Crisis and Transformative Learning in Communities of Practice: Semi-Formal Learning in CSDP during COVID-19

This research article discusses how COVID-19 temporarily created a radical change in the lessons learnt process of CSDP. Using the theoretical framework of Communities of Practice (CoPs), in this case the agencies, EEAS directorates, missions, and other workplace communities and venues for interaction within the CSDP architecture, the researchers find that the pandemic decreased the political contestation between CoPs and created a high-engagement environment where lessons were freely shared among CoPs as they were learned, with PCM (then-ISP) as the knowledge broker.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors find that the CSDP system was experiencing difficulty fulfilling the potential of the lessons learnt process. In identifying flaws and challenges in current practices, the process faced a high degree of political contestation. Additionally, the newly inaugurated ISP in 2019 had created a database for lessons, but usage at the time was unsatisfactory, as contestation also occurred between such formal learning sites (workshops and seminars) and informal ones within CoPs (corridor chatter, private lunches, etc.). As such, there was difficulty in both the identification of lessons and engaging staff in using the formal system, limiting their usefulness for CSDP knowledge management. However, this soon changed during the pandemic, when a significant external threat considerably decreased political contestation and limited opportunities for informal learning sites, which were often in person. 

 In this new crisis context, the authors find that ISP was put into the perfect position to be knowledge broker between the various CoPs within the mission field and in the EU, which were much more willing to participate. Another factor in the changing practices was a change in the immediate goal of lessons learnt from long term (learning from past challenges to shape potential future activities) to short term (learning from present challenges to produce immediately usable and shareable knowledge). This created a lively learning environment where ISP connected CoPs to share lessons and best practices across EU CSDP to address the common challenges. Though as the pandemic dissipated, these conditions reverted, and slowly political contestation returned between the formal ISP-led learning architecture and informal learning sites throughout the CSDP architecture. The authors conclude that the external environment is deeply influential on the political and social environment of CSDP, which in turn shapes the natural preferences of various CoPs for learning methods. The article provides empirical insights into learning and knowledge management practices and how their usage is shaped by external environment. 

Reference: Bremberg, N. and Helding, E. (2024). Crisis and Transformative Learning in Communities of Practice: Semi-Formal Learning in CSDP during COVID-19. Global Studies Quarterly, 4(1). 


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