The LOC as a Community of Practice

Gill Brabner, LOCSU's Learning & Development Consultant explains why the LOC is a Community of Practice and what you can do to help new officers joining your 'CoP'

A frequent conversation we have with newly appointed LOC officers and members is about the challenge of joining a new professional group like the LOC. To explore this further I have been doing some research into an oft-quoted social learning approach: communities of practice, known as CoPs. Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger first coined this term while studying apprenticeship as a learning model. Etienne Wenger’s 1998 work has been a major influencer in learning and development and continues to shape thinking and approaches to learning in the NHS and other organisations.

How the LOC fits the CoP model

LOCs are good examples of what has become known as professional communities of practice; knowledge is shared and created through discourse, and the LOC has it has own specialist language which is obscure to outsiders (Northedge 2003).

There will be three levels of people within the LOC: experts, people operating at a more general level and newcomers. Professional CoPs are dominated by one professional group, in our case optical professionals, who are highly protective of their “domain of knowledge and professional identity” (Ferlie et al 2005 cited by Pattinson et al 2016).

The need to learn the LOC language

Optometrists and opticians will belong to numerous professional CoPs; the practice where they work, their professional body, regional society to name but a few. And the discourse within those CoPs will be a familiar one, an extension of clinical conversations they first encountered at university or practice-based work. But the LOC demands that entrants learn a new vocabulary, one that is full of NHS acronyms and commissioning terminology. Most new members will be unfamiliar with the NHS architecture, or the politics surrounding NHS commissioning and its numerous networks. It takes considerable time for new members to develop the competence required to participate fully in LOC committee meetings and working groups. In Wenger’s CoPs the newcomer’s “claims to competence are accepted as provisional” this means it is acceptable to take up a peripheral position when new to the LOC community (Farnsworth et al 2016). But this is not always a positive experience. It is not unusual for LOC members to confide in us that it was two years before they felt able to speak in a meeting, and this is often expressed as a “painful experience of marginalisation” (Farnsworth et al 2016). Wenger states that central to his theory is the “idea that learning from a social perspective entails the power to define competence.” Thinking about this within the LOC context we could ask ‘who decides when the new member is competent to take a central role in the work of the committee?’ The answer is likely to be the chairman or the collective committee, all of whom are the new member’s peer group. So, it is not surprising, therefore, that new committee members can feel a bit daunted when turning up for their first committee meeting.

What can we do to help new members negotiate their position within the LOC CoP?

Some committees provide mentoring or a buddy system for new officers, enacting Wenger’s master-apprentice theory which is present within all CoPs. This is effective and enables members to move out of peripheral CoP participation and into a more central role in a much shorter timeframe. We have also moved our induction programme onto a digital platform designed to help build communities of practice. This provides a secure and confidential space for delegates to ask questions, and test their knowledge and understanding away from their committee peers.

Our online induction programme can be found here. We have a team of experienced LOC officers who are studying for their ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management) level 5 in coaching and mentoring, and are available to provide mentor support to help fast track new committee members. Please get in touch for more information, gbrabner@locsu.co.uk

 

References

Farnsworth V, Kleanthous I, Wenger-Traynor E, (2016) Communities of Practice as a Social Theory of Learning: a Conversation with Etienne Wenger, British Journal of Educational Studies, 64:2, 139-160

Northedge, A. (2003). Rethinking Teaching in the Context of Diversity. Teaching in Higher Education, 8(1), 17-32.

Pattinson S., Preece D., Dawson P. (2016) In search of innovative capabilities of communities of practice: A systemic review and typology for future research

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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