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'I Had No Idea What a Community of Practice Was — Now I Take My CoP Soap Box Everywhere’

A public health student documents her first foray into the world of Communities of Practice.

A few short months ago, I had absolutely no idea what a Community of Practice was.

As a young public health professional accepting my very first opportunity in tech at Commsor, I knew I would be entering a whole new world with completely new and different challenges to overcome. In all honesty, Commsor and this internship sounded way too good to be true.

From the transparency to the seamless onboarding, I thought to myself, this is definitely a scam. As a scholar and a self-proclaimed internet detective, I sought out every scrap of information that was associated with Commsor and Communities of Practice (CoPs). Partly to justify my capabilities and be prepared for a sudden pop quiz, but also to inspect the company and make sure this was not another attempt to get me to transfer money to an offshore bank account for my long lost relative who also happens to be a prince. Thankfully, it all checked out.

I felt instantly cooler after I joined my first Slack community.

My first assignment was to research existing Communities of Practice (broadly speaking, a community that revolves around a shared profession, skill, or space — this article is a helpful explainer) to create a repository that could be added to the available resources on The Community Club. After finally grasping the concept of CoPs and how online communities can transform populations, I was invested. The possibilities and benefits of online communities are endless.

Naturally, the first CoP I joined was Commsor’s CoP, The Community Club, but through my research I found others that aligned with my many hats like Women in Public Health. Not only was I gaining the backend perspective on CoPs, I now had experience as a member to draw on, which allowed me to get to grips with how fruitful CoPs can be.

I joined four CoPs and made my partner join three.

The number of existing communities far exceeded my expectations. There are spaces for all sorts of cohorts of people, from broad strokes to super niche. I discovered communities for everything from “newsletter writers” to “people who care about documentation”.

I feel compelled to join the CoPs that resonated with me — not only was I eager to learn from others in the community, but I also found I was hungry for the human connection they offered.

I made my partner join a paid CoP that turned out to be inactive. Oops.

As I waded deeper into CoP waters, I realized how necessary a dedicated repository of all these spaces was. Finding these communities was tough. I had to go down so many rabbit holes in search of existing, active CoPs, many of which lead to dead ends (and dead links). A regularly updated space that showcases available Communities of Practice across industries would be so powerful in helping current and prospective members navigate and learn about them.

Perhaps if a resource like that existed, the term ‘Community of Practice’ would be a familiar one, even outside the community industry.

My experience researching CoPs has been transformative.

As an emerging public health professional (even though Commsor has convinced me that tech, specifically working in community, might be for me), my studies and work revolve around the divide, disparities, inequalities, and inequities that marginalized populations have faced and continue to battle.

Primarily, the focus of public health is analyzing and addressing how diverse groups of people that share commonalities continuously fail at any attempt to work together. (Not to get in too deep on the failings of our society, but let’s look at the COVID-19 Pandemic. This was a tragic period of time we collectively experienced and a prime example of how populations’ differences towards the protocols that were put in place were greater than the millions of lives lost to the virus.)

My discovery of CoPs was revolutionary and completely opposite from any of my previous work. These thriving online spaces allow for collaboration to happen organically and seamlessly. Through different organizations, industries, and niches, I found that the definition of a “Community of Practice” is not linear but molded to the target member. And that is exactly what a community is — it is diverse, ever adapting  to the populations they serve. They meet the people where they are.

What our current society is lacking, among many other things, is inclusivity, representation, and meaningful relationships.

Communities of Practice of all shapes and sizes give power to the members. They create a supportive, inclusive, and diverse space filled with people that share commonalities. They give people the tools that are necessary to be successful. Often, all they need is each other.

Navigating through this “new” reality of a post-COVID-19 era, we cannot forget the importance of building meaningful relationships. What has been forgotten in many industries is the power of supporting and uplifting one another. What so many of these CoPs have done — give people the tools and knowledge to build and maintain a thriving community — is priceless.

I carry my soap box in my backpack at all times. Just in case.

In retrospect, I truly believe that the term 'Community of Practice' will become universal. Moving forward, I would love to see these spaces created intentionally for underrepresented populations, underfunded organizations, and high-stress careers. I would love to see more integration of CoPs in spaces like health, social work, and wellness. CoPs can be a successful intervention and a resourceful tool for populations.

  • Watch this space for our CoPs repository! If you’d like to let us know about a community or submit yours, please get in touch.

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Christabelle Toso
Oct 3, 2022

Commsor Service Intern and public health student.

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