Guide to creating a community of practice

A great way to keep up with emerging digital trends and what’s happening more generally in the heritage sector is to establish communities of practices – groups of like-minded professionals who can share insights, learning and experiences and provide support when it is needed. This guide aims to explain what a community of practice is, how to create one and why your heritage organisation might benefit from establishing such a community.

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Guide to creating a community of practice

1. What is a ‘community of practice’?

A community of practice brings together people with a shared interest in order that they can learn from each other and provide peer-to-peer support. The community of practice creates a ‘safe space’ that enables like-minded people to share ideas, advice, best practice and support. It can either evolve or be created, but whatever the focus of the community, its aim will be to enable positive change.

As social and digital networking platforms have developed in recent years, so too has the emergence of ‘community of practice’ as a concept. Although the term is new, what they do is not. In fact, most people may not consciously be aware that they are already part of a community of practice in some aspect of their professional or social life.

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.
Quote by Étienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, June 2015. Introduction to communities of practice, a brief overview of the concept and its uses.

An example of a community of practice is the Arts Marketing Association’s Community Support Group on Facebook. The group is aimed at people working in arts, culture and heritage sector who have marketing, communications and audience development responsibilities within their role. This community allows members to ask questions and get support from peers; share ideas, resources and insights; to get recommendations and to keep up-to-date on latest thinking within the sector. As a group it promotes peer-to-peer learning and the sharing of good practice.

The Arts Marketing Association Community Support Facebook page
The Arts Marketing Association Community Support Facebook page


2. Purpose, people and practice

Before you set up a community of practice, you need to address key questions in terms of why this community is needed, who it’s aimed at and the space where this community will exist. Think about the purpose, people and practice of your community.


Start by identifying the subject or issue that your community will be focused on:

  • What is the common cause of the community?
  • What is bringing this group of like-minded people together?
  • What are the goals that the community want to achieve?
  • What is the key ‘learning’ aspect of your community?
  • What is the shared interest?

You also need to think about the community’s end goal. What does success look like for your community? What do you want to accomplish? What impact do you hope to achieve?

Sometimes a group’s purpose will be specific, for example based around how to increase engagement through digital platforms. Sometimes the purpose of a group can be much more general, perhaps sharing learning, giving advice or supporting peers across a wide range of practice.


Once you’ve identified the purpose, you can start thinking about the people who will be involved in your community:

  • Can you identify who would be interested?
  • Who are the people who share the same concerns or need for learning in relation to your purpose?
  • Who would be interested in discussing your issue and furthering it?
  • Who would be included as a member of your community?
  • Can you define what makes someone a ‘peer’ of this group?
  • Are there stakeholders who are not part of the community but would have an interest in the community?


Having established the purpose and identified the people of your community, you need to think about the ‘practice’ of the group. This needs to be something tangible and will also help inform how the community will evolve.

Your community could be a virtual or a physical community or a hybrid of both. Whether virtual or physical, the space your community occupies needs to feel safe and supportive. Membership of the community needs to be clearly defined so that you ensure everyone shares the same learning needs and goals.

Focus on the structure and format of the community:

  • Will it be hosted on a digital networking site like Facebook and therefore ‘open’ all the time?
  • Will it have a formal structure with meetings at set times?
  • Will you need to define the frequency of these get-togethers?
  • How will the community of practice be managed and facilitated?
  • What ‘rules’ do you need to establish to ensure your community is a safe place for its members?

A mixed group of people stand together and applaud

3. Setting up a community of practice

Defining your ‘practice’ and its benefits

The essence of a community of practice is ‘learning’.  It enables members to share their knowledge and insight and seek answers to their questions. The space can also be used to test ideas and as a sounding board for new actions, initiatives or ways of thinking.

When creating a community of practice, it’s important to start by defining the ‘practice’ of your community.

For example, the AMA’s Community Support Group on Facebook is defined as:

“A community group led by Arts Marketing Association for arts, culture and heritage professionals working to engage audiences with that they do.

Group members have marketing, communications, and audience development responsibilities.

This group allows you to:

a. Ask questions and get support from your peers
b. Share ideas, opportunities and resources that could help other group members with their work
c. Get recommendations from group members
d. Keep updated on insights from across the sector.”

As you can see, the AMA have clearly defined ‘who’ this community group is aimed at, ‘what’ the group is focused on in terms of its ‘practice’ and provides details of the ‘benefits’ members will gain by being part of this group.

For most people, a community of practice is a place where members can share experiences, interests and skills in order to support each other’s learning. It’s somewhere for members to use as a sounding board, seek advice and gain confidence. Some communities of practices can indirectly provide mentoring support thereby motivating and empowering their members.

AMA’s Senior Marketing and PR Manager, Matt Ecclestone who runs the AMA’s Community Support Facebook, says that it is essential to ensure you have clear messaging on the target audience for your group and the reason for its existence.

By being clear on the reasons for joining, you let potential group members know if it’s relevant for them or not. This is important to ensure focused discussion within your group, which helps to keep the time commitment to moderating the group down to a minimum. Conversations in the AMA group can be asking very specialised marketing questions so a focused audience generates a focused discussion. He recommends asking prospective members questions at the point of joining so that you can gauge how relevant the group will be for them.

Establish rules and governance

It’s important that you establish rules and governance from the outset. Be clear about ‘who’ the members of your community are to ensure the group focuses on its practice. Make time to listen to your members to ensure the rules you set down for your community reflect the needs of the community. You may need to experiment and allow some elements of your rules to evolve but do establish boundaries.

The AMA’s Community Support Group on Facebook have four rules that members need to adhere to:

1. Please be kind, patient and supportive

Let’s create a friendly and warm environment for everyone when posting in the group. Different people and organisations may have different experiences and their advice will be informed by their lived experience. Conversations should always be open and sensitive to those experiences.

2. Keep posts relevant

This group is a friendly community for learning and sharing knowledge with arts, culture and heritage professionals who have marketing, communications and audience development responsibilities. Please only share posts that are relevant to group members.

3. Please don’t share events marketing in this group

This group is industry-facing rather than audience-facing, so please don’t share news of public events. This group is for sharing learning and getting your questions answered by other sector professionals. Promotion of FREE opportunities that provide learning or CPD opportunities for arts, culture and heritage professionals are welcome.

4. Please limit job posts to one post per vacancy

Job posts are allowed but please limit this to one post per vacancy. If you’d like to promote your job listing through the AMA, you can find more info here:

These rules don’t limit members’ engagement with the community but provide some boundaries to ensure the group keeps focused on its practice.

Matt adds that rules provide a formal framework for group members to ensure the group is a safe space. As people are navigating a rapidly evolving digital world, this can mean that online behaviour for some is separated out from how they’d behave offline. They may forget that there’s another human behind the social media profile and the rules allow him to set expectations of the group’s members while they are interacting with the group.

Anyone who wishes to join the group need to sign up to the rules. He decided on four key rules to keep things simple, to set guidelines for member behaviour and to keep content shared relevant. This helps him to moderate the group and provides him with a set of rules to fall back on if a group member’s conduct falls short of expectations. This plays a big part in keeping the conversation focused and that the group is as useful as possible.

Create your community’s ‘space’

The space in which your community of practice operates can vary. It can be an in-person regular meet up or an online community contained within an online platform.

The key to a successful community of practice is building a space where members feel safe and empowered to participate and learn from the group.

A good example is What Next? a free-to-access movement that brings freelancers, small and large organisations together to debate and shape arts and culture. It evolved from a community of practice and is now host to over 25 smaller communities of practices located across the UK, which they call ‘chapters’.

What Next? has grown and expanded from a few people around a table to a project encompassing hundreds of individuals and organisations in chapters around the UK.  They have found that by holding meetings in a particular way – open, positive, collaborative, and forward looking – a particular ethos has emerged. What Next? chapters also use social media to both promote their in-person events and give extra opportunities for shared advice, comments and insight.

The homepage of the What Next? organisation
The homepage of the What Next? organisation

Ongoing management

The main aim of the ongoing management of your community is to ensure it stays relevant and useful. You need to ensure the key learning aspect of the community is retained, which can be challenging as communities of practice grow organically.

Too much intervention and direction and you run the risk that communications become one-way and the group feels like it doesn’t have enough autonomy and ownership. Too little support and the group might stagnate and lack the interest and energy to sustain it.

Your aim should be to help the community to develop. Think about how you can add value to the community. This might be by suggesting a speaker for an event, adding links to relevant resources, case studies or tools or by adding specific insight on new developments or trends. If the community is managed online then you need to avoid spamming and ensure the practice element of the community isn’t hijacked by irrelevant content, issues or causes.

You will also need to ensure it retains the peer-to-peer learning element of the community. Part of your role will be building trust so that members are empowered to share their experiences, skills and knowledge for everyone’s benefit.

Sometimes a community will just want to share the pain and know that they’re not alone in finding the fast-paced change of digital challenging. There is huge value in this. A community that feels confident enough to share its worries and failures will often provide the support to find creative and collaborative solutions. Here your role can be very light touch, either just listening or putting members in touch with others facing similar challenges.

Similarly, there might be a specific topic that a smaller group of the community might want to explore or want to get advice on. For example, a group of small, volunteer-led organisations might want to explore ways to motivate and retain their team. Or they may wish to find out what they need to know about new technology such as Google Analytics 4. Here your overview can help bring people together to share their learning on what’s worked and, as importantly, what hasn’t gone so well.

Although a community of practice is often organic in nature, ideally you need to build in a way to measure and evaluate its effectiveness. And wherever possible, try to adapt your community based on the findings of your evaluation. Consider too whether your community of practice is achieving its original purpose or goal.


Think about how your community of practice can capture the learning that’s created through its members. This doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, simple tips and tricks or bringing together key advice in one document can be a very effective way of sharing ideas and practice.

Knowledge hubs like AMAculturehive are always keen to share case studies and are interested in sharing peer learning. You don’t need to be an expert or an experienced writer as they can help you bring your learning together into the best format. If you have an idea for a resource just contact their Editor.

Carol Jones, editor of AMAculturehive believes that one of the many great things about a community of practice is that it can help stop members reinventing the wheel. Often one organisation will have found a great solution to a common challenge but because that’s not shared, others start from scratch. In her view, now more than ever, the heritage sector needs to support each other to save time, money and its collective sanity.

The AMAculturehive home page
The AMAculturehive home page


4. How can a community of practice help my heritage organisation?

For heritage organisations, a community of practice could be one that supports the internal functions of your organisation, for example the learning and skill development of your volunteers. Or it could be one that is outward facing, for example helping visitors and audiences engage with your heritage organisation’s offer.

The key to the success of any community of practice is that learning is at its heart. For heritage organisations, that learning could be the sharing of experience, knowledge and skills of staff, volunteers, trustees, supporters, visitors and audiences. Or the USP (unique selling point) of your heritage organisation could be the learning element that brings a community together, whether it’s the history of a building, park or landscape; the restoration of a ship, train or windmill; or the theme of your archive or online collection.

Your community of practice could just bring like-minded people with a common interest to share their knowledge of your heritage organisation and related subjects. Or it could be a community set up for a specific outcome such as capital project or new development. It’s a way for your heritage organisation to bring key stakeholders together who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

The heritage sector is rich in ‘learning’ and creating a community of practice that enables positive change and benefits your heritage organisation really is worth exploring.


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Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "Guide to creating a community of practice (2022) by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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