What is KM? Really…


I pondered this a couple of days ago: when I have to explain to someone that I don’t know what I do (at least for the knowledge management part of my work), despite previous attempts I still struggle.

Chisel, chisel, keep on chiseling (at that KM definition then!) (photo credit: Shawn Clover / FlickR)

Chisel, chisel, keep on chiseling (at that KM definition then!) (photo credit: Shawn Clover / FlickR)

Off the cuff this is what came up to me, when thinking about describing my KM work.

Essentially, what any group or organisation needs to do is to achieve its goals to the best of its abilities right now, and to be prepared to achieve the goals of tomorrow to the best of its abilities too.

What helps you get there? It’s knowledge (know what, why, who, when, where), know-how (the skills to get there) and the learning that came with it and that will continue to sharpen these knowledge fields. It’s experience, expertise and a gift for permanent reflection (and -serendipity- hereby some thoughts to institutionalise reflection in your everyday organisation life).

What KM tries to do is to manage (or more to the point facilitate) all the processes, systems and people’s interactions in a way that they contribute to this, that they facilitate this.

So my role is to work with these people (using these processes and systems) to help them maximise their experience, expertise and reflection.

And it happens through many activities: journaling (blogging), sharing knowledge, cultivating their reflection alone and in groups, gathering around smart conversations,  clarifying their communication to remove all noise that gets in the way of clear, concerted, agreed, sustainable solutions, and making these reflections and their digital traces available to others, so as to connect all the nodes of our collective brain, eventually.

I’m wondering how this connects with David Griffith’s recent questioning about ‘what makes you a knowledge manager‘ as he comes back to some of these basics too.

It’s not quite there yet, I know, but every chiseling step gets me closer to the statue I’m trying to mold.

Which angle you think I should chisel at some more right now?

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A daily dose of process literacy


Here it is – the first post back on the (other) blog, after quite an absence…

agilefacil

In my quest towards developing people’s process literacy, I had an opportunity to make another small stride a couple of weeks ago. During an event where I was MC, I used a tiny bit of the air time I was granted to share one process tip per day.

Focus means discovery, always in the hope we will explore the world around us, forward focus, celebrate urban culture, Canary Wharf, London, England, UK, Enjoy!:)From focus to discovery…

Here are the ones I shared, and some others that I had planned to use (but didn’t get round to):

“What the heck did you mean”? Write coloured cards, flipcharts and other public writings with capital letters and full sentences. That will be a business skill useful for your future conferencing, and it will help the recording of the works.

The public stage fear not, young jedi”. If you fear public speaking, get to know the room/stage where you will have to perform. And get to know the audience by meeting as many people as…

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Picking up an old thread – a confession


This is how I feel on this blog:

Walking alone on the odd and old blogging trail (photo credit: ElBidule / FlickR)

Walking alone on the odd and old blogging trail (photo credit: ElBidule / FlickR)

It’s been nearly a year that I blogged here.

It feels really strange to be here again.

You may not care at all about what follows.

You might just settle for the fact that I’ll try and resume my blogging practice.

Or perhaps you don’t care about that either, though then arguably you’re just wasting your time cruising the web, otherwise you wouldn’t be here ha ha ha.

In fact, I have started blogging already – on AgileFacil, my other blog. And I’ll reblog that post in a few.

In any case many things happened in the past 10 months or so.

I changed jobs (and set up ProcessChange my own consultancy, as well as joined KIT Royal Tropical Institute).

I just had it with the most challenging year of my life – one when one of my sons started developing a very complex case of epilepsy that has been nibbling at our life ever since.

I got tired of this blogging routine – and just couldn’t combine it with the above-mentioned home condition.

No physical energy, no mental space, no moral room for blogging.

2018 has finally chased away that nightmare of a year that last year was to us.

New progress, new home, new job, new arrangements, new ideas, new energy.

Born again with blogging…

 

There will be some differences with my past blogging practice:

No regularity. I just can’t afford that just yet.

More reflections on the broader environment that is mine and links to others’ reflections and resources.

More focus on AgileFacil as process literacy is more centrally becoming my quest and many opportunities converge to taking my facilitation work to another level.

More of myself in these posts – and hopefully more of yourselves too.

I hope this new road is worth the trip.

In any case, it’s not a bad thing to try it out.

Here’s to new beginnings!

10-year blog anniversary! One heraldic yearly post at at time


Would you believe it?

10 years of blogging and the tree keeps growing! (Credits: Marceline Smith / FlickR)

10 years of blogging and the tree keeps growing! (Credits: Marceline Smith / FlickR)

10 years (and a day) ago I drafted my very first post. It’s been a long and fascinating journey for me. And even though for personal reasons this year I’ve really let down my blogging, I intend to keep on blogging on Agile KM and AgileFacil(itation).
Here’s my selection of one top blog post for me from every year of blogging, and why these posts are emblematic of those years when I blogged them.

That’s for the look back. Looking forward, with another big year of change there’s likely some change coming up, including in my social media and blogging practice, so let’s see what it will be.

For now, enjoy these posts and let me know about your own reflections on your blogging journey too, if you’ve been on one 🙂

See you on this space and beyond soon!

 

The role – and attitude – of a facilitator in designing events


My latest post on Agile Facil, coming back to the root of the word ‘facilitator’.

agilefacil

I had to take a stand and clarify this.

I’ve recently witnessed some event design processes that went really badly, where the ‘client’ and the ‘facilitator’ ended up at complete odds with each other. With as result a seemingly permanently damaged relationship, and the serious risk of derailing even the event they were planning together.

This incident offers me a good opportunity to restate what the role of a facilitator is at process design stage. And not only the role, but also the overall attitude. But first here’s for roles and responsibilities:

Process design is a complex map (Credits: The Value Web) Process design is a complex map (Credits: The Value Web)

Listening (and asking questions)

First and foremost, you don’t jump on process design, you listen. Carefully. You read if you’re being given background literature. You make sure you have enough context to understand the context in which you’ll be operating. You prepare your questions to clarify that context…

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What a great KM champion leader does


Reminiscence…

…as I recently re-visited my former (physical) home and office in Ethiopia for the first time since I moved back to the Netherlands. Among the things that flashed back in my memory is how my former boss (the person who inspired this post) played his role as KM champion and leader, and how that helped or not in the wider organisation.

Now I’m not here to illustrate the qualities and shortcomings of my former boss – though I’m certainly hoping to organise an interview with him some time to cover at least some of his legacy – but instead to reflect on the great characteristics of a great KM champion.

I already blogged earlier about what a truly unforgettable KM boss does. But without being truly unforgettable there is a number of characteristics that any KM boss should possess – and these are:

Understand what KM is

Outcome Mapping progress markers (Credits: Simon Hearn)

Outcome Mapping progress markers (Credits: Simon Hearn)

That is obviously the first step – an ‘expect to see’ Outcome Mapping progress marker if anything. Any KM boss, whether focusing on KM only or on KM combined with comms should have a broad and deep understanding of what KM is – at the very least a working definition that goes beyond information management.

Engage, inform and influence (management and others)

Based on a sound understanding of what KM is, a KM leader and champion should be able to:

  • Inform others about what KM is and how it supports the overall objectives (of the organisation, project, initiative etc.)
  • Engage with an organisation’s management/leadership generally to understand their needs and identify ways to leverage the potential of KM
  • Influence management, partners etc. to create opportunities for KM to leverage its potential benefits

Develop and share vision (and foresight)

A KM leader should be able to articulate the vision of how KM will be deployed and how it is responding to the latest upcoming trends, whether about software options, ways of collaboration and learning or otherwise. This is particularly important in the sense that KM is about using knowledge assets to become more and more adaptive and proactive so KM work should be at all times future-oriented, based on the latest knowledge (and information) available.

That vision is contributing to the next trait.

Inspire

A KM champion really should be walking their talk, of all people. They should be able to inspire others to become like them, or follow their lead. That inspiration is thus also based on the vision and foresight developed (as mentioned above).

Demonstrate

But the job is not done by just telling people what to do but by showing it others so they can see the benefits for themselves. And demonstrating is not even enough: they should get others to ‘do KM’ and do it well, so that in turn they become great KM champions too.

Empower

So the obvious next step is for a KM leader to empower others. And here it’s easier said then done, and it requires more than ‘just do what I say’. It’s about developing and nurturing a fragile ecosystem that requires a healthy dose of courage and initiative, and liberty to let others make mistakes and learn from them, and get stronger and stronger.

Coach

So the last function of a great KM champion and leader is to be the coach of everyone else on their own KM practice. And to be the reflector that KM is supposedly bringing in. Adjusting here and there, nudging now and then, protecting as and when, challenging when things have to be.

 

That’s what a great KM champion leader does. And that’s how you realise when you don’t have one what the implications are.

Cultivate your own leadership and that of others, and help the whole KM ecosystem grow. One seed of advice at a time, one drop of challenge after another. Just like any other knowledge gardener, only with a lot more responsibility… But that’s what it takes to save the world (lol).

The Knowledge champion (Credits: Neil Olonoff)

The Knowledge champion (Credits: Neil Olonoff)

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Linking knowledge management with monitoring and evaluation


A short while ago, I gave a small brown bag seminar on the connections between knowledge management (KM) on the one hand and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) on the other hand, for a group of people from the Centre for Development Innovation (CDI) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), both located in Wageningen in the green heart of the Netherlands (the country where I now live).

It was somewhat intimidating to give this seminar in front of a really savvy audience, particularly for the M&E part, since I haven’t directly worked much on M&E since I joined ILRI in late 2011.

The seminar I prepared was on Prezi – see hereby:

KM-M&E seminar
https://prezi.com/view/Jww1idvEC608G7wyA8bn/ or https://prezi.com/p/wgggdcmwxz-v/

(Just as an aside: It was done using ‘Prezi Next’ which is related to the classic Prezi everyone knows but has new features. A new learning curve to adapt to the latest design options and it’s clear that since their heyday a few years ago Prezi have gone some way to reduce the motion sickness effect that was the biggest drawback of their otherwise great application. Unfortunately, at this stage, it’s not possible to embed a PreziNext into WordPress, though this might be fixed some time in the near future).

In any case, what was interesting, as with every piece of information that is being presented, is how people reacted to it, and what they reacted on.

The key points we discussed in the interaction revolved around:

How KM is perceived as dead or not

The notion that ‘KM is dead’ was perhaps difficult to digest for some of the KM heads around the table, though in the conversation it became clear that as much as the field is disappearing, the lessons and principles and approaches of KM live on. And in certain areas, sectors and organisations KM is still very much vivid as a field in and of its own.

We agreed that the importance was to shape collective norms about what is KM (or whatever a group calls it) and that a label (such as KM) should only be adopted if it helps clarify matters for a given group. But the conversation about what it is called is useful too.

Archetypes of KM and M&E heads

Another interesting aspect we touched upon was the stereotypes of people working in KM and in M&E. I made a very rough caricature to introduce some of the KM archetypes and the M&E archetype (of the cold-blooded scientist) which luckily has changed over the years. Particularly the M&E community is really transforming, with booming activity as I can judge on the aliveness of the Pelican Initiative. And so it’s only encouraging to expect that there will be more and more alignment between KM and M&E in the future as many individuals that I know are trespassing the borders of either field and are working across the disciplines.

How KM adds value, what makes it special or different? Why bother?

This was one of the challenges posed by the director of one of the host institutes I was presenting to. “Why should we do KM if it’s so similar to M&E, and what are the trends and the approaches we need to embrace from that field”. That’s where we came back to the bottom line of KM=CDL and the fact that KM is a useful lens looking at knowledge and learning, ensuring we leverage knowledge at all stages. It was interesting also to hear that some people assumed KM to be systematically about learning (but what about the ‘KM portals‘?). But the conversation showed that the connection between KM and M&E is not automatically grasped – and perhaps that my presentation didn’t hit home base 😉

 

KM and M&E is not all about the M&E of KM (Credits: MSH/Pathfinder)

KM and M&E is not all about the M&E of KM (Credits: MSH/Pathfinder)

What is the real connection between KM and M&E?

Indeed the big question is: what really is the difference or the overlap between KM and M&E. And it has to be learning, though we recognized, as a group, that not all KM and not all M&E are learning-focused, but both hold that promise and can make it happen. How to bring them together and how to make them benefit from each other is the question. Perhaps this is really worth blogging more about, just as it might be useful to blog about iterative and upscaling cycles of CDL that take KM from a very individual to a societal level with social learning – one of the thoughts that played around my head during this rich learning day…

 

…which leads me to the bottomline of all of this though is that I can sense how much intellectual effusion there is around Wageningen and the development society of the Netherlands at large and I sense that this might fuel another burst of blogging for me. Which can only be good for the short and longer run for me (and hopefully for you then ;)…

Related blog posts:

 

Ban info-dumping and think carefully how much information you can handle


The paradox of the knowledge age is that we feel ever more lost with information and our capacity to filter it, and yet…

We always want more, more and more of it.

How much information can you eat, really? (Credits: Internet Business Mastery)

How much information can you eat, really? (Credits: Internet Business Mastery)

But as much as slow-food and eco-citizen trends are teaching us (again and again), the best can be the enemy of the good and looking at our real situation is just common sense.

I’ve been involved in a few work assignments and projects where I (or other people) were asked to submit a lot of information. In fact, so much so that it seemed absurd how much of that information was going to be absorbed by the receiving end.

Information greed is the ugly relative of information glut, like a monstrous yin and yang that keeps feeding off each other.

But think carefully, if you are asking to get all that information, how much information can you really handle? What are you going to do with that information? I know it’s tempting to gather information ‘just in case’, and generally to learn, but the central question is and remains: learning to do what? Why? Why? Nine whys!

Image result for information greed

 

 

Or perhaps you’re just trying to hoard it and keep sole access to it? In any case you’re indulging in unhealthy and unnecessary ‘info dumping‘.

If you are sure you won’t be doing something concrete about each piece of information you’re asking for, don’t bother asking for that information, whether you’re setting up a survey, organising a call for proposal or giving an assignment to someone. If you insist on receiving all kinds of extra information, you run the risk of a) being drowned in information yourself as you add a lot of ‘noise’ around what you actually really need b) losing your credibility as a person/team/institution that knows what they are doing and c) turning off the people you are asking to get that information and ensuring there won’t be more work with you in the future.

I’ve seen teams prepare baseline survey questionnaires including over 200, sometimes 300 questions, basically requesting many individual farmers (who are hard working on their plot of land) to spend three, four or more hours on a questionnaire that doesn’t gratify them with any instant result. This is utterly absurd, and disrespectful.

Information is precious, so keep it this way and don’t indulge in ‘info dumping’ please…

Related posts:

Nothing new under the sun? Here’s what’s new: your dying thirst for learning


It’s a natural tendency of skeptics, experts, people who’ve been in a field for a while: they’ve seen it all, nothing is new, why bother?

This is happening currently on KM4Dev in relation with a conversation on what is different about communities of practice now and then. Some people have the tendency to say that indeed nothing is genuinely new.

Every rediscovery of an old topic is like a kaleidoscopic reflection on the same 'ingredients'. Let's keep being amazed! (Credits: EllenM1 / FlickR)

Every rediscovery of an old topic is like a kaleidoscopic reflection on the same ‘ingredients’. Let’s keep being amazed! (Credits: EllenM1 / FlickR)

 

How can that be? That people ask similar questions then and now is not so surprising: it takes much more time to answer questions than to raise them. But then, there’s always new aspects to identify, examine and appreciate. New layers of subtlety, new and recombined ways of looking at things, new perspectives on old topics.

That’s why there’s values in the phoenix conversations (such as M&E of KM), and in reinventing the wheel.

Not recognising the subtleties of change is simply renouncing our curiosity and our -at least as specialised knowledge workers- sacro-sanct thirst for learning. That’s a risky trade-off for appearing to have ‘been there, done that’.

Let’s not fall in that trap, shall we?

Meanwhile, that conversation on communities of practice, and the upcoming issue of the KM for development journal will provide excellent opportunities to blog further about this topic on this blog in the coming months… So keep watching this space 🙂

Moving on after nearly 6 years in Ethiopia, in 6 epitomising posts of the ‘habesha phase’


This Friday – 2 June 2017 – I will be leaving Ethiopia as a resident for good.

I will still be working with ILRI but based in The Hague, the Netherlands. Personal matters have taken precedence over professional ones and we have to be back in Europe. It’s a pity in some way, but it’s also a great opportunity, as every change is. I personally like change. However uncomfortable it is. However difficult it is. However unavoidable it is.

So this change will mean probably adding different perspectives to this blog and to my other blog on agile facilitation.

Good bye Addis! (credits: Wardheernews)

Good bye Addis! (credits: Wardheernews)

The past – nearly – six years have been extremely rich, as testified in this post about personal changes, just from last year to this one. I haven’t been able to keep up my blogging practice over the past few months because of the personal reasons forcing us to move back to Holland and because ever since I’ve been back in Ethiopia, in late April, I’ve been super busy winding things down here and turning the page of our Ethiopian life chapter. But I thought it might be worth a shot to look back at the ‘Ethiopian (habesha) years’ in six posts that marked the most prolific blogging phase of my professional life.

Here they are, I hope you enjoy them (again, perhaps) and please share your reactions and ideas about these and possible future posts!

Communication, KM, monitoring, learning – The happy families of engagement 

I wrote this post very soon after leaving IRC and joining ILRI. And those first few months were actually very prolific and qualitatively strong for my blogging. Perhaps stronger than any other blogging period for me. Hence my anticipation about this new period of change. In any case, this post has been referred to by various people and institutions as an inspiring one. I’m not sure about that but I had fun writing it. It is all about ‘engagement’ which became my ‘bread-and-butter’ at ILRI in various shapes and forms.
KM=CDL, on the journey to universal sense-making

This is the post that finally helped me nail down my own definition of what knowledge management is and I keep referring to it for that reason. In an environment where there was no KM or comms strategy (for ILRI) and no unified understanding of what knowledge or KM is, writing this post proved very helpful to me. I hope it is somewhat to you too.

I share because I care!

A lot of my ILRI work is about role-modelling behaviours that I hope others will take up to some extent. And when it comes to knowledge sharing, this was the post that helped put in writing what I felt intuitively all along. It’s been my gospel at ILRI and beyond ever since.

I hope you care to read it and to share your own spark too!

Portrait of the modern knowledge worker 

We are in the knowledge age, and knowledge workers are everywhere. This is probably the reason why this post was picked up by the World Bank and was thus promoted quite vividly for a while. I offer some characteristics and traits of a typical knowledge worker. I’d love to hear your views on what that entails.

Tinkering with tools: what’s up with Yammer?

This is the post that got most popular on my blog ever, with a (humble) peak of nearly 350 views on one day, when the Yammer team found out about it. Yammer has also been an interesting experience for me with ILRI as we’ve promoted it as the social network that our colleagues should use to access information they want to pull. With measured success. Bottom line for me: I don’t care about the tool – I do care about the result (sharing is caring).

Of ‘healthy human systems’ beyond ‘the field’ and facilitating conversations that change the world: an interview with Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes

The post is an interview with two people that radically changed my personal work life, with their ideas, practice, reflections, and an ongoing conversation about our collaboration. Sam Kaner is one of the inventors of the field of facilitation, and together with his partner Nelli Noakes they share here their very generous overview of why they try to get people to collaborate.

Ok, and because 7 is a magical number, here is my #7 pick:

Jungian types, personality pigeonholing and finding my pathway and ‘contribution’

 

This is one of the most personal posts I’ve published on my blog, as it explains what I see as my calling in (the professional) life. I hope you find and share your own contribution. And I look forward to engaging a lot more with all of you from my future new home, The Hague 🙂

Hello The Hague! (credits: unclear)

Hello The Hague! (credits: unclear)

Bonus info: this happens to be my 300th post on this blog 😉