Communities of practice to improve public health outcomes: a systematic review

Liza Barbour, Rebecca Armstrong, Patrick Condron, Claire Palermo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Communities of practice (CoPs) exist to enable people to share knowledge, innovate and progress a common field of practice. This paper aims to identify whether CoPs have a measured impact on public health practice and the tools used to measure the impact and potential barriers and facilitators that may have been identified during the implementation of these CoPs. Design/methodology/approach: A systematic review of the literature was conducted using PRISMA guidelines. Searches of six databases, Google Scholar and a citation search were completed. Included studies were from 1986 to 2016, involved the public health workforce and an evaluation of a CoP -like intervention. A narrative synthesis of the findings was conducted. Findings: From 3,021 publications, 12 studies met inclusion criteria and described the impact of ten CoPs amongst public health practitioners from America, Canada, Australasia and the United Kingdom. CoPs support the prevention workforce to change their practice when they provide structured problem-solving, reflective practice and networking opportunities. None of the studies described the impact of CoPs on public health outcomes. Practical implications: CoPs that provide structured problem-solving, reflective practice and diverse networking may effectively support the public health workforce. Existing methods used to evaluate CoPs lack rigour; thus, the true impact of CoPs on population health remains unknown. Originality/value: This is the first known systematic review that has measured the impact of CoPs on the preventative health workforce and the conditions in which they have an impact.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-343
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Knowledge Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Capacity building
  • Knowledge translation
  • Public health
  • Workforce

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