What is a Community of Practice?

As colleagues working across the resettlement community, we all bring a wealth of expertise to our work. But whether we work for states, resettlement agencies or other organizations, it’s not always easy for us to learn from one another. To help meet this need, Switchboard is excited to launch our first interagency community of practice (CoP), which will focus on the monitoring and evaluation of ORR-funded programs!

But what exactly is a community of practice?

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” 

A CoP is a social learning opportunity where a group of practitioners working in a common domain regularly interact to share ideas, challenges, and resources. Unlike a training series, a CoP is based on peer-to-peer learning. This means that contributions come from group members, not from outside experts. Social learning theorists Etienne and Beverly Wegner-Trayner originally developed the CoP model. They define three components central to all CoPs:

  1. The domain: “A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a network of connections between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest.”
  2. The community: “In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other; they care about their standing with each other.”
  3. The practice: “A community of practice is not merely a community of interest–people who like certain kinds of movies, for instance. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short, a shared practice.”

– Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses, 2015.

For Switchboard’s new community of practice, the domain is monitoring and evaluation, or M&E. (Monitoring involves regularly and systematically collecting and analyzing information about a project and, when appropriate, using it to make adjustments to the project. Evaluation involves collecting and analyzing information, typically once or twice during a project, to assess a project or program’s outcomes and the factors that influenced results.)

The community will consist of refugee service providers who work for organizations funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement—whether direct service staff, supervisors, data specialists, or others. Staff from ORR-funded state agencies, resettlement agencies and affiliates, ethnic community-based organizations, and other types of organizations will be invited to participate.

Lastly, the practice involves the various M&E tasks that we do day-to-day, such as project design and M&E planning, data collection, data management, data analysis, data visualization, and use of data to make decisions and improve programs (and all of the resources, experiences, stories and solutions we bring to this work).

We hope you will consider joining this new community to contribute your ideas, tackle shared challenges, and help suggest solutions! To learn how, subscribe to Switchboard’s newsletter and stay tuned for an announcement coming soon. Questions? Email Switchboard@Rescue.org