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Hum Resour Health. 2010 Nov 12;8:25. doi: 10.1186/1478-4491-8-25.

Sharing best practices through online communities of practice: a case study.

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Jhpiego Corporation, 1615 Thames Street, Baltimore, MD 21212, USA.



The USAID-funded Capacity Project established the Global Alliance for Pre-Service Education (GAPS) to provide an online forum to discuss issues related to teaching and acquiring competence in family planning, with a focus on developing countries' health related training institutions. The success of the Global Alliance for Nursing and Midwifery's ongoing web-based community of practice (CoP) provided a strong example of the successful use of this medium to reach many participants in a range of settings.


GAPS functioned as a moderated set of forums that were analyzed by a small group of experts in family planning and pre-service education from three organizations. The cost of the program included the effort provided by the moderators and the time to administer responses and conduct the analysis.


Family planning is still considered a minor topic in health related training institutions. Rather than focusing solely on family planning competencies, GAPS members suggested a focus on several professional competencies (e.g. communication, leadership, cultural sensitivity, teamwork and problem solving) that would enhance the resulting health care graduate's ability to operate in a complex health environment. Resources to support competency-based education in the academic setting must be sufficient and appropriately distributed. Where clinical competencies are incorporated into pre-service education, responsible faculty and preceptors must be clinically proficient. The interdisciplinary GAPS memberships allowed for a comparison and contrast of competencies, opportunities, promising practices, documents, lessons learned and key teaching strategies.


Online CoPs are a useful interface for connecting developing country experiences. From CoPs, we may uncover challenges and opportunities that are faced in the absorption of key public health competencies required for decreasing maternal mortality and morbidity. Use of the World Health Organization (WHO) Implementing Best Practices Knowledge Gateway, which requires only a low bandwidth connection, gave educators an opportunity to engage in the discussion even in the most Internet access-restricted places (e.g. Ethiopia). In order to sustain an online CoP, funds must come from an international organization (e.g. WHO regional office) or university that can program the costs long-term. Eventually, the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of GAPS rests on its transfer to the members themselves.

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