Establish a Working Group

2 Frameworks and Approaches to Community

What is an open working group?

Open working groups are a great way to conduct advocacy and build momentum for open education in an institution. They bring together the people on campus that are interested in or already engaged in open educational practices (OEP). These groups are oriented towards particular tasks for a certain length of time. Some may revolve around a project like developing a Zed Cred or an Open Educational Resource (OER) strategy, and others may include cross-functional members in charge of distributing OER grants.

The term “working group” is often used to distinguish a group from something more formal, such as a committee or steering group. Many institutions purposefully choose the term “working group” to signify ideological driven action, with members working in partnership towards a common goal. You may choose to name your group something even less formal—perhaps, “[School Name]’s Open Champions,” or more formal like, “Open Education Committee.” The range of projects or initiatives your group is involved in may inform the name.

Define a working group

The term “working group” is used broadly in this guide and includes community-learning groups such as communities of practice (CoPs) and institutional-based working groups or project groups. In this section, we will consider approaches and frameworks for developing a working group/CoP/learning network. Let’s begin by exploring a the “community of practice” model.

A community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.[1]

Etienne Wenger

There are three characteristics of a community of practice that sets it apart from other communities:

  1. Domain. CoPs are “defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people.”[2] Establishing a shared domain allows you to
    • identify other practitioners in this domain,
    • include the many institutional roles connoted by domain and practice, and
    • discuss and share shared competence involved in open practice.
  2. Community. “In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other; they care about their standing with each other.”[3] Establishing a community allows you to
    • create meaningful and purposeful activities and
    • adopt informal or formal leadership that steps up and steps back.
  3. Practice. “Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short, a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction.”[4] As practitioners, you can
    • create purposeful resources and tools together and
    • establish regular meetings for sustaining these interactions.

Design effective communities of practice

Most communities of practice have no formal design and tend to be self-organising systems. They have a natural life cycle and come to an end when they no longer serve the needs of the community. However, there is now a body of theory and research that has identified actions that can help sustain and improve the effectiveness of communities of practice.

Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder have identified seven key design principles for creating effective and self-sustaining communities of practice. These principles are related specifically to the management of the community, but the ultimate success of a community of practice will be determined by the activities of the members of the community themselves.[5] Designers of a community of practice need to:

  1. Design for evolution. Ensure that the community can evolve and shift in focus to meet the interests of the participants without moving too far from the common domain of interest.
  2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives. Encourage the introduction and discussion of new perspectives that come or are brought in from outside the community of practice.
  3. Encourage and accept different levels of participation. The strength of participation varies from participant to participant. The ‘core’ (most active members) are those who participate regularly. There are others who follow the discussions or activities but do not make active contributions. Then there are those (likely the majority) who are on the periphery of the community but may become more active participants if the activities or discussions start to engage them more fully. All these levels of participation need to be accepted and encouraged within the community.
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces. Communities of practice are strengthened if they encourage individual or group activities that are more personal or private as well as the more public general discussions. For instance, individuals may decide to blog about their activities, or in a larger online community of practice, a small group that live or work close together may also decide to meet informally face-to-face.
  5. Focus on value. Attempts should be made explicitly to identify, through feedback and discussion, the contributions that the community most values, then focus the discussion and activities around these issues.
  6. Combine familiarity and excitement. This can be done by focusing on shared concerns and perspectives, but also by introducing radical or challenging perspectives for discussion or action.
  7. Create a rhythm for the community. There needs to be a regular schedule of activities or focal points that bring participants together on a regular basis within the constraints of participants’ time and interests.


  1. Team BE, "What is a community of practice?" Wenger-Trayner, (accessed January 28, 2019).
  2. Etienne Wenger-Trayner and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, "Introduction to communities of practice," Wenger-Trayner, (accessed January 28, 2019).
  3. Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner, "Introduction to communities of practice."
  4. Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner, "Introduction to communities of practice."
  5. Etienne Wenger, Richard Arnold McDermott, and William Snyder, Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge (Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2002).


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Working Group Guide Copyright © 2019 by BCcampus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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