Networks and Communities of Practice

I just read a blog post from the Leadership Learning Community entitled: Networks and Communities of Practice: What is the difference?

The article starts stating that those terms are used interchangeably. I have used “knowledge communities” and “learning communities” to represent “community”, which is what really matters to me. A group of people with similar interests (or in the same field) caring for one another and committed to moving forward their field.  However, there is a difference between a network and a community:

In a community of practice, there is an intentional commitment to advance the field of practice, and to share those discoveries with a wider audience. They make their resources and knowledge available to anyone, especially those doing related work.

From Using Emergence to Take Social Innovators to Scale (Wheatley and Frieze, 2006).

Networks evolve into communities of practice that evolve into systems of influence. That process is called emergence: reaching a powerful system that has many more capacities than could ever be predicted by analyzing the individual parts. The life cycle of emergence has three stages:

  • Stage 1: Networks (for people to find like-minded others)
  • Stage 2: Communities of Practice (networks evolve to share knowledge, support one another and create a new understanding for their field)
  • Stage 3: Systems of Influence (the sudden appearance of a system with influence)

I’m very interested in what it takes to move from stage 1 to 2. According to Wheatley and Frieze, networks are based on self-interest, people come together to develop their own work, for their own benefit. Then people go beyond their needs to focus on those of the group and the field. That’s the key transition. Now, how does it happen?

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One thought on “Networks and Communities of Practice

  1. Thanks Val, this is really helpful, I just wrote up a work-study description for my “Network Facilitator”, and this post helped me think through the process of building communities of practice. Will pass it on when they are hired!

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