Embedding Change in Organizations: Communities of Practice and HRD

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This paper proposes a framework for designing human resource development interventions that facilitate change in professional organizations through promoting learning at the individual and group level. The framework proposed is based on a theory of organizational learning developed by Etienne Wenger (Wenger, 1998) that proposes learning takes place in the context of communities of practice. Communities of practices (CoPs) are groups of professionals that come together in order to build knowledge and practice in their specific field (Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002). At first glance CoPs might appear to be like other, more traditional groups found in organizations, but this is misleading (Bood & Coenders, 2004; Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002). The major differences between traditional groups and CoPs are that the latter are self-organizing and self-governing (Dekkers et al., 2005; Saint-Onge & Wallace, 2003). In the private sector, CoPs are recognized as an exceptional human resource development (HRD) method for organizations wishing to stimulate learning, promote innovation and facilitate change processes among its employees (Davenport & Prusak, 1998). In this paper I lay the theoretical groundwork for developing CoPs generally, using the case of higher educational organizations as an example where they could be initiated. In order to design these interventions, I propose a model that employs a multi-disciplinary, theoretical approach that bridges the context of the public and private sectors. Furthermore, I report on some preliminary observations of two communities of practice; one that formed during a HRD project specifically centered on communities of practice, and one that was formed as a result of an organization-wide initiative to stimulate employee empowerment during a merger.