In a conversation I had recently, specifically about a community focused on research, I used the term ‘community of improvement’, and was asked how that was different than a community of practice. It caused me to think through what the differences might be. (BTW, the idea was sparked by conversations with Lucian Tarnowski from BraveNew.)
First, let me say that a community of practice could be, and should be, a community of improvement. One of the principles of practice is reflection and improvement. But that’s not necessarily the case. A community of practice could just be a place where people answer each other’s questions, collaborate on tasks, and help one another with issues not specifically aligned with the community. But there should be more.
What I suggested in the conversation was that a community should also be about documenting practice, applying that practice through action or design research, and reflecting on the outcomes and the implications for practice. The community should be looking to other fields for inspiration, and attempting experiments. It’s the community equivalent of Schön’s reflective practitioner. And it’s more than just cooperation or collaboration, but actively engaging and working to improve.
Basically, this requires collaboration tools, not just communication tools. It requires: places to share thoughts; ways to find partners on the documentation, experimentation, and reflection; and support to track and share the resulting changes on community practices.
Yes, obviously a real community of practice should be doing this, but too often I see community tools without the collaboration tools. So I think it’s worth being explicit about what we would hope will accompany the outcomes. So, where do we do this, and how?