What are we waiting for to walk our talk (on KM and comms)?


Back on the blog after a three-week pause related to important developments in my personal life. Still floating a bit and my blogging practice needs to be oiled up again, but I have some ideas of stuff to blog about, starting with: Why don’t more KM and comms specialists actually walk their own talk?

The past few weeks at ILRI have been about appraisals, 360 degree feedback – so a lot of retrospective thinking and sense-making – and also among others an important demonstration of what we do in comms/KM.

All good fodder for thought (yes, I am influenced by the livestock agenda of my organisation ;)) What strikes me in this first week back is that despite knowing that it really can be difficult to ‘sell’ KM and comms, many specialists of that field don’t seem to walk their talk – and I’m not specifically talking about my direct colleagues here, but about a lot of more distant colleagues who ‘should be out there’ and just don’t seem to.

  • How many of these specialists are really sharing what their doing on a regular basis – both online and face-to-face – to inform others about their work, to work out loud as John Stepper is convincingly inviting us to work?
  • How many of these specialists are really applying the principles of personal knowledge management (or ‘personal knowledge mastery‘ PKM, as Harold Jarche would have it) to manage their information and sharpen their expertise, knowledge and tap into that of others around them?
  • How many of them (of us!!) not spending adequate time performing a simple ‘after action review‘ (AAR) to ensure we keep learning and adapting?
  • How many of us are really curating our own content and ongoing work to ensure that every signal we come across, as much as possible (since obviously it’s impossible to achieve 100% there), finds its way to appropriate sharing channels and storing repositories, with our own added value to it?
  • And how come so many of us are still struggling with assessing and measuring KM when the field has been around… with the possible exception of Nick Milton’s excellent set of quantified KM stories on Knoco stories?

Many gaps in our own practices, it seems, so how can we expect others, who are not dedicated knowledge workers, to buy into KM and comms and use it for their own benefit? Being an effective knowledge worker requires discipline and dedication, all for the purpose of improving one’s and others’ practices and lives (I share because I care!). It is tiring at times, even exhausting occasionally, but it also continually gives a lot of energy.

This relates to another thought triggered by this first week back at work: a colleague gave a very comprehensive presentation about ILRI comms work. It was quite a complicated job, because the presentation was very broad and covered an incredible amount of items, so this is certainly no criticism on my part – there would have been things to improve anyways, but one thing that struck me was that the presentation seemed to miss an essential element: WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

What's in it for me? If we don't start there, how can we expect others to get interested? (Credits: Gino Zahnd / FlickR)

What’s in it for me? If we don’t start there, how can we expect others to get interested? (Credits: Gino Zahnd / FlickR)

Isn’t the trick, in our field of comms/KM, to start from either the concrete and devilish problems that our colleagues, partners, clients are facing or the opportunities to work more smartly? And then to demonstrate how we do this?

It seemed to me that despite the incredible richness of the presentation, there was a bit too much ‘this is what we do’, ‘this is how it works’, not enough ‘this is why it is going to solve your problems like no other solution’ or ‘this is going to strengthen your excellent work in area xyz’… And ultimately, ‘these are a few steps you might take in that direction…’ Remember Spitfire Communications’ ‘Smart Chart’ and its due emphasis on the ‘ask’?

We know (personal) change is slow, everyone wants others to start it rather than themselves, and it has a lot to do with psychology. So while there’s no need in criticising people for being slow at change, we equally cannot afford to rest on our laurels and not practice what we preach as comms and KM folks.

So, WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP to sharpen your practice? Mine will start with more systematic AARs. Next week. Tomorrow. Now! Still a lot of progress for all of us, me certainly included, to get better at explaining, showing and embodying the power of KM and comms 😉 Indeed we need to look at ourselves first, because as Leo Tolstoy excellently put it:

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” (Leo Tolstoy)

What other areas of not walking our talk do you commonly observe in the field of comms/KM? Do you know of similar watchdogs in that field as Shit Facilitators Say (@ShitFacilitator) on Twitter for facilitation heads?

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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:

Use PACMAN to beat information overload and fix filter failures!


Dealing with information overload (Credits - Joy of Tech)

Dealing with information overload (Credits – Joy of Tech)

So much information out there! How to keep up with it?

Such filter failures (Clay Shirky would -allegedly- say) in the way we process information bubbles! How can we fix these?

So little time to do so much! Where lies our salvation from the digital flood?

People around me are constantly grappling with this: my researcher colleagues say they wouldn’t use new platforms and channels (they’re struggling with existing ones as is), my family wonders how I manage to engage on social media (beyond the obvious Friend&Family-focused Facebook), my friends mostly don’t really know about my info-flow-survival tricks…  All of this led me recently to wonder if only dedicated knowledge workers are able to strike a balance with information flow, between fast pace and slow space.

My mantra to keep the head above the info water is: PACMAN. Or rather PACMan: Plan-Act-Capture-Manage. PACMan helps you eat information nuggets all along the way and keep going happily, while fixing filter failures letting phantoms through. It has a lot to do with personal knowledge management (PKM) so perhaps it should be called PaKMan 😉

What does PACMan entail?

Plan

One of the main reasons why we don’t manage to find the time to read all the relevant information there is, is that we don’t plan for it properly. Typically our (lack of) planning is lousy because:

Plan openly, adapt relentlessly (credits: BlogWestinteractive / FlickR)

Plan openly, adapt relentlessly (credits: BlogWestinteractive / FlickR)

  • We usually don’t plan! We don’t set goals, which would give us direction and, very importantly, give us energy when we complete them;
  • As a result we don’t manage to channel energy and time to activities that fall off our crisis-mode (like Alice’s eternally late rabbit), such as reading interesting stuff;
  • When we DO plan, we over-plan. We put too much on our fork. And by the same token we ignore what we unconsciously sense (and know from experience): reality -usually- does NOT follow the plan. We need to keep our plans flexible. I’d say keep 20-25% of your plans open to allow spontaneity and serendipity (remember pinballs and bulldozers);
  • We’re usually lousy at saying ‘no‘ to more work; perhaps because it’s interesting but it still means we’re constantly pushing our multitasking limits (when some say multitasking doesn’t actually work), reinforcing this crisis dynamics… We just have to say no to too much work! It’s the only way to maintain focus, quality, energy and inspiration…
  • Oh, and we typically forget to plan holidays. Fatal mistake, as no one else will do that for you 😉

Turn these planning mistakes on their head, forget about perpetual fire-fighting and enjoy the luxury of quality time, for reading and otherwise.

What I do (among others): I plan on a weekly basis, keep one day entirely free, maintain manageable daily objectives and accommodate the unknown by pushing things back to when I have free time available. My reading time is early and late in the day, at the edges of a working day, when I have a break and if I need to read a specific document, I include that in my plan. Ticking off my to-do’s gives me joy and a sense of achievement, while I can still open any unknown along the way – ideal! Ha – and saying no and planning holidays were the two surviving skills I learnt with my previous employer IRC – just try it!

Act

…on the spot! I already covered dealing with email overflow – a lot of that advice applies to other information sources. Act is about avoiding future problems. It’s about finding heuristics that work for you (e.g. do, delegate or dump), but doing it in the moment, as it happens. Act according to your plans, act on capturing (see next point) when the opportunity presents itself, act on what you observe and feel, act rather than just think. Seize the moment to read, use your ‘dead time’ and combine opportunities to do reading (to serve another purpose) if that makes your life easier.

Try and stick to the plans when it makes sense, don’t dilute your focus. Keep zen habits… Though when a good opportunity presents itself to absorb that information in a slow, qualitative kind of way, just seize it, it might be your best chance in a while. It’s about being in the moment and honing the wisdom of insecurity.

What I do: I execute my plans, I regularly read stuff and when I see something valuable I share and/or save it on the spot. And a whole lot more which I guess I should unpack in a future post… 

Capture

Managing information flow is also about deferring / staging the time to absorb that information – and indeed fixing filter failures.

Staging the consumption of information means that you not only plan time to that kind of quality reading, but you can also save information for later consumption (and easy sharing). Like recording a program you don’t have the time to watch at the moment. Social bookmarking helps you do just that (see this video about social bookmarking).

RSS feeds are also a great way to differ your information consumption. What are RSS feeds? See the video below. What’s great about it is that they capture information for you – ready to be read any time – in one convenient place, like your personal, customised newspaper.

Fixing filter failures is itself about leveraging the combined filtering power of your personal learning network (PLN). Invest in your PLN, on all social media/networks you’re using; prune those networks, remove the people that you don’t really engage with or benefit from, act as the constant knowledge gardener. If well maintained, your PLN will help you find the cream of the content crop, by retweeting/saving/blogging about/referring to/sharing these great resources – something that Twitter does particularly well but other platforms too.

What I do: I’ve been using Del.icio.us for a while to bookmark resources that I have found interesting – or that look interesting. Sometimes I don’t come back to those. Most of the time I do, at some point, use these resources. Favourites in specific collections such as FlickRSlideshare etc. also provide similar features. I use those two, Pinterest for graphs and funny pictures (that are not mine), Instagram to store touched up pix taken with my phone, TumblR to keep track of fragments of conversations and blogging ideas etc. – I collect stuff on the spot. And I check RSS feeds (via Feed.ly) on my phone or over the weekend + a very quick check some mornings, possibly reading whatever incredible stuff appeared in my stream.

Manage

At some point it really helps to manage and curate your content: organise your tags/keywords to make sure you collect your resources around consistent references, bundle important references on specific channels, analyse your resources and blog about it. Robin Good recently shared this excellent resource on good (and new) curation tools and practices which will give you a lot of great ideas to curate relevant content.

What is content curation? (Credits - Webbythoughts)

What is content curation? (Credits – Webbythoughts)

Managing also covers learning – analysing the content and reflecting on your planning, acting, collection and curation practices. It can be part of planning, it can be done on a daily or weekly basis but it needs to be done regularly to adjust. The bad news: it will take you a while to get on top of your content collections and information flows. But once you do and you have properly managed and are regularly curating them, your practice becomes an unconscious competence: you just do it without noticing, so it doesn’t (feel like it may) take time.

What I do: I recently reviewed all my Del.icio.us, tags removed all duplicates etc. it took me half a day but it is now so easy to save a new resource (without wondering which tag I should be using) and to retrieve any of them later… I regularly save pictures aside and put them on Pinterest and FlickR to keep them in sets/collections. I also analyse my own (and other) content I ‘take stock‘ of important topics on this blog. I use my blog for many different purposes, including reflecting on my information management practices, it’s a powerful way to surface deeper issues and structure solutions for me. When I have more time I review how I use my collections such as Pinterest, RSS feeds. However I don’t reflect enough – every day – about what I could improve or why things didn’t go as intended.

So what now?

With PACMan you should now be able to stay on top of your information flows and progressively handle more and more of it – if you so wish – or balance the time you absorb information with other personal priorities of yours. Oh sure it will take some time but you no longer will be part of the people who feel constantly overwhelmed with information…

And that’s agile PKM for you 😉

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What to put in a KM training, off the random top of my head


I was never trained on KM. I just learned it by doing. Errrr, I am learning it by doing.

But if I was trained in agile KM next week, what would I love to find in such a training? Some people are wondering about exactly that on KM4Dev right now. So, let me think about this a bit…

There’s many ways that one can think of elements to include in a KM training, so I’ll start with my favourite order: random – spur of the moment-like. A first brush to peel this onion, to unravel the little patterns that gild this golden question.

Here’s a series of (perhaps not so) random concepts and keywords that I think should make it into an agile KM training course – focused on development – these days…

Complexity

Networked organisations need to grasp how complex un-oder works (Credits - Verna Allee / Harold Jarche)

Networked organisations need to grasp how complex un-order works (Credits – Verna Allee / Harold Jarche)

That’s step 1. Understand we work with complex networks and agendas and have to realise where we find ourselves. The Cynefin approach that is at the heart of ‘The social imperative‘. Without that basis, no way agile KM can work, because it will become a world of hammers and nails.

Simplicity

Complexity doesn’t mean everything we do is complex or even complicated. It’s not simple either but…

Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler (attributed to Albert Einstein)

People don’t like change; complicated change, even less so… So agile KM might have to start with – or pass by – ‘Go organic, go civic! #KMalreadyHappensAnyways‘. Because a lot is already going on, and we can just build upon this rather than start from scratch. Oh, and don’t forget to forget the labels: Nobody should really care whether they ‘do agile KM’, they should just do it 😉

Taxonomy and folksonomy

However fancy fluff ‘big data‘ might end up being, the key lesson of it is to ensure content can easily be aggregated and processed, and that goes through tagging and meta-tagging. That’s where taxonomy (an ordered collection of tags, usually centrally) and folksonomy (the crowdsourced version of a taxonomy) come in handy. Invest in ways to help data-crunching at a large scale, but also at a human scale through social media keywords, tags and handles.

Facilitation

Facilitation, (a lot) more than just telling people what to do, it's about orchestrating energies and capacities (Credits - James Brauer/FlickR)

Facilitation, (a lot) more than just telling people what to do, it’s about orchestrating energies and capacities (Credits – James Brauer/FlickR)

Agile knowledge management has a lot to do with social processes (of social change) so a good understanding and command of how to facilitate such processes comes in order. That’s why a toolkit like the Knowledge sharing methods & tools: a facilitator’s guide (and the many more that exist out there just to think of a few here).

Learning

Perhaps that’s the essence of it all. How do we bring together all the elements above to conjure up the conversations that help us make sense of the world around us and to act in it? What is learning again? A whole area of work that brings together personal knowledge management, social learning, organisational learning etc. not least through the engagement families. Agile KM has to focus on added effectiveness through learning and other means.

Innovation

Agile KM is no longer about keeping information just in case, it’s about moving collectively towards agile groupings of people, who can proactively anticipate upcoming changes and react promptly to unanticipated changes. It’s about unlocking the potential to innovate, via feedback loops (see this recent ‘How Feedback Loops Can Improve Aid (and Maybe Governance)‘ on this). So how can KM unlock our individual and collective capacity to innovate?

Assessment

A KM training course surely hopes to equip trainees with means to implement (agile) KM in their own setting. But how do you know whether this works? Through assessment, monitoring, evaluation. All that stuff from social media metrics to impact assessment. That’s done through learning, and connecting dots, bringing reflection and analysis closer to action. Feedback loops again. But that’s the only way to get good. That and the proverbial 10,000-hour rule. And luckily, there’s plenty of good references about this – see this stock-taking selection.

Collective action and social change

Ok this one is for the development & cooperation knowledge workers, not necessarily those working for private businesses. But what point is there in agile KM if not to improve the world or prevent further damage to it. So that goes through understanding what makes up identity and the formation of collectives on that basis i.e. what brings people together, the kind of stuff that Dave Pollard recently blogged about in his excellent blog ‘How to save the world‘. At the heart of it, the concepts of empathy and trust become prerequisites to joint action and social change.

A model of identity (and community) formation (Credits: Williamson & Pollard)

A model of identity (and community) formation (Credits: Williamson & Pollard)

So as mentioned in prelude to this post, this is only one take about what to include in a KM training. I could also do it from the perspective of modules, of disciplines that come into play, of scales that matter, of approaches and tools that make this work… Perhaps a whole series of blog posts is just emerging here, shaping an ever-changing repurposing of training materials. That is also what Agile KM is all about: reuse past stuff, but do it in new and ever more meaningful ways.

More on the KM4Dev mailing list soon…

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Spur of the moment or long term purpose: when pinballs meet bulldozers


In working environments, one of the conundrums in personal and organisational knowledge management is the balance between following one’s ‘spur of the moment’ intuition and pursuing one’s longer term intent and purpose.

Balancing plans and opportunities is finding a balance between the pinball effect and the bulldozer drive

Balancing plans and opportunities is finding a balance between the pinball effect and the bulldozer drive

Planning and executing work then becomes a game of pinballs and bulldozers, where pinballs are projected in all directions, attracted by signals and rebounding on opportunities that arise, and bulldozers moving forward with a plan and avoiding derailing from their plan, no matter what.

Of course, we are neither pinballs nor bulldozers: we all evolve along that continuum and tend to mesh the two ends as we see fit.

At a personal level that is entirely ok. But when a complex situation requires different people to align their operating mode, complications arise. Here are a few instances of these that I or others I know have faced at work in the past 10 years:

  • Feeling hopeless and prey to everyone else’s agenda and actions – literally like a pinball sent in all directions, trying to cope with travel, backlog, email piles and the rest of it;
  • Planning work without keeping any open slot and feeling defeated at the end of the week for not having been able to do it all because the plan did not leave enough room for imponderables… ;
  • Spending the entire week meeting people and having conversations, only to find it a struggle to actually write stuff or do things, and perhaps – over time – slightly losing interest or ability to do that;
  • Being a victim to one’s email inbox and social media and responding to all of these on the spot;
  • Being under pressure to deliver and having to adjust one’s schedule to high level demands or encounters with moral pressure to execute, even if this means working systematically in the weekends or evenings and you promised yourself to keep a healthy work-private life balance;
  • Dealing with colleagues who find it natural to work every night, every weekend – as it is their way to cope with work pressure – as they expect you to do the same;
  • Being accused of being inflexible and not open to meeting people because you’re working on some deadline and are focusing on what you planned to deliver rather than what comes up;
  • Continuing on your trajectory (business as usual) without realising it’s not what you should be doing…

“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging” (Will Rogers)

This post is as much therapeutic as it is reflexive. Time to look at how we collectively deal with our ability and inclination towards planning and seizing opportunities…

On a personal level…

Personal effectiveness survey gurus like Stephen Covey (and his habits of highly effective people) or Leo Babauta and his zen techniques to keep a balance, both insist on intent, purpose, planning and carving time out for quality work.

This is at the heart of my own approach to personal effectiveness. Work just goes on and on like a treadmill and if you don’t step back and look around once in a while, you might miss your purpose, forget what really gives you energy and what little steps you should be putting together to achieve a greater goal.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should just focus on that path and never step out of it. The keys to finding a balance might lie in:

  • Carpe Diem now or later?

    Carpe Diem now or later?

    Enjoying the moments as they come. Carpe diem (seize the day). It is probably the most important balancing mechanism to appreciate what you are doing at every step of your way – where mindfulness becomes the guiding path…

  • Reflecting regularly (every day? every week? after every important happening or event?) to see what works or not, what gives you energy or not, where you might change your approach regarding tiny details of your every day life, work, planning and enjoying – simple after action reviews can be a powerful mechanism for that;
  • Reflecting deeply (and particularly applying third loop learning in practice) to inquire about your own sense of purpose (and for those who wish, destiny) and what might be the next wave we ride;
  • Planning accordingly but knowing at heart that we don’t have all answers, that we don’t have the gift of foresight and that we have to remain open to what comes along the way, as signals that might take us for a better turn on our life path, and definitely keeping open slots for serendipity, creativity, seemingly unproductive time…
  • Avoiding – if we mind the pinball effect – to fall prey to every notification, signal, email, social media message or else that keeps popping up visually, aurally and kinesthetically (through the vibrating effect of a message popping on our phone)… Every sign of distraction like this might keep us away from finding more meaningful answers and questions that lie in longer term focus and discipline.

Collectively…

How do our operating wheels fit with one another? (credits Pbase.com)

How do our operating wheels fit with one another? (credits Pbase.com)

 

Collective effectiveness is a lot about how everyone’s operating wheels fit into one another and finding solutions for it has a lot to do with negotiating collective conventions. Some pointers here might be…

To agree on the long-term objectives and the short-term necessities of the team and organise work accordingly – following a broad main line – not the route that will be followed step by step but the map that connects starting point and final destination, with an idea of some stop-overs. This requires regular communication and is harder done than said…

Similarly to personal efforts, to regularly reflect on the objectives and operating mode of the collective and to assess what needs to happen to make this collective work and bring the best of its abilities to the fore. If unwanted/unexpected/unplanned signals drive too much attention away from the main added value of that collective, it might be good to reduce these opportunities.

To embrace ideas that stem from the collective’s individual practices, and to allow some time to sift through the experience and assess what might be the collective value of that individual practice. This is typically the case with one person trying a new social network and inviting their colleagues to reflect upon the potential for the whole team to use it (when, why, for what purpose, how etc.)? There is much value in exploration, it just needs to be assessed collectively at some point.

To gauge, as a team or organisation, the need for focus or exploration. This is to ask to what extent the collective needs to remain open to opportunities that come along the way (because it really needs to bring in a whiff of external perspectives) or needs to focus on its current pipeline because it already has well enough logical and useful work underway.

To discuss collectively how to deal with over work, work-life balance and what colleagues can expect from each other when it comes to weekend and evening work requests or attending to unexpected conversations when there are expectations to deliver outputs.

To agree on planned outputs and collective responsibilities to deliver these. Once that agreement is made it becomes easier to dedicate additional time and efforts to unexpected and spontaneous happenings. So long as it remains each individual’s workload the collective remains trapped in entropy and if it remains solely the management’s prerogative, commitment to deliver might be limited.

To reflect collectively on what (and sometimes who) distracts the collective’s plans and brings along opportunities that might indeed be very helpful or simply noise that reduces the collective’s productivity and purpose. And discussing what would be the practical implications of adapting the collective schedule to respond to opportunities and how it would be received in the wider ecosystem of which that collective is part (e.g. a team within a broader organisation).

There will likely never be a full balance between various individuals’ approaches and the needs of the collective when it comes to planning and opening to unexpected magic, but we might do much worse than talking, reflecting about it and acting upon collective conventions.

One thing’s for sure: conventions and cultures evolve and we should remain alert to these changes that affect our strategies. Together, we might see the hole we’re digging before it gets too deep…

Related blog posts:

Social media for empowerment – a guide for African climate change workers


The social media guide for African climate change practitioners

The social media guide for African climate change practitioners

After a couple of months of hard collective work on it, and after several other months of to-ing an fro-ing between AfricaAdapt and ILRI, the Social media guide for climate change practitioners in Africa is finally OUT!

  • The final version of the guide as a PDF doc is only 10 pages long (about 2000 words) and an easy reference for anyone not all too sure what social media are and how they can be used for climate change (and other) work.
  • The complete version of the guide, as a wiki, is more comprehensive and is the object of this blog, as it really emphasises ways that social media can empower people, in this case particularly African climate change workers.

Social media can indeed be an incredibly powerful way to mitigate imbalances between groups by pooling resources together – when the wisdom of the crowd turns into the power of the crowd. The case of Africa – which is the focus of the guide – is particularly revealing in climate change and other development work. A lot of development initiatives have pretended to help Africa and to empower its inhabitants, only to further increase the concentration of knowledge and know-how in the strongholds of Northern development goodwill.

Yet, social media are slowly changing this game, offering African entrepreneurs, artists, development workers and creative people from all African walks of life to connect, share ideas, review and assess products and services, question policies and practices together. And indeed some initiatives mentioned in the guide such as Africa Gathering are tapping into the unrivalled opportunities for mobilisation that social media bring about.

A whole section of the guide is dedicated to this particular aspect of African empowerment. A hidden version of this page provides a slightly more elaborated overview of this topic. Some of the work highlighted in this section is borrowed from the excellent IKM-Emergent programme and other initiatives that really intended to let Africans (and other developing country ‘aid recipients’) define their own approach to development.

This is only one of the elements of the guide but an important one for AfricaAdapt and its constituents, but also for many Africans wishing to organise their physical and intellectual livelihood according to their own terms. Some of the initiatives listed in the guide are a testimony of the vibrancy of such indigenous movements making creative uses of social media.

What the social media guide offers, altogether

This social media guide offers a simple ‘how to get started‘ section on what are social media in general and what are some of the most visible ones in particular, but it is principally structured around four main sections, each displaying a selection of key resources that are worth reading to know more about:

  1. The first section looks into what it means to promote African knowledge (about climate change adaptation).
  2. A second section tries to offer very practical advice on how to use social media along the knowledge cycle.
  3. The guide also highlights some doubts that surround social media and offers some constructive ways to address these.
  4. Finally, the guide also looks beyond social media to see how mass media, face-to-face, mobile telephony and the likes can offer very strong complementarities when used with social media.

For further research and resources, the guide also provides a series of useful appendixes.

There are chances this wiki guide continues to be updated in the longer run. If you are interested in this, contact me on this blog or any other social media where you know to find me…

In the meantime, I hope this guide offers you and your network some additional ways to use online connections (mixed with offline ones) to increase freedom of speech, thought and action. That is after all the single most powerful promise that the Internet once held…

Related blog posts:

Believe in empowerment? Then just do it!


A little rant/shoot here.

Empowerment - too perilous and futile? (credits: yohan1960/FlickR - sculpture by Stephen Broadbent)

Empowerment – too perilous and futile? (credits: yohan1960/FlickR – sculpture by Stephen Broadbent)

Development work is (IMHO) all about empowerment: finding ways to become fully aware of one’s choices in one’s own livelihood, to become capable to make these choices and to proactively develop this liberty of choice and action so as to continually adapt to ever changing challenges – through learning.

Development cooperation work is all about empowerment too, it is about supporting the empowerment mentioned previously and to help connect choices and actions on livelihood, dignity and liberty.

Yet development (cooperation) work surprisingly slips back to habits, bad habits, and known bad habits at that – much like we tend to be continually over planning. We – at least some of us – talk about empowerment but we don’t champion it in practice quite as adamantly.

Here is a review of typical known bad habits that hamper empowerment:

  1. Do it, don’t delegate! Do not bother delegating anything since you do it better than others, you know the end result will never be quite as good as if you do it. Especially if you never give others a chance to become masters and perhaps even improve on you.
  2. Buy/hire capacities, don’t develop them! Why invest in capacities you have at hand? There will always be better experts abroad than in-house. You need a specialist in strategic communication? Recruit a new staff member. Need specialist know-how for your M&E? Hire a consultant! Yeah it takes time to bring them on the same page but they are better to start with and come with a new mindset which can probably be moulded more easily, especially if they are not too old. Who needs the long sweaty road of grappling with capacity development?
  3. Despair and swear, dont’ trust and be patient! People around you are not doing things well, they just don’t get it and never will, why would you be patient and trust that they will bring the best of their intentions and capacities to perform a task? Sadly you can just despair at their misunderstanding and swear at their incapacity to do things like you (see point 1).
  4. Tell, don’t show! It takes too much time to show people how to do something so just tell them and hope that they get it. They probably don’t and then you have a good reason to follow point 3 and ultimately 1.
  5. Hush now, don’t explain! Just diss what people have to say, don’t bother explaining what is going on. So in fact, don’t even bother telling people (let alone showing them) – so ignore point 4 and just ignore people altogether and leave them in their sea of ignorance. Ignorance is bliss they say and you are kind enough to grant them this privilege.
  6. Criticize, don’t praise! People around you might be doing their best, and actually improve, but there’s always so much more that needs improving! Let them understand all these things they don’t get and that there is a long way before they get it right. A good lesson of what’s going wrong helps to learn, right? Besides, surely praising will make them lazy and self-complacent, so put them on the right track again and give them a right rinsing of criticism – preferably publicly so next time they think twice before saying something stupid!
  7. Impose your view, don’t help others find theirs! Since they have a very poor understanding of the situation, you should just show THE right perspective and way: yours. All those ideas about multiple perspectives and complementary viewpoint is just another reason to get soft, not take hard decision and remain ignorant. Luckily one person stands out to correct the ways development is being done – you are the messiah that they should have been expecting because you never fail to see what needs to be done. And there is certainly no point helping people find their own authenticity and purpose; instead they should support your approach, the only right one.
  8. Hide the truth, don’t criticize! In fact, even better, don’t even criticize, not even in private, just say nothing. They will never get it and will never change so just don’t invest any energy in feedback – they are not worth your attention, time and prestigious expertise.


Obviously this is a caricature but we do find a lot of watered down versions of these terrible attitudes in development work. I also don’t deny that in certain situations there might be a teeny tiny grain of truth in some of the statements above but by and large they all miss the point of empowerment and bring a shameful (post-?)colonial twist to development (cooperation) work.

Let’s all face our own bad habits and see how many of these we can trade for true empowerment in our thinking, discourse and actions… Time to be honest about our own limitations and about the great potential of all other people around us. Empowerment: stop talking about it – just do it!

Related blog posts:

Portrait of the modern knowledge worker


The brain of a knowledge worker - and that is just the beginning (Credits: unclear)

The brain of a knowledge worker – and that is just the beginning

The concept of ‘knowledge worker’ which Peter Drucker coined in 1959, is perhaps not so clear (as shown again in a recent LinkedIn discussion – access potentially limited) and can be understood at least in two different ways: dedicated and other knowledge workers.

Dedicated knowledge workers are the persons whose job it is to organise ‘knowledge work’, in relation with the processes that their colleagues are working on – a sort of knowledge work maestro, as is the case with a knowledge manager.

Other knowledge workers are people who ‘do’ knowledge work: their job strongly involves using information and engaging in knowledge interactions (identifying knowledge needs, sharing knowledge, applying it, evaluating it etc.).

Our entrance to the knowledge era means that nowadays most people in a service-providing company are knowledge workers. Now, let’s forget about the dedicated knowledge workers and ponder: what is the portrait of a modern day knowledge worker? We’re talking about pretty much us all here in the blogosphere…

Let’s really focus on the specific know-how (not the specific knowledge) that s/he should possess and the attitude that supports their work. Let’s also assume that for us knowledge workers, the main objectives of combining those characteristics are a) to become ever more relevant and effective in our field of expertise, by deepening it or expanding it on its edges (i.e. making new connections with related fields to create a bigger picture and to be more likely to follow ever innovative approaches) and b) to help others become ever more relevant and effective in their own field through our interactions with them.

What is the profile of a balanced knowledge worker anno 2012? (Credits: fr.123rf.com)

What is the profile of a balanced knowledge worker anno 2012? (Credits: fr.123rf.com)

I can think of a few traits and characteristics that relate to the desired gifts, skills and attitudes of such a modern day knowledge worker.

Gifts and skills:

  • A synthetic mind that can ingest a lot of information and summarise it in clear and concise ways, perhaps using mnemonics.
  • A pair of intently listening ears and eagerly observing eyes to pick up the signals around (and question them);
  • Outstanding interpersonal communication skills helping to get in touch with a variety of people (in the same field of expertise and beyond);
  • An open heart giving the emotional capacity to connect with others at a deeper level and build trust authentically;
  • Good speaking and writing skills allowing to express oneself articulately so as to share knowledge more effectively – both with other people verbally and in writing;
  • The capacity to read quickly and to remember things well;
  • Typing blindly to write more quickly;
  • Ideally, good facilitation skills to be able to tease out knowledge and information from other people and apply/combine them – but that is just an extra.

Attitude:

  • An open, curious, humble mind that keeps inquiring about everything, and does not settle for finished, definitive answers – the way a child would do rather than a self-engrossed expert – to keep on learning;
  • A true curiosity to try new things out and add them to an array of experiences;
  • A vision of one’s own development pathway and next priorities;
  • Reflecting continually: every day, week or after every significant event, taking the time to ponder what just happened and what could have been done better, perhaps following the after action review principles;
  • Reflecting in single, double and triple-loop learning, in practice;
  • An attitude of ‘documenting on the spot’ (typing as people speak, live blogging, taking pictures and videos as things happen etc.);
  • A strong self-discipline to systematically act upon all the above and reflect to improve again.
Good all-round knowledge of information tools and information management processes also helps keep track of one’s own field of expertise, sharpen reflection and engage in more extensive social learning with others than just face-to-face.

This is an ideal picture, not easy to find in any one real person of flesh… But it sums up a number of characteristics many of us knowledge workers have to focus and improve on to remain relevant and adapt as we cruise through ever more complex paths in the knowledge era.

Related blog posts:

In a complex world, it’s all about process… or is it?


The phenomenon of crowd-sourcing has made it practically useless to learn a lot about any given field. The fame and importance of the specialist, the expert, has somewhat waned in favour of the ‘wisdom of the crowds’. This is connected to the shifting dominant perspective of the world.

The Newtonian model of physics which has ruled for long puts strong emphasis on unpacking and dismantling the world around us into particles of observable and explainable phenomenons. It is being increasingly criticised. Complexity theories are increasingly making a dent into this paradigm and adjusting the focus from the nodes (these observable micro-phenomenons) to the interrelations between the nodes and the bigger picture that these inter-connected nodes make up.

Specialised generalists, the necessary new breed? (credits: Anitakhart / FlickR)

Specialised generalists, the necessary new breed? (credits: Anitakhart / FlickR)

In this shifting world, knowing one thing is subsequently less important and less pertinent than knowing how to connect different things together, connecting knowledges, connecting know-hows, connecting people that have knowledge and know-how.

This means that wide-spectrum generalists who do tend to have a better capacity at connecting fields together, are perhaps valued more than ever before. Connectors, mavens etc. are the new heroes. They are at the bleeding edge of change and innovation. And their source of power, process is perhaps becoming the main object of science, as we are trying to understand how change is really happening in a process-focused, interconnected manner.

Is it really so? Is this definitely and ultimately the age of generalists? Is connecting fields of knowledge the final truth of this era? Or is this not yet another baby-out-with-the-bathwater-syndrome?

I am a generalist and have suffered for a long time of not finding my place, space and faith (in the virtues of the process) in a world that venerated specialists. Yet, or perhaps because I wouldn’t want the opposite to happen, I do not feel totally comfortable with the process backlash that is happening now.

At a workshop icebreaker in October last year, I asked participants to put themselves on a continuum from specialists to generalists and one thoughtful person mention that one needed both: the capacity to connect fields but also some more in-depth understanding of a given field.

Why do we need to be specialists (or have some at hand at least)?

  • Because process can also be superficial if not applied to a specific context or purpose (as much as, in communication, content and process are two wings of a bird). In contrast, specialisation means one can distinguish deeper patterns and layers of complexity much more precisely than a generalist would;
  • Because even process expertise can become a field of specialisation (as demonstrated by the flurry of change management and innovation process consultants);
  • Because knowing a field more in-depth gives mastery and mastery is apparently one of the three decisively motivating elements in generating self-accomplishment and deep happiness – as shown on the RSAnimate video below;
  • Because knowing a field in detail also helps connect with a specific specialist crowd which becomes a support network with the deep connections that come from going through intense experiences together;
  • Because knowing people that know a field in detail adds depth to the colourful but watered down picture of life that a generalist might have, it makes certain elements spicier by zooming in on details (the spicy devil is in the details);
  • Because in a complex world, micro-phenomenons can explain macro-events and zooming in detail on these phenomenons holds keys to the process too…

So, while I appreciate this due focus on process, as much as I hated being stigmatised as ‘someone that doesn’t know what he’s doing’ in a world of specialists, I wouldn’t want generalists to chase away the importance of mastery and specialisation as part of their new exclusive dogma.

Related blog posts:

Stop judging and move on, because we all do (follow the seeds of change)


Have you ever found it unfair that people put you in a straitjacket and failed to recognise your complex personality? Have you ever truly tried to change one part of yourself and managed to do so? Do you perhaps value intent more than actual results?

What we see and judge is often just a reflection of someone's changing self (Credits: Steve Patterson)

What we see and judge is often just a reflection of someone's changing self (Credits: Steve Patterson)

This post is about all that. About the fact that everything ‘human’ or social is dynamic. We know it for ourselves, yet, we tend not to acknowledge it for others. We tend to see things in static ways. We tend to judge, to put people in boxes and state that they act and that they are ALWAYS like this or that – as they act or are at the time we are observing. Making dangerous universal rules out of singular events.

Nothing could be more wrong. If we fail to recognise that every human develops actions and engages in social interactions in a non-static way, we do not give ourselves the credit of learning, of intent, of drive and inspiration. We are not robots, we are living, changing beings, following the multi-faceted and not-so-straightforward pathway of our life. We are all in perpetual transition – the ‘life in perpetual beta’ dear to Harold Jarche.

Even our cultures keep changing, so does our language; they reflect new conventions, adapt to novel situations and newly felt needs. That is the beauty of it. And this is also why I personally really don’t feel comfortable with the concept of civilisations when talking about current human groupings (though I have no problem talking about it for past phases of human history in a given context) and why I will never accept racism – we all come from a common cell too and like that cell we keep on changing and recombining ourselves.

Back on our individual behaviours: we may do things wrong, we might make mistakes, we perhaps miss the subtle and smart ways to perform a task or behave in a certain way. But we are trying. We are learning. We are adapting and changing. Even when we are deeply convinced that what we do is right and everyone else is wrong, we are not immune to external stimuli of change – ideas, questions, criticisms, intuitions, emotions… It might even be the moment when we are about to change our state, somewhat following the behaviour rules of a complex adaptive system. So, even in the thickest of our convictions, when we appear as rocks and blocks to others, we are changing. Our intent might guide us from inside, or those stimuli might pull us towards change from outside but, unless we follow a strictly codified dogma that prevents us from questioning parts of our path, we are moving ahead.

We are all following, sowing and reaping the seeds of change, and so are others around us. So let’s stop judging people and putting them in straitjackets on the basis of who they (always) are – because who they are is much influenced by what they do and what they do keeps changing, dynamically.

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