A Positive Community of Practice?

Can The Positive Psychology People become a community of practice for positive psychology? The dramatic growth in the number of registered members of The Positive Psychology People in the last few months has been remarkable, and it has left me asking this question. (And I believe the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’!)

What is a Community of Practice

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”
(Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015, p.1)

The concept of ‘communities of practice’ (CoP) emerged out of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s (1991) monograph discussing apprenticeship and ‘situated learning’, where they argue that learning is essentially a social process and note how practitioners of certain disciplines form communities to share knowledge and experience. Does this sound familiar? Isn’t this what The Positive Psychology People is all about? Unpacking it a little further, three aspects of the CoP are of central importance – The domain; the community; the practice:

Community of Practice Domain

The CoP has a shared domain of interest. This is an easy one: the shared domain for The Positive Psychology People is positive psychology. If we wanted to be a little more specific about this it would be the ‘study, application, research, and promotion of positive psychology’. Tick.

The Community

The notion of community is of course central to the concept of CoP. Here, a community is reflected in shared activities, sharing of knowledge and experiences, and an underlying sense of support and help for members of the community. Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner (2015) explicitly note that “a website in itself is not a community of practice” (p.2), and so we might note that The Positive Psychology People, whilst having a web-based resource at its heart, is setting out to be more than just a website. It seeks to build a community in the way it is defined here.


A CoP is distinguished from a community of interest (CoI) in that members of a CoP should be ‘practitioners’. This where The Positive Psychology People perhaps blurs the boundary of a CoP with a CoI as its members may range from practitioners to researchers to teachers to those with an interest in positive psychology. The latter may include people who are considering undertaking a course of study or looking to learning more about the area. However, there is a strong desire among the core team to develop a resource – a community – that would provide support for practitioners around the world, especially those emerging from Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) programmes into the world of the practitioner. As Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner (2015) point out, “this takes time and sustained interaction” (p. 2) and so there is time for this to develop.

Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner also note here how there are different levels of participation within a community of practice. This is visually represented very nicely below:

The Positive Psychology People as a Community of Practice

This all serves to reaffirm my view of TPPP as the basis for a community of practice, as this reflects the ‘structure’ (if that is the right word?) of the levels of participation in The Positive Psychology People, with there being a core team of co-ordinators, a wider group of active ‘members’ (e.g., developing content for the web resources), an even wider group of occasional contributors, and so on. Using this as a framework, I can see many members of TPPP (e.g., MAPP students) becoming initially involved at the ‘peripheral’ level and, depending on their own interests, becoming occasional or active contributors to discussions and other activities.

The Positive Psychology People was launched in March 2015. Within just a few months there are already over 39,000 registered members on the website with the Facebook group at over 18,000. How can you help develop this valuable resource into a positive community of practice?


Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Communities of practice: A brief introduction.

About the author

Dr Matthew Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Bucks New University, UK, where he is Co-course Leader for the MSc Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP), a course that can be studied by distance learning or part-time attendance (www.bucks.ac.uk/mapp). He has also been known to blog on occasion at www.drmatthewsmith.com.

‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’

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