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Community of Practice: Pt 2

We introduced our blog by putting forward a discussion on communities of practice and would like to continue our discussion on speaking a little more about this approach.

If you are involved in any part of health research or practice, I am sure you have probably heard the phrase “Community of Practice”. But what exactly is it? How does it work? What guides whether it succeeds or fails? Whether it is due to my background as a Pharmacy Practitioner or general nosiness,  I am always interested in delving into the depths of figuring out how things work- connecting cause and effect.

CoPs have served quite well in many industries such as business, technology, and the automobile industry, and have been increasingly popular in healthcare to help practitioners make sense of concrete information and the context that is being used. Though the effectiveness of CoPs in healthcare is not completely understood.  With their increased use and popularity, there has been a multitude of qualitative and quantitative studies looking at the effectiveness of CoPs in healthcare and from those cases deemed successful, there are a few common characteristics. Although this post will not provide you with a sure shot laundry list of steps, I do hope to provide you with a few thinking points for consideration if you are establishing or participating within a CoP:

  1. Time: First, you need to determine if your community is ready to invest time into thinking together, the key ingredient for a CoP.

  2. Spontaneity: CoPs can be intentionally set up, but do consider the organic nature of spontaneous interactions and exchanges which can lead to success or failure.

  3. Self-governance: CoPs do not have to be informal, in fact, they can be formal, but should maintain self-governance.

  4. Set clear and measurable objectives. This provides CoP members with a concrete direction to follow and increased strategic relevance. You can go even further and classify your objectives into precise fields on which co-op members are expected to concentrate their efforts to develop and share best practices.

  5. Leaders/ Champions/ Facilitators:  Leaders are able to activate connections between members and to stimulate core members to boost the intensity of exchanges.

  6. Mutual Engagement and Interlocked Dwelling: A CoP and its collective knowledge should be viewed as a process rather than an entity. It should provide an opportunity for mutual engagement, discussion, and interaction, as well as an interlocked dwelling where thinking together can occur. Without thinking together, a CoP cannot work or exist.

Other things to keep in mind:

With an increase in empirical evidence, more and more CoPs are refining the definition of their objectives and focus in the planning stage in order to ease the process of evaluating effectiveness in the future.

There are also some recommendations for establishing baseline indicators according to the stage of development of the community of practice, in order to assess long-term effects.

To provide you with food for a thought I will leave you with one final consideration, which has been employed in other industries:

Include a sponsor or funder coupled with the CoP Leader, with both of them acting as best practice agents. Other sectors have found this to be a particularly useful strategy that lends towards figuring out if activities make sense with respect to financial needs/requirements and supports.

What are your thoughts on this strategy?

Do you have any experience with utilizing this or other strategies?

If so, do share your stories with us!

Until next time!


Li, L. C., J. M. Grimshaw, C. Nielsen, M. Judd, P. C. Coyte and I. D. Graham (2009). "Use of communities of practice in business and healthcare sectors: a systematic review." Implement Sci 4: 27.

Probst, G. and S. Borzillo (2008). "Why communities of practice succeed and why they fail." European Management Journal 26(5): 335-347.

Pyrko, I., V. Dorfler and C. Eden (2017). "Thinking together: What makes Communities of Practice work?" Hum Relat 70(4): 389-409.

Ranmuthugala, G., J. J. Plumb, F. C. Cunningham, A. Georgiou, J. I. Westbrook and J. Braithwaite (2011). "How and why are communities of practice established in the healthcare sector? A systematic review of the literature." BMC Health Serv Res 11: 273.

Wenger-Trayner, E. W.-T., B. (2015 ). Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction.