Communities of Practice (AKA Learning Communities)Lessons from Latin America
Knowledge and organisational learning are already recognised themes in the private sector. The debate focuses on ‘intelligent organisations’, which learn from their internal and external environments. It identifies knowledge as a distinct part of an organisation’s resources, which can be managed and increased. This, in turn, has created the concept of ‘management of knowledge and learning’ through communities of practice.
In recent years these ideas have started to become adopted and adapted by civil society organisations, including development agencies. The main reasons for this include:
• Competition between organisations
• Acknowledgement that knowledge can also be derived from our own practise, as well as that of other organisations and individuals
• Pressure not to repeat previous mistakes
• Efforts to strengthen our own and other organisations as quickly, effectively, and economically as possible
• Improved access to communications technology
Communities of practice are thus becoming a new means of strengthening interchange and learning between individuals and organisations. It is not surprising that increasing resources are being allocated to establishing new communities of practices, which are seen as a low-cost option for promoting continual learning.
However, there are still many questions to be answered. What do we really mean by communities of practices? What are their main characteristics? When do they work most effectively? And how do we evaluate their results and impact? These questions and many others were discussed at a workshop held in Mexico City at the beginning of 2005.
Participants included SNV Bolivia, Pact Inc., and Pact Peru. It was hosted by the Mexican Conservation Learning Initiative – IMAC – as part of a self-evaluation held by IMAC three years into the project. The workshop was supported by the Impact Alliance and Fortaleza. The organisations involved all used communities of practice as a key part of their strategies.
This paper presents a number of reflections drawn from the workshop, which serve as an introduction to the theme of communities of practice. Also presented are a series of criteria for analysing when they are appropriate and how they should be initated. Five case studies presented at the workshop are included as appendices.Website (URL): http://www.intrac.org/pages/PraxisNote16.html Author(s): Brenda Bucheli & Gabriela Romo