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Community of Practice for Outreach and WP Practitioners

Lead Institution: University of Exeter
Collaborating with: Bournemouth University, Plymouth University

Project Summary

Developing a Community of Practice for STEM Outreach and WP practitioners

Community of Practice

Community of Practice

This project developed a South West Community of Practice for STEM outreach and widening participation (WP) practitioners, encouraging online and face-to-face dialogue between local experts across universities in the South West and beyond.

This project was established in recognition of the increasing demand for graduates in STEM subjects amongst graduate employers, and of the need for universities to incorporate much of this outreach and WP activity in their curriculum following the phasing out of the AimHigher network and the recent increase in tuition fees. The rationale for this project also drew from findings from another National HE STEM Programme project ‘Sharing best practice in STEM Outreach’, managed by a consortium of East Midlands universities, who suggested that practitioners in multiple HEIs place high value on the opportunity to observe ‘Outreach in action’.

What is a Community of Practice?

A community of practice 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'. A community of practice is a group of people who are active practitioners of the topic around which the community of practice has formed. The purpose of a community of practice is to provide a way for practitioners to share ideas and best practice, ask questions of their colleagues and provide support for each other.

The below video shows Dr Etienne Wenger discussing the idea of communities of practice in more detail:

Aims & Objectives

The aim of the project was to:

Develop a community of practice for STEM outreach and widening participation practitioners in order to share best practice and to constructively evaluate each other's activities.

Online COP

Online COP


In doing so, the project brokered and facilitated community-wide sharing and dissemination of good practice in relation to STEM outreach, producing various papers of use to the community supplemented via discussions and resource sharing through a JISCMail group that remains active to this day.


The project:

  1. Established an online community of practice for STEM outreach practitioners across universities, colleges, schools and other STEM-related organisations on the Open University's Lab Space
  2. Hosted two regional events, providing networking opportunities and good practice sharing across a wide and varied audience
  3. Provided funding to encourage outreach practitioners to either visit each other's events to evaluate outreach activity taking place (peer review) or to spend a day's exchange with a school teacher or FE lecturer (shadowing)
  4. Produced research papers outlining issues such as the benefits and challenges of communities of practice and access agreements across south west universities

Staff involved

Dr Barrie Cooper
Project lead, University of Exeter

Chloe Cunningham
University of Exeter

Christine Keenan
Bournemouth University

Claire Gray
Plymouth University

Dawn Evans
University of Exeter

Emma Stephenson
University of Exeter

Jane Rowe
University of Exeter

Mitch Berger
University of Exeter