on 26 July 2002
I arrived at this book via Situated Learning, the book Etienne Wenger wrote with Jean Lave, and his own earlier book, Communities of Practice. These present fundamental understandings on the nature of knowledge, practice and meaning in organisations. As a practitioner, I would very much like to see a follow-up, to address the practical implementation of these perspectives in the workplace. Unfortunately, Cultivating Communities of Practice fails to meet this need.
In their desperation to be friendly to a non-academic audience, the authors have avoided anything challenging to conventional management thinking, watering down the original and valuable concepts of the earlier books. The Community of Practice, which was previously "an intrinsic condition for the existence of knowledge" is now an optional - "a practical way to manage knowledge as an asset". Instead of being a pre-requisite for meaning and practice, it has become merely the latest management idea - a useful place for people to exchange ideas and help each other with problems. Problems and solutions are thereby re-located back into the minds of individuals, rather than being socially constructed.
There are occasional paragraphs - for instance on stewardship and institutionalisation - which briefly touch on the real issues, but for the most part the content is anodyne, and would be better suited to beginner's guide to running a social club.
A dreadfully disappointing book.
on 27 February 2009
Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott and William M. Snyder have written an exceptionally clear and honest book. While they obviously are deeply committed to communities of practice and exuberant in embracing the concept - particularly in the realm of knowledge management - they also have observed enough of these communities to see how they can fail to crystallize, can go bad or can survive but never gain recognition. This gives a distinctly realistic edge to their methodical book. The authors work through the definitions, core components and guiding principles of these communities, and describe how they fit within existing formal structures. They illustrate their claims with numerous examples. getAbstract advocates this solid introduction to communities of practice to two groups of readers: anyone interested in knowledge management and anyone interested in community development, including organizational culture.
on 6 February 2010
As a professional in the Information Management world, I have found this book SO helpful in signposting a way forward for sharing knowledge and improving practice in our area. The authors state that they wanted to create a book for practitioners, rather than a theoretical work, and I think they have succeeded admirably. For me, there is just the right mix of anecdote, theory, practical steps and real life issues. I have just finished reading it all once through. During that reading I already skipped back to dwell on chapters that will help me in my current work to "cultivate" a community of information workers. And I found that as soon as I finished the last page, I was starting again at the beginning. It has been inspiring, but I am sure it will also be a practical manual I refer to time and again.
on 29 September 2002
For years I've experienced a work environment where my time is cluttered with many meetings that have little to do with my real work (Information System architecture and design) and few that do. Reading through this book has given me the motivation and means to go about improving my work situation along with other colleagues who want to do a better job, simply because we want to do so.
There are plenty of practical illustrations of the concepts taken from the work place. These help you spot the starting points for your work in your own organisation. If this is your first encounter with Communities of Practice then the book is a good starting point. Making the subject accessible in a way that other academic discourses on the subject do not.