This paper explores the dilemmas of organic vs. structured communities of practice as interventions designed to develop youth workers. Research on a New York-based network by Davis-Manigaulte (2008) provides a rich example of how structured communities successfully empower and build capacity for individuals and agencies engaged in youth work. Theory is described that the author believes drives empowering outcomes that grows out of work-based learning and public, collective, critical reflection on, in, and through action. Socio-cultural theory and pragmatic learning theory are contrasted with respect to this kind of intervention. Action Learning Conversations (ALCs), created by the author and colleagues in their own work, are described as a potential enabling structure to support the transformative development of youth workers. The paper concludes with a recapitulation of the learning dynamics that are thought to enable action-based, collective, critically reflective learning, and a caveat about their use in ways that may undermine authenticity.
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