Scaling, pacing, staging and patterning… Navigating fractal change through space and time


Change, change, change!

Going up the scale of change

Going up the scale of change

So many clichés about change, so much ado about a big thing, so many ways to look at it and so many barriers to it!

And just so it’s clear: I’m talking about social change (see some pictures about this concept), i.e. change that involves humans and their behaviour, as opposed to changes in e.g. engineering or information systems.

The much desired and (our most loathed) change is at the centre of a lot of agile KM and also development work. We want to understand it, track it, make it happen, or stop it. As a formula. In a box. 100% fail-proof.

The bitter deceit…

Perhaps because we may be overlooking one of the most important dimensions of (social) change: it is the bizarre fruit of the dance of time and space along various factors. There is no direct and pure causality between activity A and change X. Complexity theories have helped us understand this intricacy. But not necessarily helped us find ways to address this.

Here’s a shoot post about a change management toolkit of sorts: Using hidden dynamics to realise how to look at and work around change, with four lighthouses on our journey: scaling, pacing, staging and patterning.

Scaling

Social change has both roots and branches across space and time. Understanding scaling is a precondition to achieving change. What other geographic scales are at play in a change dynamics? What could be other beneficiaries or victims of change: other teams? Organisations? Projects? Communities? Districts? Regions? Think upstream-downstream, centre-edges, power groups/marginalised groups What mechanisms are intentionally or involuntarily titillating other scales? What are the tradeoffs and what is the aggregate ‘return on investment’ then?

Similarly, what could be long term as opposed to short term changes or effects? We tend to apply a tunnel vision to the scales we are focusing on, but understanding how a given initiative brings about change that affects people differently over time helps us get a bigger picture of the change we are looking at. This is at the centre of the reflection on time scales in social learning for climate change.

Of course we cannot predict all these changes, but joined-up thinking such as collective visioning exercises give us glimpses of these longer term changes… Don’t consider change without careful attention for scales.

Pacing

Time is of the essence in change, as we’ve seen above. Because behaviour change takes time, all the more so when someone else wants you to change.

Considering longer term effects begs us to examine the speed at which we hope change will happen and the one at which it really happens. As much as a common breathing pace brings people together, pacing activities according to the local context’s normal pace also raises chances for change – remember organic, civic-driven KM?. No need to rush, you might be leading the pack but no one may understand you. Going too slow on the other hand may jeopardise potential for change, time has to be just right. And our pace affects this…

Staging

No ‘intended’ social change happens overnight – unless by some miracle all elements are just ready for it and one extra drop takes care of it (ha! the results of edge effects Alice McGillivray is brilliantly talking about). So no change happens in a fingersnap.

And because of the complex interdependencies, no change is likely to happen at (extended) scale right on. Pacing helps us find the right rhythm of each activity, staging activities helps us align them. It gives us liberty to use effective safe-fail probes (more about that in the video below): We can thus explore how change happens in smaller iterations, using the feedback from each iteration to inform the next loop of activities. Like gardening, this is the key to let change grow and become part of the local fabric’s dynamics. Staging is the drip irrigation of change…

Patterning

Discerning fractal change from any pattern

Discerning fractal change from any pattern

The last but not the least dynamic of the four, and for good reasons: The complexity of social change requires us to sharpen our senses and (ideally collectively) recognise patterns that make up change. Both in the centre of our attention and at the edges… With patterning we can identify the fractals of change, and by continually doing so we can recognise where in the bigger picture of change a certain fractal belongs.

How do you do patterning? Through learning conversations around a theory of change of sorts, and whether formalised or not, continually exploring the ramifications of that change.

In a lot of agile KM projects – and more conspicuously in a majority of development projects – we tend to zero in on specific changes induced by a given initiative. But we are chasing a fish pack and the way the fish pack shapes and shifts, moves and mixes, appears and disappears tells us much about that ever elusive change. Scaling, pacing, staging and patterning are instruments at our disposal to understand the fish better and, occasionally, to fish it better.

Navigating change: better do it with caution

Navigating change: better do it with caution

Since change might look like a shark, we might as well be apprehend it better, don’t you think?

Related blog posts:

Leaders, innovate please!


Leadership vs management (Credits - ocd007 / FlickR)

Leadership vs management (Credits – ocd007 / FlickR)

Enough!

Enough ‘do what I say, not what I do’!

Enough ‘we aspire to be a centre of excellence’ bla bla bla but we don’t put our heart and money to it!

Enough old potions in new bottles!

Enough 20th century management in 21st century networked leaders’ age!

LEADERS, IT’S TIME TO INNOVATE!

I realise starting this year with a rant may not be the most appropriate debut in a new year full of exciting opportunities.

But somehow I’ve just had enough of…

Leaders, if you want to innovate, do it properly! Start with your staff’s ideas; consider their connections and their networks; see them as the DNA of the company – one that keeps reforming and offering opportunities; allow people to try things out / reflect / report / reframe and reinforce their initiatives; open your circle, heart, mind and soul; and: lead the way, pave the way for all the leaders-to-be that you say your company holds but that your actions implicitly deny…

There are various examples out there. This is just one more way to open up:

The ball is in your court, and the clock is ticking. Dinosaurs go extinct, so in front of that swimming pool of change, risk, unfamiliarity and innovation, your precious company has to just dive or die. The choice is yours, and a lot of people are ready to help!

Related blog posts:

The ‘personal’ factor, beyond the human factor in KM


Get the people right!

Trust the people, not just the experts btw! (Credits: phauly / FlickR)

Get the  right people in – not just the ‘experts’ btw! (Credits: phauly / FlickR)

That’s what KM is all about, that’s what most social jobs are all about. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? Yet we still stick our heads in the sands and pretend that our plans and logical frameworks are more important than simple human-to-human relationships…

Think about it:

  • How many times did personal connections play a role – in a way or another – in hiring people (or getting hired) e.g. knowing someone who knew someone… Oh, just this article that was tweeted about coming up today to back this statement
  • How many times did an organisation encourage certain processes (e.g. strong cooperation across departments, more facilitated meetings, a strong learning culture etc.) because one or two people were driving that agenda?
  • Why are most KM strategies (and me too) recommending to enroll individual champions and management?
  • How often do you see one person walking the talk, standing up for all others who don’t stick their neck out – and in the best of cases actually influencing those others to follow their example?

Humans drive change, not organisations, not strategies, not statements. They all contribute, but at the end of the day behind all the great apparatus of change, there’s a (wo)man of flesh and blood, usually rallied by other enthusiasts. We are beings of passionate social movements, not of logical strategies.

What does that tell us?

Perhaps the most useful (and seemingly counter-intuitive) measure to get KM right is not to develop a strategy or an information system – or even better: a portal!!! oh no, please not another one - but first and foremost to hire the right person for the job. Someone who really ‘gets it’ and can influence the rest of the organisation, little by little. Ditto for the other champions that get a KM strategy to fly (even under the radar).

If those people are inside your area of influence or control, it might be easier to approach them and build a rapport – and looking at what causes people to change might help. But it seems to me that in order to adapt to the (inter)personal nature of our work, our agile KM knowledge, skills and attitude should certainly entail:

  • A wide range of expertise topics allowing to build initial rapport with a variety of people;
  • A sense of vision and a passion for that vision, to communicate it with others and commune around it;
  • Strong empathetic skills to be able to listen, relate and trust – based on genuine feelings not just a vernix of diplomatic formulas;
  • A good dose of creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and spontaneity to gauge individuals in ways that go beyond marketplace and job-chasing conventions;
  • Authenticity, once again, because that might be the best proof of your intentions;
  • And fun, flings, fluff, emotions and all the things that seem to unnecessary to a strategy but that are oh so necessary to get two people to trust each other.

And the rest is just about developing joint work to let initial impressions convert to a real, strong relationship.

If the champions are outside the organisation, it might be a great idea to use CoPs (communities of practice), PLNs (personal learning networks) and any face-to-face opportunity (whether short-lived like events or longer such as projects) to build that rapport with them. Because these great people who make change happen, these positive deviants and mavericks simply won’t come if they don’t smell a whiff of social compatibility in their new working environment. 

So get the people right, and worry about strategies, systems and processes later. Your ideas will fly if the people that are supposed to bear and apply them are flying freely themselves.

Related blog posts:

Spur of the moment or long term purpose: when pinballs meet bulldozers


In working environments, one of the conundrums in personal and organisational knowledge management is the balance between following one’s ‘spur of the moment’ intuition and pursuing one’s longer term intent and purpose.

Balancing plans and opportunities is finding a balance between the pinball effect and the bulldozer drive

Balancing plans and opportunities is finding a balance between the pinball effect and the bulldozer drive

Planning and executing work then becomes a game of pinballs and bulldozers, where pinballs are projected in all directions, attracted by signals and rebounding on opportunities that arise, and bulldozers moving forward with a plan and avoiding derailing from their plan, no matter what.

Of course, we are neither pinballs nor bulldozers: we all evolve along that continuum and tend to mesh the two ends as we see fit.

At a personal level that is entirely ok. But when a complex situation requires different people to align their operating mode, complications arise. Here are a few instances of these that I or others I know have faced at work in the past 10 years:

  • Feeling hopeless and prey to everyone else’s agenda and actions – literally like a pinball sent in all directions, trying to cope with travel, backlog, email piles and the rest of it;
  • Planning work without keeping any open slot and feeling defeated at the end of the week for not having been able to do it all because the plan did not leave enough room for imponderables… ;
  • Spending the entire week meeting people and having conversations, only to find it a struggle to actually write stuff or do things, and perhaps – over time – slightly losing interest or ability to do that;
  • Being a victim to one’s email inbox and social media and responding to all of these on the spot;
  • Being under pressure to deliver and having to adjust one’s schedule to high level demands or encounters with moral pressure to execute, even if this means working systematically in the weekends or evenings and you promised yourself to keep a healthy work-private life balance;
  • Dealing with colleagues who find it natural to work every night, every weekend – as it is their way to cope with work pressure – as they expect you to do the same;
  • Being accused of being inflexible and not open to meeting people because you’re working on some deadline and are focusing on what you planned to deliver rather than what comes up;
  • Continuing on your trajectory (business as usual) without realising it’s not what you should be doing…

“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging” (Will Rogers)

This post is as much therapeutic as it is reflexive. Time to look at how we collectively deal with our ability and inclination towards planning and seizing opportunities…

On a personal level…

Personal effectiveness survey gurus like Stephen Covey (and his habits of highly effective people) or Leo Babauta and his zen techniques to keep a balance, both insist on intent, purpose, planning and carving time out for quality work.

This is at the heart of my own approach to personal effectiveness. Work just goes on and on like a treadmill and if you don’t step back and look around once in a while, you might miss your purpose, forget what really gives you energy and what little steps you should be putting together to achieve a greater goal.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should just focus on that path and never step out of it. The keys to finding a balance might lie in:

  • Carpe Diem now or later?

    Carpe Diem now or later?

    Enjoying the moments as they come. Carpe diem (seize the day). It is probably the most important balancing mechanism to appreciate what you are doing at every step of your way – where mindfulness becomes the guiding path…

  • Reflecting regularly (every day? every week? after every important happening or event?) to see what works or not, what gives you energy or not, where you might change your approach regarding tiny details of your every day life, work, planning and enjoying – simple after action reviews can be a powerful mechanism for that;
  • Reflecting deeply (and particularly applying third loop learning in practice) to inquire about your own sense of purpose (and for those who wish, destiny) and what might be the next wave we ride;
  • Planning accordingly but knowing at heart that we don’t have all answers, that we don’t have the gift of foresight and that we have to remain open to what comes along the way, as signals that might take us for a better turn on our life path, and definitely keeping open slots for serendipity, creativity, seemingly unproductive time…
  • Avoiding – if we mind the pinball effect – to fall prey to every notification, signal, email, social media message or else that keeps popping up visually, aurally and kinesthetically (through the vibrating effect of a message popping on our phone)… Every sign of distraction like this might keep us away from finding more meaningful answers and questions that lie in longer term focus and discipline.

Collectively…

How do our operating wheels fit with one another? (credits Pbase.com)

How do our operating wheels fit with one another? (credits Pbase.com)

 

Collective effectiveness is a lot about how everyone’s operating wheels fit into one another and finding solutions for it has a lot to do with negotiating collective conventions. Some pointers here might be…

To agree on the long-term objectives and the short-term necessities of the team and organise work accordingly – following a broad main line – not the route that will be followed step by step but the map that connects starting point and final destination, with an idea of some stop-overs. This requires regular communication and is harder done than said…

Similarly to personal efforts, to regularly reflect on the objectives and operating mode of the collective and to assess what needs to happen to make this collective work and bring the best of its abilities to the fore. If unwanted/unexpected/unplanned signals drive too much attention away from the main added value of that collective, it might be good to reduce these opportunities.

To embrace ideas that stem from the collective’s individual practices, and to allow some time to sift through the experience and assess what might be the collective value of that individual practice. This is typically the case with one person trying a new social network and inviting their colleagues to reflect upon the potential for the whole team to use it (when, why, for what purpose, how etc.)? There is much value in exploration, it just needs to be assessed collectively at some point.

To gauge, as a team or organisation, the need for focus or exploration. This is to ask to what extent the collective needs to remain open to opportunities that come along the way (because it really needs to bring in a whiff of external perspectives) or needs to focus on its current pipeline because it already has well enough logical and useful work underway.

To discuss collectively how to deal with over work, work-life balance and what colleagues can expect from each other when it comes to weekend and evening work requests or attending to unexpected conversations when there are expectations to deliver outputs.

To agree on planned outputs and collective responsibilities to deliver these. Once that agreement is made it becomes easier to dedicate additional time and efforts to unexpected and spontaneous happenings. So long as it remains each individual’s workload the collective remains trapped in entropy and if it remains solely the management’s prerogative, commitment to deliver might be limited.

To reflect collectively on what (and sometimes who) distracts the collective’s plans and brings along opportunities that might indeed be very helpful or simply noise that reduces the collective’s productivity and purpose. And discussing what would be the practical implications of adapting the collective schedule to respond to opportunities and how it would be received in the wider ecosystem of which that collective is part (e.g. a team within a broader organisation).

There will likely never be a full balance between various individuals’ approaches and the needs of the collective when it comes to planning and opening to unexpected magic, but we might do much worse than talking, reflecting about it and acting upon collective conventions.

One thing’s for sure: conventions and cultures evolve and we should remain alert to these changes that affect our strategies. Together, we might see the hole we’re digging before it gets too deep…

Related blog posts:

KM for Development Journal news, zooming in on the facilitation of multi-stakeholder processes


Some news about the Knowledge Management for Development Journal, for which I’m a senior editor: the upcoming issue (May 2013) is just about to be released and will be the first open access issue again after three years of commercial hosting by Taylor and Francis. This is a really welcome move – back to open knowledge – and the issue should be very interesting as it focuses on knowledge management in climate change work.

The September 2013 issue is dedicated to ‘Breaking the boundaries to knowledge integration: society meets science within knowledge management for development.’

Discussing innovation and multi-stakeholder platforms (Credits: WaterandFood / FlickR)

Discussing innovation and multi-stakeholder platforms (Credits: WaterandFood / FlickR)

But here I wanted to focus a bit on the December 2013 issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal which will be about ‘Facilitating multi-stakeholder processes: balancing internal dynamics and institutional politics‘.

Multi-stakeholder processes (MSPs) have been a long term interest of mine, as I really appreciate their contribution to dealing with wicked problems, their focus (conscious or not) on social learning, and the intricate aspects of learning, knowledge management, communication, monitoring and capacity development. Multi-stakeholder processes are a mini-world of agile KM and learning in the making – thus offering a fascinating laboratory while focusing on real-life issues and problems.

What is clearly coming out of experiences around MSPs is that facilitation is required to align or conjugate the divergent interests, competing agendas, differing world views, complimentary capacities and abilities, discourses and behaviours.

In particular I am personally interested to hear more about:

  • How homegrown innovation and facilitation can be stimulated and nurtured for more sustainable collective action movements, especially if the MSP was set up as part of a funded aid project.
  • How the adaptive capacity of a set of stakeholders is being stimulated beyond the direct issue at hand (be it education, competing agendas on natural resources, water and sanitation coverage etc.) or not and how it becomes a conscious objective of these processes.
  • What facilitation methods seem to have worked out and to what extent this was formalised or not.
  • How the facilitation of such complex multi-stakeholder processes was shared among various actors or borne by one actor and with what insights.
  • How individuals and institutions find their role to play and how their orchestration is organised in such complex processes (i.e. is there a place for individual players, how does this address or raise issues of capacities, turnover, ownership, energy, collective action, trust etc.).
  • To what extent – and how – was the facilitation of these processes formally or informally reflected upon as part of monitoring, learning and evaluation or as part of softer process documentation.

This special issue, which is very promising with almost 25 abstracts received in total, should explore these issues in more depth and bring up more fodder for this blog and for exciting work on using social learning to improve research / development. The issue will come out in December 2013 as mentioned. In the meantime, a couple of upcoming events in my work will also touch upon some specific forms of multi-stakeholder processes: innovation platforms.

What else is boiling around this blog? A lot!

Coming up soon: Another couple of KM interviews, some reflections on open knowledge and related topics and perhaps getting to a Prezi as I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of working with it after three years of interruption. Only even more is boiling outside this blog – as this turns out to be the most hectic season at the office these days. More when I get to it the week after next.

Read the December 2013 issue’s call for papers.

Related blog posts:

I WANT (YOU) TO CHANGE! Yes but how?


Change is the elephant in the room, so just deal with it (credits - Dawn Penn on FlickR)

Change is the elephant in the room, so just deal with it (credits – Dawn Penn on FlickR)

There’s a lot written about change, change processes, change management, behaviour change, social change etc.

This week again Chris Collison was wondering about what’s stopping us from putting knowledge into action, or in other words, from knowing to changing.

This is a bit of an attempt to synthesise the pathways to personal (behaviour) change.

What are the stimuli of personal behaviour change? This video by Robert Cialdini about the ‘science of persuasion‘ offers some clues.

But this is not all of it. There are other factors that affect our pathways to behaviour change:

A realisation that we have to change something. It starts with that. No one changes a behaviour without realising the need to do just that (or do we?). A behaviour change can be sparked suddenly, when we are struck by the lightning of obviousness (e.g. “clearly I need to run meetings differently”). It can also be induced by repeated exposure to ‘signals of change’ (e.g. a regular chit-chat with someone you find inspiring). It could also be induced by a willingness to proactively anticipate events that will require us to change sooner or later anyway. In any case, feedback mechanisms bring about that moment when we realise why we have to change, because we see the unsatisfactory results of our current behaviour.

A more detailed understanding of what we have to change or how. From the realisation that ‘business as usual’ is no longer relevant, we need to examine closely what it is that we have to change. Again here we need some kind of feedback mechanisms, induced by others (direct feedback through online or face-to-face conversations), or by our own exploration e.g. finding out, while reading, that we seem to be out of pace with others doing similar things, or through regularly reflecting again, e.g. via after action reviews

A willingness to change. Even if we understand clearly what we want to change, we have to assess whether, deep down, we are bothered to change… At that stage, we are no longer in the cognitive realm, we are immersed in the emotional world. And this is perhaps where the tipping point is. We may have totally irrational reasons to go against a perceived need to change, as is the case with smoking cigarettes, not washing hands… our will has to spring out of comfort and routine. Willingness to change is about the where and when we are ready to change.

A step up to actively effect change. And finally, we may realise, understand and even want to change, but if we don’t take active steps to change, nothing happens. Perhaps this seems unlikely if the three other conditions are met, but the intensity of all these other factors may not be as strong as required to modify our behaviour. We need to take a bold first step to make change happen. The how is the question here, but certainly small steps are more helpful than grand visions at this stage…

The pathways of change are not straightforward. And yet they are pathways because they go through different steps…

The AIDA pyramid

The AIDA pyramid

Somehow, the marketing model of AIDA comes to mind here too:

  • (grab) Attention
  • (stimulate) Interest, usually through information
  • (create) Desire
  • (generate) Action.

This model is usually applied to bringing people to buy products – but changing behaviour could be the product we’re interested in selling here.

If we look in more detail, we can single out finer granularity details explaining what inspires these four steps towards change.

  • Accidents and incidents. Indeed accidents are major game changers. They reverse the order of priorities. Even incidents have that property to let change emerge. This is where the ‘safe-fail’ probes and approaches come in handy.
  • Being connected. The more we are connected to others, and the more diverse those others are, the more we are increasing our chances of getting out of our comfort zone. Bill Taylor says just the same to learn as fast as the world changes.This is why staying for 30 years in the same company reduces our chances of changing – because we are then connected to a very slowly changing network. This is also why social media have incredibly accelerated change. They have massively amplified our feedback loops.
  • Trust. As we are connected, we tend to follow those we trust – and we now know how complex the trust-building process is. Trust is the kind of cement to relationships that is built upon common experience, reliability, ‘authority’ and the ‘liking’ mentioned in the above video. It also relates to reciprocity, boiling down here to “being the change you want to see”. Along the same lines, rather than listen to us, children also watch us and trust our actions, not our words.
  • Previous ‘tickling’ - the ‘consistency’ message that Robert Cialdini mentions in his ‘science of persuasion’ video shown above. Social change itself, in my view, consists of trying to bend the tree. Doing it ever so slightly each time eventually brings major breakthroughs – a typical case of emergence in a complex adaptive system
  • Reflecting, learning and processing emotions. Having a regular practice of  reflexivity and learning - one of the reasons why blogging is so crucial - enhances our sharpness to signals of change. If being connected (see above) keeps us externally astute to signals of change, reflecting, learning and processing emotions keeps us internally astute to them. What might create the tipping point, again particularly emotions.
  • Ownership – We need to be bothered about the issue at hand to change… Otherwise the ‘not invented here‘ NIH syndrome will kick in. “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand”. It is our change that will last, not others. We can undo what others have changed in us, a typical process for people suffering from tyranny.
  • Passion can be a strong driver of learning and change, whether inspired by sheer feeling towards another/others, inspiration given from a person, inspiration for a vision that has been jointly developed etc. Passion however bears the risk of putting us in the group think bias if used blindly collectively (something which Dave Snowden recently blogged about).
  • Whatever it is, the carrot – the WIIFM – matters. If we see an incentive, we (might) go for the change. Our comfort zone is a very gravitational factor. Asking us to go through the trouble of moving out of it necessitates a very clear and obvious value proposition. The WIIFM includes cost-benefit analysis and return on investment (RoI) calculations. The benefit has to outweigh the cost or risk, at least in the longer run – or it might be lesser as a result of a compulsory move from the institutional environment (see below).
WIIFM

WIIFM

  • The stick… the threat or risks that we associate with not changing our behaviour can also be a strong driver of change. The sense of ‘scarcity’ also mentioned in the video is part of this stick.
  • Institutional pressure and biases. We work (certainly as employees) in a world of rules and regulations, of formal and informal incentives and boundaries. Typically, the heavily donor-driven development cooperation sector is an open field for many biases that can game operations and encourage or deter change.
  • Peer pressure. That could be one of the sticks (or the carrots, to conform) that plays out strongly… positively or negatively for the kind of change. If you go against the flow, you are potentially just one more positive deviant.
  • A certain confidence or at least having an idea of how to move forward and of having the capacities – or the courage – to go for it. Sometimes we postpone the actions we should take because we don’t feel confident enough to undertake them. Learning a new skill (using a PC, driving, managing staff) could be an intimidating first step to getting us to the change we want.

There are two major ways that we may face these factors: alone, or socially. Reading and doing things our way could lead us to change. So might conversation(s) and joint action. There was a while back a conversation (open to group members only) on a LinkedIn group about learning alone or socially, by reading or conversing, by codifying or by personalizing. Both approaches are different and can lead to the ‘aha’ moment that will lead to change.

It seems there are a lot of different learning styles out there – and I also blogged about that in the past – which mean there are many pathways to change.

Multiple intelligences & learning styles

Multiple intelligences & learning styles

 

What does it mean for our knowledge and learning work?

So where does this leave us?

A lot of knowledge and communication work is about persuading people to change / adapt their behaviour to be able to learn better for themselves, to get to share what they think/see/feel/like with others, to document their work life, to reflect on what is happening and to collectively stimulate others to do so.

Yet we tend to rely on the same levers to pull and buttons to push all the time. And for everyone. Particularly, we fall prey to believing that sheer information will influence people on their own pathway to change. A lot of research ends up accumulating dust on the shelves without any impact for this very reason.

It’s time to shift our approach and to focus on who we are really dealing with (ourselves, our brains and hearts) and to embark on more realistic, more effective approaches to influence change.

The summary table (below) of the different steps on the pathways to change and the factors that influence these (strongly when bold) might help realise where we need to focus our efforts to change our behaviours or stimulate behaviour changes of others.

ATTENTION: Realisation that we need to change
  • Being connected (to hear the signals for the first time)
  • Trust (to accept that these signals might be valid)
  • Consistency, repetition i.e. ‘previous tickling’
  • Reflexivity / ongoing learning (to realise something is not quite right)
  • Ownership (co-creation of the conditions to understand we need to change)
INFORMATION: Understanding about what we need to change
  • Reflexivity / ongoing learning
  • Observation and reading
  • Being connected (engaging in conversations to gather the facts and drill deeper in the analysis)
DESIRE: Willingness to change
  • WIIFM
  • Ownership
  • Passion
  • Scarcity
  • Trust
  • Being connected (to keep the fire alive)
  • Institutional pressure and biases
  • Perceived risk and other ‘sticks’
ACTION: Stepping up to effecting change
  • Peer pressure
  • Institutional pressure and biases
  • Confidence and capacities (to undertake actions)
  • Carrots and sticks
  • Ownership (certainty of the relevance and of the validity of the vision, whether it brings small but direct benefits quickly or brings greater benefits over time)

In practice, this means that would be well informed to:

  1. Realise where, in the pathway of change, we are (or the person we try to influence is).
  2. Develop strong and rich (diverse) feedback mechanisms.
  3. Work on the appropriate levers and buttons that matter at that stage.
  4. Develop trust with those we want to influence or we believe might influence us positively, to develop strong feedback loops.
  5. Encourage gardening the diversity of our networks to establish rich feedback loops.
  6. Try different approaches for different types of people, based on the trust we have with them and on the kind of cost-benefit and RoI calculations that will form acceptable evidence of the need to change.
  7. Combine a compelling vision of success with small incremental steps that do not feel like we need to change everything in one go or add ever so much more on our (work) plate.
  8. Realise the ‘institutional’ factors (the carrots and sticks, the peer pressure mechanisms) that might influence change too.
  9. As much as possible, co-create our work processes with multiple and diverse parties to bring all of the above together.

The pathways of change are not straightforward, but perhaps that’s for the better: We are all different, and change keeps changing, right?

Related blog posts:

Reducing complexity to a workshop? Wake & step up!


Workshops are just like stepping stones on our sense-making and trust-building pathways (Credits - Xeeliz / FlickR)

Workshops are just like stepping stones on our sense-making and trust-building pathways (Credits – Xeeliz / FlickR)

A short shoot post today. The white screen syndrome is kinda hitting me at the moment. But one thing is coming to mind: the delusion of packing the complexity of multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder, multi-perspective programs into planning activities in a planning workshop of one, two or even three days.

I have recently facilitated a number of workshops (some of them listed here) for initiatives that integrate very different disciplines and arguably worldviews: social science, biophysical science, economics, mixing different fields of expertise in one same agricultural stream.

Almost every time we schedule such planning workshops, the commissioners’ expectations are that we will be able to come up with a neat action plan. This is where the delusion starts.

We can achieve a neat action plan in one workshop:

  • When we have a very good idea of where we want to be
  • When participants know each other very well: their strengths and weaknesses and their capacity to work together
  • When participants share the same language (jargon, concepts and approaches)
  • When the program relating to the workshop is straightforward and not a complex multi-stakeholder program
  • When the group of participants is small (ideally 5 to 10)

If these conditions are not gathered, I doubt that one workshop can really go beyond great conversations – sometimes tense but certainly clarifying discussions – and some very draft ideas of wide streams of activities. We should tone down our expectations.

Workshops are just stepping stones towards a more coherent plan and future; they’re also bridges among worldviews; and they are wonderful opportunities to network or gel teams. That is already extraordinary and certainly most helpful in complex initiatives.

Small is beautiful. Expecting less quantity but more quality should be our guiding aspiration  in (planning) workshops. Spread the word!

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Social media for empowerment – a guide for African climate change workers


The social media guide for African climate change practitioners

The social media guide for African climate change practitioners

After a couple of months of hard collective work on it, and after several other months of to-ing an fro-ing between AfricaAdapt and ILRI, the Social media guide for climate change practitioners in Africa is finally OUT!

  • The final version of the guide as a PDF doc is only 10 pages long (about 2000 words) and an easy reference for anyone not all too sure what social media are and how they can be used for climate change (and other) work.
  • The complete version of the guide, as a wiki, is more comprehensive and is the object of this blog, as it really emphasises ways that social media can empower people, in this case particularly African climate change workers.

Social media can indeed be an incredibly powerful way to mitigate imbalances between groups by pooling resources together – when the wisdom of the crowd turns into the power of the crowd. The case of Africa – which is the focus of the guide – is particularly revealing in climate change and other development work. A lot of development initiatives have pretended to help Africa and to empower its inhabitants, only to further increase the concentration of knowledge and know-how in the strongholds of Northern development goodwill.

Yet, social media are slowly changing this game, offering African entrepreneurs, artists, development workers and creative people from all African walks of life to connect, share ideas, review and assess products and services, question policies and practices together. And indeed some initiatives mentioned in the guide such as Africa Gathering are tapping into the unrivalled opportunities for mobilisation that social media bring about.

A whole section of the guide is dedicated to this particular aspect of African empowerment. A hidden version of this page provides a slightly more elaborated overview of this topic. Some of the work highlighted in this section is borrowed from the excellent IKM-Emergent programme and other initiatives that really intended to let Africans (and other developing country ‘aid recipients’) define their own approach to development.

This is only one of the elements of the guide but an important one for AfricaAdapt and its constituents, but also for many Africans wishing to organise their physical and intellectual livelihood according to their own terms. Some of the initiatives listed in the guide are a testimony of the vibrancy of such indigenous movements making creative uses of social media.

What the social media guide offers, altogether

This social media guide offers a simple ‘how to get started‘ section on what are social media in general and what are some of the most visible ones in particular, but it is principally structured around four main sections, each displaying a selection of key resources that are worth reading to know more about:

  1. The first section looks into what it means to promote African knowledge (about climate change adaptation).
  2. A second section tries to offer very practical advice on how to use social media along the knowledge cycle.
  3. The guide also highlights some doubts that surround social media and offers some constructive ways to address these.
  4. Finally, the guide also looks beyond social media to see how mass media, face-to-face, mobile telephony and the likes can offer very strong complementarities when used with social media.

For further research and resources, the guide also provides a series of useful appendixes.

There are chances this wiki guide continues to be updated in the longer run. If you are interested in this, contact me on this blog or any other social media where you know to find me…

In the meantime, I hope this guide offers you and your network some additional ways to use online connections (mixed with offline ones) to increase freedom of speech, thought and action. That is after all the single most powerful promise that the Internet once held…

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Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words


The other week, I participated in a change management training course at ILRI. Like many organizations, ILRI is currently going through an intense period of change. Perhaps I should say: like most (all?) organizations, ILRI is perpetually going through an intense period of change. But this time, on top of it we are developing a new strategy for the next ten years. A very good moment to look at how we deal with change.

Control change  - perhaps new but still not the right way to deal with change (credits_DaleC_FlickR)

Control change – perhaps new but still not the right way to deal with change (credits_DaleC_FlickR)

So we had a very lively change management session, we discussed the kinds of change we observe at ILRI, how change happens in general, reasons for resistance to change, possible rationales behind change etc. all kinds of very useful slides and ideas which I partly covered in this blog post and others mentioned below. But this post is more about the subtle yet essential difference between facilitating and managing change.

The change management course we went to is inspired by the general CGIAR reform that (helpfully) urges all CG centers like ILRI to cooperate more with other CG centers and with development partners. A very good reform, and the interesting thing is that it is triggered by CGIAR donors – i.e. external actors – who want more bang for the bucks they give. So here we are essentially trying to cope with a change that outsiders hope to bring upon us. But ‘coping with change’ doesn’t sound very serious so we are focusing on ‘managing change’.

That’s where I’m wondering if it’s not worth dimming the management side and amplifying the facilitation side, as in dealing with complexity. Let’s explore this a little more, shall we?

Change management gives the idea that we can (and should?) manage change. In the course we heard change usually happens through external stimuli. So, managing change means managing the consequences of external events. It gives some security to manage that change, to carefully and neatly put it in a box and know that it’s tame… that eternal need for security and certainty which pushes us to manage and control. But there are three interrelated fundamental mistakes in this approach:

A) Managing change gives a false sense of stability and security. Change is not a destination to reach, it’s a voyage to take advantage of. A voyage that will change you and make you better prepared for future changes, perhaps inspire eagerness for more change even. This leads to the second point.

B) Managing change perhaps misses the point of embracing change. It feels like we have to manage it or it will get out of control and bring a disaster. It sounds to me like the man vs. nature argument again – dominate or be dominated. We probably can manage change and put it in a box and we will end up at the desired destination, except that the dynamism, thirst for learning, opportunities to work as a an empowered networked set of teams using change as opportunity for improvement – all aspects posed in this presentation which I featured in my last blog post – will dwindle. Usually all these positive effects of change are squeezed out by the time pressure requiring us to change quickly before the environment catches on with us. Fighting the change, not riding it…

Managing change can lead us to catastrophes... let's think carefully how to surf it

Managing change can lead us to catastrophes… let’s think carefully how to surf it

C) And finally, managing change, with its emphasis on command and control, means that we go down the road of hierarchy, as opposed to the connections between all parts of the system (be it an organisation, network, team etc. going through the change process). Change can lead to great bursts of empowerment for teams and people, which leads them to become more effective. Remember Daniel Pink’s Drive lessons? Autonomy, mastery and purpose are what drives us to go the next mile. Change is a wave and rather than having one person surfing it and telling others to keep their head above the water, it’s better to have more people surfing together and in the same direction, it brings you further.

But back to the externally-imposed reform. The change management that unfolds from such impulses means that we see change as a necessity to survive. Sure. Better late than never, so we might as well wake up and try to survive. But a smarter way would be to see change as a necessity to thrive. To have a proactive take on it.

This is when facilitating change comes in. It’s not about reacting to change but rather anticipating it and surfing on it, dancing with it. making change part of the working factors affecting the system, accepting that it happens and taking advantage of it rather than suffering from it and minimising its consequences. Change can be seen as a way to raise our game and perhaps even change it (remember the double and triple loops of learning?).

Rather than change management, we should perhaps bet on adaptive and proactive management and on facilitating change. In practice this means keeping attuned to perceiving signals, analysing feedback loops and using those signals to mitigate what is not going well or amplify what is going well, turning challenges into opportunities.

Here’s a table summarising some of the key differences between managing and facilitating change:

Managing change Facilitating change
Being run by the change Running the change
Adapting Anticipating
Aiming for the destination Appreciating the voyage
Change leading to new stability and security Change leading to ongoing dynamism and flexibility
Working under time pressure Working with a smart use of time
Imposing solutions Co-creating solutions
Commanding and controlling Empowering
Strengthening central capacities Improving feedback loops and capacities on the edge
Being affected by change Becoming change
Change management Change facilitation and (ongoing) adaptive/proactive management

At the end of the day, it really boils down to going fast alone or going far but together. Except that one attitude is about running behind and the other one is about walking forward, with – if ever so slightly paradoxical - the confidence of uncertainty.

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Through the blissful darkness of ignorance, with concepts-lights at my side


Ignorance is bliss

So they say, and truly I can relate to this saying. Knowing all the details of sordid stories, knowing all the issues that await us when tackling a problem is not always the best guarantee for action. Sometimes it causes the paralysis of fear or concern…

Ignorance is also the mother of curiosity, which gives the greatest push towards learning. So it’s not all that bad to ignore a few things…

The Johari window (from Peter Dorrington's article about "unknown unknowns and risk")

The Johari window (from Peter Dorrington’s article about “unknown unknowns and risk”)

…that is, if you know that you ignore them, and want to do something about them. In the proverbial Johari window, there are a few things that caution tells us we don’t know – the real key to learning evoked above.

But there are also things we don’t know that we don’t know and those are the things that through experimentation, individual and social learning, we will hopefully find out that we don’t know. It’s that little extra information that gives us the depth of details we were not yet aware of – which makes also the difference between the caution of an experienced person and the over-confidence of a lay person.

There are gazillions of things that I do not know of course, but there are also a few concepts that are currently my guiding lights in my own learning experience around the fascinating ‘knowledge realm’ and moving around my own Johari window – hoping I will never end up in a real bad case of amnesia ;)

A few concepts as lights in the knowledge realm

What follows here is a rather mixed bag but these concepts definitely relate to one another and sometimes originate from the same authors or sources…

Knowledge work

To start, ‘knowledge work’ is the mother of all other concepts here, as it relates to the overall umbrella of concepts that relate to learning, knowledge management and communication (in its engaging side, not its messaging tradition – see the happy families of engagement). Knowledge work is quite vague but simultaneously it stresses the importance of knowledge in all its relations. Knowledge work is not (just) about information, it’s not just about management (like some takes on KM), it’s not just about learning, it’s about all these areas of work that contribute to this ‘knowledge era’ we are in, where knowledge, its development, sharing, exploitation and ongoing transformation are seen as assets to give us an edge. This, by the way, is just an observation, not necessarily my opinion: I think the next frontier will be about harnessing the power of feelings and intuition, not just cognition.

Working out loud

I came across this concept only a few months ago in John Stepper’s post ‘Working out loud: your personal content strategy‘ and it has taken my mental world by storm. Working out loud is quite simple: journalling your work and sharing it – but the three words contain a lot of challenges and opportunities of (agile) knowledge management and learning. The simplicity of this concept and its appeal to working in a smarter way are nothing short of genius for us all knowledge workers, seeking ways to get our perspective acknowledged and valued. Working out loud also resonates with my blogging practice and all the great things it has given me - which are echoed and amplified in another author’s blogging experience (see which author in the para below).

Personal knowledge management

This topic is closely related to the former. Working out loud fuels personal knowledge management. But personal knowledge management (PKM) goes also into the personal use of information management: it’s not just about journaling but also about organising our knowledge and learning work. I first became acquainted with this concept on Harold Jarche’s blog.

Personal knowledge management or PKM (credits: Jane Hart)

Personal knowledge management or PKM (credits: Jane Hart)

What I like about this concept is that it is about using structure to free yourself from structure: Personal structure and discipline to use and learn from social networks to subvert hierarchies and other structures imposed from outside. And even if you work for an organisation, PKM is something that your firm should be paying attention to, as a foundation to improve organisational KM and learning… No organisation can hope to thrive at ‘organisational learning’ if its individual employees do not see the value of applying it to their personal needs and aspirations. Long live the age of individualism where it reinforces collective dynamics…

Retrospective and inquisitive coherence

This is a lesser concept perhaps but it is relevant to think about learning and what we think about when looking back at the things we didn’t know before. Analysing a complex chain of events and how they led to a certain result -ex-post- makes so much sense all of a sudden: it is retrospectively coherent. Yet, when first confronted with a complex issue at hand, we often have no idea about the way forward. What is useful here is first and foremost to keep some modesty as to what we know or not; it’s also about embracing complexity to look at the bigger picture – the best bet to pave the ways toward inquisitive (forward-looking) coherence. Retrospective coherence was, I believe, developed by the Welshman Dave Snowden.

Positive deviants

Positive deviance was brought to my knowledge via the excellent IKM-Emergent project (closed now) and the work around disruption of systems. Positive deviants are people who follow a successful – albeit uncommon – behaviour, with usually the result of disrupting the foundations of the environment which they challenge with their atypical approach. In knowledge work, where so much relates to behaviour change, incentives and the systemic dynamics that plays around knowledge initiatives (i.e. the enabling or disabling environment and organisation or set of organisations involved), positive deviance is an enlightening concept to explore new pathways of change through the actions of single agents. Local agents affecting the global system: a true characteristic of a complex adaptive system, which will be one of the objects of my next blog post.

Disruptive technology

Not only people (individual positive deviants) can have a profound ‘change’ effect, technology can also play that role. And indeed social media, smartphones, the internet generally and soon cyborg-type implants and other smart devices are or will be totally transforming our lives. But let’s park the sci-fi fantasy for now and focus on the here and now of. When cynics doubt about the value of social media without having really tried them out, it strikes me that this is a typical Johari window example of not knowing what you don’t know, or perhaps not knowing what you might need next. Ditto with a smartphone: until you have it, you cannot imagine what it can do for you. And to you.  We live in a highly techno-driven world of perpetual evolution. Understanding technology is essential: it allows us to understand how it could give new possibilities for our behaviour, but also to know  how we might or should keep control over that technology. A fine balance… and an illustration of how important this concept of disruptive technology has become.

Cynefin framework

Another invention of Dave Snowden, the Cynefin framework is a five-slot framework to understand in what kind of environment we are – or are facing an issue. It could be either simple, complicated, complex, chaotic or unordered.

The Cynefin Framework - where complexity is but one possibility

The Cynefin Framework – where complexity is but one possibility

This framework has been referred to many times and for good reasons, as it is quite intuitive and has been declined in various renditions. Like any framework it doesn’t hold all the truth and it has been criticised in the past, but this framework makes us think about the interactions and types of learning and action approaches best suited to deal with any issue. I also my reservations about the framework but find it a fascinating tool to keep thinking about complexity in a rather simple way but with wide-reaching and sometimes very complex implications.

Empowered listener

We are part of various online and offline communities. Increasingly so. And we cannot invest as much time as we would like in being active in each of them. But we nonetheless choose to be present in those communities. We decide actively what we are listening to because we think we might gain from it. So we all are lurkers in some communities, or as I recently suggested, ‘empowered listeners’. And I believe this is not a trend that will wane all too quickly.

Agility

This is the last but not the least on this list, as it led me to rebaptise my blog ‘Agile KM for me and you’. Jennifer Sertl recently shared with me her definition of what agility means (see image above). In reaction, Dave Snowden (him again) recently put some words of caution to the agile crowd to avoid the past mistakes of the KM clique – and most likely rightly so. However I like the emphasis of this approach towards a more dynamic approach to learning and knowledge work, which is not just about innovation or just about managing assets or solving today’s problems. It reflects the dynamism of the world we live in and the added imperative to think and act increasingly proactively and reflexively.

With such guiding lights, I surely should be able to quickly highlight many other areas of my own ignorance. Phew! To learning there is really no end – but learning also is bliss…

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