Development is CAPACITY (to move all together through learning loops)

Yes: Global development (#globaldev) is glocal capacity – to move from single to triple loop learning, all together…

It just dawned on me in all its patent obviousness as I was running last weekend. Of course it’s more complicated than that, and global development is made of various distinct components:

  • ensuring safer homes,
  • having sustainable water and sanitation services,
  • good road infrastructures,
  • flourishing agriculture,
  • smart education,
  • ever improving livelihoods etc.

Development actors, at all levels and from all horizons, tend to focus on the deliverables related to each of these components, very often in isolation from one another, because it seems to provide the proof of development work, and of course that is important.

But the red thread of global development is really much more about the last two items in the list above: learning to improve one’s options in life. Capacity to make choices and ensure that these choices progressively lead to better choices.

Proverbially, we know it is better to teach how to fish than to fish for someone. Better still is to actually wonder whether fishing is the best idea, or even (moving from single to double to triple loop learning) wonder if thinking about fish and fishing is the best thing to do. We will know that global development has reached its goal when everyone will have reached that state of consciousness – how ideal and idealistic! Fluffy bunny thinking – though useful as a source of inspiration.

The move from MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) to SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) is a testimony to this shift of ‘increased smartness’ away from single loop learning (how to provide better xyz) to double loop learning (is this really enough, what is the goal we are really seeking to achieve?).

When you think about it, global development is meant to help us humans develop our capacity to run through Maslow’s pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs

Maslow's pyramid of needs

Maslow’s pyramid of needs

It is meant to help us get more adaptive, resilient, learning-focused, smart – and caring!

As one can see in so-called ‘developing countries’, global development is just another sector of economy. In so-called ‘developed countries’, it is not called global development but it is just as present in economy and society, echoed in art by people like Pawel Kuczynsky. In some ways, all sectors of an economy and a society are connected to global development, from architecture to industry, from education to foreign affairs, from waste management to intellectual property management. #GlobalDev is the cornerstone of it all, the spider in the web that connects all the active thinking and learning matter of all other sectors. All that makes it whole and better able to run up the Maslowian stairs.

This is why…

Global development is influenced by all efforts at all levels – all attempts at increasing the smartness of individual nodes and increasing their potential to connect with other nodes to form a whole grid of global capacity. So capacity is local, capacity is global, capacity is individual, present among teams, organisational, societal.

And two things matter in global development, for these two conditions to emerge:

Both are very slow processes, building on the development of expertise, building on social learning to accelerate and connect those learning/adaptive capacities (and become a hero) and on developing trust to ease the social learning process – that’s why, arguably, relationships matter more than results in development, because relationships have long-lasting effects on a very complex and slow-moving set of issues.

Interestingly, #globaldev has a whole scary history of failures, because we keep focusing on the wrong things, the what, instead of the why and how, the results instead of the (process) conditions that favour better results.

But these development-focused relationships are well worth investing in, so that eventually our Maslow pyramid is matched by a collective, human pyramid. And that would be a beautiful development to aspire to, wouldn’t you agree?

Monument to human pyramids (Credits: Susan Renee / FlickR)

Monument to human pyramids (Credits: Susan Renee / FlickR)

Related blog posts:


(You’re not welcome) On the dark side of co-facilitation

Facilitation (Credits - VisualPunch / FlickR)

Facilitation (Credits – VisualPunch / FlickR)

Meanwhile, another excellent KM4Dev conversation is raging, on the topic of defining ‘what a facilitator is‘.

Among other contributions, my fellow facilitator, KM4Dev mate and friend Nancy White shared a list of issues related to the dark side of facilitation…

The real life and dark sides of a facilitator below. I’m sure there are a few people here who can add to this list. 😉


  • called in after everything is really messed up (tip: build relationships before client lists)
  • is not briefed on the deeper, real and often problematic issues (“Oh, this is a fantastic group.” Right! Tip: develop a good set of questions to help discern the issues)
  • is asked to facilitate, but not included in design of a (really bad) agenda (tip: refuse to do this unless the designer was brilliant!)
  • runs into very interesting gender issues that are often unspoken, unrecognized (tip: pay attention to and make gender issues discussable)
  • has to facilitate in really BAD rooms in large international organizations (chairs nailed to floor. tip: go outside.)
  • sometimes is given great trust w/ sponsors and groups and all have a transformative experience. LIVES for these moments (tip: debrief: why was this so good? How can we do this again?)
  • mistakes conflict as something that must be shut down (tip: conflict is often the flag that you hit a core issue. Use it generatively)
  • sometimes crazy arrogant and drives to their own agenda (tip: self awareness is a facilitators best friend)
  • does not build capacity in others (tip: co facilitate, mentor, give up control)
  • actually facipulates  (tip: be honest when your approach has any manipulative elements. Use that in your favor, transparently)
  • leaves after the meeting so does not live the consequences (good, bad or otherwise) (tip: what about simple follow up… how are things going? What did we learn?)
  • is not an integral part of the organization (tip: when hiring, hire at least SOME people with facilitation skills and talents. This should not always be an outside job! Let’s co-source, not outsource)
  • is serving the sponsor, not the group (tip: power is always in play. Discuss and use it generatively. It is OK to challenge your client, and essential as a consultant.)
  • works hard to facilitate listening but sometimes fails (tip: learn how you listen and always work hard. There are lots of ways to improve)
  • doesn’t speak the local language and mistakes happen through interpretation (tip: first choice, hire facilitator who speaks the language. Second choice, have a more spacious agenda to really deal with meaning making across multiple languages.
  • takes him/herself too seriously (tip: use fun. seriously!)
  • has no repertoire or gets stuck in one approach/or is flip flopping all over the place (find the balance) (tip: always be learning. Invite your facilitees into that learning process. Build capacity all around)”

A very good and inspiring list!

But another inspiring topic that Nancy once raised in a video shared with me was about the dark side of co-facilitation.

The dark side - more like two sides dancing in the dark in the middle of change (Credits - Ryan Dury/FlickR)

The dark side – more like two sides dancing in the dark in the middle of change (Credits – Ryan Dury/FlickR)

Every facilitator would usually agree that having a co-facilitator is great.


Because, among others: it’s richer to design an event with another pair of eyes and another brain; it’s more fun and less work for everyone; it allows one to facilitate and the other to think about the next session or to ‘read the audience’; it provides different dynamics (due to the different styles) which potentially liberates more energy for participants in the room – not more of the same; you learn a lot from working with one another, from the big questions at the design stage to the micro details at the facilitation stage; it makes the reporting and documentation a lot easier…

You get the idea? Try and get two facilitators to work together on a gig, instead of one!

So what about that dark side?

Although luckily it doesn’t often happen (perhaps because having two simultaneous facilitators doesn’t happen often), having two (or more) facilitators on the same job can also be real trouble when:

  • You don’t know each other well and can’t capitalise on each other’s strong and weak points;
  • The more experienced facilitator actually leaves very little space for the less experienced one to find their space and dominates the planning/reflection process;
  • Or either of you feels that they are not valued in the design/thinking process (i.e. the strategic aspects of facilitation, not the ‘operational facilitation on the spot’);
  • You disagree with each other’s way to design a workshop (e.g. well planned and structured vs. open-ended);
  • You both read a situation differently (e.g. close a nascent conflict because it would be really detrimental to the spirit or use it in a constructive way?) and accordingly have behaviours that might contradict each other in the spur of the moment, potentially leaving your participants -very- confused;
  • You disagree openly and create a really bad impression on the participants, not least because you’re causing the focus of attention to shift to you rather than to the conversation at hand;
  • You are both strong-headed and find it difficult to accept each other’s views, leading the workshop to no good conversation or clear output… that’s the worst that can happen.
  • Either of you draws the praise to themselves or blames the other person for the problems that arise, rather than focus on ‘so how do we crawl out of this hole?’ together…

I have never experienced some of the situations above, like leading an event to a complete failure because of conflicting duo dynamics, but definitely have gone through moments of disagreement with each other’s design or way to handle things, or feeling not heard enough (whether for good or bad reasons) but each time me and my co-facilitator found a solution. Better be prepared for those moments anyway, as they are not enjoyable, so here are some ideas to avoid the dark side of co-facilitation:

What does it take to overcome that dark side?

Shared experience: Knowing each other definitely helps – the more of a common history you have built with one another, the better it is as you know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can co-design around this. Talk about it together and explore what you both enjoy doing (or not).

Co-creation and exploratory design: Grapple with the big picture together, toy around with objectives and translating them in work forms in an exploratory conversation, and when it comes to the details of who does what, fear not asking very practical, very silly-looking questions (“do I speak before or after you for the participant’s introduction?”, “After your summary comments do you want me to transition to the next session and announce coffee break?”).

Curiosity and openness: Embracing change and the unknown with an open mind is the key to joint facilitation, particularly if the latter involves dual improvisation (as it works on the principle of ‘yes AND’, not ‘yes BUT’…)

Generosity: Rather than play the card of keeping to one’s sessions and ideas, bring the other person along in your reflection, and show them you are interested in their ideas, in finding good ideas together. Who gets the credit doesn’t really matter, developing strong relationships by working hard on a joint initiative is a lot more important.

Joint reflection and an open heart, to discuss frankly what went well or not, much beyond blaming each other or uncritically praising each other or both (even though some sense of achievement can be really helpful in boosting the duo’s morale). In cases when you disagree on how the other ran a session, discuss it as soon as possible and reflect together. And if, at the end of the gig, there’s a consensus that the two facilitators can’t work each other, being conscious of that is also helpful for the future 😉 though in most cases facilitators should be able to negotiate an amicable solution together, as that’s also our job isn’t it?

Focus on the task at hand. At the end of the day, keeping in mind that you have to do a fine job at getting the best out of the participants and achieving objectives set (or whatever better pursuit was identified along the way).

Humour and talking in self-derision… this really talks to the examples that Nancy mentioned above. It releases tension, builds a rapport, makes the whole thing more enjoyable and last but not least, it helps focus on what really matters, i.e. not you as facilitators.

Once again, fun, focus and feedback seems like a winning formula!

What are your experiences and tips on getting out of these difficult situations?

Related blog posts:

Also check all posts in the category ‘facilitation‘.

I share because I care!

Sometimes I feel I’m surrounded by rabbits-in-wonderland, running around feeling overwhelmed all the time. Sometimes I am that rabbit, but that’s another story. Those rushing rabbits are bewildered how other people find time to share stuff. Sometimes I am the one wondering how come they are not sharing more.

But then, it makes sense: while everyone philosophically understands the benefits of sharing information, they may not understand what it brings practically, and so changing their sharing habits is all the more difficult.

Sharing is caring to feed others in various ways (Credits - FromSandToGlass)

Sharing is caring to feed others in various ways (Credits – FromSandToGlass)

Sharing is like thinking about gender issues: it is – or rather should be – not (just) for the specialists, it’s a cross-cutting, permanent attention and motivation. And there must be ways to trigger that kind of ‘behaviour mode’ based on practical benefits and reasons…

So why do I share information really? In no particular order… 

  • First of all, although it might feel intimidating to share thoughts or resources and bother other people with it, I have long ago realised that the advantages of sharing far outweigh those of hoarding (except perhaps by email to avoid invading others’ inboxes)… So in first instance I share because I dare. But then also…
  • Because when I find something interesting and share it, I love to see the reaction from other people – do they find this as interesting as I do? If so, what exactly about it? If not, why not? I care for understanding peoples’ curiosity.
  • Because if I find something thought-provoking, smile-inducing, heart-turning, others might experience these beautiful moments just as much or even more… and it genuinely feels good to see/hear someone going through such an epiphany of sorts. I find it important to be carried by your passions (whether intellectual or emotional) and I care for my kin to be seized by passion…
  • Because when I share something specific with someone specific, I hope it helps them in their own life quest and they will appreciate the nudge of help, as much as I appreciate it. In a ‘pay-it-forward‘ kind of way. I care to help people – perhaps with the vague promise that if I’m in trouble they might help me too?
  • Because by consistently sharing information, whether I like to admit or not, deeper down, I hope people will also recognise the quality of the stuff I share and look at me as a trusted source of that information. I guess I care for my name too (knowledge egology again?)
  • Because in the networked (and networkshopped) world, sharing equates extending conversation threads to form connected nets with other people, and reaching out to different people, expanding one’s personal learning network and conversation arena.
  • Because I have a terrible memory so if I share instantly I might remember that information better. If I share it on information repositories it will stick there and I can always find it again. I care for my memory.
  • Because we tend to work in silo’ed groups of interest and conversation spaces and sharing across these silos builds useful bridges toward universal sense-making. I care for our collective capacity to unravel the mysteries of our world. I care for learning and improvement.
  • Because of all the above-mentioned reasons, sharing has actually become a second nature and it isn’t taxing in the least. And really, at the end of it all, the most important of all the above is the deep satisfaction it procures to help and make people happy… It sounds corny but I think everyone experiences this in different ways and knows this to be true.

In other words…

I share because I care!

What are you waiting for?

Related blog posts:

Anatomy of learning: how we (individuals) make sense of information

We talk a lot about PKM – personal knowledge management, i.e. KM for individuals – but as Nick Milton indicated recently, at heart KM is a collective effort; when done well it becomes the effort of social learning.

Where do the two scales (individual – social) really connect?

Let us assume that KM is about conversations, documentation and learning. That’s what I do. My friend Jaap Pels has his own framework (embedded in this program’s theory of change) but it speaks to this foundation very much too.

Jaap Pel's KM Framework

Jaap Pels’s KM Framework

Since I want to build on the equation KM = CDL and want to explore how individual and collective spaces interact, I am starting a journey, here and now, exploring a possible framework (on a series I’ll call ‘Anatomy of learning’) which is progressively shaping up in my mind.

The starting point here is this graph from Jaap and the related set of activities, particularly learning: at a personal level, what do we do about learning?

  • We sometimes focus (we seek, Harold Jarche might say); I’d say we sometimes envision, we sometimes simply seek, we often just stumble upon stuff… But whatever it is, there is a relation between us and different sets of information that we are interested in or engaging with;
  • How do we create that relation and let it develop from there? We read, we chat, we just relate ideas in our head and it makes us realise some connections in information. Contrary, perhaps, to Jaap I’d argue that it’s not just in the conversations that we learn, though conversations are terrific learning teasers. Yet sometimes we just start exploring something with ourselves, on our own – like me on this blog – and the reel of thread starts unfolding little by little;
  • As we make connections we may decide to register these by documenting our thoughts, readings, conversations, to single out patterns and slice through them. Or we simply add these connections to our existing thought system, as updated appendices to our previous insights on the matter;
  • In the process we thus transform our mental pictures, our interests: we codify data into information through our knowledge capacity, either into something that becomes unconscious, something that becomes obvious, something that starts to become apparent (an emerging pattern) or something that just starts puzzling us because we’re early on our journey to get our head around it.

So we end up with a quadrant of insights like this, vaguely relating to the Cynefin framework:

Stuff that starts to become apparentWe need to discuss this further (or do something about it)

Complex domain

Stuff that becomes obviousWe need (us and others) to do something about it as we understand how it works

Complicated domain

Stuff that starts puzzling usWe need to unravel this (alone / together)

Chaotic domain

Stuff that becomes (or adds on to our) unconscious competenceWe don’t need to do anything about it except occasionally update it

Simple domain

Some might think we follow these steps in a linear and ideal manner, but we don’t. Ever. Or only for very short dashes of time. And then our human nature kicks in again, like a Pavlovian reflex rebelling against routine, against what is good vs. what feels good. We return to random. Thank goodness for that. We’re not robots!

But just like practice doesn’t make perfect – purposeful practice does – it takes regular efforts to expand the field of our conscious incompetence (remember this?), and that happens more easily with others at our side, exploring together.

So the next step in this journey will be to look at other scales related to us as individuals – how learning moves from individual to become collective, or event social – something which I’m sure will turn clearer as I delve into Julian Stodd’s book ‘Exploring the world of social learning‘.

In the meantime, any light is welcome as ever 🙂

Related posts:

Getting KM and comms accepted, valued and right – An interview for APQC

Interview (Credits - Eelco Kruidenier - Smiling_Da_Vinci - FlickR)

Interview (Credits – Eelco Kruidenier – Smiling_Da_Vinci – FlickR)

Of late, I’ve taken up a habit of interviewing people I find interesting for this blog:

  • Jocelyne Yennenga Kompaore on pioneering KM in Burkina Faso;
  • Carl Jackson on new trends of facilitation and collective meaning-making;
  • Ann Waters-Bayer on social learning and farmer-led innovation;
  • Michael Victor on the blurred boundaries between communication, knowledge management, monitoring and evaluation etc.
  • Krishan Bheenick (upcoming) on finding a balance between information vs. knowledge management.

But this time I am the one interviewed. It’s interesting to see how someone approaches you with a specific angle and interest, which may be very different to your own hobby horses and headlights – a useful experience to keep in mind and relate better to my own interviewees in the future.

In this brand new APQC interview, I was asked to answer a few questions related to knowledge transfer and the difficulties of the neglected field of communication. A couple of points I’d like to emphasise here:

  • Although the title mentions ‘knowledge transfer’, I already explained before that I don’t think ‘knowledge transfer’ is possible – based on a certain definition of knowledge.
  • The interview relates to the wider field of KM, not necessarily the sub-domain of KM ‘for development’, with its long history of failures (but also all the opportunities that come with that), which probably explains why a lot of the KM projects I am referring to may not have such clear-cut goals and objectives.

Anyways… Hereby the text of the interview – though you can find it on the APQC website following this link. Thank you APQC for approaching me and for allowing this re-posting 🙂


APQC recently chatted with Ewen Le Borgne, senior editor of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal, about why communication is a key part of transferring and applying critical knowledge.

Ewen Le Borgne is knowledge sharing and communication specialist at the International Livestock Reseearch Institute, senior editor of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal, and core group member of the global Knowledge Management for Development community of practice. You can read his blog Agile KM for me..and you or follow him on Twitter at@ewenlb.

If you would like to learn more about transferring and applying critical knowledge, you can listen to our free webinar: 12 Best Practices to Transfer and Apply Critical Knowledge.

In a great blog post you said: “Communication and KM are ‘secondary processes,’ which means they are not central operations. As a result they are sometimes underestimated, understaffed and under-budgeted.” In our study, the best-practice organizations structure systematic knowledge elicitation as a time-bound event with clear goals, milestones, responsibilities, and outcomes. It seems so simple but why don’t all organizations lay out clear goals and objectives from the start of some KM projects?

Because KM had its chance a while back, failed because of the passion for tools, and is now finding it difficult to gain ground again. A lot of organizations don’t understand KM well enough and thus “shoot in the dark,” oversell it, and further down the line under-deliver. They are not seeing KM as part and parcel of normal operations but as either a) a special unit that will solve all their problems or b) a “mainstream” thing that doesn’t get accounted for anyway and thus leaves it up to anyone (aka no one) to do it right.

What is the main reason some organizations don’t have a clear line of communication for transferring knowledge?

The No. 1 reason might be that learning and reflecting take time to become an embedded practice. Most people go through their (professional) lives without paying so much attention to that practice. As a result, they don’t learn to look around and use existing stuff. I think the whole trick is really to encourage that personal KM and collective KM through regular reflection, reviews, etc.

Can you elaborate on your point that engaging trusted colleagues around the idea that communication/KM is a slow process that feeds off “little successes” and cooperation at all levels?

In some ways, (most) critical knowledge tends to make its way naturally to the people who need it, because they need it badly and find that knowledge wherever it is. The culture of spreading little successes and cooperation at all levels takes a lot more time, always. But if it works in certain teams—where management shows true leadership and people find a good, conducive peer support atmosphere for their work—it can more easily trickle down into wider units of the organization.

What I mean is that there are people who will “get” KM (whatever it’s portrayed as) and others who won’t. You can more easily create a culture that is conducive to it without the latter group involved, and you need to build on early wins that you socialize so that others see the value of your (KM) work. You build on these small successes for the culture. As for the critical knowledge that needs to be handled properly, the best option is to quickly identify it (knowledge needs) and to run mini-projects that focus specifically on addressing those key knowledge needs. The problems surge when an organization embarks on an ambitious KM program that requires a significant change of culture to be successful.

You mention that KM can be easy prey for budget cutters because the results aren’t clear.  Do you have an example or experience where “little successes” helped save a KM program from the ax?

Not really in that way, because I never worked on KM programs that focused just on KM. I’ve always included KM in broader activities, and whenever I focused more specifically on KM I linked it back to the rest of the organization or program in some way. However, rather than examples of KM programs being saved from the ax, I have examples of where KM activities led to much bigger programs (i.e., scaling up KM)—for example, from an initial KM assessment of a previous initiative on water projects in West Africa (by USAID) to a large program with a significant component on KM, or from the modest design and facilitation of some workshops at the onset of another USAID-funded program (on agriculture in Africa) to carving out extra resources to make sure that communication/KM/facilitation of events and processes would support the entire program because the donors loved the inputs we provided in designing/facilitating/documenting/acting upon the workshops.

Finally, our best-practice organizations make sure stakeholders are explicitly accountable for contributing and applying knowledge. What is the best way to communicate and implement this in a positive way?

LEAD BY EXAMPLE: Start it from the management—if, and only if, they lead by example themselves. This means that in many organizations it’s just not going to fly because management is too ensconced in the old ways and doesn’t grab the opportunities of this era to empower employees to take hold of key business conversations, positively influence them, and do something with the outcomes of these conversations.

CONNECT CONVERSATIONS AND KEEP SHARING: I believe in personal knowledge management (PKM) also, and part of PKM suggests that we use our social networks (our personal learning networks) to expand the circle of our conversations. I think smart organizations can encourage a knowledge sharing/applying culture by allowing their employees to use their networks and connect them to their work conversations. That encourages sharing more and more, outside but eventually also inside the company.

DEVELOP A LEARNING CULTURE: Ensuring the “apply knowledge” aspect is more difficult because there are strong drivers working against it. Most people don’t like to look back at what others have done (e.g., applying existing insights from past experiences), and some make a point not to do so, so as to reinvent the wheel and leave their own stamp on the work. The (long-term) way to ensure that past knowledge is applied is to develop a learning culture by multiplying spaces and ways for people to engage, share, and reflect: brown bag seminars, learning retreats, online conversations and consultations, mentoring and peer-support, peer assists, after action reviews and the like, interactive workshops and meetings that focus on engagement/participation and learning. All the while, the trick is to exercise good practice—looking back at past experiences, systematic documentation, and proper facilitation—to ensure all voices are invited, etc. And back to PKM: Encourage personal reflection, blogging, diary-keeping, personal content curation, etc. This helps everyone get into the habit of processing the information they need to stay on top of their field, and they can use some of that personal routine for collective work too.

INDUCT NEW STAFF PROPERLY AND PAIR STAFF TO WORK TOGETHER. Perhaps that’s just part of the previous point but induction programs, joint work, and buddy-systems or mentoring programs are excellent ways to ensure the application of knowledge. Having knowledge sharing explicitly mentioned in the Terms of Reference for a given position may help, but norms are always less effective than practices (such as getting a mentor and mentee together to reflect on work).


I love interviews, so let me know if you want to be interviewed (or perhaps interview me?) 😉