KM and politics… an agile ‘House of Cards’?


If you haven’t yet taken a peek at ‘House of Cards’, just do it! It’s a fabulous series! Non-compromising, eerily and scarily realistic, and as sharp as its main contender ‘Game of Thrones‘ is, bar the physical violence and fountains of hemoglobin… Just have a look:

Where’s the connection with agile knowledge management and learning? At some interesting junctions…

Information is not all that matters: KM is about change and change is about complex technical-political-emotional triggers

Andrea Bohn gave this really good presentation (below) at last year’s ‘ICT4Ag’ conference, cautioning ICT app developers that even in a relatively non-political arena like agricultural ICT applications, information is simply not enough. A lot of other items have to be factored in before change happens – in this case adoption of ICT applications.

Slide 10 sums it all up:

So, KM initiatives that focus solely on managing information (or even managing the knowledge environment), without looking at other factors of change, are doomed. Knowledge management is not sheer dissemination of information: that is also a key finding from one of the World Bank’s top posts in 2012 and an old verse in the gospel of the Overseas Development Institute, a UK think tank.

In House of Cards (HoC), the ‘technical experts’ are allegedly so few that they seem almost entirely not relevant for policy-making… Researchers, so much for our sacrosanct quest for evidence duh!

So now, step away from agricultural development (research) toward more political or personal arenas, and you can be sure that having relevant information is simply not enough to make people change their habits. It is the case with handwashing, with quitting cigarettes and, well, adopting useful KM policies, practices and behaviours…

The factors affecting policy decisions (credits: Strathclyde University)

The factors affecting policy decisions (credits: Strathclyde University)

Policy engagement specialists and think tanks know that they have to act on many other factors than good information: having the right people (capacities) target the right people, at the right time and in the right places (“location, location, location” as HoC’s main political contender Frank Underwood testifies in the video above), with the right props, information and emotional triggers.

And this is another lesson of House of Cards: emotional manipulation goes a long way. We certainly don’t have to go down the road of dirty tricks a la Frank Underwood] but being aware of them could help us get more effective.

KM-induced change can happen with consent or subconsciously; with blows and whistles or following a stealth agenda

Change sometimes needs to be upfront, and even the difficulties that come with it need to be shared early on. In HoC, would-be Governor Peter Russo manages to rally his local constituency (whom he earlier demised with the closing of a major shipyard) while being clear that the shipyard was going to be closed anyway and that the future lies in other opportunities, which demand work, dedication etc. This relates to the culture of understanding and embracing failure. In KM agendas, this is incredibly important. Similarly, if you notice problems that need to be fixed, changed, you can decide to be vocal about it, although that might induce risks for your career (if you follow one ;)).

Yet at other times it can be better to not deal with the problems upfront and to rather harness alliances that help you move your agenda forward. A lot of that kind of politicking happens in House of Cards. In KM agendas, I personally believe that while operationally it’s better to be upfront and open about the difficulties with the people directly involved, strategically it might be better to adopt a stealth approach, relying on local champions, managing expectations and winning people over by showing real progress, not just promises…

In environments when e.g. management or staff are not buying into the KM initiative(s), that sort of discreet alliance building is what can make the difference inside…

If old school politics doesn’t work, move on to out-of-the-box networking guerrilla tactics!

Zoe Barnes, the social media-savvy Washington Herald journalist that operates in House of Cards against the old-fashioned media business model (ruled by CEO Tom Hammerschmidt) eventually decides to move away from the Herald to recover her freedom. Before that happens, as an exasperated Tom tries to curb her will, she defiantly replies:

“when you talk to one person, you talk to thousands”

Politics extends beyond the old boys networks’ clubs nowadays. The Internet has invited itself to the table and networks can be mobilised in order to bring politics to the crowd and let it play a mitigating role (checks and balances). In the KM world, that kind of external network pressure can make the difference in crisis situations such as the one Zoe found herself in. But employees can also use that external network to exert a very positive influence on inside change by regularly referring to these outside network dynamics and inviting them into in-house conversations.

Trust (Credits: Joi Ito / FlickR)

Trust (Credits: Joi Ito / FlickR)

It’s all about trust!

As the HoC clip on top shows, in politics as in KM, trust is critical. Having personal connections with people you trust is of the essence, not least because…

“Friends make the worst enemies” (Frank Underwood in House of Cards)

But also because if…

Knowledge is power… so too (and even more so)…

Sharing knowledge is power. It can be used to leak plots and hidden agendas, killer ideas, but it can also be used to mobilise those networks of influence around… In this sense, perhaps KM differs very much from politics, at least on paper, in as far as knowledge sharing is a natural KM ideal, when in some cases it may be the absolute worst thing in politics!

When F. Underwood requires from Peter Russo “Your absolute, unquestioning loyalty”, it reminds us that the ‘personal’ factor, beyond the human factor in KM is a powerful driver of KM success. Time to get your hands dirty and connect deeply with the people around you, time to consider partners in a real, no-nonsense kind of way

In agile KM, the people are central, so don’t wait: target the game-changers! 

As information and evidence is of so little use in House of Cards, having the right candidates, allies etc. is what makes or breaks politics. Game-changers and natural connections are emphasising the influence of getting personal in KM. So, spend more of your time on the people, rather than the processes and (technology) programs – the people you do KM with and for. They’re your best guarantee for success, and that’s not politics, it’s just about being human and humane.

And since we’re talking about ‘House of Cards’, I leave you today with this beautiful song by Radiohead…

Related blog posts:

 

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:

My KM year’s insights, top posts… and a Merry Christmas!!!


What reflections and patterns come up in the KM world anno 2013 (Credits - Ekkaia / FlickR)

What reflections and patterns come up in the KM world anno 2013 (Credits – Ekkaia / FlickR)

That time of the year, when we are packing up for holiday and family celebrations. A good reflective time though the festivities can make it harder than summer holidays to find time to reflect.

As I’m just about to also take a few days off, here is what I’ve observed in my KM (for development [research]) world this year.

  • KM is not dead, it is more than alive! And more and more people are joining KM forums, discussion lists, communities of practice (3500 people on KM4Dev!!!). See some of these forums and networks here. It’s booming business.
  • Big data has been all over the place of course and is going to keep going strong as software applications are able to process increasingly fathomless data sets. However the question of who decides how to analyse that data remains most of the time unclear. A slightly similar development as the explosion of ICT applications in ag business which needs to be channelled and solicited by some demand… which is why, for the big data revolution to really offer its fruits…
  • Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) is gaining ground (credits - Harold Jarche)

    Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) is gaining ground (credits – Harold Jarche)

    …the recognition of knowledge workers is also gaining ground. We need capacity to analyse data, to make sense of it. So we need to be individually stronger at analysing our world. This means that on the one hand PKM (see this presentation by Stephen Dale on personal knowledge management) is gaining ground – with the idea that everyone in the organisation can contribute their energy, capacity, network to solve problems and that…

  • …On the other hand, more efforts in the KM world are coming up to federate, rally, convene minds and hearts to solve complex interrelated issues. These ‘change conversation’ spaces have to be facilitated - no longer managed. So KM is being stretched on its individual (PKM) and on its holistic frontier, when it used to focus mostly on organisational learning (see the presentation below)
  • Generally networked KM dynamics is taking central stage as everyone is wondering how those dynamics can stimulate innovation, ideation and (inter-) institutional change, including in rural development areas.
  • Assessing KM through e.g. social media metrics is slowly but surely coming of age as testified by this recent article and those reflections from the recent ICT4Ag conference. We are now talking beyond reach into engagement, use, learning, action… Still lots of progress to be made but we are going forward!
  • Closer to development work, the idea of ‘blurred boundaries’ between e.g. KM, communication, monitoring and learning etc. is making headway. Communication is no longer just a support cabinet that can be called upon to polish ‘messages’, it is part and parcel of operations and rebranded under a general ‘engagement’ approach. Because engagement leads communication, learning and action. See some excellent collective reflections about recent workshops I was involved in, on this.

This recent presentation by Nancy Dixon also gives us some additional views over KM in late 2013:

What this suggests is that KM is becoming the art and science of stimulating collective sense-making conversations and integrated actions, while relying on solid individual practices and skills. I expect more will happen at the junction of individual (networks, capacities, passions) and collective (ambitions, agendas and wicked problems) dynamics in 2014 and beyond. Perhaps I’ll even try some predictions early next year…

But back to 2013: Here were the most popular posts (including the ‘top 10 published in 2013′ in bold) on this blog this year:

  1. Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
  2. Tinkering with tools: What’s up with Yammer?
  3. Portrait of the modern knowledge worker
  4. Settling the eternal semantic debate: what is knowledge, what is information…
  5. The art of blogging: Taking stock
  6. What is common knowledge about knowledge? A visual tour…
  7. Learning cycle basics and more: Taking stock
  8. What the heck is knowledge anyway: from commodity to capacity and insights
  9. The feast of fools of feedback
  10. Why on earth would you want to be on Twitter?
  11. The lessons I learned about lessons learned
  12. What to put in a KM training, off the random top of my head
  13. We need more / better communication! But not from me…
  14. Assessing, measuring, monitoring knowledge (and KM): Taking stock
  15. Modern musings on a KM evergreen: institutional memory
  16. Engagement and deeper connection in social networks, a dialogue with Jaume Fortuny
  17. What’s really new about social learning?

Now I wish you all Merry Christmas and hope catch up soon, perhaps even before the new year! Thank you very much for all the good work around KM, learning, engagement, empowerment, for following this blog, for sharing thoughts and quality time with me and many.

Keep up the good work in 2014!

Merry Christmas (credits - Ceanandjen:FlickR)

Merry Christmas! (Credits – Ceanandjen:FlickR)

Why on earth would you want to be on Twitter?


Given the cutting-edge experience of my personal learning network (yes, you, who follow this blog and whom I’m following on various social media generally) this question seems strange, but there are many Twitter skeptics out there. It’s great! Long live the skeptics! Long live their ability to raise important questions… that is, so long as it leads to open-ended conversations… Because as much can be said in favour of Twitter as can be said against it.

So, for my skeptical friends, here’s what I have to say about Twitter:

Why you might be skeptical:

  • You haven’t tried Twitter for yourself yet – perhaps you’ve created a Twitter account but never really used it – so it doesn’t bring anything interesting in return (obviously)!
  • None of your friend or family is on it – so none of the people you trust seem to perceive any value from it, quite logically.
Twitter - sometimes unfiltered for the worst of all (credits: CarrotCreative / FlickR)

Twitter – sometimes unfiltered for the worst of all (credits: CarrotCreative / FlickR)

  • The only people you know who might be on it are the IT crew, communication specialists and a few other ‘looneys’ – people you don’t necessarily identify with.
  • You hear a lot of caution in the (traditional) media about Twitter and social media in general – this is common in France but I suspect in many other places too.
  • Most examples of Twitter use you hear about are from silly people tweeting about enjoying their tomato-mozzarella sandwich, half-brained adolescents sharing all details of their private life without any measure of decency, or celebrities glossing over their latest celeb-do’s…

Well… I can’t blame you for being skeptical. If that’s the picture you have, I share your despair for the human race.

Except that…

I personally know about the power of Twitter. I see it around me everyday (in my Twitter stream of news), I experience it every week, I’ve experienced it in various Twitter chats too. So let’s also have a look at this side of things, but first…

The basics: what you need to understand about Twitter

  • A lot of people don’t understand that social media can be used for your private life and/or your professional life. They are not one and the same, even though some half-brainers might mix the two – The Social Media Guide for Africa tried to inform readers about this.
  • Actually, I would argue that a medium like Twitter is much more adapted to professional uses (or at least to topics that might interest more than a small in-crowd), because it has a great ability to rally people around topics (as opposed to already formed social relationships).
  • The whole secret about Twitter is about following the RIGHT people. The right people to YOU. No strings attached with Twitter, no need to feel any sense of obligation towards anyone. It’s not your family email list, it’s not your University mates’ network. It’s your personal learning network. At least part of it, since other parts of your community might be in other social networks. And that personal learning network needs care, for engagement to genuinely happen.
Twitter vs. Facebook (credits: cambodia4kidsorg / FlickR)

Twitter vs. Facebook (credits: cambodia4kidsorg / FlickR)

  • So Twitter can be used to make contact with people that are interested in the similar topics as you are. It is actually described as the social network where you meet people online that you’d love to encounter face-to-face, while Facebook is the social network that allows you to get in touch face-to-face connections you’d rather have forgotten ;)
  • Like any social media, it takes time to get a handle on Twitter – and it takes practice, dedication, purpose. It’s not going to take a week, not a month but probably closer to a year of (some kind of) practice before you see REAL return on investment with more interaction, a highly relevant network, a good handle of all options, using some related Twitter tools. And in the meantime it will be a good ride still, because you’ll get a lot of relevant information.
  • You can be passive or you can be active. The latter is even better and will bring you even more benefits, but simply reading tweets can be immensely rewarding. As you can see below, a minority of Twitter users are active anyhow. It doesn’t mean they’re passive, they’re just choosing to listen.

The advantages: How can Twitter *really* help you

  • The main advantage of Twitter is that it’s a great overall filter – to sift through tons of information – because if your network is good, it brings up good, relevant stuff up to the top.

“It’s not about information overload, it’s about filter failure” (Clay Shirky)

  • Twitter is a great live reporting channel. News often breaks out more quickly there than it does on mainstream media – because it relies on mobile inputs from web-enabled knowledge workers using their phone, tablet, PC etc. to share what is happening.
  • It takes no time to go through your feed. Since every tweet is only 140 characters, every message is quickly digested. Even a flow of 100 tweets missed in the space of a few hours can be quickly scanned and ignored at will. And then it may also reveal some gems.
  • Because it’s all based on the network and it is a social network, you can really engage with the people you are following or who are following you; you can mention them, message them, have private conversations with them. You can strike partnerships, friendships or simply trusted relationships with people you have never met in real life.
  • As it has a very viral nature, it can be an excellent relay for information you come across, that you produce, that you curate etc. – so that more people can benefit from this information and experience too.
  • Against the problem of dealing with intense email flows, Twitter also allows diverting some of the traffic away from your inbox. A Twitter contact of mine shared this example of using Twitter to replace collective email lists.
  • It’s a personal record of interesting thoughts, links, information etc. which can be tracked again later (through Twitter tools like TwimeMachine and many others)… As a thought repository, it is also useful to help reflection and analysis.
  • And from my colleagues, here are a few other personal benefits:
    • “I can do a much better job of assembling high-quality people to listen to/stay in contact with (via social media such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, blogs, etc.) than can traditional media, who mediate that process for me”
    • “I continue to read article published in traditional media (e.g. Guardian, Atlantic, New Yorker, New York Times), but I increasingly find these great article NOT on those websites but rather by referral (aka curation) by those I follow on social media.”
    • “Serendipitous discovery in high-quality social media (where the quality is determined by the reader and who that reader follows) is infinitely higher in quality that similar discoveries available in traditional media. Where some editor is trying to put together materials for the masses. Just saying.”

And yet more from Twitter contacts:

Oh, and it must be serendipitous zeitgeist because Harold Jarche just beat me to this topic by blogging about ‘the value of Twitter‘.

The challenges: what are some of the possible limitations of Twitter

  • As any other social media, it can be overwhelming to work with Twitter at first – and it is a challenge to ‘trim’ your social network. But it’s essential because your Twitter news stream will be as good (or as bad) as your Twitter network’s relevance.
  • Finding the balance between what’s ‘tweetable’ and what’s not remains a bit of a learning exercise for all of us – and so is learning how to tweet, how to make use of the technical options of Twitter (to tweet, send direct messages etc.) – this is why it takes quite a few months to really benefit greatly from it.
  • And perhaps a question mark – I wonder if Twitter doesn’t work better for information and knowledge professionals simply because we are more likely to try it out and reach the critical mass that allows you to have good conversations. So it may be more difficult for some to use the potential of the no.2 social network.

Now what then?

Despite this post, I certainly don’t want to encourage you to use Twitter cost what cost. Really!

But on the other hand: can you afford to ignore Twitter just out of principle, without having tried it for yourself? Can you afford to ignore what could possibly be a much smarter way of working, of navigating this world of information we live in? Are you going to be the last skeptic on Earth about Twitter? Go on then, play around, reflect, inform your decision and contribute to the twittering choir about Twitter. Then, and only then are you allowed to remain skeptical – and to sharpen my mind with your challenging questions :)

PS. Twitter is only one of the social media channels that you might want to consider. See this presentation to give you an idea about the options with the social learning landscape anno 2013/2014…

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:

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:

Devons-nous rester SA-GE ?


(For once a post in French as I ponder about a francophone community of practice, SA-GE - I have offered a short translation in English at the bottom of this post).

SA-GE (Savoirs-Gestion), la petite sœur de KM4Dev qui a vu le jour en amont de la rencontre annuelle de KM4Dev de Bruxelles en octobre 2009, a-t-elle atteint maturité ? A un moment où je me pose de sérieuses questions sur l’avenir des communautés de pratique au vu de la difficulté à en maintenir l’énergie, la raison d’être et la pertinence – j’y reviendrai bientôt, dans un post ultérieur et alors qu’une discussion récente et très active (en anglais) compare KM4Dev et KBF (Knowledge brokers’ forum) – la question qui me taraude est donc : y a-t-il un avenir pour SA-GE?

The language communities of Twitter even show no sign of French in Africa, what does this say of SA-GE? (credits - Eric Fischer / FlickR)
The language communities of Twitter even show no sign of French in Africa, what does this say of SA-GE? (credits – Eric Fischer / FlickR)

Ce qui est sûr c’est que SA-GE :

  • Demeure une communauté de pratique unique en français sur la gestion des connaissances pour le développement et devrait donc vraiment remplir les besoins de cette ‘niche’;
  • Est reconnue, au moins au sein de KM4Dev comme un réseau et une communauté à part entière, ayant son utilité;
  • Compte un noyau dur (révélé par l’analyse des réseaux sociaux -en anglais-  entreprise dans l’ensemble de la constellation KM4Dev et recoupant également SA-GE) qui joue peut-être un rôle trop présent;
  • Compte des sous-communautés ou groupes associés assez actifs (au Sénégal et au Burkina Faso notamment);
  • Comprend régulièrement des envois et posts ‘informatifs’ mais ne semble pas décoller bien haut ou atterrir bien loin quand il s’agit de converser;
  • Semble bénéficier tant soit peu d’un certain élan grâce aux initiatives qui gravitent autour de temps à autre :
  • En dépit d’un excellent travail (soutenu par le fonds d’innovation 2012 de KM4Dev) pour remettre en état et organiser la partie documentaire de son wiki par l’intermédiaire de Gilles Mersadier, l’initiative n’a généralement pas suffisamment mobilisé les membres.

Mais quel diagnostic en faire ? Et quels remèdes adopter, s’il y a lieu d’en adopter ?

Mon diagnostic est le suivant :

Un nombre trop faible de membres ne permet pas d’échanger suffisamment, parmi des membres qui seraient sans doute plus heureux de le faire face-à-face plutôt que par écrit. Un nombre encore plus faible de membres (dont je fais partie, quoique de manière de moins en moins visible), anime trop souvent les échanges et ne laisse peut-être pas assez d’espace aux autres membres pour prendre leur élan.

L’absence de réunion ‘physique’ entre les membres ne permet pas d’entretenir suffisamment le lien entre tous et conséquemment ne permet pas de maintenir des échanges nourris.

Un certain nombre de membres de SA-GE sont également membres de KM4Dev et bénéficient davantage de la masse critique et de l’expérience de cette communauté pour vraiment tirer parti de SA-GE. Par ailleurs, un certain nombre d’entre nous évoluons dans des organismes (ou dans un système, secteur ou domaine) majoritairement anglophones, ce qui ne nous expose pas souvent à des conversations et documents en français – et la traduction est un obstacle supplémentaire à la spontanéité des échanges.

Aucun modérateur attitré ne s’occupe de la communauté en raison de l’absence de ressources à cet effet et des limitations du modèle, alternatif, de volontariat distribué (qui que ce soit peut animer la communauté comme il/elle l’entend). En lien avec ce problème, SA-GE reste trop périphérique à KM4Dev et tout investissement dans cette dernière n’atteint que trop rarement SA-GE – le fonds d’innovation 2012 et l’analyse partielle du réseau social de SA-GE demeurent des exceptions dans le cadre du programme d’appui du FIDA (Fonds International de Développement Agricole) pour l’Afrique) à KM4Dev.

Enfin, la production de documents en français (sur le sujet de la gestion des connaissances) et la tenue de conversations sur la gestion des connaissances sont peut-être trop anecdotiques dans le monde francophone pour susciter un réel engouement, se réverbérant sur une communauté comme SA-GE – voir la carte des langues sur Twitter pour nous en donner une appréciation relative.

En bref : trop peu de gens, pour trop peu d’intérêt et d’opportunités, avec trop peu de ressources et trop peu de confiance (i.e. connaissance) mutuelle entre les membres étouffent les opportunités de faire de SA-GE une communauté vibrante. Peut-être la question n’est-elle pas de ‘rester’ SA-GE mais d’avoir formé cette communauté trop tôt ?

Mes recommandations sont les prochaines :

Malgré les défis mentionnés ci-dessus je crois vraiment que SA-GE doit perdurer et que ses membres peuvent bénéficier bien davantage de cette communauté, sous certaines conditions :

  • Ses membres doivent s’en faire ambassadeurs, autant que possible, au sein de leurs organismes respectifs, au sein de KM4Dev, et dans d’autres réseaux spécifiques mais liés au domaine de SA-GE ;
  • Ses membres qui font également partie de KM4Dev se prononcent régulièrement pour faire bénéficier SA-GE d’activités et opportunités proposées pour KM4Dev – l’idée actuelle d’un montage de lettre d’actualités KM4Dev (en anglais) pourrait être une idée à poursuivre sur SA-GE à ce titre ;
  • Des organisations francophones mettent en œuvre des ateliers permettant aux membres de SA-GE de se retrouver et de discuter, à l’instar de la FAO (et de l’excellent travail de Sophie Treinen, entre autres, en ce sens) ;
  • Les sous-réseaux locaux continuent d’animer des rencontres et n’hésitent pas à partager les résultats des rencontres (pas la logistique de la tenue de ces rencontres) pour stimuler des échanges au-delà de leur propre échelle géographique ;
  • Un système de pairs / correspondants pourrait se mettre en place pour organiser des échanges entre deux membres de SA-GE géographiquement éloignés l’un de l’autre (reprenant entre autres l’idée des ‘buddies’ de la semaine de la communauté africaine) ;
  • Des opportunités de financement pourraient être poursuivies pour doter la communauté d’un(e) facilitateur(rice) pour renforcer les échanges et leur documentation. Ces opportunités sont peut-être à poursuivre auprès de la communauté de la francophonie. Un groupe d’intérêt pour le financement de KM4Dev existe d’ailleurs depuis peu (en anglais);
  • D’autres activités telles que l’actualisation du wiki permettent à tout un chacun de découvrir la richesse de SA-GE ;
  • Les membres pourraient tout simplement commenter leur travail et leurs idées de manière plus systématique…
  • Un sondage pourrait être initié auprès des membres de SA-GE pour identifier ce qu’ils en retirent, ce qu’ils apprécient, ce qui leur semble manquer et ce qu’ils seraient prêts à contribuer le cas échéant. Avec une question subsidiaire : ‘Quelle serait votre réaction si SA-GE cessait d’exister ?’

Parfois, nos (mes) hypothèses de perfusion d’une communauté qui n’est pas en pleine forme ne veulent pas suffisamment confronter la vérité : peut-être vaut-il mieux se débarrasser de SA-GE après tout… ?

Qu’en pensez-vous ? Y a-t-il un avenir pour cette communauté ? Devons-nous rester en tant que SA-GE ?

Billets en relation :

(English – short – translation)

SA-GE is the sister community of KM4Dev since its inception in 2009 and has so far benefitted from a number of activities related to KM4Dev (see the list in French above). Yet it remains a not-so-vibrant community of practice (CoP), perhaps not unlike many other CoPs but still…

Looking at this, I reckon that despite the obvious niche SA-GE is occupying, the main issues are: not enough face-to-face events leading to trust-building, not enough people in the community (no critical mass) with a mandate to share information in French and relate SA-GE to their own domain’s conversations in French, not enough time and money to properly facilitate and attend to SA-GE and the francophone KM CoP remains too far at the edges of KM4Dev.

So what can be done? Heaps! Here are some ideas: Be an ambassador for SA-GE within our own organisations, and within KM4Dev; organising more face-to-face events or piggybacking on these to allow SA-GE members to meet each other; seizing every opportunity within KM4Dev (such as the newsletter work that is upcoming) to tag SA-GE along; more continuous exchanges within regional hubs such as SA-GE Burkina Faso or KM4Dev Dakar; a peer/buddy system among pairs of SA-GE members to have more exchange and meeting each other; identifying funding opportunities to find more sustainable resources for proper facilitation; entertaining more activities like the recent SA-GE wiki update; commenting one’s own KM activities in French on SA-GE; starting a survey among SA-GE members to find out what they benefit from it, what they miss, what they would like to do for it and perhaps why they might bother (or not) if SA-GE ceases to exist.

It’s always been my conviction that there was a point for SA-GE but perhaps I just don’t want to confront the reality and indeed SA-GE has no raison d’être after all?

What do you think? What would you do?

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:

Open knowledge, working out loud, sharing ideas and our mind at large


A simple and small shoot: to open our mind out large…

Opening our mind, such a simple complicated thing... (Credits - Tanyew Wei)

Opening our mind, such a simple complicated thing… (Credits – Tanyew Wei)

I always wanted (and still do) to try the experiment of accepting with one or more persons – for a given limited time – to give each other the option to check at absolutely any time what the other is thinking about and to accept sharing it. A risky experiment, I agree, but what a fabulous shortcut to each other’s mind and ideas this would be too. The power of Open, in all its terror.

Another experiment I always wanted to do is to share what we are working on as we are working on it: opening Pandora’s box of our half-baked thinking, our weak reflections, our incomplete search for evidence, our half-started/half-aborted attempt at revisiting good sources from the past and combining new ideas. Now that is not too risky an experiment, and it’s a direct contribution to ‘working out loud‘, with perhaps even wider implications for the audience we might influence at large.

My colleague Peter Ballantyne recently wrote this excellent blog piece from a recent trip he did to Michigan State University to attend an ‘Open Knowledge for Agricultural Development Convening’ and he’s also sharing views about the importance of collective work using e.g. wikis. Have a peek at the presentation, it’s really worth it!

Even before we reach that collective stage, we can open up our working cabinet to let others in on our thinking, on the ideas that are crossing our mind. Blogging is a way to do this of course; yet, however draft-like our thought pieces become, they are already polished one level further compared with the moment when we get struck by an idea…

Tweets are another point in case. We can reveal what’s crossing our mind on a tweet – but rarely do we end up exploring this with our Twitter crowd much further than another tweet or two.

One piece is missing thus. John Tropea has got it: with his ‘snippets’ TumblR, he’s keeping track of some useful fragments of text that strike a cord with him and that he might want to come back to.

I have just decided to start my own TumblR as an experiment – as an antechamber and experimental springboard to this blog. On that TumblR I plan to keep fragments of writing that I find interesting and want to come back to later. I will also share simple ideas that I may come back to on this blog for (slightly) more elaborate thoughts. I might start by pasting the list of blogging ideas I have on the side (about 50 or so ideas for possible blog posts).

The idea is simple: the earlier we share our ideas, the earlier others can use those ideas, reflect and comment on them, and the more likely we are all better off with enriched ideas, good conversations and stronger relations. And better suggestions for the next blog posts…

Let’s see where this leads me…  and you!

Related blog posts:

The constant knowledge gardener


If we live in a true knowledge ecology (and the idea is not new as you can see here and there), nature lets its children grow naturally. Yet gardening can help boost some results – without going into the ins and outs of a possible knowledge conservation agriculture.

Knowledge is not just a tree but a whole orchard - it can blossom and give, or rot and doom us

Knowledge is not just a tree but a whole orchard – it can blossom and give, or rot and doom us

Time to revisit the gardening metaphor perhaps and to think about cultivating knowledge? This is the job of the constant knowledge gardener, a job whose demand is in constant progression.

Gardening knowledge means cherishing certain varieties or ‘cultivars, that is the general strands of knowledge and specific themes that matter to us (as individuals, groups or initiatives such as projects). What are the areas we want to see blossom? These varieties and cultivars may become tall trees under which we rest, smaller and fluffier bushes that bring about a diverse biodiversity or beautiful flowers that come and go.

Planting knowledge seeds means actively labeling the themes we want to keep abreast of by thinking about it, conceptualising it (by means of describing that field and why it matters to us), referring to it with keywords and meta-tags and inviting others to visit those knowledge cultivars. And as much as seeds require careful attention as they are too fragile to be left on their own, these new cultivars need to be attended to carefully or they may never see the light.

It further requires trimming and weeding. To keep the cultivars blossoming throughout the years, we need to keep the stems strong and to manicure our knowledge flowers, bushes and trees and get rid of dead leaves: data management, information management, personal knowledge management are all manifestations of that. We need to keep the information that is out there clean and easy to process – for us and for others – and to remove the ‘noise’ that we have created (dead links, bugs, out-of-date information, untagged products, uncontextualised information). This allows us to keep focusing on the gems of the garden rather than lose focus in the clutter of an organic mess.

For the more innovative knowledge gardeners it means to take cuttings and cross breed cultivars. Replicating the themes that matter in other areas of an organisation can be a useful way to create clout for those themes and to ensure more people are on board. Bringing the edge of our themes close to one another allows new connections and is the basis for innovation.

For even more effective results, we can try and fertilise the varieties and cultivars. This can be done by pouring in some fertiliser (additional expertise from a recognised source – though which source will really strengthen our knowledge plants might be difficult to assess). It can also be done very effectively by mixing and mingling cultivars. Some plants grow better when brought closer to certain trees. There are natural ways to fortify our garden. Mixing fields of expertise and themes together is a great way to innovate too and to re-instill vigour in a specific theme and in the conversations that go around it.

If we want to keep our garden beautiful for a long time, we probably need more than one gardener to do all of the above and contribute to a year-round show of nature. In our knowledge garden, this means working in teams and with networks, keeping our edge sharp and expanding the base of people who care about that knowledge garden.

However, and perhaps most importantly, a knowledge garden – whether humanly manicured or otherwise – requires a soil that is appropriate for it. The graft of knowledge seeds does not always work out. And the reason is that certain knowledge plants are not appropriate for a given soil. Certain themes are not adequate for some areas, certain conversations are not ripe yet for a certain crowd, certain contexts are not ready to work around new ideas. The knowledge garden soil needs careful preparation and has to work symbiotically with the themes that are put onto it. This will make or break the planting of knowledge seeds. We may plant these seeds anyhow but they may never bloom – or they might but then wilt and vanish only a tad later. The context of knowledge interactions is key and should be prepared with extreme precaution. This is the essence of successful development interventions too.

As we experience different gardening seasons, we also need to remain critical and focused on what we are learning from our interventions with the garden. It is what will allow us to make the right dosing, cutting, weeding and breeding. A strong learning focus is essential for knowledge gardeners to remain good, and that usually happens more easily in combination with other knowledge gardeners.

If our constant knowledge gardeners bring love (the passion and energy for the field or theme) and expertise in paying attention to the above, then our knowledge garden is likely to remain strong and giving, with the capacity to renew itself continually and to reveal the full potential of knowledge ecology, combined with the beauty of dedication.

Shame though it is for a frog like me, I have to confess I am more inclined towards English gardens and their careful mimicking of nature’s organised chaos, rather than the pompous vanity of ‘jardins à la française‘. And my observation of those French knowledge gardens confirms what sounds true in my own heart of constant knowledge gardener: our garden needs a sensible dose of ‘let it be’.

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