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March 30, 2004
I find the following extract from an interview of Etienne Wenger doyen of the Community of Practice World very interesting for several reasons:

1) It explains how professional associations need to go beyond themselves, and if there is an association reader ready to try I can promise you open space will do that and give you a facilitaot catalogue

2) Its we learn and practice through our identities. Exactly

3) Put these 2 ideas together and if the brand was seen as a living association, the potential to innovate living of any brand would be so huge - any takers chris at
According to Wenger, associations that function solely as a centralized knowledge resource are ignoring the critical role of active engagement in effective learning and knowledge sharing. “Learning is best understood as an interaction among practitioners, rather than a process in which a producer provides knowledge to a consumer,” he says. “If associations view their members as consumers of knowledge produced by the association, they are forgetting that learning means engagement.”
According to Wenger, many associations have failed not only to consider the role of engagement in learning but also something even more fundamental: identity. Wenger asserts that “identity” in the context of how
associations relate to their members means much, much more than simply “belonging” or “shared interest.”
“A person’s identity is their engagement in the world,” Wenger says.
“This has not been part of our models. To engage effectively, one must ask the questions: ‘What will it take for our professionals to really feel they are learning – to really feel that membership in our association is transformative? What are the specific kinds of activities they should be engaged in with one another to draw this out?’”
Wenger cautions that there is no universal answer to these questions; every group has its own nuances, and different methods must be used with each group to, as Wegner says, “draw out” learners’ identities.

“When you have engineers, the most wonderful activity to engage them in is a design problem,” he says. “When you give them a design problem, it draws the engineer out of them,” he continues, adding that the key to drawing out members’ identities is through powerful storytelling.
“What does it mean to draw somebody’s identity out?” Wenger asks.
“This is what a good story does. When you hear a good story, you say ‘Yes! I can identify with that!’ This is because it is drawing you out. And so, this is the key to being an association: to find the activities that will draw out the identities of engaged learners.”
How often do we think of the learning opportunities associations provide in such a way – as venues not just to provide knowledge but to do something much more profound and transformative: to draw out and engage the very identities of those we serve? If association leaders were to find ways to accomplish this, imagine the drawing power of such events and, more important, how valuable they would be to association members.

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