What is a “Community of Practice” (CoP)?

The term “community of practice” has its roots in the social sciences and is reported to have been coined by anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. The concept of a CoP relates to models of learning theory where apprenticeship is seen as a way of true learning. CoPs are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor. Essentially, they are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do in common, and want to learn how to do it better. The vehicle of learning is regular interaction between members of the CoP.

Crucial characteristics of a CoP have been defined and are seen as the domain of a CoP. This domain includes the commitment to a common endeavour that is named as well as the articulation of the shared competency that members hope to achieve. It relies on the notion of “community” where relationships enable people to learn from one another. The domain includes joint activities, discussions and enterprises all with mutual accountability. Information sharing is key as is practice, practice practice! This results in a sharing of the emerging repertoire of resources, experiences, stories, tools and ways of addressing recurring problems.

Brown and Grey (1995), who were key to articulating the CoP paradigm, describe them as a group of people who “work together over a period of time. Not a team, not a task-force, not necessarily an authorized or identified group….what holds them together is a common sense of purpose and a real need to know what each other knows.”

A Joint Enterprise arises from a CoP when community members collectively adopt a set of concerns and interests that they consider worth pursuing (Brown and Duguid 1991; LaContora and Mendonca 2003). In turn, these shared concerns and interests help members define the boundaries of their community and sort out what they should pay attention to, participate in, and avoid. Through joint enterprise, an informal network becomes glued together into a homogeneous community, or a set of relationships connected by a common purpose. The beauty of a CoP is that learning is an inseparable behavior intertwined with social participation!

Research has shown that CoPs contribute to a wide range of outcomes in healthcare including better knowledge management, innovation capability and adoption of best practice.

Pallium Canada is pleased to establish a national CoP for Compassionate Communities in Canada. The creation of the CoP was co-imagined and is now being co-created ( in true CC style!) by the early adopters of CC in Canada who attended our fall Symposium. As the inaugural participants in our CoP, these colleagues will be posting, sharing, and discussing their emerging CC ideas and projects and fostering growth of CC projects in Canada.

We invite anyone who has a similar basic understanding of CoP methods and who is also working or part of a project or emerging idea that fits the CC model, to also consider joining our CoP. Simply fill out the basic information below and we will be in touch!

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Organization/group (if appropriate)

Tell us a bit about your CC initiative

What are your goals in joining the CoP?

We thank Dr. Alan Taniguchi at McMaster University for much of the content of this overview of CoPs.


Wenger-Trayner, Etienne and Beverly. Communities of Practice – a brief introduction – V April 15, 2015.
Neufeld D, Fang Y, Wan Z. Community of Practice Behaviors and Individual Learning Outcomes. Group Decis Negot (2013) 22:617-639.