Grounding Interventions that Facilitate Internal Processes of Communities of Practice

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Communities of Practice (CoPs) are social learning systems that can be, to a certain extent, designed. Wenger (1998) proposes the following paradox; “ no community can fully design the learning of another, but at the same time, no community can fully design its own learning” (p:234). My interpretation of Wenger’s statement is that learning environments such as CoPs need to be facilitated in their learning processes, but not their specific design. Approaching CoPs this way allows for the design of interventions that facilitate learning processes within a CoP rather than regulate them. However, empirical studies on facilitating internal processes of CoPs are sparse – most work is anecdotal. This means that one needs to look to other fields for guidance in order to discover how to facilitate CoPs in their learning. This paper describes part of a larger research project that asks the question whether communities of practice can be instituted in higher professional educational organizations as an effective method to facilitate participant learning (professional development) and stimulate new knowledge creation in the service of the organization. Using a more pragmatic approach to cultivating CoPs (Ropes, 2007) opens the possibility to use different theoretical perspectives in order to find and ground interventions that can facilitate learning in CoPs and which are typically used in organizational development trajectories based on learning (de Caluwe & Vermaak, 2002). In this paper I look at how theories of human resource development, workplace learning and social constructivism conceptualize learning and what type of environments promote this. I then map out community of practice theory along these fields in order to come to a synthesized conceptual framework, which I will use to help understand what specific interventions can be used for designing CoPs. Finally I propose several interventions based on the work done here. The main question I consider here can be formulated as follows; ‘what insight can Human Resource Development theories, Workplace Learning theories and Social Constructivist learning theory give in order to design interventions that facilitate internal processes of communities of practice?’