Network mapping to build communities of practice

Norman, C. & Huerta, T. (2006). Knowledge transfer and exchange through social networks: Building foundations for a community of practice within tobacco control. Implementation Science, 1(20). doi:10.1186/1748-5908-1-20


This resource describes a strategy (method) for organizing individuals and organizations around a common purpose or goal. The researchers used a network mapping model to facilitate the development of a community of practice (CoP) around smoking prevention and cessation [Web-assisted tobacco intervention (WATI)]. CoPs are self-organizing, adaptive and responsive learning systems. They use simple rules and procedures to guide collective learning across organizations. This learning can occur when individuals with different but complimentary skills and expertise actively share their knowledge. The method draws on social networking methodology, complexity theory, science of networks and organizational behaviour. It can help with planning, organizing and evaluating knowledge dissemination and exchange strategies involving CoPs.

Steps for Using Method/Tool

The authors suggest the following steps:

  • Hold/host/organize an interactive meeting and educational session for individuals/ organizations sharing a common area of interest.
  • Determine participants’ expectations and knowledge, the nature, frequency and intensity of their relationships and their motivation for collaborating.
  • Use network analysis procedures to produce and present a network map of the participants and other potential members of the CoP, including the strength, direction and centrality of their relationships.
  • Extend the network by engaging peripheral stakeholders (increase the number of links).
  • Develop core activities and communication processes for the CoP.
  • Work through the stages of CoP development proposed by the Wenger et al. (2002) (potential, coalescing, maturing, stewardship, transformation).


The researchers evaluated the impact of activities that took place during a three-day professional meeting. Participants completed a questionnaire prior to the research meeting and again three weeks following the meeting to evaluate the strategy. Researchers used mapping processes to illustrate social and professional networks in the area of Web-assisted tobacco intervention (WATI) at baseline. The questionnaire assessed expectations, knowledge, motivation for collaborating and interpersonal relationships, and took less than 30 minutes to complete. This process encouraged the formation of new network connections, increased participants’ engagement in knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) activities and formalized collaborative CoPs involving multiple disciplines and sectors.

These summaries are written by the NCCMT to condense and to provide an overview of the resources listed in the Registry of Methods and Tools and to give suggestions for their use in a public health context. For more information on individual methods and tools included in the review, please consult the authors/developers of the original resources.

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