Making Sense of Communities of Practice in Global Health

Making sense of communities of practice in global health

Making sense of communities of practice in global health‘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.’

We define Communities of Practice (CoPs) in global health as open, inclusive, virtual spaces (discussion forums) that bring together people who share a concern or a passion for global health.

CoPs have in common the potential to promote professional communication and understanding among and across different disciplines, cultures, perspectives, experience, languages. They enable technical exchange and professional development. They provide benefits to both individuals and organisations. For individuals, CoPs can increase access to resources, provide opportunities to contribute to discussions, foster a sense of membership in a global community, and raise personal professional visibility. For organisations, they allow an effective way to raise awareness of activities and services, and to identify collaborators. Collectively, CoPs have an as yet unrealised potential for further networking and synergy.

CoPs are becoming increasingly important to complement and in some cases replace physical conferences and webinars. CoPs are less expensive, more environmentally sustainable and more inclusive that physical conferences, and more interactive and equalising than typical webinars. CoPs are here to stay and they are ever evolving.

About a year ago, we began pulling together a short list of our favorite CoPs in global health, which are available on LeaderNet. Working in collaboration across MSH, HIFA, CIRCLE Project, and now Jhpiego, we joined forces to take the resource page to the next level. Our provisional criteria for the list are as follows: open membership, functional, and global health related. We generally exclude groups that require payment to join or are limited to the staff of a specific organisation. The resource page now has 35 CoPs – but we know there are many more.

It’s clear there is a wide variety of CoPs in global health. In terms of scope, for example, some are general while others focus on specific health areas or conditions, geographical regions, or different aspects of health systems. Some communities might be broadly organized around a shared interest while others might have a defined goal and purpose. Communities tend to be larger than technical working groups although some CoPs serve similar functions and features as technical working groups.

So what now?

We are committed to help realize the full potential of CoPs in global health. Our first step has been to create a directory of CoPs. We know this is currently incomplete and we need to expand it. Please let us know if your CoP is not yet included.

Meanwhile we have started thinking about the role of community managers. What can we learn from each other? Is there value coordinating across global health communities? Have there been previous efforts to bring together CoPs? What are the specific financial and non-financial challenges of managing CoPs? How can we work together to increase political and financial investment in CoPs, increase our effectiveness, and impact? What can we learn from one another in terms of how to maximise CoP growth, dynamics, and communication bridges between and among CoPs? How can we reduce duplication of effort and address gaps in coverage?

What do you think? What would you like to see regarding CoPs in global health? Please leave your comments below.

This blog was written by Neil Pakenham-Walsh (HIFA) and Luis Ortiz Echevarria (Jhpiego), with contributions from Sara Holtz (Social Solutions International), and Julie Hoang (MSH).


Neil Pakenham-WalshNeil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of the HIFA campaign (Healthcare Information For All). He was formerly chair of the Dgroups Foundation (, a partnership of 18 international development organisations promoting dialogue for international health and development. He started his career as a hospital doctor in the UK, and has clinical experience as an isolated health worker in rural Ecuador and Peru. For the last 25 years he has been committed to the global challenge of improving the availability and use of relevant, reliable healthcare information for health workers and citizens in low- and middle-income countries. He is also interested in the wider potential of inclusive, interdisciplinary communities of practice to help address global health and international development challenges. He has worked with the World Health Organization, the Wellcome Trust, Medicine Digest, and INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications). He is based near Oxford, UK. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: Email: [email protected]

Luis OrtizLuis Ortiz Echevarría has more than 15 years of experience in global public health and knowledge management (KM). He has provided technical and programmatic assistance to global health programs and initiatives at CARE, International Medical Corps, Management Sciences for Health, and currently with Jhpiego where he serves as the Sr. Knowledge Management Advisor. He brings experience in the design and implementation of KM strategies; program learning and adaptation; and sexual and reproductive health, adolescent health, and gender. Luis has a Master of Arts in Anthropology from Georgia State University and a Master of Public Health from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a focus on population, family, and reproductive health.

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