Watkins, C., Zavaleta, J., Wilson, S. and Francisco, S. (2017), Developing an interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral community of practice in the domain of forest and livelihoods. Conservation Biology. doi:10.1111/cobi.12982
Although significant resources are being spent researching and fostering the relationship between forests and livelihoods to promote mutually beneficial outcomes, critical gaps in understanding persist. A core reason for such gaps is that researchers, practitioners, and policy makers lack the structured space to interact and collaborate, which is essential for effective, interdisciplinary research, practice, and evaluation. Thus, scientific findings, policy recommendations, and measured outcomes have not always been synthesized into deep, systemic understanding; learning from practice and implementation does not easily find its way into scientific analyses, and science often fails to influence policy. Communities of practice (CofPs) are dynamic sociocultural systems that bring people together to share and create knowledge around a common topic of interest. They offer participants a space and structure within which to develop new, systemic approaches to multidimensional problems on a common theme. Uniquely informed by a systems-thinking perspective and drawing from the scientific and gray literatures and in-depth interviews with representatives of established CofPs in the natural resource management and development domain, we argue that a well-designed and adequately funded CofP can facilitate interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral relationships and knowledge exchange. Well-designed CofPs integrate a set of core features and processes to enhance individual, collective, and domain outcomes; they set out an initial but evolving purpose, encourage diverse leadership, and promote collective identity development. Funding facilitates effective communication strategies (e.g., in person meetings). We urge our colleagues across sectors and disciplines to take advantage of CofPs to advance the domain of forests and livelihoods.