Women, youth, disabled, minorities… learning and sharing with all that we are


Yesterday was International Women’s Day (8 March) – with the theme ‘Inspiring change‘.

Two years ago, on that date, I celebrated the natural inclination of many women toward sharing and learning (as well as caring to share).

Dealing with minorities... (Credits - Snorkel/FlickR)

Dealing with minorities… (Credits – Snorkel/FlickR)

This year, I want to use this occasion to reflect on all the minorities (hey, gender usually comes with equity), recognised as such or not, whether rightly or wrongly – and their capacity to deeply enrich learning and sharing… We all bring to the table some baggage that has not always been positive, but can be used positively to learn, share and inspire…

My wife is collecting life stories of people that deeply affected or inspired her (to be publicly available soon). One of the common traits of all these people is the deep struggle they had in their life, often as members of minorities or during ‘minority moments’ – when they are going against the main current – something I’m sure we can find in the (visual) shape of stories generally. We bear these life wounds in ourselves.

In my case, although we are not talking of any trauma at all, far from it, I have often felt sidelined in my work, misunderstood (the ills of working in knowledge management ha ha). I felt out of place for a very long time, until I found my professional family in KM4Dev. And then of course I was a minority Breton in France, a minority Frenchman in the Netherlands and now in Ethiopia… We all have these feelings of ‘existing without’… out of the mainstream.

Yet, as much as the gay community has appropriated the insults ‘faggot’ and the likes to disarm the words, we can all use our minority identities, moments and pathways to work to our advantage.

Here is a tour of the benefits of these minority moments to learn, share, inspire:

  • Going through such ‘minority experiences’ is the best way to rebound, to find the guts to look at life the way it really is, to reflect deeply on who we are, how different we are from ‘the mainstream’, on where and how we live – according to what principles;
  • It’s also the best way to realise who we live around with and who really matters to us – so it’s a powerful way to deeply engage, make lifelong friendships and relationships of all kinds. So, paradoxically, our minority pathways make us more unique and simultaneously more together, perhaps;
  • Reflecting through our minority pathways helps us gain self-assurance and thus deliver the most of ourselves on our good moments… Richer sharing, stronger learning, better inspiration…
  • The complex environments in which we work require a diversity of perspectives, with generalists as well as specialists, with men as well as women, with youth as well as elderly, with disabled or not disabled people… the more minorities in the mix, the better;
  • All these groups and minorities tend to work in isolation from one another, with their network that is by and large equally disconnected from one another. Bringing up our networks into a social learning approach of sorts helps connect learning communities and conversations;
  • At the same time, it is not only about perspectives and networks but also about skills and capacities that everyone brings to the mix. We all have special powers – combined, we manage to work much more effectively and synergistically;
  • The state of seclusion of the minorities we belong to is a good indication of the progress still to make in a given space – if we want to achieve universal sense-making we have to genuinely include all minorities, all secluded groups.
  • If people with quite a difficult pathway in life manage to make it through life – as is the case in the life stories my wife tells me about – there is all the more case for inspiration, and in many cases these people have managed to make it by learning and sharing with others… so it is inspiration to follow their principles of life… 

And I’m sure many more reasons come into play… the point is: let’s not just celebrate women on 8 March, let’s celebrate diversity and minorities all the time, everywhere, for true transformational social learning is all about bringing people together to learn, share, inspire and kindle change…

I leave you with a quote from Louis CK about minority thinking… which shows there is much left to desire when it comes to thinking, sharing, learning along with all minorities and majorities…

Minority thinking via Louis CK (Credits I.Imgur)

Minority thinking via Louis CK (Credits I.Imgur)

Related blog posts:

Development is CAPACITY (to move all together through learning loops)


Yes: Global development (#globaldev) is glocal capacity – to move from single to triple loop learning, all together…

It just dawned on me in all its patent obviousness as I was running last weekend. Of course it’s more complicated than that, and global development is made of various distinct components:

  • ensuring safer homes,
  • having sustainable water and sanitation services,
  • good road infrastructures,
  • flourishing agriculture,
  • smart education,
  • ever improving livelihoods etc.

Development actors, at all levels and from all horizons, tend to focus on the deliverables related to each of these components, very often in isolation from one another, because it seems to provide the proof of development work, and of course that is important.

But the red thread of global development is really much more about the last two items in the list above: learning to improve one’s options in life. Capacity to make choices and ensure that these choices progressively lead to better choices.

Proverbially, we know it is better to teach how to fish than to fish for someone. Better still is to actually wonder whether fishing is the best idea, or even (moving from single to double to triple loop learning) wonder if thinking about fish and fishing is the best thing to do. We will know that global development has reached its goal when everyone will have reached that state of consciousness – how ideal and idealistic! Fluffy bunny thinking – though useful as a source of inspiration.

The move from MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) to SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) is a testimony to this shift of ‘increased smartness’ away from single loop learning (how to provide better xyz) to double loop learning (is this really enough, what is the goal we are really seeking to achieve?).

When you think about it, global development is meant to help us humans develop our capacity to run through Maslow’s pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs

Maslow's pyramid of needs

Maslow’s pyramid of needs

It is meant to help us get more adaptive, resilient, learning-focused, smart – and caring!

As one can see in so-called ‘developing countries’, global development is just another sector of economy. In so-called ‘developed countries’, it is not called global development but it is just as present in economy and society, echoed in art by people like Pawel Kuczynsky. In some ways, all sectors of an economy and a society are connected to global development, from architecture to industry, from education to foreign affairs, from waste management to intellectual property management. #GlobalDev is the cornerstone of it all, the spider in the web that connects all the active thinking and learning matter of all other sectors. All that makes it whole and better able to run up the Maslowian stairs.

This is why…

Global development is influenced by all efforts at all levels – all attempts at increasing the smartness of individual nodes and increasing their potential to connect with other nodes to form a whole grid of global capacity. So capacity is local, capacity is global, capacity is individual, present among teams, organisational, societal.

And two things matter in global development, for these two conditions to emerge:

Both are very slow processes, building on the development of expertise, building on social learning to accelerate and connect those learning/adaptive capacities (and become a hero) and on developing trust to ease the social learning process - that’s why, arguably, relationships matter more than results in development, because relationships have long-lasting effects on a very complex and slow-moving set of issues.

Interestingly, #globaldev has a whole scary history of failures, because we keep focusing on the wrong things, the what, instead of the why and how, the results instead of the (process) conditions that favour better results.

But these development-focused relationships are well worth investing in, so that eventually our Maslow pyramid is matched by a collective, human pyramid. And that would be a beautiful development to aspire to, wouldn’t you agree?

Monument to human pyramids (Credits: Susan Renee / FlickR)

Monument to human pyramids (Credits: Susan Renee / FlickR)

Related blog posts:

Anatomy of learning: how we (individuals) make sense of information


We talk a lot about PKM – personal knowledge management, i.e. KM for individuals – but as Nick Milton indicated recently, at heart KM is a collective effort; when done well it becomes the effort of social learning.

Where do the two scales (individual – social) really connect?

Let us assume that KM is about conversations, documentation and learning. That’s what I do. My friend Jaap Pels has his own framework (embedded in this program’s theory of change) but it speaks to this foundation very much too.

Jaap Pel's KM Framework

Jaap Pels’s KM Framework

Since I want to build on the equation KM = CDL and want to explore how individual and collective spaces interact, I am starting a journey, here and now, exploring a possible framework (on a series I’ll call ‘Anatomy of learning’) which is progressively shaping up in my mind.

The starting point here is this graph from Jaap and the related set of activities, particularly learning: at a personal level, what do we do about learning?

  • We sometimes focus (we seek, Harold Jarche might say); I’d say we sometimes envision, we sometimes simply seek, we often just stumble upon stuff… But whatever it is, there is a relation between us and different sets of information that we are interested in or engaging with;
  • How do we create that relation and let it develop from there? We read, we chat, we just relate ideas in our head and it makes us realise some connections in information. Contrary, perhaps, to Jaap I’d argue that it’s not just in the conversations that we learn, though conversations are terrific learning teasers. Yet sometimes we just start exploring something with ourselves, on our own – like me on this blog – and the reel of thread starts unfolding little by little;
  • As we make connections we may decide to register these by documenting our thoughts, readings, conversations, to single out patterns and slice through them. Or we simply add these connections to our existing thought system, as updated appendices to our previous insights on the matter;
  • In the process we thus transform our mental pictures, our interests: we codify data into information through our knowledge capacity, either into something that becomes unconscious, something that becomes obvious, something that starts to become apparent (an emerging pattern) or something that just starts puzzling us because we’re early on our journey to get our head around it.

So we end up with a quadrant of insights like this, vaguely relating to the Cynefin framework:

Stuff that starts to become apparentWe need to discuss this further (or do something about it)

Complex domain

Stuff that becomes obviousWe need (us and others) to do something about it as we understand how it works

Complicated domain

Stuff that starts puzzling usWe need to unravel this (alone / together)

Chaotic domain

Stuff that becomes (or adds on to our) unconscious competenceWe don’t need to do anything about it except occasionally update it

Simple domain

Some might think we follow these steps in a linear and ideal manner, but we don’t. Ever. Or only for very short dashes of time. And then our human nature kicks in again, like a Pavlovian reflex rebelling against routine, against what is good vs. what feels good. We return to random. Thank goodness for that. We’re not robots!

But just like practice doesn’t make perfect – purposeful practice does – it takes regular efforts to expand the field of our conscious incompetence (remember this?), and that happens more easily with others at our side, exploring together.

So the next step in this journey will be to look at other scales related to us as individuals – how learning moves from individual to become collective, or event social – something which I’m sure will turn clearer as I delve into Julian Stodd’s book ‘Exploring the world of social learning‘.

In the meantime, any light is welcome as ever :)

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Use PACMAN to beat information overload and fix filter failures!


Dealing with information overload (Credits - Joy of Tech)

Dealing with information overload (Credits – Joy of Tech)

So much information out there! How to keep up with it?

Such filter failures (Clay Shirky would -allegedly- say) in the way we process information bubbles! How can we fix these?

So little time to do so much! Where lies our salvation from the digital flood?

People around me are constantly grappling with this: my researcher colleagues say they wouldn’t use new platforms and channels (they’re struggling with existing ones as is), my family wonders how I manage to engage on social media (beyond the obvious Friend&Family-focused Facebook), my friends mostly don’t really know about my info-flow-survival tricks…  All of this led me recently to wonder if only dedicated knowledge workers are able to strike a balance with information flow, between fast pace and slow space.

My mantra to keep the head above the info water is: PACMAN. Or rather PACMan: Plan-Act-Capture-Manage. PACMan helps you eat information nuggets all along the way and keep going happily, while fixing filter failures letting phantoms through. It has a lot to do with personal knowledge management (PKM) so perhaps it should be called PaKMan ;)

What does PACMan entail?

Plan

One of the main reasons why we don’t manage to find the time to read all the relevant information there is, is that we don’t plan for it properly. Typically our (lack of) planning is lousy because:

Plan openly, adapt relentlessly (credits: BlogWestinteractive / FlickR)

Plan openly, adapt relentlessly (credits: BlogWestinteractive / FlickR)

  • We usually don’t plan! We don’t set goals, which would give us direction and, very importantly, give us energy when we complete them;
  • As a result we don’t manage to channel energy and time to activities that fall off our crisis-mode (like Alice’s eternally late rabbit), such as reading interesting stuff;
  • When we DO plan, we over-plan. We put too much on our fork. And by the same token we ignore what we unconsciously sense (and know from experience): reality -usually- does NOT follow the plan. We need to keep our plans flexible. I’d say keep 20-25% of your plans open to allow spontaneity and serendipity (remember pinballs and bulldozers);
  • We’re usually lousy at saying ‘no‘ to more work; perhaps because it’s interesting but it still means we’re constantly pushing our multitasking limits (when some say multitasking doesn’t actually work), reinforcing this crisis dynamics… We just have to say no to too much work! It’s the only way to maintain focus, quality, energy and inspiration…
  • Oh, and we typically forget to plan holidays. Fatal mistake, as no one else will do that for you ;)

Turn these planning mistakes on their head, forget about perpetual fire-fighting and enjoy the luxury of quality time, for reading and otherwise.

What I do (among others): I plan on a weekly basis, keep one day entirely free, maintain manageable daily objectives and accommodate the unknown by pushing things back to when I have free time available. My reading time is early and late in the day, at the edges of a working day, when I have a break and if I need to read a specific document, I include that in my plan. Ticking off my to-do’s gives me joy and a sense of achievement, while I can still open any unknown along the way – ideal! Ha – and saying no and planning holidays were the two surviving skills I learnt with my previous employer IRC – just try it!

Act

…on the spot! I already covered dealing with email overflow - a lot of that advice applies to other information sources. Act is about avoiding future problems. It’s about finding heuristics that work for you (e.g. do, delegate or dump), but doing it in the moment, as it happens. Act according to your plans, act on capturing (see next point) when the opportunity presents itself, act on what you observe and feel, act rather than just think. Seize the moment to read, use your ‘dead time’ and combine opportunities to do reading (to serve another purpose) if that makes your life easier.

Try and stick to the plans when it makes sense, don’t dilute your focus. Keep zen habits… Though when a good opportunity presents itself to absorb that information in a slow, qualitative kind of way, just seize it, it might be your best chance in a while. It’s about being in the moment and honing the wisdom of insecurity.

What I do: I execute my plans, I regularly read stuff and when I see something valuable I share and/or save it on the spot. And a whole lot more which I guess I should unpack in a future post… 

Capture

Managing information flow is also about deferring / staging the time to absorb that information – and indeed fixing filter failures.

Staging the consumption of information means that you not only plan time to that kind of quality reading, but you can also save information for later consumption (and easy sharing). Like recording a program you don’t have the time to watch at the moment. Social bookmarking helps you do just that (see this video about social bookmarking).

RSS feeds are also a great way to differ your information consumption. What are RSS feeds? See the video below. What’s great about it is that they capture information for you – ready to be read any time – in one convenient place, like your personal, customised newspaper.

Fixing filter failures is itself about leveraging the combined filtering power of your personal learning network (PLN). Invest in your PLN, on all social media/networks you’re using; prune those networks, remove the people that you don’t really engage with or benefit from, act as the constant knowledge gardener. If well maintained, your PLN will help you find the cream of the content crop, by retweeting/saving/blogging about/referring to/sharing these great resources – something that Twitter does particularly well but other platforms too.

What I do: I’ve been using Del.icio.us for a while to bookmark resources that I have found interesting – or that look interesting. Sometimes I don’t come back to those. Most of the time I do, at some point, use these resources. Favourites in specific collections such as FlickRSlideshare etc. also provide similar features. I use those two, Pinterest for graphs and funny pictures (that are not mine), Instagram to store touched up pix taken with my phone, TumblR to keep track of fragments of conversations and blogging ideas etc. – I collect stuff on the spot. And I check RSS feeds (via Feed.ly) on my phone or over the weekend + a very quick check some mornings, possibly reading whatever incredible stuff appeared in my stream.

Manage

At some point it really helps to manage and curate your content: organise your tags/keywords to make sure you collect your resources around consistent references, bundle important references on specific channels, analyse your resources and blog about it. Robin Good recently shared this excellent resource on good (and new) curation tools and practices which will give you a lot of great ideas to curate relevant content.

What is content curation? (Credits - Webbythoughts)

What is content curation? (Credits – Webbythoughts)

Managing also covers learning – analysing the content and reflecting on your planning, acting, collection and curation practices. It can be part of planning, it can be done on a daily or weekly basis but it needs to be done regularly to adjust. The bad news: it will take you a while to get on top of your content collections and information flows. But once you do and you have properly managed and are regularly curating them, your practice becomes an unconscious competence: you just do it without noticing, so it doesn’t (feel like it may) take time.

What I do: I recently reviewed all my Del.icio.us, tags removed all duplicates etc. it took me half a day but it is now so easy to save a new resource (without wondering which tag I should be using) and to retrieve any of them later… I regularly save pictures aside and put them on Pinterest and FlickR to keep them in sets/collections. I also analyse my own (and other) content I ‘take stock‘ of important topics on this blog. I use my blog for many different purposes, including reflecting on my information management practices, it’s a powerful way to surface deeper issues and structure solutions for me. When I have more time I review how I use my collections such as Pinterest, RSS feeds. However I don’t reflect enough – every day – about what I could improve or why things didn’t go as intended.

So what now?

With PACMan you should now be able to stay on top of your information flows and progressively handle more and more of it – if you so wish – or balance the time you absorb information with other personal priorities of yours. Oh sure it will take some time but you no longer will be part of the people who feel constantly overwhelmed with information…

And that’s agile PKM for you ;)

Related blog posts:

Communication for development, KM and blurred boundaries: an interview with Michael Victor


In December 2013, a couple of very interesting workshops took place on the ILRI Ethiopia campus around the topic of knowledge management and communication. On that occasion, I interviewed Michael Victor, communication ‘Comms’ and KM coordinator for the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) and for the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems. 

Michael Victor, Communication and Knowledge Management coordinator for the Challenge Program for Water and Food (Credits: Ewen Le Borgne/ILRI)

Michael Victor, Communication and Knowledge Management coordinator for the Challenge Program for Water and Food (Credits: Ewen Le Borgne/ILRI)

Having been involved in the Nile Basin’s share of the CPWF experience with research for development, I had heard of the concept of ‘blurred boundaries’ that seem to be at the heart of comms and KM in that program, and Michael is one of the proponents of this approach. Here he explains what is meant with it, what his interest in KM is all about and how he sees the field evolve…

  • Blurred boundaries between KM, communication etc. what is it all about?

It’s that

It’s with these system-based learning approaches (knowledge sharing, information management, communication, monitoring and evaluation etc.) that you see learning blurring all connections. You have specific disciplines but you no longer have a database manager, a librarian and a writer. Now the IM/Comms field is a lot more blurred. It’s about getting knowledge at the right time to the right people to make the right decisions. I don’t even understand the difference between comms and uptake.

However there’s real resistance to see these fields get interlinked and to see them support programmatic or external change. And you still need specialists but they should all be working together.

  • What trends are you observing in comms/KM in the development world (or any closer arena)?

Moving from service orientation (corporate) to much more outcome-oriented focus. Also moving from a support.administrative function to a strategic one.

With all the social media we’ve been spewing, I think we’ll see more targeted approaches. We’ve lost the whole connection with national systems and with national comms/KM conduits. We forget that our next users will be the national level users which are not using all these online channels all that much.

  • What is your personal interest in the field of KM – now?

My personal interest is communication for development (comms4dev) and policy communication  i.e. finding ways that we use comms/KM approaches, tools, products, processes, networks (informal or formal) to get research into use and people to get engaged in the research process, using the knowledge from the research in a certain way and get research to be more relevant, better informed etc.

The trick is to trap people to get interested in research but there’s another loop to use people to influence the way research is done.

I’m also kinda interested in this innovation systems and learning to make it practical. It’s still very airy fairy but it sounds very powerful – the question is: “how to get it into use”?

  • What are your sources of inspiration in KM/C?

By talking with people, learning. I don’t think I’m an active learner (e.g. on social networks) but I’m engaging with people. The inspiration for me, overall, was my community forestry experience, learning about Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), understanding that what we’re dealing with is not a technological change but a social movement, getting people more involved and to take over, not just “be developed”. There’s a couple of people that really inspired me: Cor Veer, John Raintree..

Learning-blind development (aid) and the missed opportunities for a real difference


Failure's freeway, the road followed by most development initiatives, occasionally dimmed by learning though (Credits: StormKatt / FlickR)

Failure’s freeway, the road followed by most development initiatives, occasionally dimmed by learning though (Credits: StormKatt / FlickR)

The global development sector is a learning universe, a space of experimentation and failures. One can read this positively – as in “a lot of learning is happening in it” – or negatively – as in “a lot has to be learned still and so much effort goes to waste”. Are we blind to learning in development (aid)?

Thing is: this situation is totally systemic. And since we only realise now how all aspects of development are connected (e.g. roads and other infrastructures allow better access to market; access to water allows improvement on agriculture and further down the line education etc.) there has been indeed a lot of wasted resource reinventing the wheel in development (aid) which could have been used differently.

At a moment when the public scrutiny towards spending on development aid is ever more alert and leads to budget cuts (which is a good thing since it forces everyone to cooperate for scarcer resources), the imperative for learning has never been more important than now – something which is fortunately happening, somehow, even between regions (as e.g. between Africa and the Pacific).

But a lot remains to be done still. It is not always obvious how learning can really improve development (aid), and the costs of learning (i.e. the investment in it – and I’ll come back to this in a later post) can seem much steeper than the benefits. But the cost of not learning is quite obvious.

So now, let’s look at a typically bad – and alas too frequent – development (research) project and its missed opportunities for learning; and let’s compare this with an ideal project which pays much attention to learning throughout:

What happens too often with typical / bad development projects

What ideal (learning-focused) development initiatives would look like

Preparation

It usually has overloaded ambitions in an unreasonably short project period (it’s not realistic and not designed in the light of previous experiences) Upfront, there have been extensive consultations with key parties – current and future partners – to determine the agenda and the ideal duration of the initiative. Literature research and scoping past experiences is also instrumental in building upon the legacy for this new initiative

Initial phases

The new project or program is meant to start delivering almost as it starts – no consideration has been paid for the time it takes to build meaning, trust and abilities The new initiative spends considerable time (a flexible inception period) collecting insights to refine and work further on ownership, capacities relationships and better plans
The project only addresses the ‘what has to be done’ and assumes that the people involved can just get on with it

Initial briefing is only about what the project aims to achieve, its organogram and reporting lines etc. all bureaucratic information

Much consideration goes into ‘Why are we doing this’ as well as ‘how are we going to handle it’ and ‘do we have the right capacities or should we invest in our capacities or in extra capacity?’

Initial briefing has therefore taken stock of the capacity gaps among staff and partners and addresses simple things like working with Word/Excel, social media etc. a s well as concepts that matter for the initiative – so the why and how

Who’s driving the project

External parties are driving the whole agenda and exploring new (thematic and geographic) areas Endogenous parties (and perspectives) are in the driving seat and have been selected for their mandate and capacity, network and other assets to sustain the initiative in the context(s) of the initiative- all of this is known because there has been proper reflection and consultation with them at the onset
A small team organises all activities for everybody. Occasionally some ad hoc team meetings are held which help the central team pass on information to everyone else A small team facilitates the implementation by other teams. It puts emphasis on holding regular team meetings where real two-way conversations are held, with proper documentation of key discussion points and jointly agreed decisions

Running activities and events

Activities are implemented by a small team working in isolation from other teams – they’re too busy ‘fire fighting’ to share anything with anyone else Every opportunity is seized to see if there is sense in following a social learning approach, putting the emphasis on ‘genuine’ participation. And the teams take time to find alternative solutions if they see that they end up ‘fire fighting’ all the time.
Activities are following the plans because the plans dictate what has to be done according to donors, when they granted the money. Activities are following the outcome logic and theory of change but they are regularly revised along the way, in line with changes – and that has been agreed with donors as the latter rather focus on a more effective yet deviated initiative than a useless original plan
Events organised during the project are scarce and when they happen they consist in death-by-Powerpoint executions, are ill-documented and quickly forgotten about – everyone sticks back to ‘business as usual’

There is particularly a ‘big bang’ kick-off event with lots of money and the presence of national media, followed sometimes only by a major closing event. Nothing much in between

The initiative is all about learning and engagement therefore it offers many opportunities and contextual events for the people involved to come together, reflect, ask questions, take decisions, follow up with actions, revise activities and plans

Engagement means that there is constant interaction with key influencers and movers, not just at the onset and sunset. All events that take place are properly facilitated to ensure learning is maximised – and well documented in accessible and compelling formats for future reference and action monitoring

Involvement and engagement

Working with partners at this stage means that partners do some activities either on their own but with very close ‘big brother-like’ supervision or totally separated from the rest of the project. The interaction relates to executing a plan and reporting about it – all that matters are the results. Partnership for the project staff means ‘more reports, more work, fewer results’ Working with partners builds upon the trust from the pre-project and early stages. Everyone shares insights, regularly engages in a joint analysis and it means a lot of opportunities to do things differently, to do different things, to learn differently (three learning loops) and to develop everyone’s capacity – a good set of assets for future initiatives too! Partnerships here means more ideas, more capacity, more energy, better quality learning, better results, better relationships: SYNERGY!
When conducting ‘field activities’, local community members are invited to respond to a (sometimes excruciatingly long) predefined questionnaire. They may never see the results of this. But it’s ok, since they’re project beneficiaries, they will benefit in a way or another, won’t they (it’s just not very clear how ;) ) Field activities are guided by a certain ethics of engagement, are participatory in design and in practice, are developed jointly with the locals involved and results are therefore automatically shared, visions for the future elaborated collectively and plans adjusted together, starting from different world views
High level engagement consists in developing a few outputs at the end of the project and sending them to a mixed group of important decision-makers, hoping they will read and apply these High level engagement – which also contributes to leading to development outcomes – means that cherry-picked decision-makers have been involved in the process from the start, own the process and results (perhaps they have been involved in action-research themselves) and become the best advocates of the initiative’s work themselves
People involved in the project feel isolated and detached from the project and from each other. They don’t look critically at options to improve the situation for themselves and the whole group People in the project feel energised, involved, concerned, motivated. They all apply ‘personal knowledge management’ (PKM) to some extent so they personally improve and they connect their personal sphere and network with the initiative to question and improve it and to sharpen critical thinking. They are encouraged to reflect on their own as well as collectively

Capacity development

After the initial briefing, if there is any capacity development activity it is training, conducted by external trainers, to address general skills, not specific contextual issues that the project people are effectively facing. And that is, again, if there is anything planned to address capacity gaps. Everyone’s capacity is positively monitored (followed) and leads to several activities along the initiative, moving training from the theoretical terrain to the workplace experience and moving from just training to a whole set of capacity development activities (coaching, exchange visits, involving people in communities of practice etc.) focusing generally on improving the institutional capacity for change

Communication and outputs

The website and other communication channels are mostly unidirectional (‘here’s what we have to say to you’) and not well connectedStaff and partners deplore that so little communication is taking place - but they’re not doing much to change this The different communication channels are interrelated, engaging (they feature dialogues, consultations etc.) and although they look slightly messier perhaps, they are echoing and amplifying what the initiative is trying to accomplish, through multiple engagement routes

Everyone contributes to communication efforts

The outputs developed by the project are released at the end of the project and without much passion – more like ‘according to plan’ – and are not really informing other activities. Occasionally they are being promoted on e.g. the website, as standalone ‘results’ A variety of outputs are released throughout the project (away from dotty dotted communication), mirroring the different reflections, conversations and actions that have taken place by different people at different times and locations, about the thematic content focus of the initiative as well as about the process leading to its development. They are connected, refer to each other, and crucially are used (both content and output development process) for further engagement, reflection and action by the parties that are supposed to use them as opportunities and levers of change

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation boils down to the bare minimum reporting. It is centralised but requires partners and outputs to provide a lot (random?) facts without background information as to why that matters. No one knows what happens to those M&E reports anyway. Probably they’re never read M&E organically addresses accountability, in an ongoing dialogue with the donor, but it also addresses learning needs to identify and address systemic gaps around the initiative’s objectives (and inform future initiatives). Everyone contributes to M&E although in practice M&E and project requirements are often the same because they have been integrated at the onset. Reports are just the (process) documentation of the conversations that happen in the initiative

What happens at the end of the project

The final project report is a sort of ‘annual report’ with some results but little passion and curiosity. It is only shared with the donor (Annual reports are an excellent measure of learning in organisations by the way)

Too bad, the website will never be updated – some people might think the project is still going on (luckily that horrible project is finally over though!)

The final project output is an interactive set of multimedia resources addressing different audiences, providing practical tools and guidance on approaches, in a variety of formats, distributed to all parties involved in the initiative, backed by an interactive event that looks forward and builds on previous conversations about this. All communication channels are also geared for that ‘post-initiative’ stage.
At the end of the project, it remains unclear what will happen with the people involved (staff, partners, beneficiaries), with the outputs (where will they be made accessible) and with the lessons that were gathered from the project – but at that stage, is there anything that should be saved from that horrible project, if not lessons about doing things differently next time? At the end of the initiative, a lot of options are on the table because there has been a thorough conversation throughout about sustainability, exit strategies etc. so everyone knows what they can do and have activated their networks to make it happen.

The initiative’s outputs are all openly accessible in a sustainable database and the many many lessons from this initiative have informed activities by many parties involved for future work – institutional memory across projects is taken care of.

Learning and sharing - the essence of smart development work

Learning and sharing – the essence of smart development work

It’s always dangerous to use such caricatures as it lends to think that it might refer to reality. It does not, of course, and a lot of development initiatives are somewhere on a continuum between situation A (the horrible project) and situation B (the ideal learning initiative), but clearly there are many opportunities for learning in development, so let’s focus on what’s being learned and use it to learn even more, rather than despair at all that is there to learn yet while ignoring the legacy from the past… 

Echoing, here, the man of the month (year, decade, century?):

Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again (Nelson Mandela).

Does this assessment ring a bell? Does it resonate with your experience of what is happening with development aid or not? What other options do you see?

Related blog posts:

La gestion des connaissances au Burkina Faso, interview avec une pionnière : Jocelyne Yennenga Kompaoré


(English version at the bottom)

Jocelyne Yennenga Kompaore, KM pioneer (Credits: Performances)

Jocelyne Yennenga Kompaore, KM pioneer (Credits: Performances)

De passage à Ouagadougou en septembre dernier j’ai visité mon amie et consœur de KM4Dev et SA-GE, Jocelyne Yennenga Kompaoré, directrice fondatrice de l’atelier Performances. Pionnière de la gestion des connaissances dans le « pays des hommes intègres » (Burkina Faso), Yennenga a accepté cette interview dans laquelle elle revient sur son choix de ce domaine, les tendances qu’elle observe et ce qu’elle conseillerait à d’autres entrepreneurs emboitant ses pas.

Ewen Le Borgne (ELB) : Yennenga, comment définirais-tu la gestion des connaissances ?

Jocelyne Yennenga Kompaoré (JYK) : Gérer les connaissances c’est avoir un certain nombre de réflexes, c’est aussi mettre en place une certaine organisation en interne afin de ne pas éparpiller, gaspiller, perdre les connaissances que l’on acquiert soit par l’expérience, soit par des échanges avec d’autres personne ou tout autre mode d’acquisition du savoir. La gestion des connaissances, c’est un ensemble de décision et d’actions que l’on peut prendre et entreprendre une fois que l’on a répondu à ces deux questions : (1) de quelles connaissances ai-je besoin dans le cadre de mon travail ? (2) Qu’est-ce que j’ai appris par mon expérience que je peux transmettre, partager avec d’autres personnes ?

(ELB) : Pourquoi as-tu choisi le domaine de la gestion des connaissances et comment as-tu démarré dans ce domaine ?

(JYK) : Le terme ‘gestion des connaissances’ m’est venu après la rencontre KM4Dev de Bruxelles en 2009. Je menais déjà des activités de prestation dans ce domaine et j’inventais puis testais des méthodologies et différents process sans pouvoir mettre un nom à mes prestations. En fait, c’était assez embarrassant, car je me sentais à part. Dans mon environnement, on avait tendance à m’associer aux agences de communication, ce que Performances n’est pas. C’est donc pendant la rencontre KM4DEV que j’ai découvert l’expression gestion des connaissances et je me suis presque exclamée : voilà ! C’est ce que je fais !

Mes premiers pas dans la gestion des connaissances remontent à 2000.  J’ai été recrutée dans une ONG dans l’est du pays, où j’ai travaillé pendant trois ans pour capitaliser les expériences d’organisations paysannes ; je travaillais avec les leaders de ces organisations pour retranscrire ces expériences et voir comment on pouvait l’écrire de manière optimale. Mon travail consistait en grande partie à faire des interviews, à les retranscrire, à analyser ces retranscriptions pour en extraire ce que je pouvais et les ré écrire de façon attrayante afin de les partager avec le maximum d’organisations paysannes. On part avec un mot, un thème, et on atterrit avec un livre, une vidéo, une émission radio. C’est un processus concret de fabrication de produits transmissibles.

Mon premier thème de travail c’était la gestion dans les organisations paysannes. Très surprenant pour quelqu’un (moi) qui ne s’y connaissais pas spécialement en gestion. Mais à la fin du processus, mon évolution dans la connaissance de ce thème était spectaculaire. Au-delà des produits, les méthodologies sont très importantes.

(ELB) : Observes-tu des tendances dans la gestion des connaissances au Burkina Faso ?

(JYK) : Aujourd’hui l’expression gestion des connaissances commencent à faire son entrée dans le vocabulaire des organisations. Même si on ne voit que certains aspects, comme la capitalisation d’expérience, concept beaucoup plus courant par ici et qui a quelque peu détrôné celui de « suivi-évaluation ». Mais c’est déjà une grande évolution qui montre que l’on commence à accorder de l’importance au savoir local. L’impact étant que de plus en plus d’organisation prévoient une rubrique « capitalisation » dans leur budget. Je pense avoir contribué à cet état de fait, juste par le fait de l’existence de l’atelier Performances et la sensibilisation que j’ai faite auprès des organisations paysannes et de leurs leaders. Je leur dis : « vous pouvez introduire la capitalisations de vos expériences dans vos programmes. Là au moins, vous pouvez démarrer sans partenaires financiers ! Commencer par dresser une carte de vos savoirs et prioriser les thèmes sur lesquels vous estimer que vous avez quelque chose à partager. Je peux vous y aider ».

Une autre tendance – et c’est peut-être dommage – c’est que la capitalisation a tendance à avoir lieu à la fin des projets. Je conseille de ne pas attendre la fin et de s’y mettre dès le démarrage pour pouvoir conserver le maximum du cheminement.

(ELB) : Qu’est-ce-que tu aimerais vraiment faire si ça ne tenait qu’à toi ?

(JYK) : Je voudrais développer l’édition, la diffusion. Quand on arrive au document, souvent les finances ne suivent plus. Je voudrais mettre en place un système de diffusion et de production. Par ailleurs, la transmission est essentielle pour moi car je suis consciente, que toute seule ma capacité de production restera faible quel que soit mon expertise. Je ne serai satisfaite que quand j’aurais réussis à former une « masse » importante de ressources humaines locales dans la sous-région. La mise en place d’un système efficace de formation est un de mes grands chantiers du moment.

 

(ELB) : Que conseillerais-tu à d’autres entrepreneurs qui veulent se lancer dans la gestion des connaissances au Burkina Faso ou dans la sous-région ?

(JYK) : Ne pas être trop ambitieux et perfectionniste ! Avoir le courage de commencer car l’apprentissage se fait sur la route et s’inspirer un peu de l’expérience de ceux qui ont de l’expérience en la matière. Je suis toujours très disposée à partager mon expérience avec ceux qui la respectent, qui lui accordent de la valeur et donc un prix. J’ai aussi développé un concept que j’appelle “STRATE-JYK”. Dans ce cadre j’ai rédigé des “fiches stratejyk” où je raconte mon expérience en création et gestion d’une petite entreprise.

(ELB) : Quelles sont tes sources d’inspiration dans ton travail et dans ta vie ?

(JYK) :  KM4Dev est une source d’inspiration très riche.

Je suis moins mystifiée par la connaissance des autres qu’avant. Je travaille à valoriser ma propre connaissance. Ça décomplexe, ça libère. On n’est plus éternel demandeur, on peut aussi proposer son offre.

J’essaie d’avoir des moments de bureau et des moments de terrain. Je réfléchis beaucoup aux méthodologies. Je peux passer plusieurs années à réfléchir et à tester pour pouvoir en fin de compte, standardiser. Je travaille comme un artisan mais j’ai des ambitions d’industriels. J’ai besoin d’expérimenter avant de mettre « sur le marché ». J’aime travailler de façon professionnelle. Je me paye le luxe de prendre le temps pour faire les choses ; quand c’est possible !

Certaines personnes me reprochent de ne pas être assez visible. J’assume cette politique de discrétion, qui du reste n’est que le reflet de ma personnalité. Et puis, le fait est que mon action, bien qu’étant encore à petite échelle est quand même connue et reconnue. Comme quoi, la meilleure communication n’est pas toujours celle que l’on fait soi-même ! Je ne suis pas un « réseaux sociaux  addict ». Les effets de mode en matière de NTIC, sont certes une grande opportunité, mais je suis très sélective et je ne prends que ce dont j’ai besoin au moment où je me sens prête. Je recherche un impact consistant et durable sur le long terme. Le challenge c’est de pouvoir vivre correctement au jour le jour, et là, on est bien sur du très court terme ! Sourire.

Bref, faire comme les autres, de façon systématique, non. Etre moi-même et ne pas perdre de vue mon objectif, c’est ce qui inspire mes décisions et mes actes, au risque parfois de ne pas être comprise.

Pour moi, la connaissance c’est ce qui nous rend autonomes. Tout ce qui me permet d’être autonome dans la vie c’est de la connaissance. Le reste, c’est du blabla.

(English version – translation by myself so not quite as the original version in French)

JYK, moving for development (Credits: Performances)

JYK, moving for development (Credits: Performances)

While in Ouagadougou last September I visited my friend and KM4Dev/SA-GE peer Jocelyne Yennenga Kompaoré, founder and director of consultancy firm Performances and an Ashoka fellow. A knowledge management pioneer in Burkina Faso, Yennenga accepted to give this interview where she explains how she ended up choosing this field of activity, the trends she has witnessed and what she would advise other KM entrepreneurs wishing to follow her footsteps. 

Ewen Le Borgne (ELB) : Yennenga, how would you define ‘knowledge management’?

Jocelyne Yennenga Kompaoré (JYK) : Knowledge management is about a set of reflexes, about organising things internally to avoid scattering, wasting and losing knowledge that we acquire through experience or exchange with other people. It is about the decisions and actions that one can take and undertake after addressing the questions: (1) What knowledge do I need for my work? (2) What have I learned from experience that I can share with other people?

(ELB) : Why have you chosen to work on knowledge management and how did you get started in that field?

(JYK) : The term ‘knowledge management became familiar to me after the KM4Dev annual meeting of 2009 in Brussels. I was already providing services in that domain before, and I was inventing and testing different methodologies and processes but I didn’t know what to call my domain of work. Actually it was embarrassing because I felt I didn’t fit anywhere. In my environment, people tended to associate me with communication agencies, which Performances is not. During the KM4Dev gathering I discovered knowledge management and it dawned on me that ‘This is what I do!’

My first steps in knowledge management go back to 2000. I was then recruited by an NGO based in Eastern Burkina Faso where I worked for three years to capitalise on the experiences of farmer organisations. I was working with the leaders of those organisations leaders to document these experiences and see how we could write about them most effectively. My work consisted in conducting interviews, transcribing them, analysing those transcriptions and extracting what I could to rewrite them in a compelling way so as to share these experiences with as many farmer organisations as possible. This kind of work starts with a word, a theme and eventually you land a book, a video, a radio broadcast. It’s a very concrete process of creating products that can be shared.

The first theme I worked on was the management of farmer organisations, which was quite surprising, considering I was not really a specialist in management. At the end of the process though, my understanding of it had changed spectacularly. Beyond products, methodologies are very important indeed.

(ELB) : Do you witness certain trends in knowledge management in Burkina Faso?

(JYK) : Today knowledge management (‘Gestion des connaissances’) is slowly becoming part of organisations’ discourse, even though we only see certain aspects of it, such as ‘capitalisation des expériences’ – a concept which is familiar to many more people here and has overtaken ‘monitoring and evaluation’. This is a major shift which shows that people increasingly recognise of the importance of local knowledge. The impact of this is that more and more organisations are considering ‘capitalisation’ activities in their budget. I think I have contributed to this with Performances and the sensitisation work I’ve carried out among farmer organisations and their leaders. I tell them: “You can introduce the capitalisation of your experiences in your programs. There, at least you don’t need financial partners! Start by mapping out your knowledge and prioritising the themes around which you think you have something valuable to share. I can help you with that”.

Another trend, and it’s perhaps a pity, is that capitalisation tends to happen at the end of projects. I always advise not to wait until the end of a project and rather get it going from the onset to be able to capitalise experiences optimally along the way.

 

(ELB) : What would you like to be doing, ideally?

(JYK) : I would like to focus on publishing and diffusion/dissemination. When it comes to developing outputs, funding is often scarce. I would like to set up a production and dissemination system. Sharing is essential for me as I am fully aware that my production capacity remains weak whatever my expertise is. I will be happy when I reach a critical mass of human resources in the region (West Africa). Setting up an effective capacity development system is one of the main endeavours I see ahead of me.

 

(ELB) : What would you advise other entrepreneurs wishing to start working on knowledge management in Burkina Faso and the region?

(JYK) : Not to be too ambitious or perfectionist! Just dare beginning because learning happens along the way and follow inspiration from those who are a little more experienced. I am always keen on sharing my experience with those who respect and value it. I have developed a concept I call ‘STRATE-JYK’, around which I have written ‘stratejyk lists’ (‘fiches stratejyk’) telling my experience in creating and managing a small company.

(ELB) : What/who are your sources of inspiration in your work and your life?

(JYK) :  KM4Dev is a very rich source of inspiration.

I am somewhat less mystified by other peoples’ knowledge than I used to be. I am working on my own knowledge and it is liberating: I am no longer just asking for support, I can also offer some.

I try to mix office and field. I reflect a lot about methodologies. I can spend many years thinking and testing so as to, eventually, move on to standardisation. I work as a craftsman though I have industrial ambitions. I need to experiment, test and try out before bringing something to the market. I like to work in a professional manner. I enjoy the luxury of taking some time to try things out – whenever I can!

Some people tell me I am not visible enough but I have no problem with that level of discretion, which actually reflects my personality. Anyway my work is – however small scale – known and recognised. The best kind of promotion doesn’t always come from oneself after all! I am no ‘social network addict’. ICT fads certainly offer great opportunities but I am very selective and only borrow what I need at a given moment and when I feel ready for it. I seek sustainable impact. The challenge lies in living well day in day out and here we’re obviously in the short term! :)

So… I’m not one to follow what others are doing, systematically. Being myself and not losing my objective is what inspires my decisions and actions, sometimes bearing the risk of being misunderstood.

Knowledge is what makes us autonomous. Everything and anything that allows us to be autonomous in life is knowledge. The rest is hot air.

Related blog posts:

At the edges of knowledge work, the new beacons of ever-sharper collective intelligence


Modern knowledge workers don’t really exist. Not with all the highly desirable features we may want them to have. But breaking down what such a super human should do into distinct functions could be a good start to training us all at becoming better knowledge workers. I noted a few of these functions in the profile of a modern knowledge worker such as documenting conversations, filtering information etc. Yet these functions are dynamic and reinvent themselves, and new ones appear.

What are the next knowledge work super-hero functions? (credits - Photonquantique / FlickR)

What are the next knowledge work super-hero functions? (credits – Photonquantique / FlickR)

These new functions are partly addressed already by agile knowledge workers, but perhaps not always with enough intent and consistency. While we may not recognise the following functions, they may become increasingly pertinent in the modern knowledge era, with the intention of mobilising collective knowledge as best we can, particularly around events (online or offline) that bring people to strike rich conversations:

Ex-post sense-maker 

An event that is documented properly leads to rich notes on e.g. a wiki, a Google document, a written report (or otherwise). This is great: anyone participant in such conversations – anyone at all actually – can find and use these traces of conversations. But digital conversation notes are often TOO rich. Too long, too complex. A very useful extra mile for knowledge work would be to go through these notes and tease them out in useful bite-size chunks and compelling formats. An excellent example of this is this documentation of work done on ‘anticipating climate risks in the Sahel‘.

Memory connector (literature sifter)

This is the normal job of researchers. They dig through past documentation and build upon it. But they do it in a specific way – not always most straightforward. So before any planned/structured conversation happens (or any event gets organised), having someone go through all the literature related to the issues at hand, summarising key questions and issues that were raised around that field the last time around (picking up on the trail of ex-post sense-makers), on the latest recommendations etc. would add immense value to the conversations. It’s about mapping out the grid of our collective intelligence and building on it.

Too often we reinvent the wheel out of laziness or lack of awareness about related past conversations. The trick is again to package that preexisting information in ways that make it attractive to the people who will be engaged in the audience. Cartoons? A short video? A Pecha Kucha presentation (see example below)? A list of documents commented with humour? There are many ways to do this. So why do we too often fail at linking the past with the present?

Visualisation engineer

The documentation of conversations is more often than not done in a written format. Or in the best of cases in a myriad of videos. This makes it hard for us to absorb and synthesise that information. So how about visual engineers: people who are able to prepare visual handouts as the conversations unfold, organise intelligent lists of contacts that make networking and connecting easier, sifting through stats and presenting graphs in a radical and compelling way, developing complex thoughts into an-image-is-worth-1000-words kind of graphs and conceptual models.

Graphic recording - a whole palette of options before, during and after... (Credits - Susan Kelly)

Graphic recording – a whole palette of options before, during and after… (Credits – Susan Kelly)

There’s already a lot of graphic recording (see above) happening. I believe in our Instagram-culture of Pinterest drives we are only at the dawn of on-the-spot visual engineering. And this is perhaps not as much a function as an activity that just should occur more systematically.

And here’s another example:

Social network gardener

Perhaps this function is covered under any of the above. The idea is that someone really uses the information recorded and nuggets harvested to plant it/them in the right channels, networks and locations. Combined with the work of a visualisation engineer, this job allows targeted sending of compelling information to the right people.

Social media gardening - takes time but pays off! (Credits - j&tplaman / FlickR)

Social media gardening – takes time but pays off! (Credits – j&tplaman / FlickR)

Social network gardening does take time, but really adds a lot of value to the exchange that happened in the first instance, because it contributes to a universal information base that can reduce the learning curve the next time a group of people are wondering about a similar set of issues. And it does so not just by making information available but also by connecting people, i.e. knowledge – so it’s much more dynamic. Of course a lot of modern knowledge workers are already doing this to some extent. The point is to add structure and intent to this, to maximise opportunities for interaction beyond the group of people already involved.

Interestingly, what all these functions have in common is to combine conversations (knowledge sharing) and their documentation or processing (information management) both before, during and after the conversations happen… Acting upon the conversations as they happen, the nexus of agile KM don’t you think?

Related blog posts:

What to put in a KM training, off the random top of my head


I was never trained on KM. I just learned it by doing. Errrr, I am learning it by doing.

But if I was trained in agile KM next week, what would I love to find in such a training? Some people are wondering about exactly that on KM4Dev right now. So, let me think about this a bit…

There’s many ways that one can think of elements to include in a KM training, so I’ll start with my favourite order: random – spur of the moment-like. A first brush to peel this onion, to unravel the little patterns that gild this golden question.

Here’s a series of (perhaps not so) random concepts and keywords that I think should make it into an agile KM training course – focused on development – these days…

Complexity

Networked organisations need to grasp how complex un-oder works (Credits - Verna Allee / Harold Jarche)

Networked organisations need to grasp how complex un-order works (Credits – Verna Allee / Harold Jarche)

That’s step 1. Understand we work with complex networks and agendas and have to realise where we find ourselves. The Cynefin approach that is at the heart of ‘The social imperative‘. Without that basis, no way agile KM can work, because it will become a world of hammers and nails.

Simplicity

Complexity doesn’t mean everything we do is complex or even complicated. It’s not simple either but…

Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler (attributed to Albert Einstein)

People don’t like change; complicated change, even less so… So agile KM might have to start with – or pass by – ‘Go organic, go civic! #KMalreadyHappensAnyways‘. Because a lot is already going on, and we can just build upon this rather than start from scratch. Oh, and don’t forget to forget the labels: Nobody should really care whether they ‘do agile KM’, they should just do it ;)

Taxonomy and folksonomy

However fancy fluff ‘big data‘ might end up being, the key lesson of it is to ensure content can easily be aggregated and processed, and that goes through tagging and meta-tagging. That’s where taxonomy (an ordered collection of tags, usually centrally) and folksonomy (the crowdsourced version of a taxonomy) come in handy. Invest in ways to help data-crunching at a large scale, but also at a human scale through social media keywords, tags and handles.

Facilitation

Facilitation, (a lot) more than just telling people what to do, it's about orchestrating energies and capacities (Credits - James Brauer/FlickR)

Facilitation, (a lot) more than just telling people what to do, it’s about orchestrating energies and capacities (Credits – James Brauer/FlickR)

Agile knowledge management has a lot to do with social processes (of social change) so a good understanding and command of how to facilitate such processes comes in order. That’s why a toolkit like the Knowledge sharing methods & tools: a facilitator’s guide (and the many more that exist out there just to think of a few here).

Learning

Perhaps that’s the essence of it all. How do we bring together all the elements above to conjure up the conversations that help us make sense of the world around us and to act in it? What is learning again? A whole area of work that brings together personal knowledge management, social learning, organisational learning etc. not least through the engagement families. Agile KM has to focus on added effectiveness through learning and other means.

Innovation

Agile KM is no longer about keeping information just in case, it’s about moving collectively towards agile groupings of people, who can proactively anticipate upcoming changes and react promptly to unanticipated changes. It’s about unlocking the potential to innovate, via feedback loops (see this recent ‘How Feedback Loops Can Improve Aid (and Maybe Governance)‘ on this). So how can KM unlock our individual and collective capacity to innovate?

Assessment

A KM training course surely hopes to equip trainees with means to implement (agile) KM in their own setting. But how do you know whether this works? Through assessment, monitoring, evaluation. All that stuff from social media metrics to impact assessment. That’s done through learning, and connecting dots, bringing reflection and analysis closer to action. Feedback loops again. But that’s the only way to get good. That and the proverbial 10,000-hour rule. And luckily, there’s plenty of good references about this – see this stock-taking selection.

Collective action and social change

Ok this one is for the development & cooperation knowledge workers, not necessarily those working for private businesses. But what point is there in agile KM if not to improve the world or prevent further damage to it. So that goes through understanding what makes up identity and the formation of collectives on that basis i.e. what brings people together, the kind of stuff that Dave Pollard recently blogged about in his excellent blog ‘How to save the world‘. At the heart of it, the concepts of empathy and trust become prerequisites to joint action and social change.

A model of identity (and community) formation (Credits: Williamson & Pollard)

A model of identity (and community) formation (Credits: Williamson & Pollard)

So as mentioned in prelude to this post, this is only one take about what to include in a KM training. I could also do it from the perspective of modules, of disciplines that come into play, of scales that matter, of approaches and tools that make this work… Perhaps a whole series of blog posts is just emerging here, shaping an ever-changing repurposing of training materials. That is also what Agile KM is all about: reuse past stuff, but do it in new and ever more meaningful ways.

More on the KM4Dev mailing list soon…

Related blog posts:

The lessons I learned about lessons learned


Another one of these fascinating KM4Dev conversations that flares up without notice – or perhaps prompted indeed by this great title ‘Lessons Learned – The Loch Ness monster of of KM‘.

When will we know what to do with our lessons? (Credits - Notionscapital/FlickR)

When will we know what to do with our lessons? (Credits – Notionscapital/FlickR)

The conversation initiated by Johannes Schunter from UNDP elicited a great many fascinating responses about another one of KM evergreens (along institutional memory) – some of these came after I drafted this post.

Johannes’s original question was:

Would you know of any good paper, research article or other evidence that looks at this in a comprehensive way and supports the conclusion that collecting lessons learned documents in a database might not be smart KM?

Fair enough a question… Here is a selection of my personal favorite replies about lessons learnt (LL) databases // and my personal reactions to these:

Our problem owner is alluding to the traps of LL databases. The essential problems with such databases is that:

  • On the one hand, they are still seen by some as an end (the typical first generation KM trap)…
  • On the other hand, they relate to an essential behavioural problem that our species faces:

Getting people to actually use knowledge that is already available is a behavioural challenge in general (I. Thorpe)

Now, assuming learning lessons is still a valuable thing to pursue and codify in some way, what really makes a lesson learnt? A lesson is only learnt if it is applied. “Knowledge needs action and effective use to realise it’s potential” (N. von Holzen) // though sometimes the proof of the learning is not only in the action but in the discourse, the attitude, the thinking and guiding principles that command our actions, before there is any opportunity for action.

But what makes a lesson learnt really interesting? “replicability, evidence, and context” states D. Piga as, he continues “there is no lesson learned that is worth reading if the experience described in it isn’t replicable.” To which Stephen Bounds responds that, on the other hand, “understanding the bias and prejudices of the person or people reporting gives readers a much more powerful sense of the thinking process involved. This provides a much stronger context for critical evaluation of the material presented, as well as a stronger narrative involvement in the actual course of events.” // So a yes to qualifying who came up with the story, in what context, but striving for the universal lessons at the same time? I tend to stick to the personal angle, as universal tends to mean ‘lowest common denominator’, like a bad Hollywood remake of an excellent national film. 

Ian Thorpe argues that LL databases are just one element in a broader KM strategy including events, communities or practice etc. The database lessons are then more of a prelude to a deeper conversation. Interestingly he also points to other uses: as field examples for advocacy publications, as thematic analysis and planning resources, as ‘evidence’ that something is happening, as case studies for internal advocacy, to push a new way of working. // Excellent reflections – the question is ‘how much effort do you want to put into this database as opposed to other KM approaches and tools, and for what purpose really? Those hard questions help find a better fit.

Ok, so what can be done specifically about lessons learnt databases?

Eric Mullerbeck suggests adding “‘push’ features like RSS linked to specific and well-defined topics, that will automatically push the LL documents to the persons who have interest in those topics, without them having to do anything more than sign up to get the updates.” Pete Cranston adds: “perhaps we need a collection of personal stories on success and failure”. This echoes Robin van Kippersluis’s plea to process lessons at different levels in an integrated way – as a “true learning organisation” would do - and with a view to track evidence // Indeed compelling ideas that might enhance the effectiveness of such databases, or certainly the drive to structure them better, with a clearer view to satisfying donors.

What you do with the lessons again affects the chances of success of using the database. Thiendou Niang summarises the steps he and his team took to make best use of lessons learnt in a project in West Africa:

  1. We took time to reflect on past experience, formulate development theories and share initial thinking with a peer group
  2. …wrote the lessons learned and debated on the issues
  3. …produced a booklet with the lessons learned and disseminated the outputs including , in some cases through national TV
  4. …used the lessons learned in debate, policy influence and resource mobilization. // To me that sounds about right, perhaps not perfect but here’s a good example of knowledge ‘just in time’ (not just in case) with a purpose to using the lessons, not just to storing them. Rinko Kinoshita also shared his example of linking the LL database with a newsletter to garner more momentum and interest around the lessons.

Perhaps indeed lessons learnt databases will never satisfy our needs and so be it – because learning and knowledge are and remain transient, fluid,  Behind all of this, Eva Schiffer ponders:

How can you codify the time people need to spend in the shower each day to have good ideas, how can you standardize, make controllable, create and attribute the culture change you need for a vibrant knowledge sharing organization?

Or perhaps as Ian Thorpe enquires, we might settle for a mixed solution of high-end, rather expensive LL databases combined with cheap but rich self-reflection, using the “personal insights of those people managing the project about how it works on the ground, interpreted through their experience.” Self reflection is at the heart of Rinko Kinoshita’s final comment, that:

We cannot neglect the effects on the LL producers’ side (…) the process of documenting enabled them analyse and self reflect on their own experiences- there is a key learning here.

// Now that’s a compelling idea. Perhaps pushing this even further, the lessons learnt database could be indeed combined with ongoing conversations leading back to the database, adding new insights as conversations go along. In a way the KM4Dev wiki is a very good example of a lessons learnt database that kinda works: a conversation happens, it gets documented (including the lessons and cases), it is stored there, someone else later comes back to the topic and updates the wiki entry or adds another one in relation…

What I learnt about lessons learnt is that we have much to learn about them still, that they work in combination with other means – information and knowledge, tacit and explicit, people and technology – that they are a beginning, a process and an end result, that they can serve various purposes other than learning, that they affect the storyteller and the reader, and that we will be trying to fetch these lessons for a long time still, but the solution lies with the learner and his/her (collective) learning, not with the lesson itself… We might want to talk about (continually) ‘learning our lessons’ rather than what to do with our lessons learnt’…

The crux of the matter is in the learning, not in the lesson... (credits - Pocket full of perspective / FlickR)

The crux of the matter is in the learning, not in the lesson… (Credits – Pocket full of perspective / FlickR)

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