What is a Community of Practice?

By Michael Sinnott, Director of Agile. 

Questions about Communities of Practice - what are they and how do I navigate

What is A Work Smarter Together community of practice?

It is a network of enthusiasts who share and create knowledge about a shared interest area. 

Given this is in a work context here in UCD, the enthusiasts in question are colleagues in UCD and the shared interest area will be some aspect of how we work to shape and develop UCD.

A community of practice is a group of people who come together to build and share knowledge, to build and share skills, to build networks, and to build recognition.

Recognition?  There are two perspectives – being recognised for your contribution to your community of practice, and the community of practice itself being recognised in the University.

It is a group of people who come together themselves, triggered by their shared interest:  it is not something which is a formal part of committee and management structures. 

This kind of community might form around a common role or a common task or a common skill set or a common ‘customer’… it is the interests and focus of the group which shape the community of practice.

What is THE Work Smarter Together Community of Practice?

One CoP which happily proclaims itself is the group that came together to run WST 2017 in March and who launched the WST CoP idea at the event in May. 

This is the group which runs the biennial University event that launched the CoPs, that is sending out this newsletter and that is running the summer school in July.  We are the umbrella organisation for the Work Smarter Together CoPs.

The shared interest of this group is in celebrating collaboration and creativity in UCD and finding ways to support people who are active in this way – a community of practice is a WST CoP if it connects in with this.

The people on the WST CoP are Michael Sinnott, Olga Murdoch and Kim Lacey from UCD Agile, Marie Burke from the Library, Mark Simpson from HR, Dipty Pandya from Research, Jason Masterson from the Student Centre, Andy Myler from Registry, Mary Gallagher from the College of Social Sciences and Law, Paul Barry from IT Services, Siobhan Dunne from Finance, and Ruth Harrison from the School of Business.

Where did the WST CoP come from?Mark Rogers launching the WST CoP

The Registrar, Prof Mark Rogers, announced it in his closing talk at WST 2017 and formally launched the WST CoP at an event on May 3 2017.  He said:

“The community of practice idea is powerful because it focuses on learning, encourages experimentation, looks to empower individuals and groups, and is driven by the energy and interest its members. 

And this is a key point – communities of practice come from the interests and needs of the community:  they stand apart from how we formally organise the University.”

And the Work Smarter Together Communities of Practice?

Communities of practice are a great way to network with colleagues, to share experiences and knowledge, to develop an identity and to shape some particular aspect of the University ecosystem.

So… the ‘communities of practice’ are all the various groups who come together in this way… and the WST Community of Practice – the umbrella organisation – is here to support the various communities of practice.

In short – one umbrella group supporting the various communities of practice that emerge.

What Work Smarter Together Communities of Practice are there already in UCD?

Good question.  We are currently talking to a few groups who we would see as communities of practice but we are not putting that label on any group. 

A CoP is about the group that forms it – it is for the group to connect with WST.

Groups need to self-identify because calling yourself a community of practice is like saying “we are the kind of people who have a common interest in this area, want to share what we have learned and build on it, and want to connect with others with the same interest”.  That is a “this is who we are and this is what we do” statement so the group needs to make it.

Am I already in a CoP?

Am I already in a Community of Practice?

You could be.

A CoP is not about the label but what you do and what you want. 

If you meet from time to time with colleagues to share experiences or thrash out ideas or look for inspiration/advice or share successes or build skills or get guidance… and this works for you and them… and you do this, or want to do this, more than just once, then maybe you are already in a ‘community’ looking at its ‘practice’ with a view to developing/sharing/networking.  You may be in an ‘unconscious’ CoP and you did not know it!

  • Is there something – a skill to build, a role, a need to meet, a gap to close, a common ‘customer’ cluster – you share with others?
  • Do you come together with some of them from time to time, or want to?
  • Can you see the value of sharing your experience/skills with them?
  • Can you see the value you might get from their experience/skills?
  • Can you imagine it would be even better if you were able to work together or develop together?

Have you mentioned this to one of them – have you connected with someone on this?

Who can I talk to? The similarly interested...Who can I talk to about any of this?

This is a people thing so who you talk to very much depends on your interest or need, or how well networked you are.  Here are some routes for you…

Talk to someone you think you might be CoPing with already.

Talk to someone you have in mind who you want to draw into the idea.

The WST Community of PracticeTalk to some other people.

Talk to the WST CoP people we have list above – whether you know them already or not, they are good to talk to.

And you can always talk to Michael or Olga or Kim in UCD Agile – UCD Agile sponsors WST and is the start-up driver of the CoP idea at the moment.

UCD Agile 

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