Thinking Together: Making Communities of Practice Work

Igor Pyrko

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis develops the founding elements of the concept of Communities of Practice (CoPs) by elaborating on the learning processes happening at the heart of such communities. In particular, it provides a consistent perspective on the notions of knowledge and of knowledge sharing that is compatible with the ‘DNA’ of this concept, i.e. learning entailing an investment of identity and a social formation of a person. It does so by drawing richly from the work of Michael Polanyi and his conception of Personal Knowledge, and thereby it clarifies the scope of CoP, it ‘brings knowledge back’ into CoPs as a technical term, and it offers a number of new insights into how to make such social structures ‘work’ in professional settings.

The first part of the research design is a review of literature in the broadly understood area of organisational knowledge and learning, followed by a synthesis, which yields conceptual results. The empirical part is a qualitative study in NHS Scotland that is structured around three cases: in the areas of dementia, formal networks, and sepsis. The empirical material is directly analysed and presented using cognitive mapping, following a SODA protocol, which is so far utilised primarily in management consultancy with executive teams, and thereby this methodological approach contributes to the pool of available academic research methods.

There are two main contributions of this thesis; each of these has implications both for scholarly knowledge as well as practice. The first one stems from an idea of the process of thinking together which is conceptualised as people mutually guiding each other through their understandings of the same problems in their mutual area of interest, and this way indirectly sharing tacit knowledge. It is argued that it is this process that essentially brings CoPs to life, rather than for example trying to ‘set up’ a community first. Thinking together can therefore be used as a simple yet conceptually in-depth point of focus which shows that the central aspect of fostering CoPs is to build fertile avenues for people to engage regularly in that trans-personal and often trans-organisational process, and therefore it emphasises the dynamic and process-driven nature of such communities.

The second main contribution is a further elaboration of the thinking together process, which leads to a sharper view of trans-organisational knowledge where organisations learn as people engage in organic learning partnerships and thereby they share and preserve tacit knowledge that can never be fully converted into an explicit form. As such trans-organisational thinking together can be more intensive and more demanding in time or knowledge than for example a casual exchange of facts or a transfer of written documentation, cultivating CoP can be an expensive endeavour which may require careful planning and triple-legitimisation at multiple levels that needs to be looked at holistically and beyond official organisational structures.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Strathclyde Business School
  • Dorfler, Viktor, Supervisor
  • Eden, Colin, Supervisor
Place of PublicationGlasgow
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2014


  • communities of practice
  • organisational structures
  • organisational knowledge


Dive into the research topics of 'Thinking Together: Making Communities of Practice Work'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this