Shop Talk: Designing for communities of practice.

Session Title

Shop Talk: Designing for communities of practice.


Andrew Hinton

Session Type: Presentation

Communities of practice share many of the same needs of general social systems but also have unique elements that require attention within interactive architectures. This presentation will cover recent findings about best practices for digital environments for these “shared histories of learning” and how to fine tune design for these important conversational networks. We’ll briefly cover the essential characteristics of communities of practice, and explore examples and best practices for creating spaces where they can thrive.


Andrew Hinton designs user experiences for the Vanguard Group, and keeps a home on the web at


  1. Posted September 27, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Some may see this proposal as navel-gazing. I am not among them.

    We currently use tools and services that are not specifically designed to support the types of conversations that we need to foster communities of practice. Google groups, Twitter, wikis, Ning, CrowdVine, mailing lists, Eventbrite, Upcoming and more all attempt to facilitate conversations but all are inadequate.

    I have the privilege of being a community steward and after using existing tools and services in ways that amount to hacks can be frustrating, especially when people miss messages and events that are especially important. I clearly see a need for our peers to learn how to design (and build) digital systems for communities of practice that support and facilitate our efforts in the real world.

    Andrew has found an area within the social systems design that may be addressed broadly by various services, but I suspect it is considered an edge case by most. This presentation would explicitly address an important niche and certainly be invaluable in the IxDA’s design of its new site.

    Although this has been submitted as a presentation, would it fit better in the Discussions track, with a framework presented at the outset?

    Andrew and I had a brief conversation about this topic while he was in town this month and I would definitely like to see and hear more of his thinking on this.

  2. Posted September 28, 2009 at 11:37 am


    Thanks for the post and feedback.

    My description really needed to be better fleshed out — I misunderstood the submission process (my bad). When I get a chance to update this later, I’ll do a better job.

    But your comment gives me a good excuse to start doing just that, so here goes a rough stab in that direction:

    This talk is aimed mainly at those who design stuff for practitioners within (and between) corporate contexts, but should be relevant to anyone who has to design for any group that shares a practice and needs to be able to have meaningful, knowledge-building (and relationship-cultivating) conversations and interactions around that practice. I’m aiming at corporate contexts because it’s more common, and in some ways more tricky — because the practitioner community needs are often misunderstood, overlooked, or over-managed.

    What we’ll cover:

    1. Give an solid overview of what we mean by ‘community of practice’ — a term that is easily misunderstood and mis-used in corporate life especially. Clearing up what this naturally emergent social pattern really is helps determine design considerations as we go forward.

    2. See how practitioner communities are at the heart of *many* situations for which we find ourselves designing, whether we realize it or not. Intranets, team knowledge bases, innovation frameworks and even project management spaces need to be aware (and accommodate) this behavior pattern.

    3. Look at some examples of how one design approach can be better than another because of this understanding, at the levels of interaction and architecture.

    There’s a lot of material to cover, so that’s why I opted for presentation rather than “discussion” track. Happy to adjust if conference planners think it would be better otherwise, though.

  3. Posted September 28, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Andrew, thanks for fleshing it out.

    I assume you’re using “communities of practice” in its anthropological meaning.

    Based on the additional detail you’ve provided about this talk I can see at least four full presentations contained herein. I agree that it’s a lot of material to cover which warrants a presentation format.

    I’m intrigued by this talk because I see potential for lessons outside of the corporate environment.