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Guest Expert Madeline LaPorta: Come Visit on our Virtual Front Porch: Communities of Practice

Last Updated: Sep 24, 2012

I am pleased to welcome Ms. Madeline La Porta as our AccrualNet Guest Expert for August. Ms. La Porta is Associate Director of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Office of Communications and Education and Director of the Office of Partnerships and Dissemination Initiatives (OPDI). Ms. La Porta has over 25 years’ experience in career in cancer communications, public health program administration, program evaluation, and systems development. In her current position, Ms. La Porta’s areas of focus include national partnerships, multicultural media outreach, clinical trials support, professional education, and training on cancer control evidence-based program planning.  She joins us today to discuss communities of practice.  Never hear this term?  Well keep reading.  And get ready to join. Next month a redesigned AccrualNet will be launched and will feature a Communities section.  We look forward to meeting you on our virtual front porch.  -Annette Galassi, RN, MA, AccrualNet Team Member

The concept of community of practice has been around since it was introduced by Etienne Wenger in 1991 and 1998.  For academics and researchers, “community” is an ambiguous and complicated concept.  But for me, the concept of community is quite simple: communities are people, right?  We all belong to various communities formed around shared beliefs, interests, resources, or passions.  Communities exist wherever people work or try to learn things together.  Communities establish and share practices they consider important and valuable to their members.  In other words, communities exist to share their collective experience and to perpetuate their practices.  For instance, I belong to a community of Irish and Old Time fiddlers.  We share techniques, resources, and swap music in person and on the internet.  Communities share knowledge and practices and they consist of practitioners.  Do you belong to any communities?  What are the practices you share?  How do you share these practices?

Wenger says that the defining dimensions of communities of practice are mutual engagement, a joint enterprise, and a shared repertoire.  In other words, communities are people working together and sharing a collective competence and a commitment to a specific area of interest, having an identity associated with that interest, and having a shared set of experiences, stories, tools—or practices.  I think health professionals working in clinical research exhibit these characteristics.  Clinical research is your thing, right?  It’s your work; you believe in its value, and you share a passion for it. Most importantly, you learn to do it better by interacting with one another.  If you ask me, clinical trial practitioners are “living repositories of knowledge” about clinical practice, patient accrual, and a host of other topics critical to furthering research progress. 

Communities of practice are everywhere: within organizations, across organizations, in all fields including medicine, education, government, and business.  Even patients have formed communities of practice.  Online social networking sites such as Caring Bridge or Caring Pages, allow patients and their families to meet others with similar concerns, learn from one another, share stories, and provide support.  As busy health professionals, I imagine what you need most is time and support.  Why not start interacting as a community of practice on AccrualNet?  Reading and initiating discussions can enhance your ability to solve common problems, ask questions of knowledgeable peers, share resources, and brainstorm ideas. 

Communities of practice are 80% people and 20% technology so you already have most of what it takes to be a community of practice.   Social media, on the web or on a mobile device, allows for interactive dialogue among individuals, organizations, and communities.  Choosing and using the right social media can support your clinical trial efforts and foster a sense of community.  As a social networking site, AccrualNet is designed to provide a reliable place to find evidence-based information, tools, and resources to address the issue of patient accrual to clinical trials.  AccrualNet is a virtual space to collaborate with your colleagues at your convenience.  You can connect from the clinic, your office, your home, wherever, or whenever it fits into your schedule.  Think of AccrualNet as a virtual front porch on which you can gather with a trusted community.  Relax, have a refreshing beverage, share a thought, an opinion, or an insight.  Learn from your peers and expand your practice.  After all, who better to hang out with than those as passionate as you are about clinical research?  Let me know what you think and if there are any stories, tools, or practices you are burning to share.   And be sure to let me know if any of you plays the fiddle.  What’s a porch gathering without music?


  • Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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