The place of communities of practice in knowledge management studies: A critical review

  • Bolisani E
  • Scarso E
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Purpose: Since its introduction, the notion of Communities of Practice (CoPs) has gained immediate popularity, especially among Knowledge Management scholars. The paper aims at reviewing the past and discussing what has been done. In particular the purposes are: to assess the importance of CoPs in the KM literature; to trace how this notion is defined and used, both in practical and theoretical terms; to classify the approaches used by KM research on CoPs; to discuss the results that research and practice in CoPs have led so far, the open issues, and the potential role of this notion in a future KM research agenda. Design/methodology/approach: The paper illustrates and discusses the findings of a systematic literature review on CoPs focusing on papers published in the most influential Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital Journals. Findings: The study analyses 82 articles published in 12 different KM and IC leading journals from 1997 to 2012. Each article was examined to determine the following information: type of study; domain of application; research methodology applied and addressed topic. Emerging trends, open questions and further research needs are identified and discussed. In particular, an issue for researchers is the necessity to formulate an agreed definition of CoPs under the KM umbrella, which can also help to implement comparable empirical studies and to build theories that provide understanding of how CoPs can be managed. Practical implications: The outcomes of the review is particularly important for KM scholars dealing with CoPs, who can find suggestions for their future research. It can also provide food for thought to practitioners, by illustrating the state-of-the-art and prospects of this important organisational form. In addition, the paper highlights that, despite the huge amount of studies on this topic, the notion of CoP is still used in different ways and the specific experience of each company is difficult to generalise and transfer to other cases. Originality/value: This is the most up-to-date analysis of research on CoPs in its elective field of application that is Knowledge Management. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

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  • Ettore Bolisani

  • Enrico Scarso

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