Our NHS People

Communities of practice

You may have already heard of communities of practice. These came about within the NHS because of the realisation that most areas of work within health and social care such as ‘keeping the community healthy’ are not boundaried activities. 

As one issue was tackled, it revealed its connections to many more systems and further challenges. The decisions taken in one area had ripple effects on activities in another.

A community of practice is a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to fulfil both individual and group goals.

Author Etienne Wenger describes a community of practice as having three main elements:

  • The domain – The area of shared concern or passion
  • The community – The people involved and how they interact
  • The practice – How things are done and how they can be improved

Communities of practices span boundaries across organisations, professions, hierarchies and sectors. Working in this way means that different teams with their own experiences, knowledge and motivations can access the intelligence within the wider system.

A community of practice can identify risks, challenges and solutions that no single group or individual could. They bring the groups collective wisdom and expertise to bear on what they are trying to do together. 

One interesting thing about  communities of practice is what gives them identity. They re-locate their identity from the narrow role assigned to any individual or team in and organisation to what the diverse group are trying to do as a whole. This new identity is not constrained by any individual or organisation and so it works to eliminate silo working and thinking. 

Use your journal to make some notes about the following questions:

Q: Have you ever faced a challenge or problem that has required skills / intelligence outside of your area or team to fully understand it?

Q: Are there opportunities within your work area to set up communities of practice with other teams and areas to better understand the systems you work in?

Q: Have you ever been part of a community of practice (knowingly or unknowingly)? If so how did help you understand the wider system that you work in?

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