In it for the long term – evolving your community of practice over time: learning from the New Social Media, New Social Science network (#NSMNSS)

Kandy Woodfield @jess1ecat – Higher Education Academy, Curtis Jessop @CurtisJessop – NatCen Social Research and Wasim Ahmed @was3210 – NSMNSS Twitter manager

In this session we’ll present a case study of how we have grown our New Social Media, New Social Science (#NSMNSS) network from the kernel of an idea in 2011 to a thriving international online community of practice in 2015.

Whilst a lot is known about how to establish a community of practice for informal learning and reflection, relatively little is written (yet) about how to make these learning communities sustainable over longer periods of time. In this active session we will explore how we’ve gone about this and work together with participants to develop a list of practical tips for building sustainable CoPs. We will work together in small groups using interactive exercises to establish effective approaches for:

  • Engaging your community: Keeping members engaged with community activities
  • Strengthening connections: between members, across networks and organisations
  • Sharing the learning: sustaining network outputs (such as blogs, Twitter feeds, publications)
  • Avoiding the echo chamber: Building & replenishing your community and its wider links over time
  • Sustaining momentum: Keeping community discussions lively and original NSMNSS uses a blend of face-to-face and social media activities (including Twitter, blogging and You Tube) to link community members in an informal learning network. It extends learning outside of the seminar room and crosses geographical, disciplinary and sectorial boundaries. Our network includes research students, academics and applied researchers working in HE, government, the third sector and market research. We have over 3,500 followers on Twitter and last year published the first ever crowd sourced book of blogs on social media research methods (Social Media in Social Research, 2014, Woodfield, K. (Ed.) which showcases the ideas and experiences of network members. The network brings together researchers, students and research practitioners who are using social media for their social science research. We form a virtual community of practice which helps to enhance our research practice, catalyse and support new methodological approaches and provide new, reflective spaces where we can share our experiences and challenges about this growing area of social science research.


A lot has been written about how to set up online communities but much less has been written about how to sustain online communities of practice over time. In our experience this is the tricky part! In this session we’ll explore these key questions:

  • What communities and networks do you belong to? And how would you like them to grow and strengthen?
  • What activities/approaches keep you engaged with an online community? And how can you use these to keep your members engaged?
  • How can you encourage your members to deepen and widen their connections within and across communities?
  • How can you sustain community outputs?
  • How can you avoid your CoP becoming an echo chamber?
  • How can you keep your CoP lively and energising?

You can find the NSMNSS community on Twitter @NSMNSS or by following the hashtag #NSMNSS, you can find our blog including the live blog of the workshop here:

Some additional resources/reading

Etienne Wenger coined the term community of practice, these are the key texts:

  • Wenger, Etienne. 1998. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wenger E, McDermott R, Snyder, WM. Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston (Mass): Harvard Business Publishing; 2002

Jane Hart writes wisely about communities of practice for workplace learning, much of what she shares has wider relevance to any community of practice. You can find her website here: and she published The Social Learning Handbook which you can find more out about here:

A selection of HEA resources on building communities of practice in HE to support staff & student learning can be found here:

We the Nurses is a hugely successful Twitter based community of practice (see #wenurses): Moorley, C.  R., & Chinn, T.  Nursing and Twitter:  Creating an online community using hashtags.  Collegian  (2014),

Bronwyn Stuckey & John Smith have written about the qualities that successful (sustaining) CoPs and their ‘leaders’ display:

Suzanne Riverin & Elizabeth Stacey have also written about sustaining an online CoP:  Sustaining an Online Community of Practice: A Case Study