National Center for the
Dissemination of Disability Research

Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice

The National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research (NCDDR) is working with grantees of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to encourage researchers to expand their common understanding and to jointly address issues related to research quality, standards, and guidelines. To achieve this, the NCDDR is modeling the use of Communities of Practice (CoPs) as a knowledge translation (KT) strategy.

CoPs are "groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis" (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002, p. 4). Three important characteristics help distinguish a CoP from other groups: 1) the domain (topic or theme to be addressed and advanced); 2) the community (members motivated by a mutual interest in the domain); and 3) the practice (ideas, tools, expertise, knowledge, and shared resources that serve to move the field of inquiry forward) (Wenger, 1998; Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002).

A CoP is much more informal than a work group or task force. Participants may volunteer or be assigned to a task force, but the activity usually has a specific predetermined goal and a projected time of existence (Nickols, 2003). Members of CoPs are not typically assigned, but join based on their interest in the domain and their ability to contribute to the practice. Together, the members of the community share their expertise and mutual understanding about the domain to develop greater knowledge and build the practice.

The experiential knowledge that an individual develops over time and through a variety of experiences, places, and activities can be profoundly useful in his or her own particular setting. By building on its members' shared knowledge, a CoP can be useful in developing new ideas and new strategies.

NCDDR's Community of Practice Activities

Communities of Practice: A Strategy for Sharing and Building Knowledge. FOCUS Technical Brief #11

What are Communities of Practice? (E. Wenger)

Selected Resources on Communities of Practice


Nickols, F. (2003). Communities of practice: An overview. Retrieved February 15, 2006, from

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

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NCDDR is funded by the
National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)
Project Number: H133A060028
U.S. Department of Education