Communities of practice are groups made up of practitioners in a specific area of expertise who interact over time to share knowledge and build belonging. Etienne Wenger, one of the researchers who coined the term in 1991, notes three defining characteristics of communities of practice: Focus on the domain of knowledge and knowledge exchange, the notion of community connection and responsibility, and membership based on involvement in a specific practice.
There are four main purposes for Communities of Practice:
· Providing social peer support and identity affirmation through their human scale of interaction (venting, sharing in-jokes, developing rapport and trust, a sense of belonging and understanding)
· Sharing practical knowledge across the area of practice (mentoring, brainstorming, problem-solving, sharing templates or examples, forwarding articles)
· Coordinating day-to-day efforts between internal elements of the area of practice (adjusting timing or processes, connecting elements, sharing physical resources or services)
· Planning strategic shared vision and action to improve broader conditions for the area of practice (awareness, advocacy, negotiation, consultation, research participation)
Communities of Practice at Women’s Shelters Canada
Housing Community of Practice
In June 2017, the Housing Community of Practice brought together 11 participants from 7 provinces and 1 territory to share their knowledge of housing context, exchange promising practices, and draft a vision for strategic housing priorities for Women’s Shelters Canada.
COP on Supporting Trans Women in VAW Shelters
In May 2018, 8 participants from VAW shelters and transition houses across the country came together to share their progress, challenges, and lessons learned in the process of making their shelters more inclusive.
COP on Supporting Immigrant and Refugee Survivors of VAW
In May 2019, 17 shelter workers from nine different provinces and territories participated in a COP on navigating immigration systems and access to services with immigrant and refugee survivors of violence against women.