Etienne Wenger1 is credited with coining the term ‘community of practice’ (CoP) which he defines as, ‘groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise by interacting on an ongoing basis’.1 Wenger believes that learning is a social activity and that people learn best in groups. Communities can form around a specific purpose and disband or choose to continue once that purpose has been achieved. Members may share a professional discipline or they may be multidisciplinary. Some communities may be small and localised while others may be geographically dispersed ‘virtual communities’ that communicate primarily by telephone, email, online discussion groups and or videoconferencing. This concept has been successfully adopted internationally and may have particular relevance to primary care in Australia where practitioners who share an interest may be working closely in one location or dispersed across a wide geographical area.2
A ‘communities of practice’ (CoP) approach has the potential to address
quality improvement issues and facilitate research in general practice
by engaging those most intimately involved in delivering services – the
This article outlines the CoP approach and discusses some of the
challenges involved in using this approach to raise standards in
general practice and how these challenges might be addressed.
General practitioner insight needs to be harnessed in order to develop
solutions that are conceived in, and informed by, clinical practice. A
CoP approach provides control to the practitioners over selection of
the most relevant research question and outcome measure. However,
the method is challenging as it requires a focus that is suitable, that
motivates the participants, and effective management strategies and
resources to support the CoP.
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