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Knowing “That” and Knowing “How”: Communities of Practice in Public Management


Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management

Seminar presenters

Amy Smith, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs
Michael Ward, Director of Municipal Services, Collins Center for Public Management
Amy Dain, StatNet Coordinator, Collins Center for Public Management


About the topic

How do public managers figure out how to address the challenges they face?  Public managers might start by learning about what peers do in similar situations.  Communities of practice are one venue for the exchange of knowledge among peers.  Existing research on communities of practice focuses primarily on the private sector and on communities that have developed within organizations, with limited attention to communities that have developed among organizations.  Because less is known about among-organization communities and particularly in public organization settings, our project takes an inductive approach to examine the role of communities of practice in addressing the challenges public managers face, particularly in the context of performance measurement.  Our study is guided by the broad research question: How do communities of practice aid public-sector organizations in managing the challenges of performance measurement?   We examine this question by studying New England StatNet, a group of municipalities interested in performance measurement.  Analysis of participant observation data, supplemented by survey and interview data, suggests that communities of practice offer a gateway to informal communication channels within and across organizations and occupational communities, provide access to “know how” information from a diverse set of perspectives, and encourage peer comparisons.

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