A tribute to KM4Dev: how it transformed my life and how I hope to share the magic


For a long time, in the sector where I used to work, I felt out of place: a mad and fuzzy communicator in the rigid, logical (but smart) kingdom of water and sanitation engineers. I guess I kinda accepted I was different and just had to rub it in.

And then I had my first KM4Dev (Knowledge Management for Development) face-to-face experience. And it was, professionally speaking, absolutely life-changing. So here’s a tribute to this fantastic game changer of a community that has become my natural dysfunctional and confusiastic professional family.

The KM4Dev group at the annual meeting in Almada, 2008 (Credits: unknown)

The KM4Dev group at the annual meeting in Almada, 2008 (Credits: Peter Bury)

My colleague Jaap Pels had brought KM4Dev to my awareness and got me to sign up on the discussion group for a couple of years and I surely enjoyed the conversations, but I didn’t quite realise how important KM4Dev was truly going to be for me. My first face-to-face event was in Brighton in 2006. And I really had the eye-opening experience of finding kindred spirits for the first time in the professional sphere. People that were different from me and had different interests but also cared for a lot of similar issues: learning, communication, knowledge management, empowerment, social change… far away from the image of a geeky male-dominated picture that a colleague of mine had about KM4Dev at that time (obviously without knowing it first hand).

I became a core group member less than a year later, and started blogging shortly after that. And that was just the beginning.

So here’s how KM4Dev changed my life and how I decided to repay that back (and how it keeps paying off)…

How KM4Dev changed my life

There are so many levels at which KM4Dev has added depth. Here is a non-exhaustive attempt at listing some of the benefits of being in KM4Dev, following the typical KM ‘People, process and technology’ approach ;)

The people

  • I met wonderful people, who (for some) became very good friends, bound by a different kind of common chemistry;
  • These people revealed to me the art and science of creative and wonderful facilitation, paving the way for my future work in this field later;
  • I found, through the mailing list, the wiki, the Ning group, some people that to date I still haven’t met but have been connecting with on many levels to discuss KM and learning-related issues;
  • They have taught me to seek questions, not answers; to be happy with confusion (confusiasm), to dare asking questions and challenging thoughts, to build upon each other but to go beyond the ‘yes we all agree and that’s wonderful’, to look for what is not there, to care for each other, to value people and ideas beyond organisations, to trust myself and others, to let go, to experiment and experience, to live and learn…

The processes

Having been involved in the KM4Dev core group, the KM4Dev journal and from 2009 onwards the founding group of the Francophone KM4Dev sister SA-GE, I have learned a lot of things in terms of KM processes, particularly related to management, facilitation and communities of practice, from building initiatives around champions, decision-making processes based on lack of disagreement, testing and expanding ideas, self-organisation, technology stewardship, acting upon promises made (based on personal, non-funded, commitment), creative brainstorming and co-creation of events and processes, organising discussions and documenting these on the spot (e.g. with live minutes on Skype or otherwise)…

And of course again the creative facilitation using Open Space, World cafés, fishbowl, six-thinking hats, peer assist and many many more ideas for facilitation.

The technology

To date I still don’t consider myself a techie nor a geek. But I’m interested in tools in as far as they bring about new practices and new ways for people to learn and connect with one another. I’m certainly an early adopter for many online tools. And that is the legacy of KM4Dev.

I wouldn’t have tried the following tools if it were not for KM4Dev: blogs, wikis, Twitter, Slideshare, Delicious, Blip TV. And next to these direct influences, I am now much keener on exploring new tools such as Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ etc. as a result of my exposure to KM4Dev. Secondary – but crucial – tools such as Doodle, MeetingWords, Wordle etc. also came to my knowledge via KM4Dev friends and folks.

Last but not least, KM4Dev really helped me decide that my focus field would indeed be (social) learning and knowledge management.

What I’m doing to pay KM4Dev back for all it’s given me

Given the above, it sounds like I will spend the rest of my life paying KM4Dev back. I don’t know where my love story with the community will bring me but I have taken some small steps to pay something back:

  • Being a core group member. This is and has always been a totally voluntary effort. So I do this after hours, in the evening, over the weekend and holidays, but taking part to the reflections of this group of people who care for the community matters to me. And as much as I would love other people to invest their time in this, I see too little of it happening so for now I’m happy to play my part. And this gives me extra fresh information about some crucial information regarding the community: funding, next face-to-face events, and the overall governance of the community. It’s also a great way to keep in touch with my close KM4Dev friends – quite a few of them being core group members themselves.
  • Being a KM4Dev journal editor. Now this is a real challenge because I find it difficult to make time for it but the journal – although (and that is really terrible but about to change soon) it is not open access – is important to me as it encourages practitioners from the global South to publish their experiences and reflections, as opposed to many academic development or KM journals. This role of editor means I contribute to shaping up issues from the journal and discuss with other fellow editors how to make it evolve in the right way, e.g. coming up with different article types, finding solutions for open access solutions, reviewing the list of board members, discussing possible topics for future issues etc. I’ve headed some issues of the journal on francophone KM, KM in the WASH sector, organisational KM and soon about multi-stakeholder process facilitation…
  • Being one of the lynchpins of SA-GE. We are actually trying to rely less on the few people who, like me, have played a strong role in SA-GE since its onset. But when nothing happens, I chip in and share relevant links, conversations, documents with the Francophone group, as I really hope it takes off and see many opportunities for more exchange on KM and learning in the Francophone world.
  • Occasionally facilitating the community platforms for a month – like this month with Bruce Kisitu. A great way to make sure all conversations are attended to, answered, linked with other relevant links, that peoples’ questions are answered, that orientation is given if need be and that all the while new ideas for improving this community facilitation emerge along the way…
  • Being a member of the Learning and Monitoring group. IFAD has granted KM4Dev some funding for 2012 and early 2013 and I am part of the group reflecting on the funded activities and trying to understand what KM4Dev brings to people but also how it could become more effective. This is a fascinating endeavour to understand this community from up close.
  • Developing local KM4Dev networks. Wherever I’ve been working I try to export some of my enthusiasm for KM4Dev by stimulating people from the network (or people that could benefit from becoming members) to meet up. I did it in The Hague, in Burkina Faso and more recently in Ethiopia. These local networks have their own dynamics but somehow they follow the philosophical trail of the global community of practice.

Next to that, of course I’m a regular member of KM4Dev so I contribute to the mailing list, post some resources and questions or conversations on the Ning etc.

Last words… and if it were you?

If KM4Dev has made a profound impact on your work and/or life, like it has on mine then feel free to let the community know, or me for that matter, as that kind of testimony would be really useful to assess the effectiveness of this community of practice, and to ensure it continues to be a useful guiding light for all people hoping to use learning and knowledge work to contribute to a better world, of empowered people taking care of their own and their community’s livelihood.

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