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Networks and Communities of Practice: What is the difference?

GroupWork2-Community or Network

Networks and communities of practice are often terms that are used interchangeably. Is there a difference?

Meg Wheatley and Debbie Frieze in their article, "Using Emergence to Take Social Innovations to Scale" (available below) describe how communities of practice evolve from networks. When networks form, they help people find others who are like-minded. Networks are based on self-interest (people usually network together for their own benefit and to develop their own work). People move in and out of networks depending on how they personally benefit from participating.

Like networks, communities of practice are also self-organized. People share a common work and realize there is great benefit to being in relationship. People use communities of practice to share what they know, to support one another, and to intentionally create new knowledge for their field of practice.

Communities of practice differ from networks in several significant ways. They are "communities" (people make a commitment to be there for each other). They participate not only for their own needs, but to serve the needs of others. One of the most interesting distinctions that Meg and Debbie identify is that in a community of practice, there is an intentional commitment to advance the field of practice, and to share those discoveries with a wider audience. They make their resources and knowledge available to anyone, especially those doing related work.

Does this distinction between networks and communities of practice resonate with your own experience? What questions are raised for you? How would you define the relationship between networks and communities of practice?

For those of you in the Boston area, Debbie Frieze and Lauren Parks will presenting their theory of change about moving from networks to communities of practice to systems of influence on September 21, 2007. You may register to attend on the Boston LLC page. To prepare for the meeting, read and contribute to the learning questions.

Using emergence to take social innovations to scale.pdf301.21 KB