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      Use of communities of practice in business and health care sectors: A systematic review

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          Since being identified as a concept for understanding knowledge sharing, management, and creation, communities of practice (CoPs) have become increasingly popular within the health sector. The CoP concept has been used in the business sector for over 20 years, but the use of CoPs in the health sector has been limited in comparison.


          First, we examined how CoPs were defined and used in these two sectors. Second, we evaluated the evidence of effectiveness on the health sector CoPs for improving the uptake of best practices and mentoring new practitioners.


          We conducted a search of electronic databases in the business, health, and education sectors, and a hand search of key journals for primary studies on CoP groups. Our research synthesis for the first objective focused on three areas: the authors' interpretations of the CoP concept, the key characteristics of CoP groups, and the common elements of CoP groups. To examine the evidence on the effectiveness of CoPs in the health sector, we identified articles that evaluated CoPs for improving health professional performance, health care organizational performance, professional mentoring, and/or patient outcome; and used experimental, quasi-experimental, or observational designs.


          The structure of CoP groups varied greatly, ranging from voluntary informal networks to work-supported formal education sessions, and from apprentice training to multidisciplinary, multi-site project teams. Four characteristics were identified from CoP groups: social interaction among members, knowledge sharing, knowledge creation, and identity building; however, these were not consistently present in all CoPs. There was also a lack of clarity in the responsibilities of CoP facilitators and how power dynamics should be handled within a CoP group. We did not find any paper in the health sector that met the eligibility criteria for the quantitative analysis, and so the effectiveness of CoP in this sector remained unclear.


          There is no dominant trend in how the CoP concept is operationalized in the business and health sectors; hence, it is challenging to define the parameters of CoP groups. This may be one of the reasons for the lack of studies on the effectiveness of CoPs in the health sector. In order to improve the usefulness of the CoP concept in the development of groups and teams, further research will be needed to clarify the extent to which the four characteristics of CoPs are present in the mature and emergent groups, the expectations of facilitators and other participants, and the power relationship within CoPs.

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          Most cited references 55

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          Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity

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            A hierarchy of evidence for assessing qualitative health research.

            The objective of this study is to outline explicit criteria for assessing the contribution of qualitative empirical studies in health and medicine, leading to a hierarchy of evidence specific to qualitative methods. This paper arose from a series of critical appraisal exercises based on recent qualitative research studies in the health literature. We focused on the central methodological procedures of qualitative method (defining a research framework, sampling and data collection, data analysis, and drawing research conclusions) to devise a hierarchy of qualitative research designs, reflecting the reliability of study conclusions for decisions made in health practice and policy. We describe four levels of a qualitative hierarchy of evidence-for-practice. The least likely studies to produce good evidence-for-practice are single case studies, followed by descriptive studies that may provide helpful lists of quotations but do not offer detailed analysis. More weight is given to conceptual studies that analyze all data according to conceptual themes but may be limited by a lack of diversity in the sample. Generalizable studies using conceptual frameworks to derive an appropriately diversified sample with analysis accounting for all data are considered to provide the best evidence-for-practice. Explicit criteria and illustrative examples are described for each level. A hierarchy of evidence-for-practice specific to qualitative methods provides a useful guide for the critical appraisal of papers using these methods and for defining the strength of evidence as a basis for decision making and policy generation.
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              Appraising the quality of qualitative research.

              In the process of undertaking a meta-synthesis of qualitative studies of free-standing midwife-led units, the authors of this paper encountered a number of methodologically and epistemologically unresolved issues. One of these related to the assessment of the quality of qualitative research. In an iterative approach to scoping this issue, we identified eight existing checklists and summary frameworks. Some of these publications were opinion based, and some involved a synthesis of pre-existing frameworks. None of them provide a clear map of the criteria used in all their reviewed papers, and of the commonalities and differences between them. We critically review these frameworks and conclude that, although they are epistemologically and theoretically dense, they are excessively detailed for most uses. In order to reach a workable solution to the problem of the quality assessment of qualitative research, the findings from these frameworks and checklists were mapped together. Using a technique we have termed a 'redundancy approach' to eliminate non-essential criteria, we developed our own summary framework. The final synthesis was achieved through reflexive debate and discussion. Aspects of this discussion are detailed here. The synthesis is clearly rooted in a subjectivist epistemology, which views knowledge as constructed and hermeneutic in intent, encompassing individual, cultural and structural representations of reality.

                Author and article information

                Implement Sci
                Implementation Science : IS
                BioMed Central
                17 May 2009
                : 4
                : 27
                [1 ]Department of Physical Therapy, University of British Columbia; Arthritis Research Centre of Canada, Vancouver, Canada
                [2 ]Ottawa Health Research Institute, Clinical Epidemiology Program, Centre for Best Practice, Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada
                [3 ]Centre for Health Technology Assessment, National Board of Health, Copenhagen, Denmark
                [4 ]Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, Ottawa, Canada
                [5 ]Department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
                [6 ]Canadian Institutes of Health Research, School of Nursing, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada
                Copyright © 2009 Li et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Systematic Review



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