Thinking together: what makes communities of practice work?

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In this article, we develop the founding elements of the concept of Communities of Practice by elaborating on the learning processes happening at the heart of such communities. In particular, we provide a consistent perspective on the notions of knowledge, knowing and knowledge sharing that is compatible with the essence of this concept – that learning entails an investment of identity and a social formation of a person. We do so by drawing richly from the work of Michael Polanyi and his conception of personal knowledge, and thereby we clarify the scope of Communities of Practice and offer a number of new insights into how to make such social structures perform well in professional settings. The conceptual discussion is substantiated by findings of a qualitative empirical study in the UK National Health Service. As a result, the process of ‘thinking together’ is conceptualized as a key part of meaningful Communities of Practice where people mutually guide each other through their understandings of the same problems in their area of mutual interest, and this way indirectly share tacit knowledge. The collaborative learning process of ‘thinking together’, we argue, is what essentially brings Communities of Practice to life and not the other way round.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-409
Number of pages21
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number4
Early online date25 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • communities of practice
  • knowing
  • knowledge sharing
  • personal knowledge


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