In URBANFLUXES we want to develop a useful tool for improving urban structures. To provide the research team with advice and practical examples, a Community of Practice will be formed in each case study city. The Communities of Practice are formed within URBANFLUXES by bringing urban stakeholders and scientists together to talk and exchange knowledge and expertise. People involved in the communities meet on a regular basis to learn from each other and make clear what the important criteria are for developing useful URBANFLUXES end products.
Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and who learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (Wenger, 2002). Communities of Practice develop around things that matter to people. The members of a community deepen their knowledge and expertise in a particular area by interacting on an ongoing basis. Examples of Communities of Practice are a band of artists seeking new forms of expression or a group of engineers working on similar problems.
A Community of Practice can be characterized by three core dimensions: the domain, the community and the practice. If a group of people develops these three elements in parallel it constitutes a Community of Practice.
A Community of Practice is not merely a network of people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership implies a commitment to the domain, and a shared competence that distinguishes its members from other people. A domain can be any kind of expertise like ‘tomato growing’, ‘urban planning’, ‘empowerment’ or ‘surviving on the street’.
In pursuing their interest in a specific domain, the members of a CoP build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. They engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. Members of a Community of Practice interact on a regular basis. The Impressionists, for instance, used to meet in cafes and studios to discuss the style of painting they were inventing together. These interactions were essential to create a Community of Practice, even though they often painted alone.
Members of a Community of Practice develop a shared practice. Together they create a repertoire of resources: methods, tools, experiences, stories, and ways of addressing recurring problems. This takes time and sustained interaction. Nurses who meet regularly in a hospital cafeteria may not even realize that their lunch discussions are one of their main sources of knowledge about how to care for patients. In the course of all these conversations, they develop a set of stories and cases that become a shared repertoire for their practice.
The concept of community of practice has found a rich and growing number of practical applications in business, organizational design, government, education, professional associations, development projects, and civic life.