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Stoke-on-Trent CoP – Past, Present and exciting future


by Steve Freeman, Chair, Stoke-on-Trent Community of Practice

Communities of Practice (CoPs) generally and Stoke-on-Trent Community of Practice (StokeCoP) specifically have an impressive pedigree. From community development projects in America to the harnessing of technical expertise in the UK CoPs have been harnessing untapped resources for years.

The Little Miracles report from 2013 describes a project in which the impact of CoPs was assessed http://www.revolving-doors.org.uk/file/1808/download?token=hADIbO3p. Stoke was one of the research centres and the legacy group was developed by key CoP members Bruno Ornelas and Sarah Wilshaw. Phase two of Stoke’s CoP came with the introduction of a solution focused practitioner as chair/facilitator and the development of ideas from the defunct Staffordshire Community of Solution Focused Practice which had been established and run by Carl Plant and Steve Freeman.

So much for the history. What has StokeCoP actually done over the past few years? What difference has it make from its early days? Who has noticed a change? And what have they noticed? One of the most important things has been the development of a discussion forum with measurable impact on systems change and peoples lived experience in Stoke-on-Trent and beyond. This forum has seen a broad range of experience and expertise. Expert Citizens http://www.expertcitizens.org.uk/ have been involved from very early in the development of StokeCoPs. People working in, and with experience of, a wide range of sectors have been able to discuss issues such as hospital discharge, prison release and ‘dual diagnosis’. Having expertise by experience, expertise by occupation and expertise by study have all been vital parts of the dialogue and developing a shared view of good practice and how to support it. Detailed reports and recommendations have been produced and published. Copies of the reports have been disseminated among the commissioning and delivery communities. The series of CoPs on the Care Act has been a stellar success. The Care Act Toolkit developed by Bruno Ornelas in conjunction with StokeCoP has been adopted in a number of strategic areas in England https://issuu.com/voicesofstoke/docs/careacttoolkit_typeset  Copies of other VOICES reports can be found on their publications page https://www.voicesofstoke.org.uk/publications-2/

StokeCoPs has had a more subtle impact in influencing. Their influence on members and their organisations has been remarkable. The belief that good practice exists and can be cherished has supported a number of CoP members in difficult environments. In the case of prison release the StokeCoP developed and put into practice an integrated approach to tenancy agreements and housing which has avoided people moving directly from prison to street homelessness. Equally being able to identify and challenge poor practice has been made easier with the support of colleagues from a wide range of backgrounds.

The current StokeCoP model has been the basis of CoPs for VOICES partner agencies;  Homeless Link https://www.homeless.org.uk/  have trained locality managers in CoP facilitation and supported staff in developing CoPs to develop community based responses to practical and systems based challenges.

By the autumn of 2017 StokeCoP was attracting depleted numbers of people to its meetings and a decision was made to carry out a pause and review exercise.

Key questions included;

  • What works well with the StokeCoP model?
  • What aspects of the Stoke CoP model have made it the basis of other successful CoPs?
  • What can StokeCoP learn from communities of practice in other areas such as IT, research, community development?
  • Has StokeCoP met its expectations and reached the end of its life cycle?
  • How can we include more lived experience?
  • How to develop a CoP of, by and for the community?
  • What are our aspirations for StokeCoP and
  • What will be the legacy of StokeCoP?


StokeCoPs next steps have been identified by the reviewing team. Nothing is written in stone. It’s an iterative process. The CoPs will be influenced and affected by our noticing what works well and asking those involved what works well for them and how we can do more of it. We have two sets of aims. The first is listed below and will need the help and support of the community. The second list is made up of innovations in how we run and develop CoPs as a model and will include some very innovative approaches. Watch this space!


All of the aims listed here will be co-constructed with the Stoke-on-Trent community and influenced by experience.

  • VOICES to move to a position of “leading from the back” as part of its legacy plans.
  • Reconvene StokeCoPs as soon as practicable.
  • First topic will be ‘Hospital discharge’ which has been covered before and remains a critical factor as reported in BBC Radio 4s File on Four programme recently.
  • Administration of StokeCoP to be devolved to community partners. Arranging venues and invitations, guest speakers, presentations etc is a task which can be hosted by organisations for 6 to 12 months each. Volunteers sought…..
  • VOICES and partners to develop and provide a CoP resource pack for interested parties.
  • Investigate how CoPs can best be coordinated and communicated within and beyond Stoke-on-Trent.
  • Training in setting up and delivering CoPs based on the Stoke model and solution focused practice to be designed and delivered.
  • Investigate a range of delivery methods for CoPs.
  • Evaluate StokeCoPs using an action research approach.
  • Identify common factors and shared expertise in the community. This will include Relationships, common interests, common problems, common tools and good practice, shared understanding and philosophies.
  • Lived experience will be a core component at every stage.
  • Identify and integrate complimentary models for process planning, community development and purposeful meetings.
  • Link StokeCoP with (inter)national CoP research, evaluation, practice and publication.

What, then, is the difference that makes a difference with the StokeCoP copy model? Those who know me will not be surprised to find that the answer is solution focused practice. Nothing complicated or demanding of intellect and yet not always as easy as it looks and sounds.


Key solution focused principles include;

  • Recognising every person as an expert in their own lives and their own situations. This means that everyone attending a CoP is an expert and our role as CoP members is to recognise and encourage the sharing of this expertise.
  • No one is resistant. Resistance is not a personality trait. At worst it is a reaction to the situation and at best it is the person’s best attempt at co-operation. For example someone who often says “Don’t know” is not resistant. They are telling you that you aren’t communicating too well.
  • No matter how diverse the views of the people in the room there are always common factors. Our role is to ask the questions which identify the common areas to form a foundation for the CoP, meeting or conversation.
  • There are always exceptions to any problem. More detective work required here to identify and help describe what these exceptions are and how we can repeat them.


These are starter points and bear some further reading. This is a reasonable starting point https://stevefreeman.org.uk/

Look forward to seeing you at a CoP soon.

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