Communities of Practice, leveraging impact by learning together

Duncan Crowley
Dec 14, 2020 · 8 min read

The third “Communities for Futureonline session took place on December 2nd. 55 people participated in a Zoom call to explore what is a Community of Practice (CoP) and what can be their role in strengthening community-led responses to societal challenges. Three CoPs from the ECOLISE network at different stages of their evolution were represented; BLAST (Blended Adult Learning for the Social-ecological Transition), Municipalities in Transition (MiT) and UrbanA (Urban Arenas for Sustainable and Just Cities).

The session was very much a first step in the Communities for Future journey to develop a CoPs Ecosystem, asking key questions and seeking diverse insights, more so than offering concrete solutions. The format of the two hour session was broken into two parts:

  • A basic overview of what is a CoP and a short round table with participants from each of the three invited projects.
  • An interactive process in breakout rooms using the MIRO board to explore the question: “How do we successfully weave together a useful and vibrant collaboration framework for various CoPs, supporting eco-social just transition?”
Communities for Future Session #3 — Communities of Practice, leveraging impact by learning together

“Unless a social movement as a network develops into communities of practice it cannot become a system of influence. Communities of practice are of vital importance because through them, people grow the necessary capabilities and structures that enable a new system to emerge — not as a social movement taking over institutions by force, but by growing into a System of Influence and thus becoming the new mainstream, making old structures obsolete”. — George Pór

Part 1 — What is a Community of Practice?

Juan Del Rio from ECOLISE / CfF facilitated and introduced the three guests; Davie Phillip (ECOLISE-BLAST CoP), Nicola Hillary (Transition Network-MiT CoP) and Duncan Crowley (UrbanA CoP). Davie outlined how BLAST is establishing processes for their group and assessing best practice and insights from different CoPs within the ECOLISE ecosystem. CoPs consist of three core components: Domain (Area of shared interest & key issues) Community (Relationships built through discussion, activities & learning) & Practice (Body of knowledge, methods, stories, tools developed). BLAST has found that:

A Community of Practice (CoP) is a group of people who “share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (E. & B. Wenger-Trayner 2020). Beyond tangible outputs like innovative tools, methods, products or improved processes, a CoP has the potential to widen perspectives, change behavior and mindsets on an individual and collective level and can thus be considered as system shifting.

Originally CoP participants were from the same business, organisation or academic departments who would meet regularly face to face. Nowadays CoPs are taking shape both within organisations and between organisations as well as within and across disciplines and sectors. In socio-ecological transition movements — such as permaculture, transition networks and eco-villages — CoPs have the potential to become systems and spaces that have real power and influence. Pioneering efforts that have hovered at the periphery can become the norm and practices developed by courageous communities can become accepted standard. When people have environments in which they can learn and explore with ease and curiosity, they no longer hesitate about adopting new approaches and methods. (BLAST CoPs guide, draft V1.0 — not publicly available yet)

Each speaker gave a brief overview of their project(s) and the purpose of each CoP. Juan asked about any tips or hints, what has worked well, or what kind of challenges have they faced. Some insights included the need to have a clear idea about what the domain is, and what it is not. What CfF is based around is the shared idea of an eco-social just transition. We wear different hats, or have different roles, or use tools differently, depending on which CoP we are dealing with. For example, mountaineers or sailors see ropes and knots differently. Some CoPs can be more static, the trees, while others can be more fluid, the bees. Processes and tools of communication are vital, even more so now when dealing with COVID. MiTs CoP has evolved and their first group of pilots was a global network of communities and territories learning how better to talk with municipal decision makers to effect greater local change. They are now engaged in a training of more tutors to spread the process. UrbanA’s Community Conversations (CoCos) have grown in an organic way and allowed a growing community to share its insights with more diverse networks of city makers, while using a Knowledge Commons to openly share ideas and allow anyone to participate in the process. UrbanA also uses podcasts to get the stories of their community out in a more accessible way.

Part 2 — Weaving the CfF CoPs Ecosystem using MIRO

The second section introduced participants to a relatively new tool, the MIRO board, which is an online visual collaboration platform for teamwork. The board allows members to co-edit in real time, type text, add stickies, share images, drag and drop… It is the digital equivalent of a busy whiteboard filled with coloured post-its, that many people are already familiar with. One difference is that it allows members to zoom into the document, so an overall board that looks spaced out, can actually be jam packed with info, as demonstrated in screengrabs from the “CfF CoPs Ecosystem” MIRO board and its “CoPs Ecosystem Structure (Proposal)” detail.

CfF CoPs Ecosystem MIRO board & CfF CoPs Ecosystem Structure (Proposal) detail
MIRO Insights from 2 breakout rooms

Participants familiarised themselves with both the new communication space and what was being asked of them, to discuss What elements are necessary (required) for a well functioning CoP ecosystem?”. They were then whooshed away by the facilitation team to some very fancy sounding breakout rooms, where in groups of about six, they chatted together online about the question while a scribe added insights onto MIRO. The main takeaways being the following:

Davie’s thrilling terrace:

  • Inclusive, clear community
  • Role of catalysts to weave relationships is important (into the ecosystem) and responsibility — sharing
  • Nurture self-organising and ways to capture knowledge

Nicola’s ambient attic:

  • What are the differences and overlaps between sub-groups
  • Be upfront about the complexity; how do we deal with complexity? → foundational agreements up front (core values)
  • Metaphor of the High St, for shopping different possibilities
  • Cultivating engagement takes a lot of work → stewardship role; it should be easy to join and navigate (esp with the complexity, it can be intimidating); that requires visuals and easy ways to see

Duncan’s trendy tree house:

  • The importance of meeting in-person in the physical, → trust-building and shared values
  • Sharing the same knowledge and language is important → can create a knowledge glossary
  • Be efficient bc time is limited; use time consciously
  • Small steps are important
  • Clarity in roles; multi-level approaches (methodologies and case studies)
  • Take time for the heart also

Tom’s cozy corner:

  • Co-creation, psychological safety
  • Ability to have an overview /optics /discoverability on what is out there (i.e. mapping)
  • Mechanisms of identifying synergy across CoPs (interoperability across platforms) (platforms as portals into the ecosystem and not ends in and of themselves)
  • Mechanics of interoperability are important, but most important is the socio-cultural and the mentality. We need to break out of a project mentality and move toward a ..(?) We might not be the first and that is ok

Sara’s scenic studio:

  • Clear purpose and vision
  • Requires a large group and launch pad to take this on
  • How is it governed and through what framework? → sociocratic
  • Participatory-based, recognising that everyone has value to contribute and leads to sense of shared ownership
  • Can offer benefits and rewards of participation
  • Create a spirit of community; informal spaces too
  • Meet face-to face occasionally
Join the CfF work group, co-design the future

How to participate with Communities for Future?

CfF seeks to enable networking and learning for a fairer, regenerative world. Our monthly online CfF sessions are meant as a space for building connection and a sense of belonging in an international community of peers, for finding our collective voice as a broad movement of community-led initiatives and for building our capacities as changemakers. We want to enable collaboration and support across geographic distances and across different community-led initiatives that all contribute to the same cause: for building a healthier, fairer and more sustainable world. Everyone engaged in community-led initiatives is welcome, just as well as people interested in getting to know these approaches or in supporting them. Please spread the word and join us in numbers! To participate, simply click and choose to COLLABORATE, or join the Communities Of Practice work group. The follow up meeting to co-design the next steps of the CfF CoPs ecosystem is on Wed 16th 17–18.30 CET, to participate contact Pauliina at pauliina.helle@ecolise.eu and for general queries contact us at info@communitiesforfuture.org.

This initiative is part of ECOLISE’s desire to hear from its members and to offer spaces for individuals in our networks to connect with each other and organize themselves as a living and breathing network of changemakers — independently as well as under the new Communities for Future framework. We envision that as we weave together our diverse expertise and visions, a broader systemic understanding begins to emerge and we can identify new pathways towards widespread societal transformation.

Final goodbyes and words of appreciation for a successful first step into a shared future

Quick links:

Communities for Future: web, blog, twitter, wiki, CfF Sessions, facebook group| BLAST: web, wiki entry, CoP |MiT: web, twitter, blog, research outputs | UrbanA: web, twitter, wiki, blog, podcasts, Urban Sustainability and Justice group, CfF wiki entry |

Past CfF Online Sessions: #2 — Catalyzing Societal Transformation through Community Action, #1 — The power of celebration and togetherness |

Related Articles: Communities for Future Sessions — enabling networking and learning for a fairer, regenerative world, “Communities for Future” launches in Brussels. Portugal asks Europe to go from sustainability to regeneration, From #FridaysForFuture to #CommunitiesForFuture, What is the UrbanA Community of Practice & how can I become part of it?, Everyone can Wiki — online meeting provides practical hands-on experience

Communities for Future

Catalysing a citizen-led transformation in Europe

Communities for Future

Communities for Future is being spearheaded by ECOLISE, the European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability.

Duncan Crowley

Written by

Irish architect exploring community-led ecocities (Dublin, Barcelona, Curitiba, Lisbon). Eco activist & PhD student working with UrbanA, ECOLISE & Degrowth 🌎🐝

Communities for Future

Communities for Future is being spearheaded by ECOLISE, the European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability.