Agile KM / development / facilitation and the fair of the year?


A short post as more of an update than anything else…

This ‘Agile KM for me and you…’ blog has been going on for over seven years and its focus remains on social change through learning and knowledge work generally. I added ‘agile’ at some point to my focus on KM, explained why I did that and also unpacked what agile KM meant in my view. And I keep that blogging practice to address all of this on this blog, every week if I can.

Interestingly, a very active conversation is taking place on KM4Dev right now about ‘Agile in international development‘ (link pending membership to KM4Dev – go do it, it’s a fabulous community of practice) which points to some of the benefits and dangers that I alluded to in previous posts about agile KM. Some reflections on this blog about the conversation later, as things are all boiling here right now!

Agile KM, agile (graphic) facilitation, all the in service of learning and change (Credits: Sambradd)

Agile KM, agile (graphic) facilitation, all the in service of learning and change (Credits: Sambradd)

And then since quite a bit of my agile KM writing has also been dedicated to facilitating learning and change, I have decided to set up another blog which will complement this one: AgileFacil, where I will explore specifically agile facilitation. I have currently reblogged all my posts from this blog about facilitation there, and from now on any time I reflect on facilitation, it will be on this new AgileFacil blog. Go have a look and tell me what you think.

AgileFacil, inspired by several years of KM4Dev practice (Credits: unclear)

AgileFacil, inspired by several years of KM4Dev practice (Credits: unclear)

Facilitation is high up on my work agenda these days, as among others the last issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal is dedicated to ‘Facilitation for development. Concepts, practices and approaches to share, learn and improve outcomes for societal development, based in the experience of knowledge management for development practitioners.’ One of the articles there is a blog review (not including AgileFacil as it wasn’t publicised then) of the best blogs on facilitation and some excellent blog posts to understand what facilitation is, why do it and how. A great starting point.

Finally, facilitation, agile developement, learning and change are all among the many topics addressed in the upcoming AgKnowledge Innovation Process Share Fair (25-26 May in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), where a lot of KM4Dev friends and CGIAR comms & KM colleagues will converge, together with many other participants, for what is bound to be – certainly to me – the most interesting fair, and event, of this year in the world of agile KM.

Watch this space, and the ILRI Maarifa blog, as I hope I’ll be blogging profusely ahead of, during, and after that ‘fair of the year’ (and if you wonder what a share fair is and how to do it, check this article by Sophie Treinen et al. (FAO) from the latest issue of the KM4D Journal).

All neatly integrated, innit? That’s also agile for you 😉

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Good bye acute meetingitis! Plan your day-to-day meetings as a true KMer…


On this blog I talk a lot about (large) events, how they’re designed, facilitated, useful, successful, impactful… or not. There is a related, mundane, day-to-day topic: the case of everyday meetings. We spend sometimes so much time that we might want to think about how to make them as useful.

And in this post, I just want to stop and consider how to plan your time in these day-to-day meetings in the best possible way, from a KMer perspective (also because good KMers are innovation conveners – and good practice-shapers).

So many (bad) reasons to hold a meeting - time to reverse the trend (Credits: Axbom)

So many (bad) reasons to hold a meeting – time to reverse the trend (Credits: Axbom)

So here are some principles to get your started in planning your (attendance at) meetings:

Come prepared

Long preparation, short war so… If you’re not prepared, you’re likely going to be wasting your time and others’. And as I keep referring to meeting cost calculators (such as Meeting Ticker) everyone’s time amounts to quite a lot of money in the end.

Make sure there’s an agenda

If the agenda really concerns you there is a point in attending and contributing (unless you’re forced to attend). If there isn’t one, you’re wasting your time again.

Say no to meetings

If you’re not prepared, or if others aren’t, or if there’s no clear objective, the meeting is not worth it. Be ruthless and put a stop to this nonsense! Don’t encourage more fluffy and useless meetings. You can follow these simple rules to eliminate such useless meetings.

Plan your meetings in ‘bundles’…

Rather than have a meeting every other hour, how about clustering your meetings one after another so that you have some specific ‘meeting times’ and you can also enjoy some ‘non-meeting times’ to get other important things done?

…And at otherwise unproductive times (for me right after lunch)

Maybe you can use time when you’re least effective for your personal work to have meetings, it’s a great way to be productive at all times. For me that’s right after lunch. First thing after lunch. On the contrary, having a meeting at the middle of the morning or the afternoon (simply because you don’t have anything planned then) sounds -to me- like a missed opportunity to avoid seeing your productive time torn apart by islands of activities.

Now then, when you’re in the meetings / discussions…

When it’s over, it’s over!

This simple OST principle applies for day to day meetings too. Why use the time you planned just because you have it if you’re done or you’ve achieved your objectives? Stop when you’re done. Claim your freedom again 🙂 Or spend it happily with others.

Claim your time back! (Credits: Scott Adams)

Claim your time back! (Credits: Scott Adams)

One thing leads to another – of balancing objectives and energy and keeping the process in sight

Sometimes a meeting unravels a whole set of issues that were unexpected and are actually really important to discuss. Then either there is an option to spend just a bit more time on the issue(s) and significantly negotiate its resolution, or a commitment to discuss this must be made at a later time. Just don’t let things hanging, which leads me to my penultimate point for today…

Summarise concrete follow up

Unless this was a blue sky brainstorming session, you should make sure there is a clear harvest of: insights, recommendations, decisions… so that the meeting – however productive it was while it happened – does not lead to a completely unproductive standstill afterwards. This is about managing your time in the longer run.

Use your time differently in meetings

You may want to try walking meetings, meetings in a totally different environment, online meetings where you’re learning to use a new technology (plan the time well on this one ;), meetings with a different dynamic… The point is to also think ‘differently’ about your time in meetings… so feel free to add your own meeting time tips here! But hopefully with all of this, you can finally say ‘good bye’ to acute meetingitis

Think out of the box with meetings... (Credits: Todd Nielsen)

Think out of the box with meetings… (Credits: Todd Nielsen)

Related blog posts:

And then it struck me: MUSIC!!!


How could I not think of this one before? How come two overwhelming parts of my brain – learning process facilitation and music – did not connect earlier properly?

While relaxing from the last of three events in a row in Nairobi this week, I ended up chatting with our graphic facilitation duo (check their wonderful work at that event here), one of these artists confessed that of all the elements that make up a perfect event (missing the references for this here – do you know?), he enjoyed our event very much, but really missed one aspect: music!

Now, I’ve been an avid music collector for the past 25 to 30 years, amassing treasured beats, melodies and quirky noise experiments from around the world, across genres, for different moods, on different beats, for different purposes, in different languages, using different instruments. Or none… Over the equivalent of several terabytes of music scattered across various artifacts (CDs, cassettes, mini-discs, MP3s, LPs and EPs etc.)… Such a treasure chest at my hand and I never used it.

Music, the one and only energy and passion driver (Credits: Michael Spencer / FlickR - Friendly Fires @ Future Music Festival 2012 Perth, Arena Joondalup)

Music, the one and only energy and passion driver (Credits: Michael Spencer / FlickR)

Music drives energy and feelings – pretty much just like no other thing. It can dampen the atmosphere and sober everyone out, it can inspire and spark off movement, it can relax and soothe, it can open up hearts. It’s such a powerful current of energy that can be tapped into at all times – among other energy drivers

So it’s also a naturally great knowledge management enabler:

  • It can bring people together – regardless of language and background – and help create trust as it also connects people from their inner self, not just their professional profile;
  • It can create an atmosphere that helps people reflect deeply;
  • It can liberate the energy to drive real action, with a purpose, transcending individuals and appealing to a collective aspiration;
  • It uses our creative facets, rather than relying solely on the intellect…

And these are just some of the many possible uses of music…

On the other hand, using the power of music raises issues of ‘facipulation‘, but on the other hand it’s such a pity not to use this potential. When the graphic facilitator shared his impression, all of a sudden I felt deep down how un-melodious and sadly un-musical that event, and many other events I’ve designed in the past, had been.

Now, some questions to sharpen our sensitivity to music in KM and music in events:

  • What examples do you have of a good use of music to drive action, reflection or otherwise?
  • Where did music actually feel over-intrusive or over-powerful?
  • Where does ‘creating an atmosphere stop’ and when does ‘facipulation’ start?
  • Should music be restricted to multi-participant events or would you recommend using it for normal and small meetings, discussions, work etc.?
  • Should it be limited to the breaks or be the a theme tune in the actual sessions?
  • Do you rely on someone organising the music selection, would you run it as part of facilitation?
  • To what extent do cultural differences play a role in selecting music and to what extent should you use the music you know best, to be authentically true to yourself?
  • What have been interesting tunes or genres that might have proven particularly helpful with knowledge management – if any?

One sure thing is I’ll be using music in my next event(s) and see how it flies… I hope it will work out, because when the music’s over…

Related blog posts:

Killing my darlings: the workshop


Last week I facilitated a really hectic workshop on the fascinating topic of ‘community-based adaptation (to climate change) and resilience in the East and Southern African Drylands‘. A number of us (in the organising team) wondered at a point or another if the workshop was the best venue to create new meaning around this complex topic.

Workshops... are they still any good to express ourselves and create new meaning? (Credits: UNAMID / FlickR)

Workshops… are they still any good to express ourselves and create new meaning? (Credits: UNAMID / FlickR)

Simultaneously – aaah serendipity… – my friend Amanda Harding posted about ‘Reinventing the workshop‘, giving the example of an event (that suspiciously looked like a writeshop, if you ask me though).

Perhaps ‘workshops’ are indeed past their prime?

And since change is here to stay and we have to facilitate it, one of the things we’ll have to do on a regular basis is to kill our darlings, our pet ideas and approaches, our professional hobby horses.

At least review them critically. To see if they still strike a chord in our changing environment.

 

So one of my darlings is about to be killed right here: THE WORKSHOP

Particularly if the objective of ‘THE workshop’ is to carve out new grounds…

The problem of wishy-woshy workshops… Idealistic without a focus…

Amanda points in her post (co-written with Red Plough‘s Terry Clayton) that the workshop has become a ‘meme’. And indeed a number of things are wrong with workshops: They can be terribly designed and end up like orchestrated death-by-Powerpoint anti-learning operas; they may tend to solve everyone’s problems without any clear focus (see meme here); badly facilitated, they can actually contribute to worsening understanding AND relations between people.

But what I’m thinking about here, together with another mate who attended the same workshop last week is this:

Even if well designed, even if well facilitated, have workshops not become a standard solution that we revert back to, in a standard mode and in our comfort zone?

Where is the triple-loop learning here?

It’s not the first time that I have my doubts about workshops and what they can achieve… And one of my conclusions is that despite the best intentions probably the single most important aspect remains building and strengthening connections and relations: the social weaving. But that doesn’t stop me from looking at possible options.

Isn’t there an alternative?

Should we not follow the example of the World Bank’s John Heath (see 12th minute onwards in this excellent videotaped discussion of how The Bank learns) and focus on making time for learning by not jumping on what it is we want to achieve with events or happenings.

 Should we not follow the recommendation to bring diversity and argument at the centre of our deliberations (recommending again this great BBC article about the fallacy of the wisdom of the crowds on this topic) and rather focus on bringing very small groups of very diverse people together, outside their normal work environment, in a sort-of retreat, to explore promising new avenues and explore old topics with fresh pairs of eyes and complementary brains?

Should we not leave our voice and our pens/computers outside to let our other senses guide us in exploring the edges of our consciousness? Creative drawing, using metaphors, miming, observing (e.g. animals), using our body to solicit other avenues of our resourcefulness… ?

Should we not encourage more walking about, more journeys together to reflect on work, more cooking and eating together to explore new surfaces – indeed perhaps a cookshop might be as ground-breaking as a workshop for that matter?

Should we not refuse to bring people together physically and rather bring together virtually a group of people who practice Personal Knowledge Management to explore each other’s questions and musings and build upon that? Could a duo’s journey be not innovative than an entire room full of people?

Hmmm… lots of options hanging up and I’m not sure any of these would bring us further?

And what if the answer is in the workshop itself?

If un-conferences and workshops are sticking around, can we not think of a set of alternatives – which are already tested anyway:

    • Pure Open Space Technology workshops?
    • Other events without a preconceived agenda where perhaps organisers get participants to think about hard/complex questions they want to explore and filter out the most complex/interesting questions in a crowdsourced manner, to go more deeply in the fields concerned?
    • Happenings with staged ‘conversations and interactions for change’ such as this useful idea below…

The bottom line is also that we should clearly understand and distinguish when we want to have a workshop, a workstop (where we would stop working and explore relationships), a talkshop (where people have the entire liberty to explore anything in conversations), a writeshop where the point is to write some outputs etc.

One of the most important questions (from the BOSSY HERALD) to ponder when thinking about organising an event is whether we want to level knowledge or deepen it, and whether we want some output or some interaction. Totally different dynamics are at play in either case…

And all that said, I am still pondering the following, perhaps you have some answers:

  • Can we genuinely ‘explore new grounds’ with a group beyond 40-50 participants?
  • If so, what have been the ingredients, principles or heuristics that worked in your experience and that you would suggest following?
  • If not, what have been the best alternatives to workshops to bring up a totally different experience, that you think could be reproduced in other settings?
  • What have been your best examples of events or happenings that led people to change, not just to learn new ideas and share much? How did IT work?

Phew! Sounds like this reflection might go on for a while still…

Related blog posts:

 

IKM-convergent? Annual programme meeting, Wageningen, day 1


A while back I blogged about the IKM-Emergent programme and its tendency to dispersion.

The programme has evolved since then and a number of things are coalescing on this first day of the all-peeps IKM-Emergent  workshop (which brings together the three working groups, but also a number of new guests that are working on issues related to IKM-E and/or that will be working for the programme from now on).

IKM participants getting their heads around common issues

IKM participants getting their heads around common issues

A lot of very interesting ideas and insights came out from the wide variety of participants but what stroke me as key converging points are the following:

  • Dynamics of change: A lot of us were wondering how to bring about change? Should we have a very upfront / head-on approach to change or should we rather follow more subversive ways of tilting the development system?
  • Related to this, we seem to agree on the concept of intention as the driving force behind a lot of development work. In a change process, our words (i.e. lip service or love declarations to change) matter much less than our real intention to stimulate change.
  • A lot of IKM-Emergent work seems to be concerned with raising awareness about development dynamics and biases at large and about specific lenses or approaches in particular: multiple knowledges, traducture (more on this later but I would describe this as the socio-cultural translation of concepts and approaches, not just the loss of meaning that is usually part of the linguistic transaction of translation), emergence etc.
  • As in the launch event of the Change Alliance (read this blog post about it), the key difference between agency-driven and civic-driven movements. We need to support civic-driven movements – going beyond the faddism of just supporting them as part of the latest craze. Instead, what do we do to implicitly or explicitly to support these movements?
  • The importance of critical analysis and questioning which can be the only focus area we provide as ‘agency’: we need to move from setting up water pumps and delivering food onto helping all development actors equip themselves with critical reflexivity as part of the survival toolkit that stimulates self-empowerment and (less biased) development. It is this reflexivity that helps us challenge ourselves, our discourse, our practices, our being.
  • Accountability as a central practice that goes way beyond upward accountability towards donors. We need to be aware that we are (or should be) accountable to one another in all our development transactions and it is that accountability that generates the trust necessary to engage in development relationships and to open up a space for joint critical inquiry.

There was actually a lot more content in the discussion but these items stick out as pointers that came back time and again in the presentations and conversations.

This was day one of the workshop and the rest of the workshop sounds very promising! On the menu on day 2: looking back at the legacy of IKM-Emergent, limitations of the programme and the possible foundations of an IKM-Emergent 2. Keep watching this space!