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What is a Community of Practice?

A community of practice (CoP) is a network of individuals with common interests or problems who get together to explore ways of working, identify common solutions and share good practice and ideas. As Wenger and Snyder (2000) put it, communities of practice are 'groups of people informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for a joint enterprise'.

CoPs are therefore comprised of people who are active practitioners around a specific topic, with the community providing a way for practitioners to share ideas and best practice, ask questions of their colleagues and provide support for each other.

The CoP model is an effective and sustainable one for cross-sector collaboration. The model provides space for knowledge production in a particular area; it recognizes that no one sector has a monopoly on knowledge and that, by bringing practitioners together with a shared passion from across sectors, existing knowledge is enhanced and innovation can take place to tackle shared challenges. And through the relationships encouraged, the model fosters sustainability; most CoPs become self-sustaining in the long term.

The below video shows Dr Etienne Wenger (originator of the CoP model) discussing his idea in more detail:

What is a Community of Practice?

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The model has already proved successful in South West where a CoP for STEM widening participation practitioners has drawn members from across HEIs, schools, FE colleges, museums, science learning centres, STEMNET etc (see further details here).

CoPs have already been used by a number of HEIs to facilitate stronger community-university relations and to develop new knowledge. For examples, see Brighton University’s Community-University Partnership Programme and the University of Birmingham’s CoP project.