Evaluating the Development of Virtual Communities of Practice that Support Evidence Based Practice


  • Christine Urquhart Aberystwyth University
  • Anne Brice Public Health Resource Unit
  • Janet Cooper Aberystwyth University
  • Siân Spink Aberystwyth University
  • Rhian Thomas Aberystwyth University




health libraries, communities of practice, evidence-based practice, systematic review


Objective – The aim of this paper is to examine how virtual community of practice principles might be used by information professionals with emphasis on the work of the Specialist Libraries for health professionals in England, UK. An evaluation conducted in 2004-2005 examined the operation of the Specialist Libraries, which the National Library for Health had contracted out to various organisations, and assessed their stage of development as communities of practice.

Methods – Evaluation methods included observation of a meeting of information specialists, interviews with clinical leads and information specialists, and evaluation of the content and format of the Specialist Library websites. The evaluation framework was based on a systematic review of the literature to determine the critical success factors for communities of practice and their role in supporting evidence based practice. An updated literature review was conducted for this paper.

Results – Operational structures varied but were mostly effective in producing communities of practice that were at an “engaged” stage. Some Specialist Libraries wished to move towards the “active” stage by supporting online discussion forums, or by providing question and answering services or more learning activities and materials. Although the evidence from the literature suggests there are few clear criteria for judging the effectiveness of communities of practice, the evaluation framework used here was successful in identifying the state of progress and how information professionals might approach designing virtual communities of practice.

Conclusions – Structuring library and information services around community of practice principles is effective. Careful and participative design of the information architecture is required for good support for evidence based practice.


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Author Biographies

Christine Urquhart, Aberystwyth University

Senior Lecturer, Department of Information Studies

Anne Brice, Public Health Resource Unit

Department of Knowledge & Information Sciences




How to Cite

Urquhart, C., Brice, A., Cooper, J., Spink, S., & Thomas, R. (2010). Evaluating the Development of Virtual Communities of Practice that Support Evidence Based Practice. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 5(1), 48–63. https://doi.org/10.18438/B8Z628



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