AE1c : Communities of Practice – Jumbled ideas, questions, statements etc.

It seems we are all part of a number of ‘Communities of Practice’ (CoP) (Etienne Wenger) determined by :

  1. Our interests.
  2. The people we discuss those interests with (both physically and virtually).
  3. The things we do.

Some of these CoP’s are quite formalised or restricted, for example the Magicians circle, a secretive members only club of Illusionists who share tricks of the trade, others are more open for example, mumsnet, an online forum for people with children to share experiences, opinions and child raising techniques.

The more deeply involved in these CoP’s we become the more central our position, our opinions may become more respected (Or expected) with in the group.

Individuals, newer, less experienced, further from the centre or on the fringes of the CoP may seek guidance or expertise from the centre and may eventually move closer in as their experience and respect grows.

As we expand our interests and activities we may pass through or add many CoP’s to our roster.

Outside of professional spheres, some CoP’s may be quite abstract. For example almost without exception we could all be said to belong to local chapters of a global CoP sharing experience about the human condition. If you cook at home you probably share recipes and kitchen tips with friends and colleagues. Coupled with books, magazines, tv and internet cookery media we are all part of a CoP engaged in the practice of creating better food.

I’ve identified a number of quite ‘formal’ CoP’s I am engaged with (some of them have names!), lets see how these look…

  •  Drawing party – a group of illustrators, graphic designers, typographists, graffiti artists, ‘amateur graphics enthusiasts’ and not so enthusiasts drawing together, sometimes on the same surfaces, sometimes in formalised games (like consequences – the head, body, legs game) and some times seperately (on similar or independent themes). The members are drawn from education networks and casual aquaintence (local and otherwise). A common interest in mark making techniques and ideas which might inform them give the group its domain of interest and practice.
  • .
  • Random Artists – Individuals working in the field of multimedia arts installation, events management and promotion. A common interest in reclaimed space (industrial, residential and commercial), temporary autonomous zones (Hakim Bey), social politics, freedom of expression, the future, organic / synthetic relationships open access and multimedia gives the group its domain of interest. A core of individuals formed the CoP at the turn of the century and over time new members have joined and grown to inform the practices undertaken as well as benefiting from the support and knowledge of established participants. By engaging and supporting during planning, production and events practitioners become more central to the CoP while older less active members take a back seat if the they don’t have the time to engage as fully, although they still inform the process. (
  • .
  • Ill FM – Broadcasters, producers, musicians, sound system and recording engineers , archivists and audience members. Involved in the internet radio station Ill Fm in one way or another. Individuals share experience, knowledge and practice in their related fields
  • ..
  • 2+2 – A Poker forum. (Separate to ‘live associates’ I discuss the game with).
  • .
  • Learning Technology Support – AV technology installation, operation and maintenance, trouble shooting, the provision of support for students and staff, creation of learning materials and integration of technology into pedagogic situations.
  • .
  • APP LTAD – Learning and teaching, reflection and pedagogic intervention. Active within a blogging sphere and 3 physical meetings…. what will the future hold.

With all these CoP’s the central figures are the establishing members, the longest serving, the most proficient and indispensable figures. Engagement and discourse are important for someone who is on the fringes and becoming more central. The more long lived communities have seen practitioners come and go and the centres of expertise shift over time.

One question that has arisen is the relationship students have with the CoP’s that they are skirting on the edge of when they undertake further development of their disciplines. At university level they are already part way of that journey to the centre having initiated their craft and their relationship with that CoP at school or before…. how can we better point them inward to the CoP’s relevant to their interest / practice?

CoP gives a tag to social / practice related groups that have existed right back to the dawn of  interactivity and communication between creatures, certainly since civilisations foundations.

Feel free to respond to any of these bits and pieces that take your interest, it’s more of an ‘ideas’ wall approach than anything more directed or cohesive….

Oh and merry Christmas all…



7 thoughts on “AE1c : Communities of Practice – Jumbled ideas, questions, statements etc.

  1. Hi Adam, I really enjoyed reading your blog.
    The idea that a Communities of Practice (CofP) is constantly changing with the arrival and departure of members is a good point.
    Not only do the ever changing contributors bring with them fresh view points but they also bring different levels of expertise which in return can offer a deeper level of learning.
    This could also raise the question of how long it is necessary to stay in a CofP in order to gain the most you can from it.
    Does it mean that once you reach the point when you are the most experienced person within the group, in order to develop your skills further, you should move to another CofP? Or is the point that no matter what level you are at you are constantly learning, even if it’s from someone new to the craft who could possibly bring a fresh eye to it.
    This also highlights the point you raised about the students continuing in a CofP after education.
    How can we best encourage this? It is evident that a CofP is invaluable to any craft/passion in order for it to progress. If the students were to identify the importance of a CofP within education perhaps then they would feel more inclined to continue it outside the classroom.


    1. Hey Verity.

      I don’t think a CoP’s usefulness expires once you are the most experienced member… if anything seniority in a group yeilds the most benefits (for reasons you have outlined – newer practitioners are constantly bringing new insights for you to assimilate into your understanding of the practice – it’s slightly vampiric!)

      I think getting students to engage in discussion about their practice is really the important thing to instill while they are at college. Even just talking to their tutor (as Simon has observed in his blog) is a step down this pathway.

      Another thing to note on this point is that a dialogue with a friend about a shared interest is as valid a CoP as a large established community of practitioners.

      Either way involvement in discussion is key to continuing engagement with a practice.


  2. Its interesting to see how you divide up your life and living into various COPs, how would you differentiate between a professional one and one that exists outside of work?
    Would you ever initiate one to benefit what you do? what are the disadvantages of COPs if you can think of any? As I am so into the idea of them I have been thinking about when they might not work…


    1. Hey Ed.

      I’m not sure I would differentiate… I don’t see good practice taking a signifigantly different form because I am not being renumerated financially. Also there is a lot of over lap between my work life and my life outside of work both in terms of practice and practitioners.

      In terms of self initiation, I guess some of the groups I’m part of have been formed through my conversations with peers (for example the drawing party group) whilst others I have joined an established community (For example 2+2). The benefits I have associated in the past with CoP’s have been knowledge and resources based but I’m more awrae now of the resources oppotunities of such groups… I’m in the process at the moment for example of forming a working group with other UAL staff looking at Technical resources cross referencing systems, a large part of the focus of which is for me about justifying resources in the future… so yes!

      Disadvantages… I can think of a few.

      Time is one. Providing support and engaging in discussion can take up a lot of time. Soemthing I am short of.

      Information is not always correct, if you engage with inaccurate practitioners you could be assimilating bad practice. This is even more pronounced in an example like 2+2 where there are some people actively dissminating bad information with a view to encouraging EV negative play from other people they are likely to compete with.

      Abstration sometimes also is unhelpful… if you understood something in a tacit sort of way it might not be helpful to confuse that understanding through a more verbal approach to it.

      Personal issues / differences. I’ve been the victim of personal attacks and threats from other members of CoP’s I’m / have been a part of… this is an issue with any community… sometimes people just don’t get along 😦


  3. I don’t like the sound of poisonous COP’s, members deliberately sabotaging by encouraging bad practice, so that it can lead to their advantage , where did the love go?
    It can be difficult to manage personal relationships within a group , particularly when the teacher / pupil ethos is absent, all parties are teacher all parties are pupil, the essence of knowledge sharing meaning everyone has to approach the subject with humility even when they have superior skills. Its good to remain open to the opportunity of learning new ways of doing things from the novice. I know this sounds rather like weak hippy babble, but I think the experience of being in a good community of practice is symbiotic.


    1. Hey Heather,

      pleased to see you back at the wheel!

      I completely agree about a good CoP being symbiotic… its a bit hippyish but hey, I’ll allow it this once 😉

      As far as personal issues arising in a CoP I think this is always regrettable (although I think if we look back through history we see alot of instances where people who have productive relationships through their practices fall out over something (theoretical, practical or social)… it’s not uncommon and in some ways I think it is indicative of the natural nature of peoples ideas and activities… we are not static and just as a group may form a raft in the ‘seas of infinity’, so too will that raft eventually break up.

      In terms of the ‘poisonous’ CoP I describe ( – the poker forum), this actually isn’t as bad as it initially sounds. First most internet CoP’s have a poisonous aspect (Trolling as the colloquialism is…). Second, the nature of poker has at heart an element of deception, there would be no game without this so the CoP would not be reflective if there was not an element of subtefuge involved, members engaged in deliberate deception are by their participation in that vein actually contributing to the greater understanding of aspects of the metagame that are very hard to embrace for the entry level practitioner… engaging with and understanding these sorts of members contributions is part of taking ones game and position in the CoP to the next level!


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