The concept of a community of practice comes from the work of Wenger and Snyder who define it as “a group of people informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for a joint enterprise,” or similarly, as a collection of individuals bound by informal relationships that share similar work roles and a common context.
Why are CoPs valuable? They help facilitate innovation by assembling diverse skill sets within the organization (up down and across company boundaries), foster skills development through mentoring and capture and reuse knowledge for efficiency and IP purposes.
The communities of practice, commonly called “knowledge networks,” are referred to as institutionalized, informal networks of professionals managing domains of knowledge. The common characteristics of and guidelines for forming a knowledge network are:
- They are global in scope, connecting practitioners worldwide and fostering a sense of community
- They are responsible for a domain of knowledge.
- This responsibility includes:
- Handling explicit knowledge or intellectual capital; handling means gathering, evaluating, structuring, and disseminating knowledge that is shared among community peers and across customer projects and seeing to its evolution. The intellectual capital consists of methods, processes, tools, assets, reported experiences, and any other documentation associated with delivering services and considered of value by the business or community.
- Adopting a small set of common roles for managing knowledge.
- Providing opportunities for sharing tacit knowledge among community members
- They are sponsored by a business unit and fostered where the business sees a need for managing
knowledge for its core competencies or to meet customer or market demands.
- They are neither organization units nor teams.
The domains of knowledge represented by these communities range from company core competencies (Products and services) to “go to market” competencies to industry sector competencies (Auto, Financial etc.).