Communities of Practice revisited

I first read Wenger’s Community of practice (2006) in October at the beginning of the PG Cert, as a result I am now aware of the various, and in many ways interconnected, communities of practices (CoPs) I have circled, been involved in and now part of. Herne’s Communities of practice in art and design and museum and gallery education (2006) expanded my understanding further. I was drawn to his ‘constellations’ metaphor; that larger social, commercial or institutional bodies are too complex to be treated as a single CoPs as they overlap, intertwine and are interconnected and are best regarded as a ‘constellations’ of CoPs.

It prompted me to consider unpacking and identifying the CoPs within my own micro constellation. I became aware of more established, far reaching CoPs which I have orbited and engaged with over longer durations of time, and which have shaped my design practice in terms or processes, approaches and connections to other CoPs.

From 2001 to 2006 I was employed in the Radio & Music Interactive department of the BBC. One aspect of the department’s responsibility was to develop the online representation for all of the BBC’s Radio networks. I worked in the design team, which was employing what was considered best practice for the design process; integrating the latest methodologies, techniques and approaches of how to develop, structure, design and build comprehensive and ‘user centred’ websites.

I worked with a team of very creative and engaged colleagues, ranging from software engineers, information architects, user experience designers, front end developers, online and radio production teams and the presenters and DJ’s themselves. It was an inspiring environment to work in, I was exposed to a range of ideas and processes, which were not indigenous to my graphic design practice, but came from information architects or software engineers or radio production teams etc. Very different disciplines cross-pollinated in that arena producing some really exciting and innovative outcomes.

Herne (2006) explores conflicts and possible resolutions between two similar yet opposed CoPs, this struck a cord with my own experiences as a designer working with different disciplines; front end developer or software engineers; each party looks upon the same thing with very different paradigms, perspectives, objectives, approaches and language, therefore conflicts or misunderstandings often occur.

To resolve this potential disruption, our multi-disciplinary teams, on occasion, recognised and understood the differences of approach and process but sought to negotiate and allocate a space where we could align to a shared goal, which was to produce a website or product to the best of our combined efforts. This is the essence of what Herne calls ‘fruitful and respectful collaboration’.

Transposing this learning to my teaching practise is intriguing as to establish and help nurture an arena for ‘fruitful and respective collaboration’ I see being very challenging. The Foundation course is a very short course, where group work is embedded predominantly in Part One (weeks 1 to 9) once specialised (weeks 12 to 21) group work is a fractional aspect, and tended to be discouraged as it is about building an individual students portfolio. I do, however, try to encourage and harbour as much discourse between the students as possible, to create an energy and momentum of engagement, production, experimentation and exploration. Which hopefully gives the opportunity for CoPs to emerge in the studio, which the students will orbit for years to come…


1 comment

  1. I see your problem. Foundation courses are very much about preparing an individual portfolio, and in that sense group work may be difficult to introduce, or not be particularily welcome by students. Perhaps on the foundation course (where, arguably, the students are the furthest from their future CoP) your role is more to introduce concepts to them – like as you say discussion, peer assessment, crits, self evaluation – so here you are laying the ‘foundation’; developing essential skills which will form the building blocks for the multi-disciplinary teams they may eventually find themselves in.

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