Why should organizations pay attention to communities of practice and networks?
Communities of practice are the perfect vehicle for involving practitioners directly in the management of the knowledge they need individually and collectively to do their work. As a result they engage in the development of strategic capabilities critical for achieving the goals of the organization(s) they belong to. For instance, consulting firms cultivate communities of practice so that when clients interact with a consultant they actually have access to the knowledge and intelligence of the whole firm, not just one person. Schools cultivate communities of practice so that teachers move from being lonely practitioners to offering their students the pedagogical creativity of the whole community. Governments encourage communities of practice to learn and find synergies across agencies. Non-governmental organizations are finding that communities of practice provide new ways to foster international development by connecting practitioners from various countries to exchange and explore ideas among peers.
Communities of practice have always existed in organizations, but they have lived “underground” so to speak. The formal and informal parts of organizations have lived parallel but separate lives. In a knowledge economy, this benign neglect is no longer possible. Creating and leveraging knowledge is not amenable to industrial command-and-control hierarchies. It is now essential to legitimize, engage, and integrate into the organization the communities that sustain the capabilities necessary to its success.
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