Our Community of Practice
Together we grow collective power.
Make urban food gardens as common as sari-sari stores–this is the dream. It was also uncharted territory for us. While some of us have worked with farmers and a few grew an occasional tomato or talbos, we didn’t know the first thing about creating food gardens as a potential community food security strategy in Payatas.
The residents shared with us the challenges they faced. There was hardly any space in this densely populated area. The soil, we’re told, was sticky and not suitable for growing food. While some of the PLM farmers had experience growing vegetables, there was the persistent challenge of pests (both four-footed and two-, they added jokingly). Water was submetered and therefore more expensive than the normal water rates of middle-class households. They did not have the resources to keep buying hybrid seeds. Then of course the ongoing pandemic meant social distancing protocols and mobility restrictions that challenged previous ways of collective learning and training.
We realized that making urban food gardens as common as sari-sari stores in low-income communities is a dream that can only be achieved through collective effort, organization, and collaborative learning. This was where the concept of Community of Practice came into play.
- Creating a Community of Practice
“Community of practice” provided us with a way to approach this terra incognita with its emphasis on “collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor.” In simpler terms, a community of practice is defined as a “group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn to do it better as they interact regularly.”
As a community of practice, it was important for the project team and Pinagkaisang Lakas ng Mamamayan – Payatas (PLM-Payatas) to establish a shared identity as co-learners with a shared commitment to growing food gardens for their households and for the community given the unique set of challenges in Payatas. The group set out to accomplish this by sharing and collectivizing the learning and creation through regular conversations and interactions, joint activities, helping one another, and sharing solutions, lessons, and resources. We created different platforms for support, engagement, and solidarity–from regular visits, group chats, Zoom calls, etc.–to see such a strategy effectively realized. The role of PLM as the community organization of residents was vital in emphasizing that any individual learning that happens serves the context of endeavoring towards community food security.
The success of communities of practice relies on fostering non-hierarchical and collaborative learning environments. Learning and community membership are seen as inseparable, in as much as knowledge and the social process of practice are inseparable. It’s also important to remember that being part of a community of practice must be voluntary.
The domain: “A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a network of connections between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people. The domain is not necessarily something recognized as ‘expertise’ outside the community.” Sample questions to ask: a) What is OUR general area of interest or what is the knowledge WE want to develop together? b) What is OUR common ground? c) What kind of learning do we want to create to inspire ourselves to action and give our actions meaning?
The community: “In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other; they care about their standing with each other. Members of a community of practice do not necessarily work together on a daily basis.” Note that the definition or notion of community is malleable–it can be defined geographically or by sharing a similar characteristic. In CoP, community is also seen as the necessary social fabric that structures and enables the collective learning.
The practice: “A community of practice is not merely a community of interest. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction.” This is the HOW to the WHAT, the general area of interest, of the domain. This captures the specific actions that enable the creation of knowledge, how it is shared with others, and how it is maintained by the community. (See Sample Prompts for Community Learning)
(Next: Facilitating collective learning)