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Organising communities‐of‐practice: facilitating emergence

Sanne Akkerman (IVLOS Institute of Education, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Christian Petter (Institute for Future Studies, Innsbruck, Austria)
Maarten de Laat (IVLOS Institute of Education, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 8 August 2008



The notion of communities of practice (CoP) has received great attention in educational and organisational practice and research. Although the concept originally refers to collaborative practices that emerge naturally, educational and HRD practitioners are increasingly searching for ways to create these practices intentionally in order to stimulate learning and professional development in specific fields. This paper aims to gain insight into ways in which communities of practice can be deliberately organised.


The study concerns a multiple case study of the deliberate initiation of 15 communities of practice of small and medium‐sized companies in the tourist sector, located in seven European countries. The analysis focuses on how meaningful, shared and coordinative activity is organised in each of the 15 cases. A multiple case study allowed for comparison between the various cases in order to target fruitful conditions and actions in organisation processes.


In the initiation of a CoP it is important that before an outsider starts to organise and coordinate activities questions such as “How are we relevant to one another?” and “Who are we and where are we going?” are answered first, and by the group itself. These questions relate to the development of meaningful activity (domain) and of shared activity (community). Following this, any coordinative system, any practice, should be subordinated to the motives of the group.


Besides identifying various actions for human resource developers who aim to apply the concept of CoP in professional work, the study contributes to the scientific formulation of pedagogical notions around communities of practice.



Akkerman, S., Petter, C. and de Laat, M. (2008), "Organising communities‐of‐practice: facilitating emergence", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 20 No. 6, pp. 383-399.



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