Communities of Practice
Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared field of human endeavour, whether that be through formal mechanisms or other, with the aim of improving their own practice and/or developing a more widely shared understanding of that field. They may be of particular value for people working in a field with a number of frequently experienced challenges, but which are too small or poorly defined to benefit from a substantial literature or structured training opportunities. A number exist around information, knowledge, communication and evaluation for development. Some of these create opportunities for exchange and support at national level, where practitioners may feel fairly isolated. Most also offer some global information exchange such as mailing lists. MESH could be seen as offering the basis for a community of practice.
I have chosen several to highlight. The Land Portal has been selected to demonstrate its underlying technology, based on linked open (meta)data and FAIR principles and also for its active communications campaign which stimulates interest in the field through hosting a range of on-line events. The others are all based on fields which are related to engagement. They also serve as examples of knowledge platforms as their on-line presence is central to all of them but they each engage in a range of other activities, including some face to face communication. One feature of difference is their business model. RRI tools is, I believe, a creation of the European Union, designed to facilitate, promote and enable an approach to research and innovation which the EU wishes to encourage. CLTS and the Communications Initiative are run by small teams, passionate about their subject areas, who have both successfully attracted donor funding to support their work over more than a decade. KM4Dev, although originally an initiative of IDRC in Canada, has for more than a decade, been a self-sustaining network with a rotating 'Core Team' managing the process. Its overheads are minimal with no office or, outside funded sub-projects, paid staff. It does receive occasional grants from donors, usually ones some of whose staff are active members of the network.
With the exception of RRI, which has a European focus, all the above communities aim to be global in their reach. Both the Communications Initiative and the Land Portal receive by far the the majority of web visits from the Global South. However, I have not been able to find a good example of a Southern community of practice. It could be argued that the Indian NGO, IT4Change performs a similar role in providing news and organising training and other events about global and national IT policy and local practice but it lacks the explicit community-building function. Alternatively there is perhaps a different model of highly networked specialist Southern NGOs which build what are in effect communities of practice in often more precarious political and economic circumstances by regularly collaborating with other like-minded NGOs in and co-organising local, national and global events.