Communities of practice for development in the Middle East and North Africa


  • Erik Caldwell Johnson
  • Ramla Khalidi


Development-oriented communities of practice (CoPs) are relatively new to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. A number of international agencies have tried to promote the concept of CoPs as a means to enhance the cross-fertilization of experiences, and promote the exchange of development knowledge. However, most of this work has been focused on the internal business of these agencies.

A joint World Bank Institute-UNDP project implemented in 2003-2004 sought to better understand the scope of CoP activities in the MENA region, the environment which shapes their operations, and their potential as development actors. To do this, they conducted a survey of all of the entities they could find which seemed to fit the definition of a CoP, while also providing seed money and technical assistance for the establishment of three pilot regional CoPs. The survey revealed a relatively barren landscape, in which CoPs have scarcely begun to emerge in the region as a result of barriers such as access to the Internet, limited translation into Arabic, a hesitation to share substantive lessons via the Internet and a limited understanding of the CoP concept itself.

Although provided with similar assistance and funds, the three CoPs had very difference experiences and provide important lessons to those working in the field. Different factors were found to affect the success of the CoPs. Ownership, capacity building, language, IT skills, focus, product, vision and leadership were all found to have profound influence on budding CoPs. Surprisingly, although funds are important, they are not a determining factor in the success or failure of a CoP. The project also found nascent interest in the ideas of Knowledge Management, but much awareness raising and promotion is still necessary.