by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991) at the Institute for Research on Learning as part of an attempt to “rethink learning.” In 1998, Wenger extended this concept and applied it to other contexts, including organizational settings (Wenger, 1998).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP): A misnomer, as the original concept of a Community of Practice (CoP) was based around situated learning in a collocated setting (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communities).
Communities of Position: Distinguished from Communities of Practice in that they tend to be more personally focused. Communities of Position are built around life stages (such as teenage years, university/college student years, marriage, or parenthood) and provide individuals with the opportunity to build relationships with others during that particular phase of their lives.
Communities of Interest: Communities of people who share a common interest or passion. These people exchange ideas and thoughts about the given passion but may know (or care) little about each other outside of this area. Participation in a Community of Interest can be compelling, entertaining, and create a “sticky” community where people return frequently and remain for extended periods.
Communities of Action (CoAs): Unlike Communities of Practice (CoPs), CoAs exist in situations that are structurally more open, where actors have the possibility of bringing about change. These more open situations may, for example, correspond to collective design teams in professional environments. CoAs possess some of the characteristics of communities, such as the development of a common language and mutual learning in the course of action. However, they also possess some of the characteristics typical of more associative social relationships, such as the “voluntary” nature of association and the importance of “common goals” in directing collective activity. Some argue that this makes CoAs more “rational” groups than CoPs.
Communities of Purpose: Communities of people who are going through the same process or are trying to achieve a similar objective. Such communities serve a functional purpose, smoothing the path of the member for a limited period surrounding a given activity. Members of the community assist each other by sharing experiences, suggesting strategies, and exchanging information on the process at hand.
Knowledge Community: Community of people, groups, or teams who share competencies, information, and knowledge (in a specific field of activity) based on a specific knowledge management system defined in the context of a knowledge sharing culture with a proper information and communication technology (ICT) system.
Virtual Research Laboratory for a Knowledge Community in Production (VRL-KCiP): A virtual Network of Excellence (NoE), established in June 2004, which consists of 27 partners (more than 200 researchers) from 16 different countries that decided to work together and build a knowledge community in the field of design and manufacturing research (www.vrl-kcip.org). VRL-KCiP is financed by the European Commission in the 6th Framework Programme.
Community of Practice (CoP): Represents a concept that refers to the process of social learning that occurs when people who have a common interest in some subject or problem collaborate over an extended period to share ideas, find solutions, and build innovations.
Communities of Circumstance: Similar to Communities of Practice, except that they are driven by position, circumstance, or life experiences rather than a shared interest.