Communities of Learning, Inquiry and Practice - CLIPs

What do CLIPs do | Why CLIPs are Important
CLIPs: A Distinct Type of Group
Roles and Responsibilities of CLIPs | Cultivating Successful CLIPs


We are defining Communities of Learning, Inquiry and Practice (CLIPs) as networks of educators and institutional stakeholders who share a concern, set of problems and/or a passion for learning. They want to associate with one another to learn from one another, thus increasing their own competence and improving collaboration and innovation in their institution.

CLIPs are formed to accomplish a purpose valued by all participants. They are driven by personal desire and professional need to share problems, experiences, insights, templates, tools and best practices. We are using the term Communities of Learning, Inquiry and Practice (CLIPs) to identify our particular approach to Communities of Practice (CoP).

Communities of Practice are not a new concept. They were human’s first social structure for transferring knowledge. We all belong to a number of them. Organizations are suddenly focused on them because they realize this age-old organizational form needs to more intentionally and systematically be used to complement existing organizational structures if we are to improve our professional know-how in a time when new knowledge/methods are growing at exponential rates, becoming more complex and specialized, and having a shorter half-life. Communities of Practice began to thrive in the 90s. They are viewed as a way to enhance the capabilities of an organization by addressing the unmet needs of the individuals within it. Communities consciously nurture and harness know-how in service of their institution’s purpose.

What CLIPs Do

  1. Move know-how from one location to another as directly and efficiently as possible to the person(s) who will use it.
  2. Encourage consistency in practices across groups in a flexible and tailored way.
  3. Strengthen the institution’s social fabric that has been worn thin by busyness and disconnections.
  4. Provide social support, excitement, and personal validation for people who share a common purpose.

Why CLIPs are Important

  1. Fast, learning-rich means of creating and moving know-how is critical for the success of community college educators who face serious competition for shrinking public funds and dwindling public appreciation. In turbulent, competitive contexts, formal hierarchical structures are not as fast or competent as CLIPs.
  2. Participants in CLIPs deliberately create an environment of mutual regard in which their shared insights, concerns, and solutions can receive respect and offer feasible ways to improve professional and institutional practices. CLIP participants are encourages to actively seek assistance from one another wherever they are—in a meeting, down the hall, via a CLIP website, email.
  3. Formal bureaucracies cannot effectively handle “tacit knowledge”—the know-how that is created by actually accomplishing work. Tacit knowledge, which is increasingly essential in today’s Information Age, is not easily described or codified and therefore it cannot be readily stored or transferred by bureaucratic methods. Most of the know-how that is actually used is created and moved by
  4. Learning is not the same as training. We don’t easily learn the most important things—cutting edge practices, tricks of the trade—from a training course but rather as part of a community.
  5. The CLIP structure is designed to create a safe, trusting environment where colleagues can address sensitive issues

CLIPs: A Distinct Type of Group

CLIPs are different from other organizational groups (such as departments, project teams or informal networks) in terms of their purpose and duration as shown in Table B1 below. They also differ from communities of interest, in which people tend to gather around a particular issue. CLIPs involve people jointly in developing a shared collection of resources to support work in a specific field.

Table 1 – A Comparison between CLIPs and Other Types of Groups
Type of Group Purpose Duration
Community of Learning and Integrated Practice Developing members' capabilities by building and exchanging knowledge While there is interest by the members
Formal Work Group/Department Delivering a product or service Until there is a re-organization
Project Team Accomplishing a specified task Until the end of the project
Informal Network Collecting and passing on career/personal information As long as people have reason to connect

Other types of virtual communities also exist for various purposes, for example, task completion (virtual teams), socializing (on-line networks), and information exchange (chat rooms, bulletin boards, etc.). While all of these purposes are present in CLIPs, learning through sharing and applying knowledge to one’s practice are the main goals of the community.

Roles and Responsibilities of CLIPs

The following are roles and responsibilities associated with a sponsored CLIP (in contrast with a self-organizing community).

Table 2 - Roles and Responsibilities in a Sponsored CLIP
Roles Responsibilities
Participants The Participants interact with each other, sharing information, tacit knowledge, personal insights and experiences. Participants actively participate in discussions, raising issues and concerns regarding common needs and requirements. Their primary responsibility is to contribute to the shared learning and negotiated deliverables of the community.
Facilitator The Facilitator applies various group processes to help participants sustain meaningful and healthy communication—drawing out the reticent, dampening the overly dominant, ensuring that dissenting points of view are heard and understood, posing questions to further discussion and keeping discussions on topic—all subject to the will of the community.
Practice Leader A Practice Leader is acknowledged by members of the CLIP as contributing exemplary competence or insight regarding the issue or concern of the moment. Practice Leaders always emerge via the community’s assent—they are not appointed. Practice Leadership shifts as the issues and concerns of the CLIP shift.
Champion/ Supporter The Champion provides enthusiasm and infrastructure for organizing the meetings and communications of the CLIPs. The Champion is the chief supporter of the CLIP’s communication venues, providing necessary infrastructure, supplies, tools, and technology.
Sponsor The Sponsor garners the institution’s support for a sponsored CLIP. The Sponsor is instrumental in establishing the mission and expected outcomes for the CLIP and may help remove barriers that obstruct community progress (e.g., time, funding, other resources).
Scribe The Scribe writes/records in the moment the essential points of the community’s discussion and displays the notes where everyone can easily see them. The Scribe also manages the report to other groups within the allotted time, labels and stores the notes and support materials to document the CLIP’s work.
Time Keeper The Time Keeper helps the group arrange time for each task; keeps participants informed of time remaining for each task; and helps the CLIP renegotiate timelines when necessary.
Observer The Observer scans participants’ behaviors, noting how well the group is following its own intentions and ground rules. Immediately before the meeting or work session ends the Observer leads a debriefing discussion, helping the group continuously learn how to improve its collaborative work.

Cultivating Successful CLIPs

A useful framework of seven principles has been suggested to generate “aliveness” and energy within communities. These acknowledge that while CLIPs need to be spontaneous and self-directed, guidelines can be helpful in creating the conditions for them to flourish.

Table 3 – Principles for Cultivating Successful Communities of Practice
Principle 1 Design for evolution Allow new people to become involved and new interests to be explored. Accept that there will be different activity levels and different kinds of support needed at different times.
Principle 2 Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives Encourage a discussion between those within the community and those outside about what it could achieve. For example, encourage links with communities in other organizations.
Principle 3 Invite different levels of participation Some people will be active in the community and some people will appear passive. Accept that contributions and learning take place in different ways.
Principle 4 Develop both public and private community spaces Relationships form during informal community events and person-to-person communication is the purpose of the community. Formal organized events and discussion spaces are needed to help people feel part of a community. Both are important.
Principle 5 Focus on value The true value of a community may emerge as it matures and develops. Community members should be encouraged to be explicit about the value being delivered. This may initially help raise awareness. Over time, value from participating should become more apparent and more concrete measures can be collected.
Principle 6 Combine familiarity and excitement Familiar community spaces and activities help people to feel comfortable in participating. Introducing new ideas to challenge thinking also stimulates interest and keeps people engaged.
Principle 7 Create a rhythm for the community Regular events, paced to avoid overload, create points around which activity can converge. They encourage people to keep coming back, rather than gradually drifting away.



  1. American Productivity and Quality Center. An internationally recognized benchmarking authority, APQC offers access to best-practice research, metrics, measures and more.


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  2. Wenger, E., McDermott R., and Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
  3. Hasanali, F., Hubert, C., Lopez, K., Newhouse, B., O’Dell, C., & Vestal, W. (2002) Communities of practice. Houston: American Productivity and Quality Center.
  4. Pfeffer, J. & Sutton, R. I. (2000). The knowing-doing gap: How smart companies turn knowledge into action. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
  5. Mattessich, P., Murray-Close, M., & Monsey, B. (2001). Collaboration: What makes it work. (Second Edition). St. Paul, MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.


  1. Lesson Study Approach. CLIPs may develop a wide variety of protocols for how they work together. One approach that is gaining more and more attention is one developed in Japan. It is called the Lesson Study approach.

Learn more about Lesson Study at: