A tiny little bowl full of talking fish – A ShareFair “day 0” session

So we’re back to day 0 right? And back to fishbowl? I hope this time I’ll make a better job at giving the context and gist of a fishbowl than when I did itfor the AgShareFair.

The fishbowl format (picture credits: Instructional Design Fusions)

The fishbowl format (picture credits: Instructional Design Fusions)

But this time the situation’s tough: it’s only the five of us. Perhaps Etienne Wenger’s excellent introductory session – which coincidentally used a fishbowl format – inspired enough participants to skip this hands-on session? Nevermind, we will have our fishbowl session and it’s going to be a heads-on session for lack of hands to work with.

So what’s in a fishbowl? Two circles: the inner circle has 3 to 7 chairs (I prefer 4-5) and people occupying these seats can talk. The outer circle has chairs (or standing participants) that cannot say a word and just have to listen. The topic is set around a broad statement or question that should be wide enough that it can involve anyone around the table (it can also be very specific but then involve only people that know the specifics well enough).

What’s the difference between a fishbowl and its slight variation the Samoan circle? In the former, the inner participants (the talking fish) stay the same and others keep listening. In the latter, outer ring participants (the mute fish) can decide to tap on the shoulder of one of any talking fish to ask them to leave the circle, and they can sit there instead, to join the conversation. Talking fish may even decide to leave the talking circle any time, leaving a vacant seat that can be occupied by anyone.

Then someone may document the discussion by writing down on a flipchart all (key) points discussed – I suggest alternating colours every line to make the flipchart easier to read, though the point is not to follow what’s on the flipchart (that’s for documentation and information, i.e. for later) but on what’s going on in the fishbowl conversation.

Then we briefly discuss the final form: fishbowl battle, the one form that I emphasised in that past blogpost mentioned above.

The four participants wonder (and hereby some answers):

  • Q: When to use a fishbowl? A: Whenever you want to have deeper conversations (the necessity to shut up and to listen as mute fish means that we need to really think carefully about our questions and when we want to join the conversation).
  • Q: Is it a good format for Q&A? A: I didn’t use it this way but why not? The only thing that might be a pity is that it’s not really a participatory discussion but indeed a series of questions to one person that answers, though there is still a bit more interaction than in a typical Q&A session.
  • Q: How to make sure people join the inner circle and feel free to talk? A: Perhaps use some energisers, icebreakers or other approaches that involve small group discussions to create trust among participants and then the fishbowl will flow more easily. If you fear people may not join the circle because there’s some big mouths that always talk, ask those big mouths to document the discussion instead, or consider having different groups so you can keep the big mouths on their own.
  • Q: How to use people that have a lot of things to say? A: They will do it by themselves and if you really want them to talk about their specific experience, the fishbowl may not be the best format to us (the added risk is that they may steer the conversation towards their detailed experience only).
  • Q: Do you prompt certain people to start the fishbowl? A: You might, especially if you fear there might not be any spark to start the conversation, but in principle if the conversation is broad enough you can always start with empty seats and invite anyone to join. I usually have at least two people starting though.
  • Q: Should you use different questions during the fishbowl? A: Why not give it a try and see how it works? I never did it this way but you could have a multi-tier fishbowl and move from question to question.

My final take-home suggestions: stretch, tweak, adapt the flishbowl and any other approach to your needs and circumstances, don’t feel trapped by the format, find your authentic facilitation style and just keep on reflecting on what works or not and what could have been done to make it better.

This session hasn’t been a practical (hands-on) session, that’s a shame. But the conversation among five talking fish was quite nice and I hope useful. Let’s see if share fairs turn into giant aquariums…

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Live and direct from Rome – blogging & tweeting at the ShareFair and KM4Dev 2011

The second global Share Fair has started and some KM4Dev-related sessions are also unfolding as we speak.

The 2nd Global Share Fair has started!

The 2nd Global Share Fair has started!

I will be blogging here about the sessions I’ve been involved in and if I get a chance, on other sessions too.

An incredible amount of tweeting is happening already under the tag #sfrome – and for KM4Dev quite simply under the tag #KM4Dev.

Some sessions are webcasted – see the webcasting programme on: http://t.co/knk1CBxM

The first blogposts and blips (post here and blip here) are started and will be soon linked up with the official event blog.

Aggregated feeds: http://www.netvibes.com/agriknowledgesharefair

And finally, there is a daily Corriere to cover what has been presented or discussed every day: http://t.co/IsTeZJkP

So stay tuned and keep watching the incredible amount of social learning happening, this is most certainly one of the highlights of this year in terms of social learning and knowledge sharing for development work.

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Except in KM, accepting KM

Last Friday I gave a spontaneous (read: non annually planned, unofficial) KM/Learning and identity workshop for the amazing networked organisation Except (Integrated Sustainability consultancy) founded by my mate Tom Bosschaert. Except is one of those few very modern coming-of-age-like companies with a core staff of 7-8 people and 50 associates satelliting and scintillating around, getting involved in Except projects as and when. The company’s bustling and buzzing and shows incredible dynamism.

The Except Kru gettings its hand dirty

The Except Kru gettings its hand dirty

The whole experience was great for many personal reasons (1) and it struck me also what the process was for a medium networked company like Except to embrace KM (2).

  • The networked organisation – certainly Except – is incredibly likely to respond to shifting knowledge challenges and it keeps attracting amazing talent and enthusiasm that finds energy in the multi-disciplinarity aligned around a like-minded perspective on the purpose and operating mode of the company;
  • The company’s decentralised structure has implications on the (wide) team’s ability to follow ‘organisational’ developments: not everyone is around and working on the organisation permanently. A lot of knowledge initiatives have been tried out at Except, but the people involved were not often the same. People discover changes by layers, with possible information asymmetries;
  • It also seems to trigger a slight chasm around the use of information systems: not everyone knows where to find what information. That is luckily compensated for by the enthusiasm of the associates and their willingness to catch up, explore and try things out. The fact that not everyone is around when participatory consultation processes and training sessions are taking place challenges the uptake and use of these systems across the board;
  • The documentation of work processes is also more difficult to encourage and ensure, although it is that type of process work that makes it easier for such organisations to keep thriving and build upon past efforts;
  • The organisation rests upon a balance between making effective use of the expertise, potential and aspirations of each staff member and associate on the one hand, and the collective vision and mission of Except. In this sense it is crucial for Except to channel the personal development of its people and to organise regular moments of creative navel-gazing, to keep the balance and conditions to improve over time. The monthly 1-on-1 talks that Except management has with staff and associates and the type of workshops like this one (not the first of its type) seem to cover this very well now
  • The central element of the KM/learning puzzle for this organisation and I suspect for other networked organisations is to stimulate healthy and relevant conversations that challenge the boundaries of Except’s work and at the same time anchor these conversations towards the very purpose of the organisation. And these conversations also mean rubbing where it hurts, in spite of all the undeniably great achievements, as well as repeating some conversations over and over again until the critical mass is on board. Patience, the (seemingly) ungrateful of change processes…

I think Except is doing remarkably well on many of the aspects mentioned above. But communication can never be crystalclear enough, and cooperation can never be seamless enough, so we keep ‘polishing the Ferrari’ as Tom would colourfully say. And I reckon, as we speak, there’s a whole polish team at work, embracing KM in its slow and dirty implications. Make it glow team!

For that workshop I gave the following presentation. It’s not perfect, far from it, but I hope it gives some directions on the importance and opportunities of KM and learning for a modern company like Except.

The KM & Learning presentation for Except

Now the pictures are up, the list of references mentioned in the presentation has been passed and I just have to write a report about this workshop – documenting the process, a sadly necessary evil!


(1) It was one of the very few workshops I organised in Europe, with mostly ‘Northern’ participants, around the central topic of identity (something I never do) and without much understanding of the nature of the organisation and its working mode – other than what Tom and his co-director Eva would tell me in the preparation sessions. And it was a workshop for Tom and Eva which makes it easier and more difficult as mixing friendship with work is like playing on a double-edged sword.

(2) Though of course Except had indeed done a lot of ‘KM work’ without calling it that way, from organising brainstorming meetings and regular personal development interviews, developing a wiki for procedures and information etc.

Radical ideals and fluffy bunnies

(Disclaimer: this post has been referred to in an excellent presentation about complexity thinking. The presentation reacts to the un-scientific nature of fluffy bunnies. Here, on the other hand, I borrowed Dave Snowden’s expression to refer to the optimistic nature of some fluffy bunnies, not to the process followed by fluffy bunnies to source knowledge – I value optimism, not the lack of professionalism or unscientific methods of working of fluffy bunnies as the presentation might lead to believe).

A rant-like reflection about attitude to life, this week: I have been sometimes criticised for being overly optimistic, for dreaming away, to the extent I would seem unrealistic. Perhaps I am among what Dave Snowden sometimes colourfully calls “fluffy bunnies”.

Instead, I should – like any decent person – be realistically pessimistic about what’s happening.

Which half are you looking at? And why? (Photo credits: _Fidelio_ on FlickR)

Which half are you looking at? And why? (Photo credits: _Fidelio_ on FlickR)

Well I don’t think so!

And here’s why:

  • Optimism doesn’t mean unrealism – there are facts and there is what you make with them – it is the proverbial half-full half-empty glass perspective. I like to think mine is half full, still I know it’s at half;
  • Visioning (a practical extension of dreaming) is essential to go and grow further – without that we might follow a short-term, narrow-minded, mechanistic path leading to more efficient mediocrity;
  • Attachment to dreams is probably better than to plans: dreams drive us, plans constrain us if we stick to them at whatever cost (and one of these crucial costs is to miss the bigger picture);
  • Optimism gives me energy and that gives energy to others. Eventually it makes us all work better – and this is based on feedback I have been getting from colleagues and work partners around the world when I announced I was moving on from IRC to ILRI.
  • In the age of interconnection, social learning and complex interactions, I believe having ideals and being optimistic about realising them is the radical challenging stance rather than the established norm – and since this complex world commands us to challenge our norms, here is my happy contribution to it!
  • And at the end of it all, even if all the above were wrong, I still prefer to be wrongly optimistic than to be rightly pessimistic; at least it makes me happier.

So all in all, perhaps I’m a fluffy bunny but then I’m a happy and – so it seems – rather effective fluffy bunny at that.

And that inspired this haiku:

Useless sun I love

Distant silly dreams I chase

– you are sadly blind

And I’d be happy to help!

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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 😀

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KM stepping stones – exit induction

Since I am changing jobs, moving from my current organisation and from the current sector, a very interesting KM case in point comes ahead: what happens when one leaves the organisation and enters another?

At the junction between two crucial stepping stones (photo credits: HRhelpdesk.in)

At the junction between two crucial stepping stones (photo credits: HRhelpdesk.in)

I will be living both experiences first hand soon. This is a bit like the experience – however much more amazing than mine – of Jill Bolte Taylor. In her stroke of insight (a fascinating TED talk) the brain scientist relates her experience observing the stroke that she was having.

Well, hopefully moving will not quite feel like a stroke, but the experience itself promises to be fascinating. I have some ideas about what a good exit programme and what a good induction programme may hold but I’m curious as to what my future-ex organisation and what my future organisation are keeping in store.

The aspects I’ll be certainly observing with keen interest…
From the organisation I’m leaving:

  • How my learning curve is taken into account and documented for hand-over information at a corporate / project / team / task / person level?
  • How information systems and my access to them will be set in the future and what may be asked for me to explain my use of these?
  • Whether I will get an exit interview or not and if so, whether it will focus on the HR side of things (e.g. why am I leaving, what logistical arrangements are made) only or also on the content insights I would like to leave to my future ex-colleagues?
  • How my personal network of contacts is mobilised (or not)?

From the organisation I’m joining:

  • The pacing and style of my induction: how many people to meet in how much time?
  • How much documentation to ingest?
  • How much will be left for me to experiment?
  • How do I get on with ILRI’s procedures and information systems?
  • Any mentorship model or approach?

More on this blog when it is really happening.

One (more) downside of leaving in the meantime, on top of missing actions like fancy Friday and the IRC-nergy weeks, I won’t be able to carry out the survey of KM that I blogged about a while back. But perhaps this is also something to bring to ILRI? Again, more to come on this blog – it’s boiling up on this side.

Exciting times of change!!!

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