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Building communities of practice with Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner


The coordinators of the national Danida alumni networks recently joined a workshop led by the renowned social learning theorists, Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner. Together, they delved into the potential of community of practice skills in empowering network leadership to drive impactful change.

By Nina Vlemmings

In the realm of social learning theory, the names Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner stand for the highest form of insight and guidance. Their definition of “Communities of Practice” resonates deeply: “Communities of practice are sustained learning partnerships among people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”**
Danida Fellowship Centre, in collaboration with the Wenger-Trayner duo, gathered 23 coordinators from 12 national Danida alumni networks for a four-day workshop from 26 – 29 February 2024 at MS TCDC in Tanzania. The alumni network coordinators share a common dedication to network leadership and to effecting change within their respective countries and professional spheres. In this sense, their collaboration holds much potential for cultivating a social learning space and a new learning paradigm, described by Etienne as “enabling people to bring who they are, who they want to become and the world they want to see into the energy of learning”

Listen to Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner talk about community of practice (10 min audio version)

The power of community to drive positive change
Under Etienne and Beverly’s expert guidance, the workshop fostered an environment of curiosity and collaboration, laying the ground for participants to share experiences and co-create solutions to common challenges in network leadership. Embracing the principles of distributed leadership, the workshop participants organised themselves into groups to collaboratively design their learning journey. They explored how to design for “good conversations” and ways to organize interactions in support of an emergent learning journey, underlining the crucial role of open dialogue in cultivating communities of practice.

Reflecting on their different experiences as network leaders, participants identified key strategies to enhance engagement within their networks. These included articulating the value proposition of their networks, sharing value creation stories, and fostering thematic nodes to facilitate issue-focused learning spaces. As Berverly pointed out “The way that we define value is that it is anything that helps you make the difference that you care to make

Engaging as a co-human
The workshop fostered a sense of peer support among participants. It served as a platform for cross-cultural exchange and inspiration, transcending geographical boundaries in pursuit of common goals.
Central to this endeavour was the concept of co-ownership and distributed leadership, championed by Etienne and Beverly. By empowering participants to shape their learning journey, define shared objectives as well as design and facilitate activities, the workshop embodied a collaborative approach to knowledge creation and exchange.

As Etienne aptly put it, “’enabling’ a community of practice is a subtle dance between providing enough structure whilst not sucking the agency out of its members. It is about engaging as a co-human.”
Collaboration, agency, and collective action.

Indeed, navigating the complexities of social learning demands a willingness to embrace uncertainty and relinquish control. Yet, within this uncertainty lies the promise of collective growth and innovation, as communities of practice unite to tackle the challenges of our rapidly evolving world.

For the Danida Fellowship Centre and its network coordinators, the workshop was the continuation of the transformative learning journey and commitment to building a collaborative learning space amongst network leaders that was initiated last year, a learning journey rooted in collaboration, agency, and collective action. Watch the video Together we are stronger.

In the words of a workshop participant, “Community of practice is the key to success and growth among like-minded, multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary groups.”

**Communities of Practice within and across organisations, A Guidebook; E. Wenger Trayner, B. Wenger-Trayner, Reid & Bruderlein, 2023.

Listen to the conversation about communities of practice between Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner and Stella Agara here.

Read more about Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner’s work and access their community of practice resources on their website.

The Danida Fellows Network seeks to strengthen partnerships and collaboration across sectors, disciplines and countries in pursuit of sustainable development solutions. The national Danida alumni networks represented at the workshop came from Argentina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania. Read more.

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