A journey through five years of blogging

On this day, exactly five years ago, I started blogging. On this very blog. My first time ever. Not a particularly great post actually. Nor many posts that followed that primal scream on the web.

Five years of blogging and much more coming (Credits: Stephen Mitchell)

Five years of blogging on KM & co. and much more coming (Credits: Stephen Mitchell)

But like for many others before (Leo Babauta, Harold Jarche, Irving Wladawsky-Berger and most recently Jeff Bullas in the corporate world), blogging has become a central part of my practice. A hobby. A habit. A drug. A source of comfort and peace. A source of intuition and emotions. A passion – shared… And many more useful things

So for this five-year anniversary I’d like to offer a journey through these five years of blogging, selecting some posts that may have gone unnoticed (or not) but really matter to me and characterise the various phases I went through in this blogging journey…

The genesis: confusion of a confusiast

That first post was by a confusiast, but it was also quite confused. I knew I wanted to blog about knowledge management (my main field [of interest]), about communication (my main activity), about monitoring and evaluation (my extended hobby, to focus on learning), about complexity (my main source of confusion and fascination) and other things that popped up in my brain along the way. And I did a bit of all that.

Perhaps the most important posts of that period were:

Back in that period, there was not much quality in my blogging generally (not to say I don’t have my bad blogging days now either): I hadn’t clarified my thoughts, sources of information (sites) and knowledge (people and networks) and had not yet found my writing style, I didn’t link, I didn’t have anyone to converse with… But most importantly I had started blogging and that hugely helped make sense of information over time…

Another asset was my connection with KM4Dev. It is perhaps the main reason that pushed me to blog, but also to tweet, to use Slideshare, Del.icio.us, FlickR, to facilitate workshops in a different way etc. So in a way that genesis period of blogging owes much to this great community which has always been an extraordinary source of inspiration.

The IRC period

My previous employer – the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) is a marvellous organisation, full of learning, innovation, critical thinking, autonomy and fun… so much so that I almost worked for 10 years there. IRC’s cutting edge work really gave me lots of inspiration for blogging before I really moved on to focusing on my own ‘pet topics’. So back in those days I blogged a lot about multi-stakeholder processes (such as learning alliances), process documentation, resource centre networks, sector learning generally.

This is a period during which I focused a lot on monitoring and evaluation (M&E), as I got more and more involved in that type of work. At any rate, most of my posts from that period related to the work I was doing at IRC.

Some blog posts I enjoyed writing, from that period:

My learning take at IRC

Progressively I defined my own route on the blogging seas and took more and more liberty to use my IRC work to reflect on broader topics of discussion. In that period I started to be involved in various initiatives that went beyond IRC: SA-GE the francophone KM4Dev network, the IKM-Emergent research programme, my work in the core group of KM4Dev and as KM4Dev journal editor, my involvement in the KMers group of Tweeters (backed by a much more thorough and consistent use of Twitter) etc.

This is where I also put more and more emphasis on learning in all my KM, comms and M&E work – realising that knowledge management was meant to serve that learning objective to improve, more than anything else – and that comms with learning (and sharing) was in my eyes a lot more valuable than comms with messages.

The blog posts from that period reflect that shift:

An escapist route?

As working at IRC became more of a burden – or fatigue – towards the end, I also shifted my focus even more on other topics and external networks that mattered to me: IKM-Emergent once again, but also the AgShare Fair group (which eventually led me to work for ILRI). During that period I also had a long blogging holiday as I went through a difficult period… only to come back with a renewed and firm commitment to blogging regularly, as I also realised I really enjoyed and needed it.

During the last 15 months of my time at IRC I therefore moved on from focusing on the IRC work to look more broadly at e.g. development work more generally, education, conditions for effectiveness etc.

Some of the blog posts from that period:

Working for ILRI

And then in November last year I started working for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in a fantastic team of really dedicated and good knowledge and information professionals. The bulk of my work when I started off working at ILRI revolved around facilitation (as you can see on this overview of events we supported, there were many workshops since November 2011). So it’s only normal that quite a few of my posts in this new phase have been around event and meeting facilitation.

But there have also been a few posts about the connection between communication and knowledge work / learning. Although my workload increased, paradoxically I have never been as active on this blog as since I joined ILRI, posting up to 3-4 posts some weeks. The work environment in our team and around its projects is stimulating enough that I find lots of matter to think and blog about.

Some blog posts from this period:

The work at ILRI is changing little by little and this means I might end up blogging about different matters…

(Agile) KM for me... and you? as a word cloud

(Agile) KM for me… and you? as a word cloud

The next fork on the road?

Now I’m still working for ILRI (for almost a year day for day, as I started on November 1, 2011) but also broadening my scope to other areas that reflect some of the relevant topics for ILRI and for me: information management, monitoring of knowledge work (re-delving into the IKM work I did on that but with an emphasis on practical routine indicators and ways to assess the use of our ‘knowledge work’), training people on information and knowledge management, complexity theories in the field of agriculture innovation systems, change management, agile KM and the importance of mobilising all people towards ongoing change…

I can’t see further than that, but perhaps you have ideas as to where I should focus my blogging and our conversations next?


What comms/KM functions for what results?

The workshop on “Organizing, Managing, Communicating and Leveraging Information and Knowledge to Support and Deliver CGIAR research program Results: A hands-on Workshop on Approaches, Tools, Systems and Services” happened last week.

As participant and facilitator I didn’t manage to find the time to share insights from the workshop but have lots to process still about e.g. monitoring knowledge work, the overall picture of KM and comms in an organisation, how to move towards achieving more impact focusing on our comms/KM support. And there was also the topic of this blog post, around the KM/comms functions that an organisation might need (which could also be useful for the CGIAR research programs but frankly span much wider frontiers)…

The workshop featured one ‘building block’ session about this. At the end of the session, the group decided to work on some sort of decision-support infographics that would help assess the needs for certain communication/KM functions. The picture that emerged during the session considered a set of variables at organisational level, matched at individual level:

  • Organisational objectives / personal learning and development priorities
  • Organisational capacities (know-how) and expertise areas (knowledge) / Individual  know-how and knowledge
  • Organisational and individual networks
  • Organisational culture (which affects the soft side of comms profiles, i.e. what kind of principles and values should comms/KM folks follow to perform effectively in a given programme or organisation) and individual principles and values

These are the drivers that influence the direction that we are taking as individual and as organisations. Then come the tools, approaches and concepts which play a role to support all the above. There are also the components of an organisation (not matched at individual level) which combine all of this to support the objectives, on the basis of expertise and capabilities.

I tried to make sense of this all in a presentation – an elaboration of an earlier sketch I made during that session.

There are various other elements that should go into a later, more detailed and dynamic presentation but in the meantime, there are still quite a few elements to emphasise, which our conversation stimulated:

  • Our organisations/programmes have different ways to recombine all of this and that’s why a decision-support tool would be great to help assess what are crucial elements.
  • However, all of them need to identify functions that support overall objectives, fit with the components (the rectangle holding lots of symbols), expand the expertise and capabilities of the organisation/programme and interact with the network and organisational culture (voluntarily removed from this version of the graph to keep it simple).
  • The more organisations make use of personal/individual knowledge, know-how, network (and also information produced), the easier it is to develop a strong organisation, even though that is too often under-estimated.
  • We can look at the functions required both in terms of the ideal picture but also looking at what the individuals interviewed to fill those functions provide. That is where the bigger picture and its emphasis on the individual mirror becomes all the more relevant.
  • As much as the network influences the organisation or programme, the culture of that organisation or programme (and the individual values and principles of its staff members) are crucial to unlock the full potential required to have a strong set of comms/KM functions.

This is work in progress… Any reaction at this stage?

Related blog posts:

Paving the way for communication and knowledge management in the CGIAR research programs

The CGIAR organises a communication & KM workshop for its research programme

The CGIAR organises a communication & KM workshop for its research programme

The CGIAR network of agricultural research centres has set up 15 ambitious research programmes (CGIAR research programs).

This week, with a group of about 45 people staff from those programs will be working on various aspects of knowledge management and communication for those research programs. This (repeat after me…) kmc4CRPs workshop will have participants focus on five main themes:

  • Internal communication
  • Knowledge sharing and learning
  • Co-creating knowledge locally (and getting research into local use)
  • Communicating for policy impact
  • Scaling up and out of research

Under these main themes, various ‘building block’ sessions will zoom in on specific aspects of the work. And hands-on tool sessions will get some practical guidance for how to go about the tools to support our building block activities.

At the end of the week the group hopes to have various useful insights and recommendations which can be applie in a somewhat better coordinated/more consistent way across those research programs.

This week promises to be rich so there might be quite a few blog posts coming out of this workshop (which I’m partly facilitating), including interviews from interesting people…

Keep watching this space, and feel free to channel your questions here too!

Who wants to be the next network member, actor, leader?

Who wants to be the next leader? (Credits - Gin_Soak)

Who wants to be the next leader? (Credits – Gin_Soak)

Earlier this year I blogged about the learning and monitoring work that a few KM4Dev members and I were going to conduct around our favourite community of practice… We came up with a framework that looks at a number of issues that might seem important in a community of practice.

The baseline survey report has just been released about a week ago. It contains consolidated answers to the 17 questions we had asked KM4Dev members to answer. A wonderfully rich set of insights touching upon aspirations, technology stewardship, governance, empowerment, learning, consolidation of insights and action…

Next to this comes this wonderful presentation from wonderful, inspiring maverick friend Nancy White:

And finally comes a paper by IDS in the UK “Behind the scene at a climate change knowledge sharing network“. The paper deals with the participation and governance arrangements of AfricaAdapt.

And here comes the question: How can communities of practice, networks, alliances around us contribute to ‘kick us in the butt’ to take charge and move forward?

What is common to the KM4Dev baseline survey, Nancy White’s presentation and the AfricaAdapt review? People are sometimes overwhelmed by the communities and networks they belong to, because they have not necessarily assessed what it is they hope to gain from them, what they use it for and to what extent they can play a more active role etc.

The challenge from inside, as an active community/network participant or even facilitator of such a community/network, is all the more daunting, and it shows in KM4Dev as we are really struggling to get more people to take charge and contribute to keep making this community the (relative) success it has been to date.

Some questions to guide us there – or perhaps to guide us into deeper confusion:

  • How to let people realize that taking charge might actually be transformational for the longer run (I always think about that when you find always the same volunteers showing their hands) – like the epiphany I had with KM4Dev for instance?
  • Is there a point (and if so, possible guidance) to help members think about what might amplify their community/network experience (the focus on discernment, creative destruction and relevant conversations that Nancy is talking about)?
  • What is the threshold that members have to cross towards becoming ‘active members’ and ‘active leaders’ in such communities – even though there is no problem with empowered listening either!
  • How to make the network of networks visible in such a way that contributions and conversations in one space end up strengthening an entire knowledge ecosystem (or that we can understand that phenomenon better)?
  • What kind of ‘governance’ principles might be helpful to maximise the respective contribution of any individual network or community of practice to increase the weaving across networks and leadership emergence within the network?

Those are some of the questions that I am starting to ask myself and hope we will partly unravel as part of the KM4Dev Learning and Monitoring working group. And somewhere in between, I hope Nancy will somehow be one of my Northern Stars to navigate between the heaven and the hell of networked conversations and engagements…

Related blog posts:

Researching… good questions from wrong ideas

Communication, KM, best practices, knowledge transfer... too many dead ends are still followed in research (Credits - FreeFotoUK/FlickR)

Communication, KM, best practices, knowledge transfer… too many dead ends are still followed in research (Credits – FreeFotoUK/FlickR)

(A little caveat here: obviously not all researchers fall in the traps described below, and those are not just traps for scientists but also for many other types of people).

It’s been a little under a year that I’ve landed in the fascinating world of research and its even more fascinating appetite for questions. However it’s time for a shoot post about some of the wrong ideas that researchers seem to be asking themselves – around my fields of interest. Here are but a few, I might add more in the future as and when I come across other fallacies…

Best practices

Many people are still talking about best practices in the (CGIAR/agricultural) research world. Perhaps it’s the subconsciously natural connection with ‘best bet’ (to talk about specific agricultural technologies or methods) which leads people to use this phrase, but best practices do not exist. At least they don’t exist outside the spatial and temporal context where they have been assessed as best practices. The reason is simple: best means it is the absolute number one. But there is no absolute number one that can be used anywhere else with the same result. No silver bullet. Rub it in!

Good practices are a much safer alternative.

Knowledge transfer

Same ‘silver bullet’ mentality: you need to know better, I can give you that and transfer to you my superior understanding, experience and all. Why are some scientists (and others) deluding themselves about this? At the age of – finally – revaluing indigenous knowledge, not only do we not rely on just expert knowledge but we cannot transfer it magically from a person to the next. And you know why already: knowledge is not a thing. It cannot be UPS’d, it cannot be downloaded, it cannot be given. Check your knowledge basics if this doesn’t make sense to you (yet).

Knowledge and information sharing, social learning and capacity development are much sounder alternatives to knowledge transfer for the same objectives.

Capacity building

Talking about capacity… this is a minor point but everyone in the agric research world seems to be talking about capacity building, not capacity development. Petty semantic debate you might think. But words are loaded with assumptions. And the word building to me sounds like ‘building from scratch’, while development or strengthening give me the idea that we are building upon what is already there.

And while at that, capacity building/development is not just training: Coaching, exchange visits, study tours, personal study, feedback sessions, e-learning, reflexive work are all other forms of own or social capacity development…

Knowledge management

Two problems here:

  • Same as with knowledge transfer, knowledge cannot be managed (see the knowledge basics here again).
  • But also – and this is the main issue in the agric research world perhaps – people seem to think that KM is the same as IM (information management). Knowledge management is not just dealing with data / databases and information (a librarian function), although in my definition of KM it encompasses that too.

Please folks, DO realise that knowledge and information are very different, and KM is not just a little tick on a research proposal to think about data management. Well, if it’s that for you, fair enough but you’re missing out on the immersed part of the iceberg, the magical and fascinating part of human interactions and learning individually and together…


Ha! Many problems with communication too. Logical, because at least communication is, on paper, a given element in most agricultural research projects (whereas KM isn’t). But in general practice, communication is understood as a military exercise (‘military communication’) of crafting messages (weapons of mass attention) that are fired at target audiences with the intention of hitting them, err, enlightening them with information that supposedly makes them act and react in a different way.

Instead, why don’t we focus on ‘diplomatic’ communication, the kind of communication that is two-way all the way, that is based on dialogue and understanding, on engagement and building a rapport. That is much more effective than military communication, as much as diplomacy is usually a better resort than war.

Ha, and I can think of another fallacy, ‘scaling up’, but I already dealt with this one in the past.

So this is a plea to call upon researchers’ scientific curiosity and thirst for better questions, to start from a better hypothesis than what some of them at times too quickly assume should be a starting point. I have yet to write for the scientists too, about the blindness of comms and KM folks for their perspective, but this is the start of a dialogue, right?


Related blog posts: