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Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice bring together staff with similar roles, experiences and needs to work together, share knowledge, and improve their practice area.

What are Communities of Practice?

Communities of Practice (CoPs) are communities for people at UCL who work in similar practice areas or perform similar functions. CoPs help staff build networks, share knowledge and resources, and break down silos. 

CoPs positively impact practice areas by bringing people together from across the university, to collaborate and find solutions that work for everyone. They also help improve communication between different areas and identify best practice models.

By building networks and collaborating with others, CoP members can also gain experiences and stretch skills that contribute toward career progression. 

Communities of Practice formed the first ever Transforming Our Professional Services (TOPS) project, launched in Autumn 2017. As of April 2022, there are 21 CoPs at UCL, with a membership of over 3,500 staff. 

Due to their success, they are now embedded as business as usual in the Employee Experience team, Organisational Development, with a dedicated Communities of Practice Manager

Go to the Communities of Practice SharePoint Hub

How do Communities of Practice work at UCL?

The CoP’s members (often split into core and wider members) drive its main activities. As experts in the practice area, they can generate project ideas and activities and feed back on the CoP’s activities. Each CoP is led by two or three leads who oversee projects, influence the CoP’s direction and make sure it reaches its goals. The leads regularly meet with the CoP’s sponsor – a senior manager at UCL whose role is to give support to and advocate for the CoP and make sure it is aligned with UCL’s strategies.

Typical CoP activities can include:

  • Running focused projects to improve the practice area, for example around a new way of working, best practice, or introducing a new tool
  • Upskilling members through regular Lunch & Learn events
  • Creating an online community for members to connect and share knowledge 
  • Regular networking events and meet ups 

CoPs are all different in how they grow and develop; members shape the direction of their CoP and the projects they choose to work on.

Current Communities of Practice at UCL
  • Data and Insight
  • Digital Communications
  • Engineering Technical Staff
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Events Management
  • Executive Assistants and Personal Assistants
  • Facilities Management
  • Financial Management 
  • HR Generalists
  • HR Recruitment
  • Internal Communications
  • IT Management
  • Partnership Development
  • Procurement and Purchasing
  • Project and Programme Management
  • Programme Administration (Teaching)Project and Programme Management
  • Research IT
  • Research Support
  • Student Health and Wellbeing
  • Student Recruitment
  • Widening Participation  

CoPs' impact at UCL

The 2021 Communities of Practice Impact Survey showed how CoPs are having a hugely positive impact on working life at UCL: 

CoPs bring people together 

CoPs help colleagues feel connected to each other and to the whole institution. Nearly all the respondents (92%) agreed that the CoP helped them form connections with colleagues whom they wouldn't have otherwise met – and said that CoPs help improve communication between different areas of UCL (90%).

CoPs help you learn new skills

Most respondents agreed that they have developed their skills and/or gained knowledge about their practice because of their CoP (84%). 

They also said that they've been able to apply new skills and knowledge to their job (79%).

CoPs help make UCL a better place to work

Most survey respondents said that being in a CoP increases their sense of belonging at UCL (89%) and that CoPs help improve UCL’s workplace culture (88%).

They also agreed that their team or department benefits from them being in a CoP (83%).

CoPs help improve how things work at UCL

Most survey respondents agreed that their CoP and its outputs help improve service delivery in the practice area (80%), and that their CoP's activities directly benefit UCL (84%).

Since 2017 CoPs have hosted around 200 Lunch and Learns and launched around 80 projects to benefit the practice area or UCL. 

UCL is also leading the Higher Education sector in CoPs: in 2019, we were awarded the award for best organisational development and culture change initiative at the UHR (Universities Human Resources) Awards for Excellence in HR. In May 2020, UCL hosted a seminar with Etienne Wenger-Trayner, who coined the term ‘Communities of Practice’, and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, who shared their expertise on CoPs and how they operate in online spaces.