Community of practice, General

Using a Community of Practice in the eMSP NBSR project – an introduction

Why a Community of Practice?

Reaching a related Maritime Spational Planning with a clear space for various functions and necessary transitions is on a national level already very complex. Let alone a related one on a European level. All functions and values in the system, from ecology to food, from energy to transport meet and influence each other in the same, often limited, spot.

The strong growth of these mutual dependancies is a motive for the coming into being of the network society.

In a network society more and more happens based on connections, knots of networks or ‘in between’ spaces, gaps between organisations. We see this clearly happening in governmental organisations. We look for points where our topics meet the topics of other organisations. The complex issues we have in front of us, ask for it. We need to work in networks of organisations and to head towards better linkages with others.

What is a Community of Practice?

A Community of Practice (CoP) aims at organizing such linkages. It is a group of people who share a common interest or passion. It is a meeting place where professionals share analyses, inform and advise each other and develop new practices. The aim is to share and build on existing knowledge. Every member can apply it in their own specific situation, in order to then pass on this new knowledge to a larger circle. This includes individual skills as well. Through the free exchange of knowledge, insights and experiences, professionals work hands-on with others to learn and develop new ways of dealing with problems and challenges. A CoP therefore provides an open and experimental learning environment. What ties participants to a CoP is a shared sense of urgency, a difficult issue, and the need and ambition to solve it. Everyone focuses their efforts on the same issue. Learning and developing together in a CoP is a way to work smarter, faster, better and more cost-effectively. What connects people is their love for what they do and the professional pride that goes with it. They identify with and appreciate each other in this regard.

What steps to take?

The first step is to clarify your focus, in an interactive process with those interested in participation or the results. Second is to unite around urgency. You need to formulate a collective ambition. Try to find common ground and shared urgencies with participants from various backgrounds and as diverse you can get to. Then you will recruit an attractive group, that can break through the level of ‘obviousness’, that can experiment with and change existing practice. In order to contribute to the complex challenge lying in front of you. These 3 steps form the first three but iterative steps. It can take some months before you can really start with a group.

Next step to focus on is to make an impact. Facilitate ‘movement’, for creating lasting bonds. Pay attention to links between the CoP and the organisations of participants. And since often most attention goes to results, pay as organizer of a CoP attention to the facilitation of learning. For the direct participants, and also of their colleagues / their network. Make it interesting and fun. Create a safe space in the CoP, disconnect from the turbulent every day business.

For more steps and example please read the booklet “Ten steps for a successful community of practice”.

Further reading on the first observations of the CoPs in the eMSP NBSR project see poster from ICES Annual Scientific Conference 2022  here.

Prepared by José Andringa (Netherlands Enterprise Agency – RVO ) & Margarita Vološina (VASAB Secretariat) November, 2022