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REPORT: The ‘what, who and how’ of a community of practice on CBA


Communities of practice’ have been hailed as a way to spread knowledge and innovation, but we still know little about their real impacts, or even how to evaluate these. A good example to learn from is IIED’s conference series on community-based adaptation. The meetings have nurtured networks of practitioners that ‘fit the bill’ as a community of practice: filtering information, amplifying lesser-known ideas, convening, facilitating, community building and investing. A new briefing from IIED looks at the ‘what, who and how’ of forming communities of practice, then looks ahead to an evaluation of whether, and how, why and when, such a community achieves better policies and practice to support local climate adaptation.

How effective are communities of practice? A ‘community of practice’ is a group of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise on this area by interacting on a recurrent basis. Such groups are now widespread, fostered by agencies and organisations in many different sectors as a means for sharing knowledge and developing innovations. Responding to climate change is particularly suited to community of practice approaches as we need to learn and share knowledge quickly over many different circumstances.

Yet few studies have measured and evaluated the performance or impacts of communities of practice. Most published reports focus on describing a community’s establishment or activities. If national organisations and development partners are to nurture communities of practice for their value in knowledge generation and implementation, they need to better understand how these communities improve practice. This briefing note explores whether and how a community of practice has been established through the IIED’s community-based adaptation (CBA) conferences and its current functions. We then consider the next steps in evaluating the community’s effectiveness.

Case study: the Community-Based Adaptation conferences

This community of practice has emerged from six annual meetings focused on community-based adaptation — a climate and development approachthat is still evolving. CBA recognises that environmental knowledge, vulnerability and resilience to climate change impacts are embedded in societies and cultures.
It places the community at the heart of discussions and adopts a bottom-up approach to determine how best to respond to climate change. Rather than remaining passive, communities are empowered to think forward and take action based on their own decision-making processes.
The CBA conferences have captured learning about this new concept and have provided a dynamic forum for dialogue and debate as well as a safe space for
exploring fresh ideas. The meetings cut across sectoral lines, uniting and nurturing practitioners from a wide range of organisations with a shared interest in understanding CBA practices and innovations. The conference itself also evolves each year, adjusting as participants seek to explore new themes and meet changing needs.

Clearly, these conferences have started to build a knowledge network around CBA. So can it yet be described as a community of practice? Communities of practice develop gradually, and the initial stages are often not recognised as such. The CBA conferences are a good example of this. Over the six meetings, the formation of a community of practice was not necessarily apparent to those attending, and the group that attends today did not actively seek to become a community.

Yet the current community does reflect the ‘knowing in action’ that characterises a community of practice (see Knowing in action: what a community of practice looks like). Moreover, the group’s activities match six typical functions of a community of practice: serving as filters, amplifiers, conveners, facilitators, community builders, and investors and providers. The network of CBA conference participants thus seems to represent a bona fide community of practice. But this is not enough to justify its existence. We also need to evaluate its effects.

Read the full Briefing Note on Assessing the CBA Community of Practice to learn more.

This briefing note has been produced as part of a CDKN initiative with IIED to build a community of practice on CBA. This includes support to the CBA conference series and a Government Cohort looking at the issue of mainstreaming CBA within developing planning processes. 

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