Breadcrumbs and building blocks

This is my final post for 2009 and I’ll keep it relatively short, to link the breadcrumbs of 2009 and the building blocks of 2010.

From breadcrumb to blogcrumb trails, linking back and looking forward... (photo credits: crayonjazz)

This year has been the first intense blogging experience and a great one at that, with respect to the occasional exchange with some of you, the documentation and consolidation of documents I go through (e.g. the stock-taking posts on network M&E and on capacity development) and generally the opportunity this provides to reflect a bit more deeply about the work I’m undertaking.

I hope some of my posts have been interesting and I really hope that next year we will engage even more in a dialogue. There are lots of issues I will keep blogging about, and much like I tried to explain where I come from and what motivates me on the about me page, I will try and explain better how all the pieces of work I’m blogging about tie in with one another.

Next year should be a very interesting year and here’s a glimpse of some of the areas of work that I can foresee, aside from whatever emerges (and it will!) in the course of next year…

  • Documenting the process around learning alliances in a few projects and finishing a book that I started writing about them together with two colleagues. In parallel, the Change Alliance should be deployed through 2010 – something to watch!
  • Supporting resource centre networks in Burkina Faso, Benin and perhaps even in Morocco, with the interesting aspects of network planning, development, monitoring etc.
  • More on the M&E of KM as the study I described in an earlier post is due in the coming months.
  • The development of SA-GE, the francophone community of practice, particularly as we are currently looking into proposals for funding… while the group keeps developing online.

And as a final note before I dash off onto holiday, here are a couple of documents that I’ll sink my teeth into and will try to blog about again in the next year:

Merry Christmas and wonderful holidays or end of year!

Until 2010,


M&E of KM: the phoenix of KM is showing its head again – how to tackle it?

I’ve started working on a summary of two papers commissioned by the IKM-Emergent programme to unpack the delicate topic of monitoring (and evaluation) of knowledge management (1). This could be just about the driest, un-sexiest topic related to KM. Yet, it seems precisely one of the most popular topics and one that keeps resurfacing on a regular basis.

On the KM4DEV community alone, since the beginning of 2009, nine discussions (2) have focused on various aspects of monitoring of knowledge management, some of them generating a traffic of over 30 emails!! Are we masochistic? Or just thirsty for more questions?

M&E the phoenix of KM? (photo credits: Onion)

Anyway, this summary piece of work is a good opportunity to delve again into the buzz, basics, bells and whistles of monitoring knowledge management (as in the practice of observing/ assessing/ learning inherent to both M&E rather than on the different conditions in which M or E generally occur).

In attempting to monitor knowledge and/or knowledge management, one can look at an incredible amount of issues. This is probably the reason why there is so much confusion and questioning around this topic (see this good blog post by Kim Sbarcea of ‘ThinkingShift’, highlighting some of these challenges and confusion).

In this starting work – luckily supported by colleagues from the IKM working group 3 – I am trying to tidy things up a bit and to come up with a kind of framework that helps us understand the various approaches to M&E of KM (in development) and the gaps in this. I would like to introduce here a very preliminary half-baked framework that consists of:

  • Components,
  • Levels,
  • Perspectives.

And I would love to hear your views on these, to improve this if it makes sense, or to stop me at once if this is utter gibberish.

First, there could be various components to look at as items to monitor. These items could be influenced by a certain strategic direction or could happen in a completely ad hoc manner – a sort of pre-put. The items themselves could be roughly sorted as inputs, throughputs or outputs (understood here as results of the former two):

Pre-put Input (resources and starting point) Throughput (work processes & activities) Output (results)
– None (purely ad hoc)- Intent or objective 

– Structured assessment of needs (e.g. baseline / benchmarking)

– Strategy (overall and KM-focused)

– People (capacities and values)- Culture (shared values) 

– Leadership

– Environment

– Systems to be used

– Money / budget

– Methods / approaches followed to work on KM objectives- (Co-)Creation of knowledge artefacts 

– Use of information systems

– Relationships involved

– Development of a learning/innovation space

– Attitudes displayed by actors involved or concerned

– Rules, regulations, governance of KM

– Creation of products & services- Appreciation of products & services 

– Use/application of products & services

– Behaviour changes: doing different things, things differently or with a different attitude

– Application of learning (learning is fed back to the system)

– Reinforcement of capacities

All these components are then affected by the various levels at which a KM intervention (or strategy) is monitored, which could be:

  • Individual level;

    Different levels at which M&E of KM could take place

  • Team level;
  • Organisational level;
  • Inter-organisational level i.e. communities of practice, multi-stakeholder processes, potentially verging on to sectoral level – though with the problem of defining ‘a sector’;
  • Societal level affecting a society entirely.

And then of course comes perhaps the most crucial – yet implicit – element: the worldview that motivates the approach that will be followed with monitoring of knowledge management.

Because this is often an implicit aspect of knowledge-focused activities, this is largely a grey area in the way knowledge management is monitored. Yet on a spectrum of grey shades I would distinguish three world views that lead to three types of approaches on monitoring of knowledge (management). These approaches can potentially be combined in innumerable ways. The three strands would be:

  1. Linear approaches to monitoring of KM with a genuine belief in cause and effect and planned intervention;
  2. Pragmatic approaches to monitoring of KM, promoting trial and error and a mixed attention to planning and observing. I would argue this is perhaps the dominant model in the development sector, judging from the literature available anyhow (more on this soon).
  3. Emergent approaches to M&E of KM, stressing natural combinations of factors, relational and contextual elements, conversations and transformations.

In the comparative table below I have tried to sketch differences between the three groups as I see them now, even though I am not convinced that in particular the third category is giving a convincing and consistent picture.

Worldview Linear approaches to M&E of KM Pragmatic approaches to M&E of KM Emergent approaches to M&E of KM
Attitude towards monitoring Measuring to prove Learning to improve Letting go of control toexplore natural relations and context
Logic What you planned à what you did à what is the difference? What you need à what you do à what comes out? What you do à how and who you do it with à what comes out?
Chain of key elements Inputs – activities –outputs – outcomes – impact Activities – outcomes – reflections Conversations – co-creations – innovations –transformations – capacities and attitudes
Key question How well? What then? Why, what and how?
Outcome expected Efficiency Effectiveness Emergence
Key approach Logical framework and planning Trial and error Experimentation and discourse
Attitude towards knowledge Capture and store knowledge (stock) Share knowledge (flow) Co-create knowledge and apply it to a specific context
Component focus Information systems and their delivery Knowledge sharing approaches / processes Discussions and their transformative potential
I, K or? What matters? Information Knowledge and learning Innovation, relevance and wisdom
Starting point of monitoring cycle Expect as planned Plan and see what happens Let it be and learn from it
End point of monitoring cycle Readjust same elements to the sharpest measure(single loop learning) Readjust different elements depending on what is most relevant(double loop learning) Keep exploring to make more sense, explore your own learning logic(triple loop learning)

The very practical issue of budgeting does not come in the picture here but it definitely influences the M&E approach chosen and the intensity of M&E activities.

Aside from all these factors, there are of course many challenges that are plaguing an effective practice of monitoring knowledge management, but this framework offers perhaps a more comprehensive approach to M&E of KM?

Again, I am inviting you to improve this half-baked cake or to reject it as plainly indigestible. So feel free to shoot!


(1)    Knowledge management understood here as ”encompassing any processes and practices concerned with the creation, acquisition, capture, sharing and use of knowledge, skills and expertise (Quintas et al., 1996) whether these are explicitly labelled as ‘KM’ or not (Swan et al., 1999)”. This definition is extracted from the first IKM-Emergent working paper. Even though I don’t entirely agree with this definition, let’s consider it’s creating enough clarity for the sake of understanding this blog post.

(2)    Previous discussions related to M&E of KM on KM4DEV:

  • Managing community of practice: creative entrepreneurs (22/11/2009) with a specific message on the impact of communities of practice
  • Value and impact of KS & collaboration (11/10/2009)
  • Evaluation of KM and IL at SDC (08/07/2009)
  • KM self-assessment (18/03/2009)
  • Organisational learning indicators (13/12/2009)
  • Monitoring and evaluating online information (05/02/2009)
  • Monitoring and evaluating online information portals (03/02/2009)
  • Evaluation of KM processes (30/01/2009)
  • Evidence of sector learning leading to enhanced capacities and performances (05/01/2009)

Related posts:

The change alliance

I just return from the launch event for the Change Alliance – a new initiative that aims at promoting multi-stakeholder processes (MSPs) that stand for a positive social change (towards more empowerment, justice, equity and the alleviation of poverty among others). Beyond this happy fluffy focus is an eclectic but converging collective of institutions and individuals that are committed to these beautiful values in a variety of ways. We explored these different strands in the Alliance across the two days of the workshop.

We found out was that generally there was a fair amount of convergence among us, although we should keep dissenting voices and a certain degree of ‘irritation’ on the fringes to keep stinging ourselves when we fall back to our comfort zone. And in spite of that convergence, we also found out there were perhaps two main dichotomies that polarised our group and steered the reflection and activities in a way or another – as shown in the picture below:Focus areas for the Change Alliance, around the central idea of social change

  • On the one hand a dichotomy between conceptual exploration and pragmatic documentation: some among us are more inclined in looking at the value and promises of MSPs through an academic lens, expanding the boundaries of this nascent field of multi-stakeholder process thinking. Others – including me – are more interested in the hands-on approach, exchanging tips, tricks, tools, models, approaches, documents etc. to get more effective and closer to achieving our hypothesis of change in the processes in which we are involved.
  • On the other hand, there is also a dichotomy between those involved in an MSP as endogenous actors (actors that are part of the social fabric where the MSP is taking place) and those that do it from a professionalised mandate. In the former case, we are also referring to local societal movements that try to reverse power structures on their own; in the latter, among the proponents of the MSP are external actors that intervene only as professionals, i.e. that are not part of the social fabric and may not be affected on a personal level by what is happening in the MSP because they don’t feel any endogenous pressure. In fact the majority of us participants were in that latter case, but we were really inspired by civic-driven movements and other endogenous MSP initiatives, so there are good hopes to learn across these two types of MSPs.

This is only the dawn of this new community of practice and as ever in these cases we all hold our breath to see how the Alliance will develop (or not). I will probably get back to this launch in future posts as I have digested the incredible wealth of information that was shared in these two days. The report of the workshop will hopefully follow soon.

In the meantime, for those interested, the Change Alliance’s website can be accessed by using as login and password ‘guest’ and it should be populated quite quickly with more information, resources, members etc.

This links nicely with a message that I recently posted on the WASH sector learning discussion group to share a series of lessons learnt with our learning alliance projects in the water-sanitation-hygiene sector. Having just posted those lessons as is (when they were planned for internal audiences only), I found out thanks to a comment by one of the list members that crucial context was missing. You can find the entire thread on: If you want more context you can always check this previous blog post about learning alliances.

More on change, alliances, learning in upcoming posts…