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


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

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

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

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

Complexity

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

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

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

Simplicity

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

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

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

Taxonomy and folksonomy

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

Facilitation

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

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

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

Learning

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

Innovation

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

Assessment

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

Collective action and social change

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

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

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

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

More on the KM4Dev mailing list soon…

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The tool obsession, a serious(ly) childish posture…


In my work around agile KM, I use a lot of tools for learning, sharing, documenting. I have yet to blog about the bouquet of tools that I use. In this post, I’m ranting against the biggest illusion of all in this field of business: the sacrosanct worship of tools.

Stop thinking that all your problems are nails and that you need a hammer! (Credits - Adam Rosenberg / FlickR)

Stop thinking that all your problems are nails and that you need a hammer! (Credits – Adam Rosenberg / FlickR)

Tools are what every serious person wants to solve serious issues, not like ‘hot and fuzzy’ knowledge sharing processes. They don’t realise it’s pretty childish to have such simplistic expectations… And unfortunately that misplaced expectation is running down the spine of most people, not just serious managers: From the recent Komms Klinics sessions we run at ILRI – the last one being about ‘managing and finding information‘, to a recent study tour that a UNICEF team did at ILRI, everyone is in search and need for tools…

This is not a new problem in KM, but what can we do about it? At ILRI we changed our approach with the Komms Klinics training sessions to emphasize communication and KM processes more widely, rather than (just) tools, and made it clear in our announcement that we were going to do so… only to find out that most people attending the sessions expect to be trained on tools. We want people to think about the tools, but preferably when they realise the context where these tools make sense, not as blanket solutions that will fix everything.

While looking for some additional answers here are some reasons why tools are not the panacea for your information and management issues…

  1. A tool serves a purpose – some tools are even designed for a certain (set of) purpose(s). This has two implications: firstly, tools give the false impression that they can solve every single problem – someone with a hammer sees nails everywhere as goes the proverb. But not every issue is a nail… tools do not solve all problems, they are not magic bullets, they are not blueprints for universal issues.
  2. Second implication: Focus on the purpose rather than the tool first. Form follows function, and tools may not be the answer for the problem you have. But a tool adapted to a clear purpose could indeed help.
  3. Once the purpose is clear, a tool comes with a practice (blogging, tweeting, saving bookmarks on del.icio.us, sharing knowledge etc.). The practice is all about behaviour change – that is real transformation and problem solving (even though tools help then) but it is a slow transformation.
  4. It takes time to understand, play around, reflect upon, muster or master tools to get them to work for you – so in the short run they are certainly not the answer to get more effective.
  5. When used collectively, tools take additional time for awareness-raising, training, coaching about ongoing use, devising principles of use and guidelines etc. Otherwise tools create more mess than order.
  6. Tools keep evolving quickly, meaning that over-reliance on them makes you more susceptible to run into trouble later. The purpose for which the tool has been set up is what should drive the solution, once again.

Tools are not magic bullets, they are shortcuts to improved practices, provided that those practices are questioned as well. No tool is going to replace the reflection that one needs to establish their needs, capacities and required practices. So rub it in fellows: while it’s seriously cool to play with tools, it’s smarter and more effective to focus on a practice that’s reflexive.

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Power your communication with ‘KM inside’


Where to nestle knowledge management in the work place?

Is it a field or discipline that deserves a unit in its own right – with its own breed of specialists (the knowledge manager) – or is it a mainstream support function that shoulders every other process? The answer differs in every organisation. In many cases, knowledge management (KM), or knowledge sharing (KS), is hosted within communication (for instance my own function title at ILRI is ‘knowledge sharing and communication specialist’). What are the relations between communication and KM?

How does KM/KS really support communication or even power it?

How knowledge management powers communications

How knowledge management powers both primary (top tier) and secondary (bottom tier) communication functions

The graph here depicts some of the basic outbound or primary functions of communication (on the top half), that is, the front-end activities where communication serves its own purpose and some of the key inbound or secondary support functions of communication, i.e. the activities that make primary communication possible).

Primary communication functions might typically include:

  • Announcing and raising (public) awareness – the typical PR gig,
  • Disseminating information (in various ways and for various audiences, from sending freebies, publications or newsletters to partners and clients to sending press releases to the media),
  • Sharing it both physically (at events) and online or virtually through engaging sporadically with other people around a specific information,
  • Engaging with audiences as a longer term structured process to develop trust and share information more effectively – either as part of an action research programme, a multi-stakeholder process or something else,
  • And ultimately collaborating (assuming that a clear protocol of cooperation and coordination is in place to allow that collaboration to flourish).
These functions are increasingly focused on engagement and co-creation (from announcing where there is no real focus and no or little interaction to collaborating where everything is about collective sense-making and co-creation of content).

Secondary communication functions include:

  • Writing outputs (of all kinds),
  • Documenting (either processes, conversations, work, protocols etc.) which prepares the way for the writing,
  • Publishing and design, which is about getting the written outputs to the next level (design, peer review etc.) and out,
  • Training on a number of communication channels and processes,
  • And finally supporting in any other way (coaching, informing, guaranteeing a helpdesk function etc.).

At the centre of it all, I deliberately put ‘internal communication’ because it is the ‘glue and grease’ that allows all these primary and secondary functions to work in an integrated manner and to create a team spirit and dynamics. It is also what allows information to flow and be used for all these purposes. It is perhaps where KM might operate from.

So how does KM power these functions?
KM is basically a strong enabler of communication for a number of these functions.

First off, though, we need to agree on a working definition of what KM is and does. Without going into very lengthy and cumbersome discussions, let us say that KM encompasses knowledge sharing (interactions between people to use information and making sense together), information management (processes geared at managing, storing, rendering information findable and usable) and critical thinking (where learning helps to keep sharpening knowledge sharing and information management and the wider purpose of achieving one’s set agenda).

Working with this definition, KM supports communication in the following ways:

  • The knowledge sharing element stimulates all interactions in a more effective way – ensuring frequency and good “quality of conversations that get your job done” (borrowed from the definition of knowledge management that Euan Semple and others have provided in the past), which leads to more effective sharing, engagement and collaboration – the top right tier of the graph.
  • The information management element ensures that information a) is there in the first place (generated through writing) but particularly that it b) can be traced and found at all times c) is easily and accessibly organised to raise awareness, be disseminated and/or shared, and d) is systematically channelled back from knowledge sharing, engagement and collaboration activities. It supports directly the left hand side of the graph and indirectly the knowledge sharing processes (offering information that can be used for knowledge sharing, engagement and coordination).
  • The critical thinking / learning element particularly strengthens the documentation (of processes) but also enables all other functions by ensuring stronger questions, stronger ideas, stronger ownership (thinking makes people more involved), stronger content altogether, stronger engagement by grappling together with ideas, chances for survival of the work and stronger embedding in a given context (because the very process of embedding is supposedly questioned then). Subsequently it supports the full spectrum of communication.

Communication, without knowledge management, might fall back to a series of messages that do not inform learning and adaptation, may end up as a series of sporadic and disconnected activities and does not link information with personal interactions and learning strongly enough, leaving a ‘back office’ messy and useless, like a ghost ship adrift.

Does that resonate with your experience?

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Capacity development, organisational development, institutional change – The extended happy families of engagement


Encouraged by your comments on the post ‘Communication, KM, monitoring, learning – The happy families of engagement’, here is a follow up post attempting to complete the picture of the families of engagement. And despite my immediately previous post, this is the real final blog post for 2011.

So, the three main branches of the family have been mapped out (1): communication, knowledge management and monitoring. But as in any fascinating family, the engagement family has lots of extended branches that enrich the colourful engagement family tree. Here are just a few more that are worth considering:

Capacity development (image: AmuDarya basin)

Capacity development (image: AmuDarya basin)

The Capacity development branch. This branch aims at beefing up the potential of people to do their job better. And since work is better done together, it also focuses on engagement to get more people in its network. This part of the family kept changing names through history. It was originally known as training but its members said it was too restrictive a name for what the whole family does – so the first son kept that name but the whole family itself was re-baptised capacity building, but then it was accused of suggesting that capacity had to be built from scratch. So it became capacity development.

  • Training remains the most prominent son. Under pressure, however, it changed its approach. Where it used to bring people together intensively for two to three weeks, it now invites people for a couple or more days but repeats this exercise across a more extensive period and with more sustained interactions in and between training sessions. It seems to work out better for him now: Engagement around a process rather than just an event. Despite those more recent changes, it is still challenged by other branch members.
  • A sister in the lot is coaching. She has been around for a long time, in fact a much longer time than training although in the old age she was rather known as mentoring and apprenticeship. Her objective is to follow the practice of people over much longer time, to assess that practice in situ, identify good practices and provide a safe space to make mistakes and improve; her approach thus aims at giving better advice, going more deeply in the perspective of excelling at a function and of benefitting from others’ experience. Coaching is thus all about deep, not wide engagement.
  • Quite a few even younger siblings are coming to light: exchange visits, job rotation etc. For this branch of the family, learning is also essential. And it has become increasingly virtual in the past few years. The capacity development branch has been in touch with the distance learning relatives and this is really bringing engagement across various means of communication. Some are jealous of the booming business of this branch – certainly in the development/cooperation arena.
Organisational Development - too top down to fare well today?

Organisational Development

In contrast, the organisational development branch is not enjoying much wind in its sails these days. It is very close to the organisational learning brother in the KM family and it is basically concerned with all the ways that an organisation can perform more effectively. In fact, some argue that this is not really a branch in its own but rather a clan bringing different relatives together from the KM, communication, capacity development and monitoring branches.

  • The one person that rallies all of them under this banner however is the ambitious organisational leadership. Driven by entrepreneurship, this cocky lad is quite happy to shine brightly and show its managerial capacities. But it does so with a purpose: to bring the organisation to the next level. So it’s not pure flash and tack. He knows that without having a sincere goal that transcends self interest, it will never manage to bring the people that form organisation to that next level – so engagement has to be its mantra.
  • To ease this job, he is backed by his more distant cousin group dynamics, who knows how to get teams to work together and contribute to the bigger organisation. It is easier to rely on well-functioning teams than high individual performers only. Yet it’s still not enough.
  • Organisational learning is thus part of this family enterprise to make sure that group dynamics works in accordance with the goal and perceives the value of its successful efforts and the lessons of its not so successful ventures.
  • Change management also joins the club sometimes, to give advice from a system perspective, because the branch realises that it’s not possible to develop an organisation without adopting a broader perspective of systemic change. He is however much more related to the next branch of the family, the institutional change.

Some views on this branch even relate it to action research. It’s unclear where exactly this branch fits… and it is handing over to…

Institutional development

Institutional development

The Institutional change branch: close to the ‘organisational development’ branch, this family has a slightly broader look. It really aims at having a wider effect than the organisational clan. This branch believes in large scale engagement and logically talks a lot about systems thinking, change management and complexity. Subsequently, it is sometimes accused of being delusional (‘how can you achieve change at such a large scale?’) or too intellectual (‘you and your systems!‘). But for all this, it is enjoying a great wave of popularity at the moment.

  • The patriarch of this branch is institutional development. He is a reformed organisational development relative who has decided to branch out and look outside the organisational box. He quickly perceived the importance of the context surrounding the organisation if change is the overall objective. Engagement was in his DNA and he first looked at the edges of the organisation: the networks and personal relations that evolve as conscious or unconscious satellites of the organisation. He moved into networks and foundations, collective units of organisation, including legal aspects (statutes) etc. He has now brothers and sisters that adequately complement his ambitions technically and ethically.
  • Multi-stakeholder processes are the twin brothers and sisters that want to bring all kinds of people together to connect, learn and act together. They are very demanding, they eat a lot of resources (time and money) and they really need someone to help facilitating their interactions. But they offer a relatively practical solution for this branch’s objectives of wide scale engagement. Next to institutional development’s approach of changing organisations, they propose to combine forces between organisations; and that just fits the family ethos.
  • Social change is the turbulent little sister. She cries for social justice, she craves freedom, empowerment and engagement in favour of the (more) socially-deprived. Engagement is her main strategy and she wants to mobilise all her family members to help in this. She’s not considered very serious by some family members, but she knows that some extraordinary figures from the past are on her side, the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. And she also knows that focusing on changing people one by one is a long but right track to flip institutions over too.

A family in transition?

It’s worth noting a few trends affecting the main families of engagement:

In the main communication branch, two trends are moving things around. Every family evolves over time to espouse the zeitgeist and practical arrangements that come with it:

  • On the one hand, the communication branch is going ‘strategic’. This is the new motto to bring all family members in the same car for a journey to visit their contacts (their audiences) and have them come together as one, to align their methods and skills. In practice, having all members onboard does not mean that they play a melodious tune together. And the journey can be quite chaotic. But you have to praise the comms family for its intention to have one whole family experience. There’s chances that if they keep doing such journeys, one day they will play a beautiful tune together.
  • On the other hand when the family goes on a journey to developing countries, and perhaps as a result of going ‘strategic’, the communication family is really moving away from their original ‘messages’ approach. It was too uni–directional. They have all realised to some extent the value of genuine bilateral engagement.
  • Some elements of the family are coming back in the picture. It’s the case with coaching but also with the wild cousin storytelling mentioned in the previous ‘happy families’ post. is actually an age-old family member who’s been passing through the history of his engagement relatives time and time again to tell his tales and disappear again. He is celebrated again these days – is it yet another hype or is storytelling going to stick around this time?

Finally, much could be said about all the other clans evolving next to the engagement family. Some commenters mentioned artistic expression, psychology, I would add humour and jokes and all kinds of other related groups that gravitate around the engagement family and other families too.

At the end of the day, regardless of the specific portrait of each family, and regardless of their current and possible future transitions, what matters is that all these families contribute to more engagement across the board and in a networked way. In this sense, the elephant in the room that Harold Jarche mentioned in a post about managing engagement is perhaps indeed the networked approach that all engagement family branches are trying to follow, consciously or not. But perhaps the real elephant in the room is the collective sense-making and mobilisation of energies directed at a wider goal – in this sense social change is perhaps leading the pack.

But we’re not quite there yet, neither in the networked ways nor in the networked social change. Now we’re still at the stage of nurturing engagement, and such a family seems on the right path. For what good and what worth offers a family if not a place to develop deep relationships, trust in each other and trust in life, starting with the most basic steps of engagement?

Notes:

  1. Again, this family tree does not pretend to be exhaustive nor the way to look at engagement.

Related blog posts:

Rethinking facilitation and engagement


Time to sharpen my skills! And get to do what I like doing best: dreaming up creative solutions!

Since I will have to facilitate a lot of events in my upcoming function, it is a good time to think about workshop facilitation methods and approaches I have been using and might want to make use of in the future to trigger great engagement. AND I WANT FRESH STUFF!

I often come back to (among others) the following three of four methods: Open Space and related marketplace, World café and fishbowl… Oh, let’s be clear: many people and organisations still have yet to find out about the disarming simplicity and effectiveness of Open space, enjoy the rich results of world cafés or the relentless dynamic of a fish bowl discussion. But for slightly more seasoned facilitators, a certain fatigue comes with using the same methods and approaches over and over again, however open and good they are. It’s also fun to come up with new assets up your sleeve.

On the way to rediscovering energy in group work? (Photo credits: AlphachimpStudio on FlickR)

On the way to rediscovering energy in group work? (Photo credits: AlphachimpStudio on FlickR)

There are of course lots of facilitation toolkits available out there (some of them I have bookmarked on Del.icio.us). However those tend to reproduce the list of mainstream facilitation methods – or suggest combinations of methods, rather than come up with really different facilitation methods.

So it’s time to dive into the lab and re-think facilitation methods around engagement matters: what are the different types of engagement sought, what are the key factors that influence the choice of a method? And then it will be designing time, to come up with new methods…

Some initial ideas? I could better describe some keywords perhaps: dialogue, role-playing, graphic, acting, integration, building upon each other, simultaneous, critical, trust, openness, children, sing, nature, language, traducture.

What I want to come up with is three-fold:

  • A list of key factors that really influence the choice of facilitation method – that would go beyond the obvious (group size, venue etc.);
  • A series of properly ‘different’  methods of facilitation;
  • A grid to decide which method might be good for what purpose;

The logic of it all is to ensure even more meaningful engagement. The game is on, so now let’s see where this gets us!

As ever, your brilliant ideas are always welcome :D

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Gardening in organisations: how to cultivate expertise and make it blossom


It’s almost summer and the nature is at its most luxuriant, even in Holland – so famous for its Dutch summer (rain, rain and more rain). The case of Holland (and by Holland I actually mean what it is: the Western provinces of the Netherlands) is quite interesting because it is an area that has been very much claimed from the sea through the ages (see the maps). One of the consequences is that Holland cultivates its landscapes and this engineering leaves mixed feelings of dismay (for such an artificial result) and awe (for the masterful work of organising one’s own land).

The Netherlands around 1000 AD

The Netherlands around 1000 AD

The Netherlands now (and their underwater lands)

The Netherlands now (and their underwater lands)

When it comes to organisational capabilities, is the Dutch example good to follow? Should we also cultivate those capabilities or let them grow wildly in the confidence that mother nature and father open space will anyway bring the best out of everyone – or the best purpose anyhow – ?

I’m rather pro-nature and open space, but on the other hand, learning doesn’t come by itself, and in order to boost organisational capabilities (let’s say the business processes and thematic expertise that an organisation possesses through its staff), a tad of capacity gardening could really turn a wild bush into a beautiful self and cross-fertilising garden…

In an organisation like IRC, where chaos is at times a matter of pride because it allows the best ideas to come naturally to the fore, a wee bit of cultivating expertise could also be a welcome move. With a high emphasis on innovation and a low staff base (50 people!), it is difficult to avoid relying on one person pooling some expertise around one theme. And I bet the case of IRC is not isolated…

So what can our organisational learning gardeners propose to make us and our organisations blossom?

  • How about coming up with a good encyclopaedia of the plants or at least an idea of what plants you want in your garden? Having a sense of the capabilities and being able to define these areas of expertise would be a good first step. The framework provided by ECDPM and Peter Morgan (see my stock-taking post on capacity development) offers some avenues.
  • Once you know what you want in your garden, you can read some more on the specifics of each plant to let them grow the best way: knowing who you work with, realising their added value to the organisation and the specific touch that they bring. A good recruitment policy looks carefully at a) the competencies that a person brings and b) the kind of working environment that could allow those competencies to come to the fore and flourish.
  • Then how about planting those flowers and trees that you want in your garden and watering them on a regular basis? ‘Planting’ workers (inviting them to the organisational environment when they start working) requires a dedicated and adapted introduction programme that helps their own roots find their ways through the organisation. The watering comes with shared vision, communication, reassurance, giving feedback (see this interesting post on giving feedback) etc.
  • And while at that, how about looking at the natural alliances between certain plants and trees: some like the shadow, others the warmth, others the protection from the wind, so pair them and get the most out of it. This is where you can organise teams according to the individual styles. I don’t have a final answer on this one, but I believe that recognising team roles such as Belbin’s is not necessarily bad; we all have our hunches, we all have our styles and putting up teams of clones doesn’t help (even though it makes it easier) – a nice link to the forthcoming post on dissent as a driver.
  • Every now and then, they may need a bit of pruning and trimming to make sure they keep beautiful and can reach out to the sun without having to fight for it with one another: a good personal development strategy and regular training or other capacity development activities would help to keep your staff interested and able to adapt to changing circumstances.
  • But the real deal is to get the cross-pollination to multiply your plants, grow taller trees, stronger bushes and more beautiful flowers. There are lots of examples of approaches and tools enabling cross-pollination from exchange visits to peer coaches, to communities of practice, joint missions, on-site training, job rotation etc. just find what your bees and butterflies enjoy most, where they thrive, and keep experimenting…
The real proof of the blossoming is in the pollinating

The real proof of the pollinating is in the blossoming

So while the Spring and Summer months are exhibiting the lush nature of nature itself, let’s see what we can do to keep our gardens beautiful and strong, self-regenerating and yes, also wild – because a French style garden is prone to wither and die when the only entitled gardener goes away.

And you know what? Having green fingers comes with touching earth, so come down from that cloud and meddle through the dirt and mud… mother nature knows how to gratify its children.

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