Applying Theory to Inform Competency Development: Bootstrapping Epistemic Communities in Growing Specialists

Applying Theory to Inform Competency Development: Bootstrapping Epistemic Communities in Growing Specialists

Mambo Governor Mupepi (Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI, USA) and Sylvia C. Mupepi (Kirkhof College of Nursing, Grand Rapids, MI, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJPMAT.2016010103
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This article describes the deliberate making of a knowledge community to advance specialization in divided labor and structuring a successful enterprise. A knowledge network is characterized by mutual engagement in a joint enterprise that gives rise to a shared repertoire of knowledge, skillsets, and practices. The division of labor is identified to enable the novice to develop the proficiencies required for specialty to happen. Bootstrapping and other techniques are applied to replicate the performance required in making effective specialists. A conclusion is drawn taking the position that the centricity of an epistemic community is the locus of control of the job, individual, and team; additionally, it is the only organization that can authenticate the practices necessary to boost productivity.
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In many businesses, the function of management has been split as traditional transactional and administrative functions (e.g., purchasing, payroll, benefits, training) have been outsourced, re-engineered, and automated, leaving management with more strategic responsibilities and roles. This change has left a lean structure of at most five line managers reporting directly to the chief executive. In this article, we argue that line managers and their superiors can form a community of practice, a collaboration forum whose application can take the business to the next level. An analogy from the Adam Smith Pin-production factory is drawn to explain specialization and structuring efficient and effective organization.

So as to advance the discourse, the following question will be asked: How can a community of practice inform competency development? The article is organized in four parts: the first part offers an introduction to the debate and proceeds to offer a description of some of the key terms used in the discussion. The second part provides a carefully selected literature to understand the practices in developing organizational competences. The third part makes a proposition how a community of practice (COP) can craft competences for similar companies in the same business which are difficult to imitate. In the fourth part, a conclusion is drawn mentioning the limitation in the arguments presented.

In this discussion, a COP, an epistemic community (EC), or a knowledge community imply the same thing. The COP can be described as a group of people who meet regularly at defined places at agreed times or in cyberspace at any time to create, diffuse, and distribute explicit practices about the issues of which they are passionate. They can create self-sustaining processes and enable the divided novices to specialize to advance productivity.

The Adam Smith Division of Labor

Figure 2.

The novice learn to get the job done right first time all the time (Mupepi, 2014)


The Adam Smith Pin-production company has numerous clusters or groups that form as a result of the divided labor. The clusters can become independent firms or self-managed groups taking on additional work within the agglomeration. This experience enables the novice to acquire explicit knowledge and attitudes necessary to progress specialization. In Mupepi (2014), for a group to become specialized and operate effectively its leader and members must behave ethically. Ethics refer to the rules or standards for right conduct or practice.


The term agglomeration is used in economics to describe the benefits that firms obtain by locating near each other (agglomerating). This concept relates to the idea of economies of scale and network effects. Agglomerations can expand the network of a community of practice. As more companies in related fields of business cluster together, their costs of production may decline significantly. This is because corporations compete for multiple scarce resources such as suppliers or specialist labor. Even when competing firms are in the same sector cluster, there may be advantages because the cluster attracts more suppliers and customers than a single firm could achieve alone. Cities form and grow to exploit economies of agglomeration.


Bootstrapping relies on drawing useful lessons from past performance. It can imply the starting of a self-sustaining process with the knowledge of right or wrong practices with no recourse to external input. The theory is that profits are the key to survival. The reality is that one pay bills with cash, so focus on cash flow. The past is useful to make meaningful projections…or bootstraps.

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