Go organic, go civic! #KMalreadyHappensAnyways


It’s the last week of my work at IRC and it’s a crucial moment to reflect on various aspects of the almost 10 years of experience I’ve had at IRC. More than a week ago I had a wonderful farewell party with my amazing future ex-colleagues; it gave me an opportunity to reflect already and I gave a speech. In that speech I mentioned many things but here I want to zoom in on one aspect of it: the importance of local perspectives – NO, the fact that it is ESSENTIAL, if not vital, to start any development initiative with local perspectives; in other words, to go for civic-driven KM in development work; and to preferably do so in an organic way that reflects their pace of change.

An Indian advocate/weaver once showed us the way... it's time for civic-driven change! (Photo credits: Aditi Pany / FlickR)

An Indian advocate/weaver once showed us the way... it's time for civic-driven change! (Photo credits: Aditi Pany / FlickR)

KM is about change. Behaviour change. That is granted (isn’t it?). And behaviour change, we know, doesn’t happen if the change is imposed on the people that have to adapt their behaviour. Recently again, in a WASHTech consortium meeting, a famous thinker in the WASH sector, Richard Carter, referred to the immense efforts made to improve hygiene behaviour through informing people about the risks of unhygienic behaviours… Only to conclude that it didn’t work and that years of efforts and millions of dollars went down the drain. The trick to flip the behaviour though was deceptively simple: to focus on the perceived benefits of smelling good and being socially acceptable.

Well, with KM the issue is the same: rather than pushing information systems down peoples’ throats and forcing them to adopt certain behaviours (systematically saving documents on the intranet, sharing information from events with their colleagues, taking the time to reflect about what is going well or not), isn’t it more effective to simply observe how they get their job done? Their deep motivations and capacities? Here’s a hint to the personal effectiveness survey I blogged about earlier.

Isn’t it better to praise what they’re doing well and question their perspective about what’s blocking them? Isn’t it better to perhaps give them some inspiration – by showing the way (‘Be the change you want to see’ said an infamous Indian cotton weaver) – and letting them know how it transformed our life? Isn’t it better to let them decide how they will make sense of it and to let them find their own pace to adapt their behaviour?

It’s certainly worth a try, don’t you think? In the broader development work paradigm, this means it’s time to go civic – as in civic-driven change initiatives – because a change is only as valuable as much as it can be followed and embraced by people (as much as an idea is only worth the extent it can be shared as rightly suggested in the small infographic video of that post). And nothing beats movements founded from the motivation of people’s own choice. This change of perspective also means that change should follow an organic development, going through small iterations of trial and error and critical questioning to learn to improve. Because a forced pace will fail just as much as a forced change, and it might even put people off in the process (read: even less likely to change in the future).

The consequence for all of us (development) knowledge workers is that we should not keep on setting initiatives that start and end with our ideas. It’s time for us to LISTEN, to lend an ear and a hand to those that have the willingness to change and are already trying things out. And perhaps to buddy up with nay-sayers and finding out what’s hitching them and preventing them from changing their attitude…

Although I can’t talk of 100% observance of that rule of thumb, I can safely say that IRC has been lending that ear and that hand in its work – which is what inspired me in my work and in my speech – and I certainly hope to contribute to stimulating civic-driven change at ILRI. If KM is a light, let it be a candle that everyone can find and let them make magic happen with that simple spark!

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