Sensemaking in communities of practice

Fourie, Carina M. (2009-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Information Science))--University of Stellenbosch, 2009.


This thesis explores the notion of communities of practice, and in particular how they make sense of their environment in order to create knowledge and enable learning. Traditionally communities of practice are viewed as stewards of expert knowledge, but this thesis argues that they are better understood as sensemaking phenomena. Chapter one introduces the theory of sensemaking as developed by Karl Weick. This chapter introduces the seven properties of sensemaking. It also explores organisational sensemaking by taking the intersubjective and generic subjective levels of sensemaking into account. Chapter two focuses on the literature on communities of practice as self-organising knowledge structures. Three structural aspects of communities of this kind are introduced, namely domain, community and practice. Following Etienne Wenger two additional aspects of communities of practice—namely meaning and identity—are analyzed as these provide the basis for a link to sensemaking theory. In the final part of this chapter the downside of communities of practice is reviewed as they do not only present opportunities but also unique challenges for organisations. Chapter three combines the conclusions from the previous two chapters by interpreting communities of practice from a sensemaking perspective. The seven properties of sensemaking are applied to communities of practice and the role of meaning in communities of practice is viewed through the lens of sensemaking. Furthermore the role communities of practice might play in enhancing the phases of organisational sensemaking is indicated. Chapter four concludes that communities of practice indeed function as sensemaking phenomena in their environments. It is argued that nurturing communities of practice as centres of sensemaking could be advantageous to organisations and recommendations are made on how to best achieve this.

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