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Communities of practice: An important peace-building role

communities of practice

There is something about being “in community” that feels very different from going it alone. It may seem like an obvious statement, and while I agree that it is, it also raises the question of why we do not do more in community. In this short piece, I want to explore some meaningful moments in the ongoing development of a CMM Community of Practice in Medellin.

Etienne Wenger (1988) states that, “Practice is about meaning as an experience of everyday life.” He talks about the negotiation of meaning, which leads me to believe he is asserting that shared meaning is not a given, although we can see evidence of assuming it is, in our everyday misunderstandings. This resonates very well with our CMM community because we focus on the meaning-making process in our relationships. It is shaped by the everyday experiences we have that create our worldviews and how we understand the world around us and not all experiences carry the same weight of influence.

The ways we learn through our experience, including encounters with others, build as layers upon one another creating many lenses or filters that information passes through in the process of creating meaning for us. When we are in coordination with others, we generate shared meaning and we create options for how to move forward.

When we are in a community it is more likely we will have shared experiences because we have a common foundation. My friend and colleague in Medellin, Andy Gudman, reflects that:

Being in a CMM community of practice gives me constant feedback of ways to better apply CMM in various fields. It also gives me a protective environment and CMM has given me a family that protects me with love and allows for me to provide love and protect others as well. It is also a professional network to improve my quality of life.

Here we have a firsthand notion of the lived experience of being in a community of practice (CoP) of CMM practitioners. The way in which CMM found a home here in Colombia with many youth and community leaders concerned about peacebuilding, took me by surprise at first. Then when they shared how it helped them make meaning in their lives and change their narratives, to remain in a positive, forward-looking frame, helped me realize its importance to them. The next consideration of course, is how to keep this momentum and commitment going.

One way of keeping it fresh and generative is to create a CoP because of the nurturing and beneficial effects of being in community. Wenger (2002) identifies seven principles of fostering and sustaining CoPs. They are:

  1. Design for evolution.
  2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.
  3. Invite different levels of participation.
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces.
  5. Focus on value.
  6. Combine familiarity and excitement.
  7. Create a rhythm for the community.

These are some of the ways these seven principles are being applied in Medellin.

Design for evolution: The CMM CoP here in Medellin is expanding and learning new ways of applying CMM and sharing this knowledge selectively and more broadly. The profound ways in which CMM facilitates meaning making and narrative transformation, bonds CMM practitioners together.

Dialogue for inside and outside perspectives: New learners of CMM attending workshops for leadership development, team building, setting a vision and mission, bring in different perspectives that they modify through the use of CMM and that users of CMM integrate into their ever-evolving communication processes.

Invite different levels of participation: This occurs organically as there are prime coordinators and then others who initiate other activities and take leads on these events, projects, communications, within their groups or with other groups

Develop both public and private community spaces: Sharing the developments of projects utilizing CMM with a broader community brings in a variety of perspectives. Selecting the appropriate venues is key.

Focus on value: The practices and events that are part of the CoP have a value proposition in place, such as developing youth to be youth peacebuilding leaders. There have been opportunities to identify new values that have emerged.

Combine familiarity and excitement: The balance between the two is critical. Providing the creature comforts of familiarity so people feel a part of the community, is accompanied by the newness and subsequent developments that are exciting. This keeps CoP members motivated to continue being involved.

Create a rhythm for the community: It is important for there to be a set of regularly scheduled meetings, information sharing, and events so it’s predictable and people can prepare accordingly. Then there is the spontaneity of ad hoc sessions as well.

As living organisms in an ever-changing world, what was relevant one day may not be relevant the next. New information provides opportunities to think differently and that means the meaning we make of a situation or relationship, may not be the same the next day.

It was not our intention to start a Community of Practice here in Medellin with the youth and community leaders with whom we work. It rather developed organically and that took me by surprise as well. It speaks to the communal level of how things become part of the fabric and how these youth and community leaders seek community. We need to provide for change and communities of people working together and supporting each other to achieve common goals, can make that happen.

References

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. p. 52.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press. p. 51.

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