Thank you all for your great support – and a merry Christmas and happy holidays!


Dear readers, commenters, likers, raters, followers, friends and others,

Thank you for your great support! (Credits - Woodleywonderworks)

Thank you for your great support! (Credits – Woodleywonderworks)

One more year of blogging. The first year – over the past five years of blogging – when I have managed to consistently blog throughout the year, month in, month out. 63 posts. Many comments, quite some likes and ratings. A good year.

This is all thanks to you :) Thanks to your interactions on this blog, on Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Your readership makes this blog worth keeping up and I can’t express my gratitude warmly enough for engaging with me and my posts and helping me reflect continually at different levels and conversing with the quality hearts and minds that you have.

As I am going on home leave for the end of the year, looking back at this good year, here are some final reflections, with some inspiration from John Stepper’s reflection post about   his first 1.5 years of blogging.

The 5 most successful (most viewed) posts this year were:

  1. Portrait of the modern knowledge worker
  2. Tinkering with tools: what’s up with Yammer?
  3. Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
  4. Settling the eternal semantic debate: what is knowledge, what is information
  5. What the heck is knowledge anyways: from commodity to capacity and insights

The 10 posts I enjoyed writing most were:

This year has also seen the development of a Pinterest board about this blog. It’s a nicer way to navigate through a see of posts (152 to date). You reckon?

Next year I sure will come back to blogging with renewed energy, ideas and inspiration, about the content and the process of learning. Holidays are great for that: they feed learning by letting parts of your brain rest while activating others and stimulating our hearts… well at least mine in this case.

So have (hopefully) great holidays and Christmas if that means something to you, and see you in 2012! And again MANY MANY THANKS. I hope to keep exploring the role of knowledge work in social change and development work thanks to you and with you next year and beyond.

Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année !

A journey through five years of blogging


On this day, exactly five years ago, I started blogging. On this very blog. My first time ever. Not a particularly great post actually. Nor many posts that followed that primal scream on the web.

Five years of blogging and much more coming (Credits: Stephen Mitchell)

Five years of blogging on KM & co. and much more coming (Credits: Stephen Mitchell)

But like for many others before (Leo Babauta, Harold Jarche, Irving Wladawsky-Berger and most recently Jeff Bullas in the corporate world), blogging has become a central part of my practice. A hobby. A habit. A drug. A source of comfort and peace. A source of intuition and emotions. A passion – shared… And many more useful things

So for this five-year anniversary I’d like to offer a journey through these five years of blogging, selecting some posts that may have gone unnoticed (or not) but really matter to me and characterise the various phases I went through in this blogging journey…

The genesis: confusion of a confusiast

That first post was by a confusiast, but it was also quite confused. I knew I wanted to blog about knowledge management (my main field [of interest]), about communication (my main activity), about monitoring and evaluation (my extended hobby, to focus on learning), about complexity (my main source of confusion and fascination) and other things that popped up in my brain along the way. And I did a bit of all that.

Perhaps the most important posts of that period were:

Back in that period, there was not much quality in my blogging generally (not to say I don’t have my bad blogging days now either): I hadn’t clarified my thoughts, sources of information (sites) and knowledge (people and networks) and had not yet found my writing style, I didn’t link, I didn’t have anyone to converse with… But most importantly I had started blogging and that hugely helped make sense of information over time…

Another asset was my connection with KM4Dev. It is perhaps the main reason that pushed me to blog, but also to tweet, to use Slideshare, Del.icio.us, FlickR, to facilitate workshops in a different way etc. So in a way that genesis period of blogging owes much to this great community which has always been an extraordinary source of inspiration.

The IRC period

My previous employer – the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) is a marvellous organisation, full of learning, innovation, critical thinking, autonomy and fun… so much so that I almost worked for 10 years there. IRC’s cutting edge work really gave me lots of inspiration for blogging before I really moved on to focusing on my own ‘pet topics’. So back in those days I blogged a lot about multi-stakeholder processes (such as learning alliances), process documentation, resource centre networks, sector learning generally.

This is a period during which I focused a lot on monitoring and evaluation (M&E), as I got more and more involved in that type of work. At any rate, most of my posts from that period related to the work I was doing at IRC.

Some blog posts I enjoyed writing, from that period:

My learning take at IRC

Progressively I defined my own route on the blogging seas and took more and more liberty to use my IRC work to reflect on broader topics of discussion. In that period I started to be involved in various initiatives that went beyond IRC: SA-GE the francophone KM4Dev network, the IKM-Emergent research programme, my work in the core group of KM4Dev and as KM4Dev journal editor, my involvement in the KMers group of Tweeters (backed by a much more thorough and consistent use of Twitter) etc.

This is where I also put more and more emphasis on learning in all my KM, comms and M&E work – realising that knowledge management was meant to serve that learning objective to improve, more than anything else – and that comms with learning (and sharing) was in my eyes a lot more valuable than comms with messages.

The blog posts from that period reflect that shift:

An escapist route?

As working at IRC became more of a burden – or fatigue – towards the end, I also shifted my focus even more on other topics and external networks that mattered to me: IKM-Emergent once again, but also the AgShare Fair group (which eventually led me to work for ILRI). During that period I also had a long blogging holiday as I went through a difficult period… only to come back with a renewed and firm commitment to blogging regularly, as I also realised I really enjoyed and needed it.

During the last 15 months of my time at IRC I therefore moved on from focusing on the IRC work to look more broadly at e.g. development work more generally, education, conditions for effectiveness etc.

Some of the blog posts from that period:

Working for ILRI

And then in November last year I started working for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in a fantastic team of really dedicated and good knowledge and information professionals. The bulk of my work when I started off working at ILRI revolved around facilitation (as you can see on this overview of events we supported, there were many workshops since November 2011). So it’s only normal that quite a few of my posts in this new phase have been around event and meeting facilitation.

But there have also been a few posts about the connection between communication and knowledge work / learning. Although my workload increased, paradoxically I have never been as active on this blog as since I joined ILRI, posting up to 3-4 posts some weeks. The work environment in our team and around its projects is stimulating enough that I find lots of matter to think and blog about.

Some blog posts from this period:

The work at ILRI is changing little by little and this means I might end up blogging about different matters…

(Agile) KM for me... and you? as a word cloud

(Agile) KM for me… and you? as a word cloud

The next fork on the road?

Now I’m still working for ILRI (for almost a year day for day, as I started on November 1, 2011) but also broadening my scope to other areas that reflect some of the relevant topics for ILRI and for me: information management, monitoring of knowledge work (re-delving into the IKM work I did on that but with an emphasis on practical routine indicators and ways to assess the use of our ‘knowledge work’), training people on information and knowledge management, complexity theories in the field of agriculture innovation systems, change management, agile KM and the importance of mobilising all people towards ongoing change…

I can’t see further than that, but perhaps you have ideas as to where I should focus my blogging and our conversations next?

Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related blog posts:

Harvesting insights (3): Agile KM, between stealth and big bang


A few days before summer holidays in ‘la douce France’, here’s a post that summarises a number of insights from working around knowledge management and my later interest in ‘agile KM’ – for the sake of simplicity I will just talk about KM but for myself care about agile KM. This post is about how to bring about KM in an environment where there is little to build around, at least at first sight.

The temptation of Big Bang is always great (Photo credits: Pranav / FlickR)

The temptation of Big Bang is always great (Photo credits: Pranav / FlickR)

This post is inspired by various conversations with colleagues who are struggling to get their communication work done for lack of recognition of the importance of communication, what that work entails and how it feeds off others’ inputs. The KM challenge is very similar to the communication challenge… And I recently started with a series of recommendations and ideas to improve this already. So in this post I just go one step further and try to package it neatly, focusing on (agile) KM.

Why stealth and big bang?
In an article (unfortunately not open access but ask me for copies), I wrote a while back now with Sarah Cummings, we looked at a number of KM strategies from various development organisations.
What we found out is that many of them had opted for ‘big bang’ approaches, i.e. with a strong ‘KM’ branding and promotion campaign about it to let everyone know that KM was going to be implemented in the company, usually around a formalised KM strategy (most often in the form of a written document).
Other organisations opted for a ‘stealth’ approach where they basically decided to ‘do KM’ without calling it this way and without any formalised strategy, just building on will and capacities available.

This is one of the first key questions in developing agile KM: do you want to go for a big bang or a stealth approach? This will affect how you will effectively implement KM.

Whatever approach you follow, various principles will get you further:

  • Walk your talk – shine as an example of the ideal behaviour you recommend;
  • Talk their talk – rise up to the challenge, challenge yourself to not use your jargon, but to use the jargon of the people that you want to influence;
  • Dim the dire, double the dope – Build upon existing good practices and address or mitigate bad practices. Show that it works early, and explain what it takes to work in the longer run;
  • Shine the light on darkness – In the process, explain what KM is really all about, show that it works and show that one of the keys behind that success is to steer away from the comfort of certainty and to embrace enthusiasm for confusion as an engine for learning and dynamic effectiveness;
  • Keep your edge sharp – keep questioning your work and your network to remain relevant.

Walk your talk – Start with yourself
“Be the change that you want to see” as Mahatma Gandhi would say. You need to lead by example. If you make a compelling case for KM, others might follow suit. Well, maybe not, but if you don’t shine by your own example, why would others bother? Develop simple learning and KM processes (after action review, exit interviews etc.) that bring early benefits, show how you use social media and why it might positively improve others’ work, facilitate meetings effectively and document them to show how useful it is… Your example is about the best example that you can give because it’s first hand experience. Whether you are the best qualified to share examples is another matter…

Talk their talk – Rise up and reach out to the challenge
The next step, aside from showing a great example, is to reach out to the people that you want to influence positively (or inspire to change). This means you need to get close to them, understand their perspective, their challenges, their questions, use their language etc. It also means that you should step out of your comfort zone (and out of your network of like-minded peers) and mingle with two different kinds of people:

  • Those that you know will be critical of your work – which arguably are the main people you want to influence to change;
  • Those that perhaps you don’t know so well but feel or see that they are sympathetic to your work and the changes it entails. They might become the champions you will need…
How to find the balance between what's a healthy practice and what's not (Photo credits: Neaton Jr. / FlickR)

How to find the balance between what’s a healthy practice and what’s not (Photo credits: Neaton Jr. / FlickR)

Of course keeping in touch with your kin helps you ‘keep the fire’ and energy and you should use that energy to convince others but manage your energy at the same time, to avoid ending up frustrated and tired.

Dim the dire, double the dope
Use existing safe spaces and action champions, don’t come up with new chores, empty ‘socialocations’ (ghost social media platforms and empty intranets) and inadequate advocates. Although the temptation is sometimes big to reinvent the wheel – and that can also be ok sometimes, in any organisation there is a lot happening, that can be related to KM. So you don’t start a KM initiative from scratch. The point is to build upon the good stuff and expand it if possible, and to deter, address or mitigate the bad stuff.

Find the conversations – of water coolers, effective meetings and online
The starting point, for agile KM, is conversations (at least that’s what I think KM is all about) – so you need to identify where conversations take place in the organisation. Perhaps at the water cooler, informally, perhaps in meetings (though most organisations don’t hold effective meetings, at least at the start), perhaps on line. Celebrate these spaces and branch onto them to feel the conversation that is going on, and expand good practices from those spaces. Champions are not always humans, they can also be venues, moments, opportunities such as a share fair… Show that you appreciate these spaces and think that perhaps they could go even further…

Find the learning curves and reflection spaces
Much like people discuss, whether they are invited to do so or not, people learn and reflect as well. Perhaps in the same spaces as they chat, perhaps elsewhere. Find those spaces, appreciate them, question them and if you can expand them.
Progressively, the idea is that you help people systematically reflect on what they do and on what their organisation does. This means questioning, questioning and questioning… It also means they should embrace chaos, uncertainty, doubt and safe-fail approaches to try things out. And this comes with trust.

Identify the effective naturals
There are people who are naturally good at what they do. They are naturally effective and effectively natural. Perhaps it’s the fruit of experience and expertise, but the result is that they don’t really pay attention to learning – they just do it. Find, in your company, who is naturally effective and find out from them what their secrets are (this is what I planned to do with the personal effectiveness survey). These people can be powerful role models for others, and if you manage to sell KM to them (e.g. as in working in smarter ways etc.) they could also be your champions who will influence others to adopt new processes, approaches and tools.

Pushing the KM agenda, one step at a time (Photo credits: Lachlan Hardy / FlickR)

Pushing the KM agenda, one step at a time (Photo credits: Lachlan Hardy / FlickR)

Bring about KM in a sensible and progressive way
Most people do KM without realising it: when they talk with others and question their work, when they document their meetings, when they publish a document, when they share it on the intranet or at a conference… The point is: the label (’KM’) doesn’t matter here, so long as the practices support this. So this point entails two important aspects:

  • Use the local language to avoid a ‘not invented here syndrom’ where people would reject your ideas as foreign;
  • Bring about, in conversations you have, the ideal/image of what agile KM is about, the importance of working out loud, of reflecting on your work, of sharing it, of working together and of titillating your comfort zone. People need to know what is an ideal behaviour for themselves, their teams, their organisation…

Once again, they will be all the more receptive that they trust you.

Stimulate structured learning
You have ‘action champions’ (the aforementioned naturals), you also have ‘learning champions’. You need a mix of both – ideally people that combine the two aptitudes – to champion your ideas for KM. Especially if those people have strong connections in different pockets of the organisation, they can help push the domino effect of (behaviour) change and model ideal KM behaviours. Without champions you find yourself easily sidelined, ignored, misunderstood, and exhausted. If the organisation is not ready for big change, some people inside it sure will be. Find them, work with them, understand what they tell you about the rest of the organisation too.
This point is also about questioning, personally and collectively. It’s about reflecting, listening, giving feedback (to yourself and others) in order to understand and expand what is going well and to mitigate what is not working out well.

But this point is also that it takes time to structure learning and you need to manage expectations about how KM works. This is where you need to show that KM (regardless of what you call it) works.

Shine the light on darkness: Co-create a compelling case for KM
Lots of people are wary of the time it takes to develop a KM approach and they also don’t easily see its benefits, as we know it’s diffuse, difficult to attribute etc. It’s perhaps unjustified and you will always come across x reasons not to change and not to learn. It might be irritating, but if you don’t address their fears and concerns, you will never win them over.
So think for yourself about ways to demonstrate that agile KM helps. I can think of four complementary approaches:

  • Provide some evidence that would be regarded as relevant by people who question agile KM. Quantitative indicators, statistics, downloads etc. that will keep them happy to start with;
  • Show the small successes and early wins that they don’t expect or count on: comments gathered, change in discourse, community of followers and interactions, appreciation after events and activities (through our after action reviews) etc. In fact you should focus on activities that will generate such early wins if you want to convince your crowd;
  • Involve your nay-sayers in your activities and let them experience the potential and limitations (and e.g. long lag time) of agile KM – co-create a case for KM with them;
  • In the process, work towards more complex ways to demonstrate success of agile KM: through increased success rate for some work processes, time saved, effective use of information shared, change of behaviour at institutional level etc.
Sharpen the saw - keep yourself and your network on the cutting edge (Photo credits: Jay Pettitt / FlickR)

Sharpen the saw – keep yourself and your network on the cutting edge (Photo credits: Jay Pettitt / FlickR)

Sharpen the saw – keep your edge and your network edge sharp
One of the seven principles of Stephen R. Covey’s infamous book ‘the seven habits of highly effective people’ is to sharpen the saw, that is to look critically at your progress and to keep wanting more. Well, with agile KM supposedly that should happen naturally, but it’s always better to take the time to reflect at yourself, your gaps, where you are keeping learning and KM at a sound level, and to what extent you are taking advantage of your network too. It’s about personal learning, personal knowledge management and it’s no longer contradictory with your organisation’s objectives and priorities, it potentially reinforces them through the sound ‘checks and balances’ that your personal external network brings…

Your external network, if well ‘gardened’, provides you with a sounding board that looks beyond your organisational glasses and biases. Your virtual gang provides a source of ‘fresh thinking’ available on tap. Make use of it and encourage other teams in your organisation to tap into those existing networks. There’s a good chance most employees already make use of their personal network, but perhaps in a hidden or unconscious way. Show that it is an engine for dynamic relevance (i.e. to remain relevant over time). At the same time, keep looking critically at your network to fine-tune it to your needs.

So, can you afford to go for big bang?
There is no right or wrong between big bang and stealth, but there are things to keep in mind:

  • Going for big bang means you will raise expectations from many employees and managers – this is perhaps one of the main reasons why KM has sometimes failed spectacularly;
  • If you are ready to raise expectations, make sure you have the following mechanisms in place:
    • A management that embraces your ideal and vision and is ready to show good behaviour too;
    • Some champions that will spread the message and are influential enough to speed up the knock-on domino effect;
    • Some ideas for how you are going to demonstrate success in early wins and longer term gains;
  • It probably makes a lot of sense to gradually develop your KM approach – if you have nothing in place, don’t try to fly too high straight away. You also wouldn’t enroll for the Olympics having driven a couple of amateur 100m races…
  • And as mentioned in another post of this series, ‘quick and dirty’ is a sure way to collect quick feedback about what works or what doesn’t, the ‘safe fail’ approach that will reveal what works and what is flawed in your approach.

If you have all of this in place, you can decide to go for a big bang approach and probably achieve something, although you won’t be spared the doubts, mockery and anxiety of those that do not believe in KM.

Good luck, keep the focus, gather your feedback and have some fun, you will need that energy: It’s a struggle ahead, but if it works out, it will liberate a lot of energy and results further down the line too…

Related blog posts:

Life after KM?


After so many years working on knowledge management I have grown tired of the term (and even finding it an oxymoron). I like to refer to ‘KM’ because it rolls easily in the tongue, but when I look around at other people that also work explicitly on KM, it gives me the impression that we are a bunch of stuffy dinosaurs fighting an old war.

So what is it that KM really means to me? What could be a better term to describe this?

What's my next destination on this KM sense-making journey? (Credits: James Jordan / FlickR)

What’s my next destination on this KM sense-making journey? (Credits: James Jordan / FlickR)

Recently I suggested that KM was the combination of conversations, documentation and learning. Conversations and documentation are the means. Learning is the end. Is it really? Learning for the sake of it is irrelevant too. It’s learning for action. But what action?

Learning for change perhaps? We mean to change our actions, be more relevant. But sometimes change is not the best pursuit either. Change for the sake of it is no more worthy of attention than learning for the sake of it. Remember the baby with the bathwater?

Ha! I know: Innovation! This surely is the holy grail. But (constant) innovation is yet another fantasy to chase. There is a time for innovation. And that time is not ‘all the time’. Same case as change. Nothing should motivate this innovation hype I already talked about.

Adaptive management is perhaps more accurate? We want to be able to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Yeah, but what about being proactive rather than adapting reactively? And most importantly, it’s not just about ‘management’, it’s about all of us, whether in managing positions or not. I care about empowerment. I want everyone to be part of the movement, each at their scale and pace.

Perhaps it is indeed what Jennifer Sertl refers to when talking about ‘agility’. I haven’t read her book but what I like about that concept of ‘agility’ is that it focuses on a general state of flexibility and for that it encompasses learning (you need to master learning to be agile – you need to practice it in tacit ways); potential change and innovation (if you are agile you can change and innovate); adaptation but also proactive preparation for the next changes; and it doesn’t just emphasise management, it is for everyone – so it implies the use of personal learning/knowledge/networks to amplify the capacity of a group of people to act more effectively and dynamically (i.e. to remain most effective at all times).

The only thing is: agility might be Jennifer’s trademark and I’m not necessarily using it along her understanding. So for now let me stick to KM and just say I work on agile KM… Check this blog header’s title, it’s just started another little life of its own…

Related blog posts: