O que são comunidades de Prática? What are Communities of Practice?

Quais as teorias neste domínio? Which theories are there in this domain?

Exemplo de uma comunidade de Prática, vista por Vance Stevans:

Vance Stevens' perception of Webheads as having moved through group (YahooGroup), community (CoP), to
network (distributed learning network functioning on connectionist lines)


Etienne Wenger

"All communities of practice need to find their 'spirit', which can be called their learning companionship."

30 Out 2007.

Entrevistado: Etienne Wenger
Entrevistador **Lluís Tarín**, Director, Área del Desarrollo del Modelo Educativo (DEME) de la Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC).
**Elina Jokisalo**, Project coordinator, elearningeuropa.info external image media13960.jpg

Etienne Wenger describes himself as a social learning theorist who investigates the connection between knowledge, community, learning, and identity. He is globally known and recognised for his work on communities of practice. elearningeuropa.info interviewed him at the EU Conference “eLearning Lisboa 2007”.

You usually say that communities of practice are a specific type of community. Could you provide us some examples to illustrate this statement?
Not all communities are communities of practice. What characterizes a community of practice is not a common characteristic, like living in the same city or liking a certain type of music: it is that members learn from and with each other about a practice they share. They learn to do something. They may be deepening in an existing practice or creating a new one. They may be engaging in their practice together or mostly using each other as partners to reflect collectively on a practice they engage in somewhere else. Note that learning may be the main reason they come together or a mere side-effect of their mutual engagement in some activities. Whether intentional or not, this joint learning binds members together.
This is of course easy to see in the case of professionals, because their practice is recognized as such in the broader world. It is even sometimes taught in universities and accredited with a degree. There is a community of oncological surgeons in Ontario, Canada, for instance, who have come together to develop their practice of surgery. They discuss new developments in the science, interpret performance data, and compare surgery practices. They also interact with administrators and researchers because their practice is taking place in hospitals and they can only make progress if they are engaged with other stakeholders.
But also in healthcare, more and more common are communities of patients. I know a community of patients with a rare type of blood diseases who have formed a worldwide online community. You may want to call them a support group, because their practice is not recognized as such in the world. At least not yet. But if you look at their exchanges, they are really learning together how to manage their disease. They exchange tricks, experiences, and wisdom. This includes their daily routines, medications, their relationships with their physicians, as well as current research relevant to their disorder. In their exchanges they recognize each other as “practitioners” of the disease, and because of this shared root in practice they respect and trust each other’s contributions to the conversation. They are a community of practice.
I chose these two examples because they are both in the healthcare field, both clearly communities of practice when you see how they function, and yet at opposite extremes when it comes to external recognition of their being a community of practice. You will find similar situations in all sorts of domains—professional, scientific, artistic, civic.

Are there any differences between communities that get developed spontaneously and the ones that are developed in a formal context?
Fundamentally no, in the sense that however they start they need to reach the same point to function as a community of practice. At the end a community is a community, independently of the way it got started. All communities of practice need to find their “spirit”, which can be called their learning companionship. A community of practice is truly based on the sense of co-learning: the members are together because they experience each other as co-learners. If this feeling of companionship does not arise, you won’t have a community however it got started; and if it disappears the community will disappear too.
But of course there is a difference in the way the learning companionship develops in those two situations. A community of practice that gets started spontaneously has some level of learning companionship already at the beginning: it starts from there. By contrast, the directed communities may need some time to find and develop this companionship and it may never get there. Still, even the spontaneous communities need some time to figure out how to work together, how much time to dedicate, how to meet (online and/or offline), etc. It can be said that being part of a community is quite a big commitment. Perhaps the idea of having a community of practice comes spontaneously but then the reality of establishing and sustaining a community of practice takes more time and dedication.

Are the emerging technologies and the new social practices (e.g. Web 2.0 ) affecting communities of practice? Could you list and assess the aspects of the communities of practice that are positively and negatively influenced by the technology and new social uses?
Of course, emerging technologies are affecting communities of practice, and especially more recent developments in social software. It is interesting to note how aligned the peer-to-peer nature of web 2.0 technology is with the way learning takes place in a community of practice. This alignment is remarkable. It has given rise to a lot of interest in communities of practice because it has enabled all sorts of communities that would not have been possible in the past.
I am not sure that any given aspect is positive or negative in and of itself. For instance, the ability to belong to many groups at once by subscribing to an RSS feed is just exploding. This means that we can connect in many ways anywhere in the world and manage these connections very explicitly. But it also means that there are thousands of possibilities. This can be overwhelming. Our ability to handle multimembership is not infinite. So the generalization of multimembership we are witnessing creates both exciting possibilities and new problems.
Blogs are another example. The ability to keep a public journal online has created new possibilities for exchanges that give individuals a more personal voice; you can follow the evolution of their thinking; you can build on their ideas with comments, either on their blog or on yours. It is amazing. And communities can form among blogs talking to and about each other. This is definitely positive. But sometimes, you want to have a good, intense conversation on a focused topic with multiple perspectives all chiming in. If people are so enamoured with the personal orientation of their blog that they refrain from contributing to a conversation unless it is on their blog, then it is a loss. In this sense it could be viewed as a negative aspect.
I think it is always true when you have new possibilities that the effects are both positive and negative. To me, I would not want to spend too much time trying to think of developments in terms of positive and negative, but focus on what communities of practice can do now, and therefore what new practices have to develop to incorporate new technologies, like wikis to create shared artefacts, tags to organize their domain dynamically, networking tools to find each other or visualize the structure of membership.

According to your experience, how should platforms for communities of practice be designed?
This is a very difficult question to answer in the abstract. A community is a complex entity to design for and the platform should be rich enough to enable the community to do all it wants to do but not so complex to become a learning obstacle. The important thing is to start with the community, understand how it functions, and then provide the tools that take it forward.
Technology is interesting to communities of practice to the extent that it enables them to address challenges inherent in learning together. At its most basic, members of a community should be able to bring their practice into interaction. But this could be as simple as a listserv if they can make progress with an e-mail conversation and as complex as a system of conversation boards and blogs tied together. In addition, most communities like to create a repository of resources they can share. Here again, in many cases, a simple file-sharing mechanism will do. Then you can become much more sophisticated about this basic polarity between interacting and sharing resources. Should people be able to comment on resources, discuss them or modify them collectively? Should interactions be captured into documents that become shared resources, such as archives, notes and summaries? Another polarity to consider is whether interactions and resource sharing should happen synchronously or asynchronously. Should the community be able to hold meetings at a distance? If so, should a phone conference be preceded by online conversation and become an MP3 file afterwards? Another consideration is the group/individual polarity. Who can belong? How to manage the boundary? Do people need to learn a technology specifically for this community or can they join by using their own favourite software?
I think that we are seeing a trend that communities cannot be limited to a platform. Members may want to be opportunistic and use the tools that are available for their purpose. So the issue of integration then becomes important. With web 2.0, however, integration does not necessarily mean integration into one solid platform, but integration across tools that can work together. This makes the whole question of platform much more dynamic, just as a community is a dynamic process of learning together.
Could you explain to us your concept of "ecology of leadership"?
As a community of practice evolves and is being developed, how do the roles of its members vary and change?What I mean by ecology of leadership is that in a community of practice, leadership takes a lot of different forms and these forms of leadership combine to create a dynamic system. I am trying to get away from the image of a leader and followers. There are all sorts of ways of showing leadership in a community. You can convene the community by making it a legitimate place of learning for a certain domain, you can help organize community activities, you can form a subgroup around a certain topic, you can be a thought leader providing expertise or vision, you can question established wisdom, you can drive an inquiry by asking for help with a challenge you have, you can connect the community with other communities you also belong to, you can weave the social fabric by connecting people, you can organize or edit documents that the community is collecting, you can steward a productive use of technology. The list goes on and on.
And as in an ecological system, these roles dynamically evolve in relation to each other. Some are assigned but often people just take them on because of a topic they are interested in or an aspect of the community they care about. And sometimes, people will just invent a role for themselves.
It is often the case that in the early stages of a community, a few people are taking the lead. But over time, it is to be expected and desired that a broader group of members will take on various roles. Distributed leadership in a dynamic process that combines individual initiative with collective self-management is a characteristic of a mature and lively community of practice.

Have you been part of a community of practice during the last six months? Which has been your role? Any remarkable personal experience you would like to share?
Yes, I belong to several communities of practice, some of them centrally and some peripherally. In one, you could say that I am viewed as a thought leader. This is a bit of a strange role to be in because the other members are amazing practitioners of community development. The other day someone suggested that I should be more active in one area of the website because people expected this. But after some conversation we all agreed that the community was full of people who could contribute very good stuff. And we kind of laughed at our own need to recognize the value of the community, not just so-called experts. So you realize that a community is a complex social system where different people bring different gifts. And it is really important for a community to see this, to see its potential, and to appreciate the diversity of perspectives necessary to create a productive learning process.
There is so much we need to understand about how learning can take place and be supported. Innovations in lifelong learning are one of the great challenges of our time, both because things are moving so fast that each of us has to be learning all the time, and also because we are facing great challenges in the world today, and I believe that only by learning how to learn fast together will we be able to face these challenges.

disponível em http://www.elearningeuropa.info/directory/index.php?page=doc&doc_id=10476&doclng=6 (acessado em 26 de Novembro de 2007)

Comunidades de Prática, E-learning e PME's