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Archived Comments for: Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care: lessons from the theory of communities of practice

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  1. Communities of Practice: Development and Prospects in CLAHRC-NDL

    Justine Schneider, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.

    7 July 2011

    Roman Kislov, Gill Harvey and Kieran Walshe (6:64) draw attention to the fruitful application of the concept of communities of practice in Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs).

    In the CLAHRC spanning Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire (CLAHRC-NDL), communities of practice were embraced as the theoretical framework for our engagement activities from the outset. Setting ourselves the objective of self-sustaining communities of practice linking service users, applied health researchers and professionals within the five-year lifespan of the CLAHRC, we have utilised both analytical and instrumental approaches to communities of practice.

    As a small team (~4 wte) of professionals with the explicit purpose of developing communities of practice, we perform a range of roles designed to span academic-clinical boundaries, service user-research boundaries and others. We set about promoting the four characteristic activities identified by Linda Li and others in their systematic review (2009): social interaction among members, knowledge sharing, knowledge creation, and identity building.

    To this end, the fact that, in its early years, the CLAHRC had little to offer in the way of hard research results enabled us to run events where knowledge exchange was genuinely reciprocal. At these CLAHRC-NDL 'development opportunities', communities of practice have been helped to form, storm and norm while we explored what clinicans need to know about researchers, what commissioners do, and how to network. We now have about 700 Associates registered, each linked to one or more of our 16 implementation research projects, and we aspire to manage these relationships more proactively as the CLAHRC matures.

    A substantial number of our Associates ¿ stakeholders of all descriptions, are actively involved in knowledge production through collaboration in implementation research. Others are more detached observers, and some are critics of the whole process. We have sought to engage particularly with health care commissioners ¿ whom we see as our future funders, and with the third sector - with its potential to increase the scope of communities of practice and its growing significance in health care delivery.

    Community of practice theory recognises that all of these activities ¿ the outreach, the communications, the engendering of communities and their maintenance, require vision, leadership, time and resources. Paradoxically, however, the work described is by its nature self-effacing; as communities of practice grow in size the part played by facilitators can become less obvious, if no less important. Unless this contribution is formally acknowledged and supported, for example by embedding it in the essential functions of the CLAHRC, the potential and promise of communities of practice in CLAHRCs will not be realised.

    Competing interests

    I am the academic lead for engagement, synthesis and dissemination in CLAHRC-NDL