University of Wisconsin–Madison

Communities of Practice

What are communities of practice?

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and seek to learn how to do it better through regular interaction. They share three common elements:


Communities of practice are identified by a shared area of interest or need. Membership implies a commitment to the domain and a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people.

At UW–Madison, for example, a domain might be information technology, a specific HR function, an implementation response to emerging HR laws and regulations, or facilitating effective group processes, teaching and learning.


Communities of practice are comprised of people who share a sense of belonging. In pursuing an interest in a specific domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, share information, and provide support to one another.

They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other and care about their standing with one other. They may also experience conflicts whose resolution is supported by the community’s sense of trust and respect.


Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing recurring problems.

At UW–Madison, they may share common functions (such as financial analysts or HR Managers) or skills and interests (such as leadership skills) which they seek to develop further. The practice model allows for the time and sustained interaction necessary to this development.

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