28. Communities of Practice

28.4. Critical Factors for Success

Subsequent research has identified a number of critical factors that influence the effectiveness of participants in communities of practice, These include being:

  • Aware of social presence: Individuals need to feel comfortable in engaging socially with other professionals or ‘experts’ in the domain, and those with greater knowledge must be willing to share in a collegial manner that respects the views and knowledge of other participants (social presence is defined as the awareness of others in an interaction combined with an appreciation of the interpersonal aspects of that interaction.)
  • Motivated to share information for the common good of the community.
  • Able and willing to collaborate.

EDUCAUSE has developed a step-by-step guide for designing and cultivating communities of practice in higher education (Cambridge, Kaplan, and Suter, 2005).

Lastly, research on other related sectors, such as collaborative learning or MOOCs, can inform the design and development of communities of practice. For instance, communities of practice need to balance between structure and chaos: too much structure and many participants are likely to feel constrained in what they need to discuss; too little structure and participants can quickly lose interest or become overwhelmed.

Many of the other findings of group and online behavior, such as the need to respect others, observing online etiquette, and preventing certain individuals from dominating the discussion, are all likely to apply. However, because many communities of practice are by definition self-regulating, establishing rules of conduct and even more so enforcing them is really a responsibility of the participants themselves.