Transformative Community of Practice: Synergy & Growth

In the interconnected realms of higher education, business, and international development, the emergence of Transformative Communities of Practice (TCoPs) marks a significant paradigm shift. Influenced by the pioneering work of Etienne Wenger, these communities serve as collaborative platforms in synchronous and asynchronous environments where goal-oriented groups engage in joint activities, exchange experiential wisdom, and generate new knowledge.

Extending beyond traditional boundaries found in the workplace or family environments, they create unique spaces for personal and professional growth and foster environments conducive to individual and collective transformation.

This article aims to delve into the underlying principles and dynamics of TCoPs, highlighting their role in facilitating learning, personal development, and adaptation to the evolving demands of social systems.

Transformative Community of Practice: Synergy & Growth

A group of people standing together

The power of collective intelligence is stronger than our individual capabilities

What is a transformative community?

A transformative community, in the context of TCoPs, is a dynamic collective of individuals bonded by a shared interest or domain. This group is dedicated to shared learning and skill development and driving meaningful change within their fields or societies.

TCoPs are characterized by their commitment to their members' holistic growth and development, encompassing individual, team, organizational, and broader social levels.

Regular interactions within these communities are geared towards fostering a deeper understanding and mastery of their domain, which involves creating and disseminating innovative knowledge and practices. Integral to these communities is the nurturing of a network of relationships that provide both support and challenge, enhancing the community's capacity for impact and transformation.

Key attributes include:

  • Shared Domain of Interest: TCoPs bring together individuals from various backgrounds, from higher education professionals to business unit leaders, who share a common passion or problem. This shared domain acts as a foundation for all community activities and learning processes.
  • Open Access and Collaboration: Emphasizing open access and collaborative learning, members share resources, insights, and best practices, fostering an environment of transparency and mutual support.
  • Structured Container for Experimentation: These communities create spaces for experimentation and risk-taking, essential for personal development and organizational innovation. Facilitation of TCoPs plays an essential role in the establishment and assurance of structure necessary for intellectual and collaborative risk-taking.
  • Focus on Digital and Societal Transformation: Many TCoPs emphasize digital transformation, exploring how social media, digital tools, and new technologies are transforming society in ways that both potentiate next practices and drive generational challenges. Often, the experience of participating in a TCoP is inextricably tied to the experience of being in an industry and society that is experiencing extreme change, both in the sense of innovation and in the sense of disruptive tension.
  • Impact Beyond the Group: Transformative communities aim to extend their influence beyond their immediate group, influencing policy at a national level, changing practices in business units, or contributing to the body of knowledge in higher education.
  • Vertical Development in TCoPs: Transformative Communities of Practice (TCoPs) are not only platforms for sharing knowledge horizontally among peers but also serve as catalysts for vertical development. This involves the growth and evolution of individuals' thinking processes, perspectives, and problem-solving skills. In TCoPs, vertical development is facilitated through mentoring, challenging conventional thinking, and encouraging members to transcend their current cognitive and emotional boundaries. This process aids in developing more complex and adaptive ways of understanding the world, which is crucial for navigating and leading in rapidly changing environments.

Examples of transformative communities of practice

In the context of transformative communities of practice, while there may not be a specific category labeled as such, some communities of practice embody transformative characteristics and principles. A prime example is the COMMIT Network, funded by the National Science Foundation. This network, operating in the realm of higher education mathematics, consists of regional communities focused on inquiry-based learning methods. These communities support educators in adopting and refining student-centered teaching techniques.

The COMMIT Network stands out for several reasons:

  1. Evidence-Based Support: COMMIT offers professional development, mentoring, and collaborative opportunities, aiding educators in the sustainable transformation of their teaching practices.
  2. Focus on Inquiry-Based Mathematics Education (IBME): It incorporates various teaching approaches like Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) and Inquiry-Oriented Instruction (IOI), emphasizing equity, deep student engagement, collaborative learning, and instructor-led inquiry into student thinking.
  3. Network Structure: The network connects leadership teams from various regional communities, fostering the sharing of successes and challenges and aiding in pursuing common goals.
  4. Professional Development and Community Building: COMMIT organizes events for professional development and networking, addressing the specific needs of instructors.
  5. Benefits to Members: Membership offers access to new ideas, deepens teaching practices, and broadens the use of inquiry methods.
  6. Resources and Toolkits: The network provides essential resources and toolkits to help start and sustain communities, sharing information about past activities and events.

Another example of a community of practice (CoP) impacting professional development is seen in a study on pre-service teachers. This study, using Wenger et al.'s (2002) CoP framework, found that CoPs significantly enhance pre-service teachers' knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs. These communities offer a supportive environment for learning, reflection, and developing a sense of belonging.

The study suggests that CoPs are effective in supporting professional development, especially in teacher education, induction, and retention. It emphasizes the importance of designing CoPs to meet the specific needs and interests of pre-service teachers.

Furthermore, the study explores Wenger’s stages of CoP development (potential, coalescing, active, dispersed, and memorable) and examines how these stages are reflected in a teacher's professional journey. The teacher's experience underscores the role of internal and external factors in professional growth, the balance between experience and competence, and the value of intellectual partnerships in CoPs.

These examples illustrate how communities of practice that embody transformative characteristics, though not explicitly labeled as such, are functioning effectively in various educational contexts, fostering professional growth and innovation.

What is a Change Community of Practice?

A Change Community of Practice (CCoP) extends the fundamental concept of a Community of Practice (CoP) by focusing specifically on the aspect of change - be it in organizational structures, social systems, or professional methodologies. These communities are vital in addressing common problems within these systems through a collective, practice-based approach.

CCoPs play a crucial role in identifying and addressing systemic issues. In higher education, for instance, they might tackle challenges like curriculum development or student engagement strategies. In business units, such as those in a large insurance company, a CCoP might focus on improving operational efficiency or customer service standards.

The Essence of a Transformative Agent

Transformative agents are key to the success of a transformative community of practice. These groups of people, marked by self-awareness and a drive for knowledge, inspire change. They are empathetic, visionary, and influential within their communities, guiding discussions and fostering creative problem-solving.

The journey to becoming a transformative agent involves continuous self-inquiry and development. Cultivating transformative capabilities involves:

  • Developing strong communication skills.
  • Embracing lifelong learning.
  • Building diverse networks, both geographically and in terms of mindset and perspective.
  • Engaging in mentorship.

Building and Nurturing TCoPs

To start a transformative community of practice, identify a group of people with shared interests and define the community's purpose and goals collaboratively. Establish a decentralized governance structure and create a charter detailing the mission, values, and norms.

To sustain a TCoP:

  • Facilitate regular meetings and collaborative projects.
  • Encourage open dialogue.
  • Seek new challenges and knowledge.
  • Utilize digital platforms for connectivity.

The Impact of TCoPs on Social and Organizational Systems

The impact of a transformative community of practice on social and organizational systems is substantial and diverse. In the realm of organizations, TCoPs are instrumental in fostering more effective problem-solving, refining processes, and bolstering innovation. They serve as hubs for the exchange of best practices and continuous learning, thereby increasing organizational agility and resilience.

Consider, for example, a multinational corporation implementing a TCoP to revolutionize its product development process. This community, drawing employees from varied geographic and departmental backgrounds, becomes a dynamic platform for idea exchange and innovation.

Such a setup significantly reduces product development timelines by promoting rapid knowledge sharing. The TCoP also nurtures a culture of continuous learning and adaptability, preparing the organization to respond nimbly to market shifts and customer needs. As a result, the corporation experiences enhanced productivity, competitiveness, and employee engagement.

Summary and Next Steps

A smiling person in a blue shirt and nametag, foregrounded in a group discussion, with others blurred in the background.

In promoting new ways of thinking, a transformative community of practice plays a vital role in personal and professional development.

The transformative communities of practice can serve as crucial allies in the evolution of consciousness and societal development. By bringing together individuals dedicated to personal and collective growth, these communities foster an environment where transformative ideas can emerge and flourish as contrasted with the family, team, organization and societal structures that people engage with daily.

TCoPs often act as incubators for innovative solutions to complex challenges, contributing to the evolution of thought and practice in various fields. TCoPs that are too broad or too narrow do not necessarily have this beneficial effect. Facilitation skills and structures are key; however, facilitation that is overly authoritative or personality-driven can counter the generative effects of community.

The collaborative nature of TCoPs enables a cross-pollination of ideas and experiences, leading to a richer understanding of issues and more comprehensive solutions. This collaborative approach aligns well with the concept of collective intelligence, where the sum of the community's knowledge and expertise is greater than its individual parts.

At Meridian University, faculty have designed degree programs to provide students with a broader learning community oriented to TCoP principles and practice. The programs provide an education in the set of tools and knowledge required to form specific transformational communities of practice that enable the holistic growth of their members and real societal change.

To learn more about how such communities are formed and their significant impact, consider reaching out to an Admission Advisor about upcoming opportunities to speak with faculty.


Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Seven principles for cultivating communities of practice. Cultivating Communities of Practice: a guide to managing knowledge, 4, 1-19.

Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.

Hefetz, G., & Ben-Zvi, D. (2020). How do communities of practice transform their practices?. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 26, 100410.

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