Gaps in practice

January/February 2011


Communities of practice

Quality improvement or research in general practice

Volume 40, No.1, January/February 2011 Pages 72-75

Moyez Jiwa

Wendy Chan She Ping-Delfos

Jackie Ross

Tim Shaw

Parker J Magin


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 health professionals.


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.

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

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