Communities of Practice

Connecting the COVID-19 Response Workforce to Learn & Grow Together

Defining a Community of Practice

The term Community of Practice (CoP) was coined by the social learning theorist, Etienne Wenger. He defined communities of practice as, "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.” CoPs are built on the premise that humans are social beings and we that we learn through our interactions with others; in providing a space for practitioners of a common domain to come together, they can build on their collective knowledge and experience, and therefore enhance their practice. 

Cultivating a CoP for the COVID-19 Response Workforce

When the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerged, much of the public health workforce pivoted to respond to the pandemic. Their efforts are bolstered by the support of tens of thousands of disaster relief workers and other redirected staff and volunteers who bring rich experience from their respective professions, yet are new to the field of public health. Given the quickly evolving nature of the pandemic and diverse backgrounds of the response workforce, it's of utmost importance that we come together to learn from one another and build a Community of Practice. 

As a novel coronavirus, the science and evidence-base that informs our response is being built in real time. In practice, this means that the workforce needs to be nimble and have to access continuing education and training so they are able to adapt to the situation and their evolving roles.  Interventions such as case investigation and contact tracing not only require a mastery of knowledge, but a skill-set and approach that is honed through practice and experience. Creating a welcoming and safe environment where teams routinely interact provides a platform for new information to be disseminated and peer-to-peer learning and exchange to take place.

Learning is the engine of practice, and practice is the history of that learning

~ Etienne Wenger

Moreover, the devastating toll of the pandemic is unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. The collective trauma we have witnessed has impacted our mental health. Those on the front-line, including those on the "virtual front-line" such as case investigators and contact tracers, are at increased risk of anxiety, depression, and burn-out. Therefore, it is vital to proactively attending to staff wellness by promoting discussion surrounding mental health, provide opportunities for teams to share their experiences, and encourage healthy self-care practices. One of the most beneficial aspects of a CoP is simply strengthening our connection with others. Coming together to share our experiences, talents, and time with one another builds our resiliency and makes us better practitioners.

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