Moving on after nearly 6 years in Ethiopia, in 6 epitomising posts of the ‘habesha phase’


This Friday – 2 June 2017 – I will be leaving Ethiopia as a resident for good.

I will still be working with ILRI but based in The Hague, the Netherlands. Personal matters have taken precedence over professional ones and we have to be back in Europe. It’s a pity in some way, but it’s also a great opportunity, as every change is. I personally like change. However uncomfortable it is. However difficult it is. However unavoidable it is.

So this change will mean probably adding different perspectives to this blog and to my other blog on agile facilitation.

Good bye Addis! (credits: Wardheernews)

Good bye Addis! (credits: Wardheernews)

The past – nearly – six years have been extremely rich, as testified in this post about personal changes, just from last year to this one. I haven’t been able to keep up my blogging practice over the past few months because of the personal reasons forcing us to move back to Holland and because ever since I’ve been back in Ethiopia, in late April, I’ve been super busy winding things down here and turning the page of our Ethiopian life chapter. But I thought it might be worth a shot to look back at the ‘Ethiopian (habesha) years’ in six posts that marked the most prolific blogging phase of my professional life.

Here they are, I hope you enjoy them (again, perhaps) and please share your reactions and ideas about these and possible future posts!

Communication, KM, monitoring, learning – The happy families of engagement 

I wrote this post very soon after leaving IRC and joining ILRI. And those first few months were actually very prolific and qualitatively strong for my blogging. Perhaps stronger than any other blogging period for me. Hence my anticipation about this new period of change. In any case, this post has been referred to by various people and institutions as an inspiring one. I’m not sure about that but I had fun writing it. It is all about ‘engagement’ which became my ‘bread-and-butter’ at ILRI in various shapes and forms.
KM=CDL, on the journey to universal sense-making

This is the post that finally helped me nail down my own definition of what knowledge management is and I keep referring to it for that reason. In an environment where there was no KM or comms strategy (for ILRI) and no unified understanding of what knowledge or KM is, writing this post proved very helpful to me. I hope it is somewhat to you too.

I share because I care!

A lot of my ILRI work is about role-modelling behaviours that I hope others will take up to some extent. And when it comes to knowledge sharing, this was the post that helped put in writing what I felt intuitively all along. It’s been my gospel at ILRI and beyond ever since.

I hope you care to read it and to share your own spark too!

Portrait of the modern knowledge worker 

We are in the knowledge age, and knowledge workers are everywhere. This is probably the reason why this post was picked up by the World Bank and was thus promoted quite vividly for a while. I offer some characteristics and traits of a typical knowledge worker. I’d love to hear your views on what that entails.

Tinkering with tools: what’s up with Yammer?

This is the post that got most popular on my blog ever, with a (humble) peak of nearly 350 views on one day, when the Yammer team found out about it. Yammer has also been an interesting experience for me with ILRI as we’ve promoted it as the social network that our colleagues should use to access information they want to pull. With measured success. Bottom line for me: I don’t care about the tool – I do care about the result (sharing is caring).

Of ‘healthy human systems’ beyond ‘the field’ and facilitating conversations that change the world: an interview with Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes

The post is an interview with two people that radically changed my personal work life, with their ideas, practice, reflections, and an ongoing conversation about our collaboration. Sam Kaner is one of the inventors of the field of facilitation, and together with his partner Nelli Noakes they share here their very generous overview of why they try to get people to collaborate.

Ok, and because 7 is a magical number, here is my #7 pick:

Jungian types, personality pigeonholing and finding my pathway and ‘contribution’

 

This is one of the most personal posts I’ve published on my blog, as it explains what I see as my calling in (the professional) life. I hope you find and share your own contribution. And I look forward to engaging a lot more with all of you from my future new home, The Hague 🙂

Hello The Hague! (credits: unclear)

Hello The Hague! (credits: unclear)

Bonus info: this happens to be my 300th post on this blog 😉

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What facilitators and participants define as ‘success’


agilefacil

The more I get to facilitate, the more I get to understand how the definition of success (in a facilitated meeting or process) can differ in the eye of the beholder.

Particularly between facilitator and participants. Here I intentionally leave the case of the workshop leader / event organiser / decision-maker out of the picture as they are the ones with -in principle- the clearest understanding of what is there to be achieved.

Here are a few illustrations of the different success definitions between participants and facilitators:

What the participants seek What the facilitators see and seek
Good time management

No conversation dragging on, we will be able to be at home on time. Not one of these endless death-by-Powerpoint shows that leaves us aghast.

What really matters is checking that the objectives are completed, or are well on their way while preserving and even improving relationships in the group and…

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Internalising facilitation in everyday life, in Africa and globally – an interview with Ed Rege (PICO Eastern Africa)


Because facilitation is one of the most important skills any knowledge management specialist/team should learn…

agilefacil

Ed Rege (Credits: unknown) Ed Rege (Credits: unknown)

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Ed Rege (of PICO-Eastern Africa), an organizational development expert and a well-known facilitator in Africa and worldwide, and a former trainee of Sam Kaner. Ed also happens to be an ex ILRI-staff and not just any staff but a geneticist who rose to become the  leader of ILRI’s global Biotechnology Program. His story about using facilitation is fascinating and his plans are big. Here below is the interview…

What is your understanding of what facilitation does, or is helpful for:

The biggest challenge facing institutions these days is the inability for people to speak with each other constructively, meaningfully and productively. And yet stakeholder engagements are increasingly seen as a critical tool for working together, strategizing and problem-solving. This is complicated by the fact the globalizing world means increased multicultural stakeholder mixes which raise issues about…

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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 😉

Of ‘healthy human systems’ beyond ‘the field’ and facilitating conversations that change the world: an interview with Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes


Wearing my 'Suspend your judgment' suspenders provided by Community at Work (Credits: EIB)

Wearing my ‘Suspend your judgment’ suspenders provided by Community at Work (Credits: EIB)

I can gladly say I am now one of the 4500 or so people that have been privileged to be formally trained by Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes of Community at work on ‘Group facilitation skills – Putting participatory values into practice’. And it was a hell of an experience!

So what a fantastic opportunity for me to interview them on what they see as ‘facilitation’ and how they see it evolve, as well as the connections they see with knowledge management. 

No more word from me now, just enjoy… 

Do you see some fundamental trends in facilitation practice over the recent past?

Sam Kaner (SK) When “group facilitation” originated, it was one component in a deeper insight about the powerful role of face-to-face groups as a transformative medium for changing the culture of the organization or community.  The skills of facilitation were aimed at strengthening the individuals in a group, by helping everyone participate more fully, and by helping people pay more attention to alternative points of view and become capable of understanding one another.  These strengthened capabilities, in turn, allow the individuals to operate as a high-functioning group, or team, that can share responsibility, develop inclusive solutions, and reach sustainable agreements that accrue large benefits over time. Thus, group facilitation was part of a larger, deeper system — the operational aspect of a philosophy of empowerment.

When these ideas were introduced to mainstream organizations from the late 1960s through 1980s, the skills of facilitation were impressively effective but entirely mysterious, and the arrival of a neutral third party into a work context was perceived as somewhat magical, not as a learnable discipline.

Then, as participatory groups, with facilitators, became clearly more productive than non-facilitated groups, interest in the role itself became steadily greater.  More and more people have wanted to be trained in the tools and techniques of facilitation, even as the role has been to some extent divorced from the core philosophy.   Thus, in the past 15 years or so, many training programs have developed to cater to people who believe that tools and techniques are the essence of facilitation, and its goal is “effective meetings.”

This trend bothers me quite a bit. I would be excited if these two currents — the original focus on philosophy, and the more recent focus on method — were being integrated, in teaching and in practice. But over the past several years, I have been witnessing the emergence of a rather slavish adherence to tools and technique aimed at “getting things done,” while the goals of participatory values, which aim at building stronger people, stronger groups, and stronger thinking, have been to some extent eclipsed. In our own workshops, (and in our writing) we go out of our way to address this predicament. Not by preaching about it (as I’m doing in this interview) but by linking the many facilitation skills we teach to the inclusive, “both/and” principles on which collaborative aspirations are grounded.

Nelli Noakes (NN) I’ve observed other trends in other parts of the world. I agree with Sam on the way training is packaged, and often the very practice of facilitation follows this same scheme.  We have all seen facilitators flown into organizations, especially located in developing countries, arriving with a bag of tricks but not actually focused on supporting long-term change.  Even so, there are also many thinkers and practitioners reaching for progressive new ideas, both in North America and in the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) around the world.  My own observation, as a past regional director of IAF Oceania, is that other regions outside of North America are not yet so commodified.  Among practitioners internationally, there’s more optimism that the involvement of facilitation can be a lever — both for culture change in specific organizations and for social change more broadly Thus, in my view this more aspirational perspective — that facilitation is a vehicle to help people to work together for serious gains — rubs up against, and co-exists with, the commodified, ‘packaged’ approach to facilitation that Sam has mentioned.

Do you have any idea where it is headed (as a field of practice) and where is your personal interest (your ‘next frontier’) when it comes to facilitation?

(SK) Yes, and this is where my own thinking overlaps with what Nelli just said.

In my observation, there is still plenty of genuine new thinking about the power of collaboration, but this thinking no longer appears in books with titles that focus on facilitation per se.  For example, Roger Schwatz’s current book is titled, Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams.  For new insight now, I follow the work of such organizations as the “National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation” (NCDD), the “Collective Impact Forum” and the “Stanford Social Innovation Review.”  To be sure, the new thinking and applications such as cross-sector collaboration, participatory budgeting, innovation platforms, etc. all respect the need to employ good facilitation skills as a necessary element for productive outcomes.  But these thinkers perceive  facilitation not as a field but as a skill-set and a value-set for social change.  If we consider the possibility that the real field of work, the real body of thought, is social change (or as we have been calling it since the 1990s “supporting and promoting healthy human systems”) then the skills of facilitation, take their place alongside those of coaching, project management mediation, virtual communication, negotiation, problem-solving and other important third party, process-oriented skill-sets that are necessary to enable diverse collections of people to collaborate effectively.

Incidentally, to round out your question, there is another trend that has been increasing exponentially in the past 15 years or so:  Facilitative leadership.

Within many organizations, there is a great deal of interest by managers around the world who engaged in cross-functional planning and problem-solving. It has definitely become a focus of much training, and our consulting firm has defined our own approach, through training and coaching, to support people who are not neutral third parties to develop a collaborative mindset and acquire skills that can enable their effectiveness. That said, it’s hard to predict how long this trend will endure. Our experience is that the participants in our facilitative leadership programs are intrigued by the new skills and happy when they leave a workshop after a few days, but very few of them are gung-ho participatory philosophers. Most are agnostic on the issue of whether or not collaboration is worthy; it comes down to a question of whether the skill set is suitable for meeting a particular objective. So we think it remains to be seen whether the introduction of facilitation skills into corporate culture, government culture, university culture, NGO culture, will change management theory and practice over time, or whether it will become one more trendy fad, like sensitivity training, that lasts for several years and then runs its course.

To be a facilitator... (Credits: Unclear)

To be a facilitator… (Credits: Unclear)

Do you see any connection between facilitation and knowledge management and if so, where/how?

(NN) Effective knowledge management comes from being able to see a whole system, being able to actively engage players at all levels in that system, and making sense of the data that one can draw from throughout the system. I see two key areas where skilled facilitators can support organisations in this.

The first is through encouraging full participation – giving voice to the knowledge present at all levels of an organization, not just that which comes from the most powerful, or most vocal, or most confident in a system. And as that supports people to become more confident about speaking up, the pool of available data to contribute to organizational knowledge grows.

The second is through supporting people with diverse perspectives in an organisation to better understand each other – to be open and curious about the way information transforms into knowledge differently as it filters through people’s different lenses of experience. By this I mean that people don’t just hear other people’s points of view and think “Oh, that’s nice, Jim has a different thought about that than I do because we have different history and experience”. Rather, that they take it to another level of analysis and go “Oh, so Jim sees it like this and Mary sees it like that and I see it this other way – so what does it mean when I put those pieces together? How do those things connect in a way that tells me something meaningful about our organization?”.

In my ten years working in government agencies, I saw several knowledge management efforts that involve one or two people sending out surveys, logging the results and storing them in an online repository that functions like a data base if anyone wants to go look up something. This seems like such a lost opportunity to me. In a facilitated environment, people develop the thinking skills to put the pieces together themselves, so that knowledge management becomes accessible to, and the responsibility of, all players in a system. This makes it more likely that people will want to use the stored data later, and it also makes it vastly more likely that people will want to update their information as knowledge changes and grows.

Are you involved in virtual facilitation and what do you see as challenges and opportunities with facilitating virtually?

(SK) My colleague and co-author Lenny Lind was one the pioneers in the development of virtual facilitation skills.  Beginning in the early 1990’s he and his team at CoVision developed a platform called Council, built for huge face-to-face meetings where 100 to 10,000 participants came together to communicate in real time, using laptops to promote interaction.  So for example, an executive might stand up in front of the group and give a talk, using slides to emphasize certain points, and everyone would listen just as in a normal large meeting.  But then, as soon as the talking points are covered, the participants talk briefly to their colleagues at their tables and then start typing in their thoughts, reactions, questions, etc, into their laptops.  Then using any one of a number of methods the comments are sorted into themes, some of which are immediately focused on and some of which are deferred. The activity then continues, back and forth between face to face conversation in small groups, and large group inputting and responding. The meeting can last anywhere from an hour or two hours to an entire day or two, all depending on the agenda and its objectives.

Here is the important point: Even though the activity was done in the same room at the same time, much of the information was transmitted virtually and the meeting facilitator had to develop a lot of the skills that virtual facilitators take for granted nowadays. In fact, the software that runs Council was rewritten in the early 2000’s so that it could be used entirely by people who communicated virtually, not necessarily in the same room at the same time. So the virtual facilitation skills became even more central at that point.

I was privileged to facilitate about a dozen Council meetings over a period of ten years, so I learned at first hand the realities of what happens when a virtual-meeting facilitator makes good moves and not-so-good moves in the management of people who are writing comments to people who cannot see the faces or in some cases hear the voices of each other.

This leads to my core point: Lenny learned early that virtual communication is good for certain things but that it augments, not replaces, face to face communication. For example, people can express certain points that are controversial when they do so anonymously. But it is well known that quite often a person’s first pass at expressing something emotional is transformed through the process of discussing it in the context of a genuine, caring relationship. Virtual meetings are great for brainstorming, great for gathering and sorting and getting reactions to information, and they are truly amazing for increasing the number of people who can become engaged in an issue. A phenomenon like this very blog, not to mention the gigantically influential forms of communication such as YouTube and Facebook, are clear evidence of the power of virtual communication to make change in the world. At the same time, the transformative potential of face-to-face struggle — where people develop authentic empathy and compassion not just intellectually broadened perspective — still remains as a substantial component of lasting change. Lenny and his co-author Karl Danskin develop their own views on this in their brand new book, Virtuous Meetings (2104) available from Wiley & Sons.

Where do you go fetch interesting new resources and ideas for your own facilitation practice?

(NN) One of the things I love about working in the field of human systems is that the learning never stops! I have three main areas where I go to develop my own facilitation skills.

  1. The first, and most narrowly specific to my own work, is working with feedback from my clients. We have a strong continuous improvement philosophy at Community At Work, so listening to my clients about what’s working and what’s not working for them gives me ideas about how to strengthen my approach.
  2. Second is having a network of peers to debrief with and learn from. Working with Sam and the rest of our team provides a endless reservoir and insight and experience from which to draw learning, as well as thinking partners with whom to test new ideas. I also have a lot of friends who work in the same field as I so, so an evening or weekend walk, or a quiet drink on a Friday night often doubles as a knowledge-sharing experience!
  3. Third, I read stuff! But not usually books or articles specifically on facilitation. I’m more interested these days in material on organizational development, collaborative practices, knowledge management and board governance.

And I’m hoping I’ll soon have a fourth main area to add to this list. We’ve recently started a Community At Work Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CommunityAtWorkSF?ref=aymt_homepage_panel for members of our community to share their thinking and ideas. We’re hoping that will soon grow into a vibrant resource for us and others involved in this field.

(SK) Earlier in our conversation, I mentioned NCDD; Collective Impact Forum; Stanford Social Innovation Review. Another really excellent one is Skoll World Forum http://skollworldforum.org. These four have such terrific reach that they point me to other, different sources of ideas all the time.  For those wanting a mainstream professional organization that tries to stay current, I would recommend Organization Development Network (founded in the 1950’s).

Nelli Noakes, Sam Kaner and ILRI staff (Credits: ILRI)

Nelli Noakes, Sam Kaner and ILRI staff (Credits: ILRI)

What would be your advice for starting facilitators?

(NN) When I first fell into facilitating, I had very limited knowledge or practice, and knew almost no-one else who worked in the field.

So the first thing I did was read as many books on the subject as I could find, and then attended some training courses. Then I started persuading groups to let me facilitate their meetings for free. Fortunately, the groups I volunteered with knew even less about it than I did, so they appreciated the order I brought to their previous chaos more than they saw the many errors I made! And I was able to start to get some real experience in seeing what worked and didn’t.

The next thing I did was start to build a network of people who also worked in the field, so we could start to learn from each other. I joined the International Association of Facilitators and the International Association of Public Participation (both of which have a much more active presence in Australia than in North America) and started attending their events, all of which exposed me to many different perspectives.

Those two elements – volunteering and building a network – proved to be invaluable many years later when I started my own consulting firm. I had a lot of people who were willing to vouch for me. To this day, most of my business comes from word-of-mouth recommendations.

My most important piece of advice for starting facilitators (apart from attending our Group Facilitation Skills workshop, of course!), is to become not just comfortable with receiving feedback, but to actively seek it at every possibility. Learn to value it as the most important factor in your own continuous improvement process. (A good place to start exploring how to receive feedback well is Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen)

(SK) Over the decades I have had a lot of chance to watch people get started, and I have come to believe that two ways are especially powerful:

1.    Volunteer.  For example, volunteer to facilitate a meeting at a small nonprofit organization, or at your church, or at your child’s school. In these situations you can’t lose — these community contexts places are so funky that anything you can do will be an improvement. You can see changes happen. Often, if you are secure in your own workplace, a staff meeting or the meeting to start a new project is equally good. Whichever context you choose, just be sure to make this deal at the beginning, before you start: you are willing to volunteer your time for no financial remuneration, but you would like to be “paid” with 5 minutes (or more) of good feedback on your strengths and ‘improvables’ at the end of the meeting.

2.    Find a peer support group.  Having a face-to-face group touching base every two weeks or so is a priceless experience. I have personally witnessed the results, over the years, when people who were raw rookies in facilitation went on to be successful consultants who then built their own long-term independent consulting firms, because they built so much confidence in the early years. In the ILAC years before the creation of the consortium, CGIAR as an entity attempted to maintain a network of people who had earned judgment suspenders. It became an online ‘D-group’. At that point, it became an information-sharing group which ultimately did not have the same dynamism as a face to face support group.

A good idea for today and everyday: paraphrasing


Paraphrasing always had a negative connotation for my French ears. Like beating around the bush or repeating things without value.

I know a much better meaning now: it’s a cornerstone of listening and learning.

I’ve been in this wonderful course from Sam Kaner about facilitation and participatory decision making. Quality stuff! And one of the first skills we learnt was paraphrasing.

Paraphrase, mirror, mimic each other, create a connection and have fun! (Credits: Arnold Newman / Getty Images)

Paraphrase, mirror, mimic each other, create a connection and have fun! (Credits: Arnold Newman / Getty Images)

This technique is useful for events and any piece of work involving people conversing, in fact even for personal life.

Essentially it’s about interpreting what someone said to check we understood. Sometimes it’s just mirroring (repeating), sometimes drawing the person to say more, or even ask others t osay more about the same topic. Obvious you would think! All the more so as facilitators. Yes, I do it often,  but not systematically. And as Sam would say, you have to commit to it.

And yet how often have I really understood everyone’s point? How often have I taken things for granted? Time to change that and practice.

Paraphrasing is my new diet. And I’ve just learned again how humbling but refreshing learning is…

Feeling thankful…

PS. And with this post I’m ending the series of short daily posts. Not sure about the whole experiment…

 

Open access; open facilitation: One week, two good ideas


Why facilitation and open access matter for ILRI, and for a great many other people, and what trends for ‘open facilitation’ and open KM are on the horizon…

Maarifa - Communications and Knowledge Management

This week is ‘Open Access Week‘ with lots of activities happening worldwide. A good week to celebrate the freedom of information to circulate.

This week is also ‘International Facilitation Week‘; also a good opportunity to wonder how open facilitation helps knowledge circulate just as openly…

International Facilitation Week hosts chat events (credit: Martin Gilbraith / IAF) The International Facilitation Week hosts various chat events (credit: Martin Gilbraith / IAF)

Open access – let information circulate

In a scientific organization such as ILRI, information is key. As it is the cornerstone of evidence that is generated by sound scientific research, and it is hopefully used to inform discourses, behaviours, policies, and further research.

Open (Access) is part and parcel of the communication and knowledge management work done by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), from providing access to open journals (and more recently welcoming the Knowledge Management for Development Journal back into Open Access), publishing open journal articles

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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…

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Facilitation and collective action back on the menu… big time!


(Disclaimer for Nadia, Russell and others who commented on this post [and see feedback/results here by the way]: This post was drafted before and thus does not yet reflect some of the changes that I hope to bring into this blog based on your collective feedback…)

Lots of different happenings in the world of event/process facilitation as far as I’m concerned – lots of useful links and ideas that might inspire you too…

Graphic Facilitation with Nancy White (Credits: Gauri Salokhe / FlickR)

Graphic Facilitation with Nancy White (Credits: Gauri Salokhe / FlickR)

I’ve finally gotten into reading ‘The surprising power of liberating structures‘, and what a platinum mine of useful reflections, methods, tips, designs etc. a real gem for all collective action process (and event) facilitators… It’s perhaps the best recent thing I can think about that might help me revive the post collection ‘The Chemistry of Magical Facilitation

I’ve been following some LinkedIn groups (particularly the ‘Professional facilitators network‘ – mind that this link requires login) on facilitation with excellent insights. This is some incentive for me to actually blog more about facilitation… and perhaps even start a blog on facilitation as it’s a slightly different topic than strictly agile KM and learning (even though the two are interlinked for their focus on learning and collective action).

Another interesting idea came my way this week, prompted by my colleague Peter Ballantyne: the walkshops – an idea that the UK’s Institute for Development Studies has piloted and reflected upon. This is something to try out, and I think I just might in what could possibly become the third workshop focused on CGIAR communication and management for CGIAR research programs (or kmc4CRP ;)). Actually last week for an ILRI Comms meeting we had a walking session and it was a hit.

Perhaps most importantly, me and a group of fellow KM4Devers are thinking about focusing on facilitation, for the issue 11.1 (May 2015) of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal. We are still debating the exact focus, as we’re rather struggling with too many ideas than too few. Our initial thoughts are available here. I personally hope we will cover blended facilitation (online/offline), moving away from events to fold into longer engagement and learning processes, modern uses of technology (using phones, clothes and other smart devices) to get groups to evolve, the distribution of facilitation and developing an empowering leadership culture as well as how capacity development comes into the picture. At last, I don’t despair finding time to come up with my own facilitation approaches – notably mimicking patterns found in nature and among animals. Wild, eh?

At last, I’ve had some conversation with Nancy White about doing an online (recorded) conversation for already quite a while, to feature on our blogs, and I think this ‘facilitation’ topic could very well be the topic we might want to zoom in on, but that is something Nancy and I need to co-create so certainly not certainty there 😉

Amidst all of this, I actually have a lot of events to facilitate in the coming months so time to kick myself out of comfort zone and to try daring new ideas and approaches. Wish me luck in changing myself, it’s never a given 😉 !

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