Insights into operationalizing communities of practice from SSM-based inquiry processes

Ison, Ray; Blackmore, Chris; Collins, Kevin; Holwell, Sue and Iaquinto, Ben (2014). Insights into operationalizing communities of practice from SSM-based inquiry processes. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 27 pp. 91–113.




Two systemic inquiries, based on soft systems methodology (SSM), into the potential for using community of practice (CoP) theory by an Australian-government created research and development corporation to change its knowledge management (KM) strategy, are reported. Key staff were engaged in the inquiry into how to build a third-order KM strategy based on CoPs; an exploration of key published work on CoPs yielded four SSM activity models—‘being a community practice system’; ‘doing the work of imagination sub-system’; ‘doing the work of alignment sub-system’ and ‘doing the work of engagement sub-system’. These models can be used as heuristics to aid the purposeful design of CoPs in other settings. SSM, enacted as a systemic inquiry, can be understood as a form of systemic action research, which was well equipped to deal with CoP theory and, when enacted participatively, can generate important systemic insights. The inquiry began the process of fostering an appreciation of third order KM but, on the evidence available, did not lead to on-going commitment to a CoPs-based KM strategy. Future research should acknowledge how the framing of research situations influences the research process, the importance of the design of practice change settings and the limited evidence for purposeful interventions leading to successful CoPs.

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