Flap your wings for the ‘butterfly revolution’ of learning and change


A simple idea: change yourself and you might see entire systems transform.

Change (Peter Downsbrough, 2011)

Aren’t we all butterflies fluttering our wings somewhere and causing tsunamis on the other side of the world? We are connected, and global change starts with individual change. Or perhaps it doesn’t, but what is certain is that without individual change we won’t see systemic change…

So why do we keep chasing the unicorns of this world in such simplistic ways? We want to achieve scaling up, sustainability, social learning, systemic change…but we don’t ask ourselves the right questions. All these unicorns won’t materialise if organisations are not willing and capable of operating together, and organisations won’t manage that if their own staff – individually – are not capable of learning by themselves, of being intentional about the change they want to see happen, of sharing with and caring for others, of connecting deeply. Exactly like the unit 0 of civilisation is the family, the unit 0 of learning and change is ourselves as individuals.

One of the concepts that has taken me recently is ‘process literacy’: the capacity of people to go beyond ‘what has to be done‘ to also understand the fine processes that happen behind those objectives – what process documentation, systematization and capitalisation are trying to do. Being ‘process literate’ means that you constantly pay attention to the channels that are most appropriate to understand the issue you are contemplating. It means you can talk content (dive deep) and connect it with relevant fields and ideas (go wide).

It is through that process literacy lens that a lot of the questions we are grappling with will actually reveal some useful angles. Someone I just met is trying to unpack ‘knowledge management in value chains‘ and it turns out there is very little at the junction of these two fields, but she is adamant that it is in documenting the process of (not) doing KM in value chains that we will find ways to improve knowledge creation, sharing and use in those value chains. Spot on!

So, while social learning remains great, we need to nurture and cultivate that process literacy within ourselves. Social learning, by the way, is also understood by some as individual learning connected – via social media – to others (see the presentation below in its attempt to manage information through that type of social learning).

But the lesson is the same: learning, sharing, change, better livelihoods lives, they all start with each and everyone of us. So get ready to shed your caterpillar skin for the learning and change revolution to happen: we need all butterlies around to flap their wings.

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KM… the extra mile that saves (y)our time


What is it that makes knowledge management worthwhile? A lot of things I’m tempted to say as a knowledge manager, but there’s one important benefit that you cannot ignore: it saves time. And so it saves money.

KM... the Time Jumper? (Credits: Hartwig HKD / FlickR)

KM… the Time Jumper? (Credits: Hartwig HKD / FlickR)

Whether applied at an individual level (personal knowledge mastery), within an organization or in a network, KM is the extra mile that saves your time.

It saves time because it goes beyond the immediate needs of one person in one situation at one time in one place, to extract generic lessons that people can use, in other places or at other times.

In doing so, KM helps people identify relevant experiences, information, knowledge that they need to solve problems and it even helps them connect with the people that can help them fully understand or address the puzzle they’re facing.

But KM does require a little extra mile.

Spontaneously, a good KMer encountering a problem will not just try and fix it. S/he will record it, bring it to the attention of others concerned with it, and also document the way that problem was solved, or the gap in policies and processes that was revealed in the process. It would be much easier to just fix the problem and get on with it.

And that extra ‘KM’ mile may not always come in handy:

  • Looking back at what past information, experience or expertise you can find at hand to understand an issue is not something most of us like doing;
  • Sharing, alerting others about some specific information takes time;
  • Documenting the process needs tedious consistency;
  • Involving others in the work you do (because you ) adds a lot of complexity to ‘fixing an issue’;
  • Updating guidelines, good, bad or best practices requires discipline;
  • And you don’t even have a guarantee that others will find your information, understand it well enough, or use it…

So, at least initially, KM takes some time off you… but hey, if that extra mile helps others facing similar issues (or yourself the next time you are in that situation), what the heck, it’s worth it! If you believe in KM, you share because you care. Pay it forward!

Just make sure you use the most appropriate places to share, document, update that critical information. If you use the right arenas, then you’re sure to help others save time, in space or… time…

In addition, at some point you just develop the habit of routinely going that extra mile and hardly feel the time it takes anymore. You are entering the ‘effortless helping’ phase that blesses all good KMers.

So, even if KM takes that little extra mile, as it saves your time, keep your smile (and just do it)…

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Interview with Krishan Bheenick (CTA) – KM, systems thinking and the backlash of knowledge sharing


Following the global consultation of CIARD (Coherence in Information about Agricultural Research for Development) in May 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting Krishan Bheenick, Senior programme coordinator knowledge management at CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation) on his take about KM and where it’s headed.

Here is the transcript of that interview.

Krishan Bheenick, Senior programme coordinator knowledge management at CTA (Credits - FARA)

Krishan Bheenick, Senior programme coordinator knowledge management at CTA (Credits – FARA)

What is your personal story with KM?

I am not an expert in KM. My background is in agricultural science and in simulation / modeling. I used to teach at the University of Mauritius. These experiences helped me, forced me to have a holistic approach. I left the world of academia and wanted to get closer to policy-makers to have more influence.

I landed in the field of conceptualizing information systems – following the systems approach which I’m now transposing to information science – at national level. I developed a proposal for a national information system in Mauritius, vetted by FAO’s Investment Centre, but which was never financed. After that I ended up working at SADC (the Southern African Development Community) where I was asked to facilitate capacity strengthening in information management at regional level. What is required at national and at regional level brings up this systems approach: What works at regional level can be adapted at national level. Technology itself is just a way to implement information flows across the scale.

That’s the baggage I came with at CTA. The focus of CTA is to build capacity in information, communication and knowledge management (ICKM). I feel comfortable with that but my position mentions ‘knowledge management’ while I have a lot of questions about KM. I don’t mind this challenge because it forces me to go beyond what I’ve worked with the last years and to differentiate what is KM as opposed to what we used to do in information and communication management.

How is KM conceptualized and implemented in CTA?

KM at CTA is about how ICKM is interrelated. We started using ‘ICKM’ in the SADC region when thinking about developing regional info systems. During one of our regional workshops, we compared what is a communication strategy, an information management (IM) strategy and a knowledge management strategy. We realized that they’re all interrelated and intertwined and there are different entry points to ICKM.

I try and help people define that entry point to the process – even if they don’t know much about it – and to ensure they have some components to help improve the implementation of the communication strategy, strengthen information systems through an information management strategy and ultimately aim at developing a KM strategy focusing on these two elements.

At the same time, it’s important to get policy-makers to realize that even though they don’t call some procedures, processes, policies as KM they are practicing it. One of the motivating factors (and selling points to drive the process) is to get them to realize that they’re already putting KM into practice. That is currently more or less the CTA perspective.

In terms of interventions, our approach at CTA has been to tackle interventions in ICKM at whatever level the request is coming from e.g. groups of policy-makers who would like to have a web space for discussion, developing a simple website including some collaborative networking functions and forums (e.g. as simple as Dgroups). Whatever the request, we respond to it as it’s been put to us, in order to get engagement in the process. Then we follow up with sensitization to the whole spectrum of ICKM.

Some organisations would like to recognize the need to develop a strategy (whether on communication, information or knowledge management). CTA can help. We are running some pilots in ICM strategy development.

My colleague in KM at CTA, Chris Addison, has been working with farmer organisations who wanted platforms for collaboration. We’ve been working with communication officers to help communicate among sub-regional farmer organisations under the umbrella of one regional block.

Chris and I are addressing the needs for KM applying two different approaches, one from a mechanistic perspective back up and the other from the strategic perspective all the way down to technical. In the end we hope to come up with a framework that links strategic with technical aspects of KM. That’s the process we’re interested in and also discovering what KM is all about.

I don’t know enough about KM to say I’m an expert. I’m a learner, I understand some principles and I apply these principles in my job to respond to requests.

Where are your current interests and next steps with KM at CTA?

There’s a lot of talk about knowledge sharing (KS) and when people talk about KM a lot of illustrations come from KS. But is KS by itself sufficient to represent KM? I feel that the community is talking less and less about IM because we’ve started getting interested by the process. Has KS replaced IM?

Are we, while focusing on KS, distracting ourselves away from KM perspectives – where KM is left to a very intra-organisational approach? The very active promotion of KS approaches makes people think that it’s the same as KM.

It’s time to remind ourselves how KM is applied at a larger perspective than organizational e.g. community-wide. It’s my wish to explore that with colleagues in the KM field.

It’s my wish to explore that with colleagues in the KM field.

Where do you think the field of KM is headed and how do you look at it?

My wish would be to see that KM takes a step back for a better overview, revisits what’s been done in the field of KS where a lot of people are equating KS with KM. We should not lose the red thread. It’s important to show how KS is effective for KM but it’s not necessarily addressing management aspects. We’re not able to capture the essence of how KS is operating in KM.

What is the feedback that you get from KS: is that the whole of KM or KS in duplex? How is the duplex KS ending up becoming KM?

The principle of KM about documentation, reflection and sharing reflection and building upon previous reflection is to me a good KM practice. We can’t all keep sharing our thoughts and  we need sometimes to stop, take stock, learn and acknowledge what we’ve learnt and put those out as resources, which is where I appreciate what the KM4Dev community does with the KM4Dev wiki (although if I looked closely at that I might offer a critique of it).

Now that we have a KM scan ready to be applied. We’ll test it at small scale and if it works at that scale we’d like to share it with more people so that we get an instrument that is robust enough to take our snapshots of KM in the organization.

What networks, publications, resources would you recommend discovering to know more about what matters (to you) in KM?

Ark KM published a very expensive book last year ‘KM in organisations’. The Table of Contents was available and when I read that I realized that our thoughts about the state of KM in Agricultural & Rural Development, during a consultation last year, were very well reflected in that book. I would love to see whether CTA could approach publishing houses to come up with a book on KM in development that we could launch as part of their own series, maybe with the KM4Dev community or the agricultural and rural development community. If they see this as corporate social responsibility we’d be fine with it.

There was also an IDRC / SAGE publication (in India) about ‘transforming knowledge’ (2011). It’s a good reader in terms of how all the components fit together, from the perspective of how results of research are being translated out there. I would’ve liked to see something similar but looking at KM more broadly.

Finally, ‘Here comes everybody: the power of organising without organisations’ (by Clay Shirky): I like his analysis and with this you wonder how KM fits in the innovation systems. Personally I’ve followed systems thinking since I have been exposed to it and I’m applying it in my life.

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With KM, life, it’s all in the attitude, so ‘JUST DO IT’ (Nike does it)


If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it (Mary Engelbreit)

I’ve been running for over three years now, taking part to my first ever Great Ethiopian Run this year this year, errr this month even! Now, I used to hate running. Even the idea, but more so the practice. I love it now, though! I’ve turned into one of these running freaks that Nike was warning me against in my not-so-healthy years.

Whether you like running or not, whether you like Nike or not is beyond the point. Nike’s point though, is on the point: JUST DO IT. And find your greatness doing it. That’s attitude. I’m almost tempted to say it’s actually more about ACTitude.

Be pro-active, find your greatness, inspire others. Just do it! (Credits: Nike)

Be pro-active, find your greatness, inspire others. Just do it! (Credits: Nike)

In KM, so much depends on your attitude – as a knowledge manager, but also as just anyone dealing with information, knowledge, learning etc. Your attitude dictates your actions, and your thinking about them.

No one else will find and filter the information you need.

No one else will share your knowledge with people that can do something with it.

No one else will learn for you and help others learn through you.

You’ve just gotta do it. All. By. Yourself. 

So on the negative side, stop the victim act: stop keeping confused, nagging in 2001 ways that you were not informed, that you were not involved, that you didn’t have the time, that you were not given the authority to do what needed to be done. Just move your @ss and bloody do it! Your wagging finger at all the wrongs of the world will not change them. Your sticking your head up and your lifting arms to change what can be will!

So, rather than wait for the shit to hit the fan, use your brain, your heart, your two feet (remember the law of the two feet, Open Space style?), get up, become a leader, and inspire others and happy-go-lucky do it! It may not be easy, but it’s 100% worth it!

And since there’s much shit to react to and do something about, I leave you with the inviting words of The Roots because “Somebody’s gotta do it”…

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