Learning across multiple communities of practice: an examination of multidisciplinary work

Eivor Oborn, Sandra Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Communities of practice (CoPs) have been identified as important sites of learning. Novices learn from masters whilst participating in situated practice and becoming more central members of the community. Empirical studies highlight the difficulty of learning across CoPs, although few studies specifically examine how learning develops in such a multidisciplinary context. This paper examines the processes of learning occurring when members of different CoPs, in this case various cancer specialists, are required to meet together as a formally constituted multidisciplinary team, and to establish multidisciplinary collaboration as a basis for decision making and action. Our paper highlights that while learning in CoPs develops through repetition, gaining legitimacy, and achieving mastery, learning across CoPs in multidisciplinary contexts emphasises key boundary processes to negotiate and broaden meaning. As such multidisciplinary collaboration is not so much to learn from each others’ talk, but to learn to talk in this new arena. Our paper identifies three practices which facilitate learning across CoPs: organising discussions, acknowledging other perspectives and challenging assumptions. We also discuss the boundary processes which are promoted through brokers and the use of boundary objects in facilitating multidisciplinary work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 843-858
Number of pages15
JournalBritish Journal of Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • communities of practice, knowledge, multidisciplinary, teams, knowledge, boundaries, cancer, health, practices

Cite this