‘Open’ as default, not the exception – oh, and please get over your self importance ;)


Open Up and embrace the universe (Credits: Allstair Nicol/FlickR)

Open Up and embrace the universe (Credits: Allstair Nicol/FlickR)

Openness is a scary thing indeed.

Opening yourself is really difficult, letting go all the more so (oh, read this beautiful testimony about it).

And even opening your information to others seems to intimidate people more than is necessary…

Many people I work with or come across have difficulties operating in ‘open spaces’ – and I’m not referring to Open Space Technology here but the virtual collaboration spaces where we can do things together (e.g. wikis, Google documents). They feel open is a hurdle for their sharing information and making use of the space.

 

I recently had such a conversation with a colleague in a project. He confessed in good faith that:

“It’s [the virtual space] supposed to be a ‘workspace’ but it is open to the public so there is not much dynamism & liberty in actually using it. It’s like the information that has to be posted needs some extra layers of censorship which then limits the frequency of use.”

So this might just be an interesting avatar of ‘knowledge is power’, or rather ‘closed knowledge is comfort’…?

In trying to answer that colleague I reflected on the many reasons why -until now unconsciously- I don’t share that point of view.

Hereby…

'Open' is getting traction everywhere (Credits: Ron Mader)

‘Open’ is getting traction everywhere (Credits: Ron Mader)

The world is opening to ‘Open’

Open is becoming the default, the rule rather than the exception. In global development, various funding organisations are actually making it a rule they enforce to have all outputs from initiatives they fund publicly accessible as ‘general public goods’. So there you have it. Open is the way the world is turning.

Resisting it is a challenging uphill pathway.

 

Get over yourself and the importance of your information

The information that we typically share in projects is for 99.99999999% of the population really not critical – so what is really the big deal about putting our informal information out there?

And on the other hand, aren’t there serious opportunity costs with having the teams involved in a given initiative not getting information that is potentially of use to them? Nothing new under the sun here. In any case – in the vast majority of cases let’s say – don’t expect your information to be so cutting-edge that it is information your potential competitors are dying to get.

Do people have the time to look for your information?

Unless you are based in China, North Korea, Eritrea or some other country that strictly controls information, it’s unlikely that anyone is actively crawling the web to find your content – let alone to do anything toxic with it. ‘Open’ doesn’t mean ‘reached’ 😉 People are just too busy with their lives. They will only find your content if they’re actively looking for something specific about it.

Trust the search engine algorithms to keep your work space rather intimate

So next, even if people had time to look specifically for your information, even if they were interested and actually looking for your information, the algorithms of search engines are based on mutual linkages first and foremost, on ‘referrals’. In other words the more a website is linked and pointed to from other sources the higher up it shows up. In the absence of many other websites pointing to your workspace, that workspace is more than likely to remain ‘undercover’ when it comes to search results. So you actually enjoy your privacy despite operating in an open environment and approach.

What is the likelihood that people do mean harm with your information?

And this is my biggest point here: Even despite all of the above, what is the chance that people accessing your information really want to do something harmful with it? What are the risks?

  • That they use and abuse your information without giving you credit for it? You can use Creative Commons licences to say what’s ok or not – and if you want to go down that road you can always hire a lawyer to sue whoever is breaching your agreement.
  • That they use your information to beat you on certain ‘market opportunities’? Perhaps true in the corporate sector, much less so in the global development one.
  • That they will ‘troll‘ your workspace? Well that’s a real risk, though of all the open groups I’ve been involved in in the past, I haven’t had one instance of this happening. What would you do against it?

If your fear is ‘half-baked thinking’, think again!

It could be that the legitimate concern of my colleague (who operates in the academic world where that fear is quite common) is of presenting ideas and thoughts that are not fully formed etc. But HEY that’s how innovation happens!

And more and more we find out examples that ‘quick and dirty’ is actually beautiful

Open is beautiful and it's everywhere (Credits: OpenSourceWay)

Open is beautiful and it’s everywhere (Credits: OpenSourceWay)

It’s not a 0/1 thing, you can find middle ways with open…

As a matter of reaching consensus, whether on wikis, on Google documents or websites or whatever, there’s all kinds of ways to make parts of a work space closed.

In the case I mentioned above, my colleague was reacting about a work space we are using as entirely open because we didn’t use the more expensive version with more privacy control… But that option is there and can be switched any time.

So in conclusion…

All the above makes me think that we can and should see Open really as default, and share most of our information publicly on our workspaces and other virtual platforms. Not least since ‘we share because we care‘.

That doesn’t mean ‘open knowledge’ cannot be even achieved in ever smarter ways…

Related posts:

Knowledge management in cartoons – A selection


KM in cartoons, a selection (Credits: Shutterstock)

KM in cartoons, a selection

Because good visuals pin an idea with so much more strength…

And fun helps move sensitive ideas forward…

Hereby a selection of cartoons that may help you and others understand the value of knowledge management, through the challenges KM is facing or the initiatives it proposes to deal with them.

Challenge: reinventing the wheel

Initiative: helping ideation and covering new grounds (and pissing people off in the process)

Credits: unclear

Dealing with innovation (Credits: A. Bacall)

Challenge: retaining peoples’ experience and knowledge

Credits: MTN / George Dearing

Initiatives: portals and databases

KM portals and databases (Credits: Grantland)

Challenge: recognising information needs

Recognising information needs (Credits: Scott Adams)

Initiative: building taxonomy

An example of taxonomy (Credits: The New Yorker / Green Chameleon)

Challenge: Dealing with information overload

Dealing with email or information overload (Credits: Pryor)

Initiative: knowing what to do with what you know – and setting standards

Knowing what to do with what you know (Credits: A. Bacau)Knowing or doing (Credits: B. Watterson)
Setting data standards (Credits: XKCD)

Challenge: dealing with difficult dynamics in meetings and events

Dealing with difficult dynamics at events (credits: Oslo)Initiative: Trying new ways of dealing with conversations, meetings, events (err, what about facilitation?)

How about trying something new for your meetings? (Credits: T. Goff)

And to keep some healthy distance from the fact that KM is not the ‘be all, end all’, the last couple of cartoons are for Dilbert, preceded by one by Christian Young:

Bad knowledge management (Credits: Christian Young)

KM for morons? (Credits: Scott Adams / United Feature Syndicate)

Hoarding and sharing knowledge (Credits: Scott Adams)

Related blog posts:

Opportunity costs of documentation and how to make it work…


In my book of KM, documentation is an essential part of the work.

Documentation - do you read it (Credits: Matt Ray / FlickR)

Documentation – do you read it (Credits: Matt Ray / FlickR)

Not everyone agrees to it. Someone who works a lot with Liberating Structures recently told me he didn’t necessarily see the point of harvesting anything because the people that were ‘doing the work’ would remember.

But then there’s always the point of documenting for the sake of the people who are not ‘doing the work’ there and then. Keeping traces so others can pick up the trail and use it in ways that help them.

However the question always remains: what should you document (e.g. what is good in a project) and how much should you invest in documenting it – and how – vs. how much you should set up processes to directly connect people with relevant experience?

This is the eternal debate of documentation vs. one-on-one experience sharing, of Alexandrian libraries vs. campfires – something that is currently being debated on KM4Dev around the title “How Elon Musk can tell if job applicants are lying about their experience” (link pending on membership).

Yes, Alexandrian libraries are only a partial solution because they don’t relate a lot of the complexities. And as Johannes Schunter pointed recently on his blog, lessons learnt that generate bland statements are useless (the ‘Duh’ test).

And there is the issue that documentation takes time and effort. Not everything can be documented, everywhere, all the time, by everyone. It’s the same opportunity cost as for monitoring and evaluation (for which we can also adopt a somewhat agile approach).

Here are some ideas to identify what to document and how:

What to document?

  • What is new?
  • What is significant?
  • What’s been done about this already (in some form or shape)?
  • What is simple (and can be codified into principles or best practices)?
  • What is complicated (but can still follow good/next practice)?
  • What is complex and inter-related about this?
  • What is unknown?
  • What is helping us ask the next best questions?
  • Who knows more about this
  • What could be useful next steps?

How to document?

  • Develop templates for documentation for e.g. case studies (link pending KM4Dev membership);
  • Keep it simple: as little information as needed to inform people, but linked sufficiently well to other sources;
  • Develop a collective system where people can add up their experiences and insights (e.g. the KS Toolkit) – make sure you have one place that people recognise as the go-to site for this information;

How to prepare that documentation work? And this is the most important part.

  • Stimulate your own documentation through blogging, note taking, managing a diary etc. It always starts and ends at the individual level – as the constant knowledge gardeners we should be;
  • Make sure your documentation is related to conversations (as Jaap Pels also recommends in his KM framework) so that you get an active habit of identifying;
  • Make sure you have formal and informal spaces and times for these conversations to erupt, both at personal level with our personal learning networks, within teams, within organisations, across organisations (e.g. in networks) etc.;
  • Develop abilities for documentation (which is part of the modern knowledge worker’s skillset);
  • Develop a strong questioning approach where you are constantly working on foresight, trend watching, complex tradeoff assessments etc.;
  • Role model documentation of the important aspects emerging from learning conversations, to stimulate a culture of intelligent documentation;
  • Assess how your documentation makes sense and what is required – and this is the art and science of documentation, to strike the balance between time inputs and learning/productivity outcomes…
Documentation as the next opportunity? See this 'Documentation Maturity Model' (Credits: Mark Fidelman / FlickR)

Documentation is an interesting KM opportunity for many people. See this ‘Documentation Maturity Model’ (Credits: Mark Fidelman / FlickR)

How do you approach documentation in your conversations?

Related blog posts:

Don’t want to understand KM? Don’t bother, business as usual is the best thing ever :)


Knowledge management (KM) can be a very dry topic to explain, so how about a bit of fun to do the job?

A mate of mine was recently compiling some ideas to present KM to a group of people who don’t know anything about it. She picked my brains and I told her, among other ideas, to use illustrations explaining the challenges that (agile) KM can solve.

Here are some ideas if you want to ignore those challenges…

Information and knowledge are of no help when you have a hammer anyway! (Credits: Mugsy's rap sheet)

Information and knowledge are of no help when you have a hammer anyway! (Credits: Mugsy’s rap sheet)

Don’t mind your information and knowledge, it’s all over-rated

True! What’s all the fuss about the information age and the knowledge era, and being smart and all. Rote learning has proven a long time ago that it was by far the most successful way to respond to current problems, let alone future challenges. Just keep nailing (or hammering?) down your problems all in the same way, as you’ve always done. Why change a winning strategy?

Well, perhaps when it’s no longer winning, and you DO need to take stock of what people think and do around you 😉

Ensure slow, and regular death by powerpoint

Another common one that can easily be avoided by (agile) KM: Make sure your meetings and events are as loaded with information as possible (yes: encourage logorrhea). Who cares about knowledge sharing and co-creating?

Death by Powerpoint, slow and painful, and totally AVOIDABLE (Credits: Media Fake Posters)

Death by Powerpoint, slow and painful, and totally AVOIDABLE (Credits: Media Fake Posters)

Who said involving people was a good idea? What can be better than provide all your great thoughts to others and let them digest your excellent thinking rather than come up with a watered down version of it by themselves – even together?

Keep it solid, keep it straight: it’s all about your experience enlightening others, and frankly you have little to get from interacting with all those morons around you.

Make sure everyone around you is endlessly searching information and wasting time

The gazillions of hours wasted searching for stuff (Credits: Kirtok)

The gazillions of hours wasted searching for stuff are killing us! (Credits: Kirtok)

That’s right, one of the benefits of not organising and managing your information is that it forces your colleagues to search (for hours) through the web, looking for what they need. They will get really web-savvy with this, and finding lovely kitten pictures, Buzzfeed’s latest nightmarish creations and perhaps even saucy videos will have no secret for them. Finding business-critical information on the other hand… well, it’s probably not part of their terms of reference really is it? So…

Don't reinvent the wheel (Credits: Sebastien Wiertz / FlickR)

Don’t reinvent the wheel (Credits: S. Wiertz / FlickR)

Reinvent the wheel – in a worse way, and in order to reinventing the wheel

Let’s go one step further: Since searching for information hasn’t reaped any tangible benefit for your business, don’t bother building upon the past, just CREATE IT ALL ANEW, bigger, flashier, fancier, ahem, though perhaps not better.

People who worked on similar challenges before didn’t understand your context, your needs, your problems, so they likely have very little in store to help you…

Just ignore them and fix that damn wheel. Someone still needs to create it, right?

Make sure your colleagues are all drowning in emails

It’s such a hassle having to learn a new tool that pretends it can do away with (part of) your emails, so just wallow in your email soup and relish the deluge that keeps coming in and keeps your heart and tension very healthy. And you may beat the record number of emails in your inbox, or amount of emails received per hour. Just go for it, there wouldn’t be anything sillier than trying to fix this since it’s so fun replying to emails endlessly. It also keeps you away from other work that needs to be done.

Life if sweet without KM.

Try and beat that record (Credits: Gideon / FlickR)

Try and beat that record (Credits: Gideon / FlickR)

Don’t learn, don’t look back, and if you do, think single loop only

Learning? That’s for pupils and students. You don’t need it. You surely have all the best answers to all the problems in the world anyway… And even if you did need to learn, it’s just to improve your very same approach to problems – sharpening that hammer so to speak.

If you have some success, just celebrate. If you had problems, quickly ignore them. At any rate DO NOT try and document what happened. It’s a complete waste of time. Everyone knows that a success can easily be replicated elsewhere, and that a failure doesn’t help anyone, certainly not you.

Don’t bring people together to (come on, that big picture blatantly doesn’t exist!)

That big picture does NOT exist. Just relax and keep your head in the sand (Credits: Kat Banaszek / FlickR)

That big picture does NOT exist. Just relax and keep your head in the sand (Credits: Kat Banaszek / FlickR)

Thinking there might be other solutions for the issues you face, or bigger issues affecting you and your organisation is a gross exaggeration, a conspiracy from outside to prevent you from doing what you do best: business as usual. The solution must be in one deeper ply of your thinking. You’ve always found the right answers to all problems so you can figure out that big one too.

Oh, and don’t forget to run for presidency next time you can 😉

Don’t pay attention to your institutional memory, don’t do exit interviews etc.

Institutional Memory (Credits: Thomas Hawk / FlickR)

Institutional Memory (Credits: Thomas Hawk / FlickR)

One of the common challenges that KM tries to fix is to mitigate the loss of institutional memory through buddying/coaching, on site training, codifying practices at work, implementing a proper induction  program and handover process including a good, grounded exit interview.

But hey, that’s a whole waste of time. Just get on with work, focus on the here and now only and when someone leaves your company you’ll find a solution for the replacement. Anyway chances are they are not really good employees and wouldn’t leave much behind at any rate (after all: they’re working for you, a worthless company that has proved well beyond the point that they don’t take KM seriously because they are not smart).

There is so much more I could mention, all these buzz words and idiotic ideas like innovation, resilience, adaptive management etc. fail fail fail… Just rejoice at the idea that your company may start looking like The Office – so prepare your jelly supplies, and sit back, relax and enjoy the KM-free world. A world free of hassle, at least mañana

Related blog posts:

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


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

Here is the transcript of that interview.

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

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

What is your personal story with KM?

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

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

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

How is KM conceptualized and implemented in CTA?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related blog posts:

MY time for YOUR content? Make it short, or make it mine!


The effect of social media (and some other things) on us... Are we all going to suffer from ADHD? (Credits: AssistedLivingToday)

The effect of social media (and some other things) on us… Are we all going to suffer from ADHD? (Credits: AssistedLivingToday)

This has got to be one of the KM evergreens of the Big Data Deluge age: how to synthesise ideas in the best (quickest?) possible way – for others to find, absorb and enjoy them.

Because, let’s face it:

We’re all time-starved…

We’re all shortening our attention span by the day – hmmm, what are we talking about here? Sorry gotta move on to my next appointment…

We’re all ever more connected using social media, interactive devices, networked softwares, networking apps, and even good old fashioned face-to-face events etc…

So we’re all suffering from filter failure, ever more congested with information coming our way from all these online and offline (human) connections – even if social media (and particularly Twitter in my case) help us filter that information.

One side of that coin is thus how we filter information – that’s the demand side.

The supply side is about adopting a good information synthesis routine and transmission etiquette to make it easier for others to find, filter and factor information – that’s what I’m talking about here, in relation with making knowledge travel.

This ties in nicely with a recent post from ever-excellent Duncan Green’s ‘From Poverty to Power‘ blog, about ensuring people read research reports, where the author lists all sorts of research outputs that could nicely complement the release of any report that ought to be read and acted upon…

The issue: people have to find that information that you’ve come up with, but they’re also flooded in information processing armageddon, so what to do?

The antidote

Sort information processing out by acting on three different dimensions of information creation and sharing:

  1. The content itself (the data)
  2. The forms, channels and spaces you use to convey that content into information
  3. The environment in which you get people to find and use that information (the knowledge ecology around you)…

1. On the content itself:

  • Don’t compromise with quality, as it’s what builds your name and the long term interest others may have in what you’re saying, writing and doing…
  • Be genuine – it makes your content stand out as uniquely interesting. It’s like a good quality arthouse movie and its distinctly subjective touch vs. a bland Hollywood movie that is produced to relate to the lowest common denominator between people around the world…
  • Write concisely. Short sentences; with bullet points; no jargon;
  • Read and edit, read and edit, read and edit. Strip it bare, to the max;
  • Test your content on others, get your formula right, sharpen the angles;
  • Add illustrations and media that reinforce your point – it makes mental images and associations easier. Use smart infographics, creative visualisation and solid information architecture;
  • Write with an active tense, tell a story, reveal the promise and also the action that you ask of your audience;
  • Ask questions, invite people to come back with their experiences and their other questions; pursue a quest together…
  • Tag, meta-describe, curate that content, so you make it more accessible, findable, usable at all times.

And at the end of the day, bullet point #1 matters more than anything else: don’t compromise with quality!

…needless to say, I need to do more of that myself with this blog lol 😉

  1. On the channels & spaces to convey the content:
  • Systematically provide a summary of anything that is longer than two to three pages (we really have shortened our attention span, it’s a pity but it’s the case all the same);
  • Perhaps provide a tweet to link to your content and connect – still wondering why the hell you should be on Twitter?
  • Write a blog post with your personal slant to that content, where you can highlight the stuff that really matters in the content you release;
  • Spend more time formatting, packaging, repurposing content than you have spent producing it – consider creative ways of bringing that content about: whiteboard videos, theatre plays, flash mobs, presentations on a napkin, co-created prototyping etc. etc.
  • Use the channels that the people who should read your stuff use – be it obscure up and coming geeky social media, Twitter, blogs, an organisation’s intranet, emails, discussion lists, face-to-face events…
  • Try a new channel every time, to see how it works…

The point is: creative, purposeful content should be brought out through creative purposeful channels.

  1. On the environment – the knowledge ecology around it:
  • Build trust up, down and onwards… Develop a rapport with people that care about your work (engage, engage, engage, reply to posts, post yourself, reply to comments, make new connections, share resources with them, bring them in your work and conversations, welcome new people and questions, explore together, have fun, have fights, remember what it’s like to be humans together)…
  • The KS toolkit: a good example of making a resource easily findable for others - thanks to the power of the collective

    The KS toolkit: a good example of making a resource easily findable for others – thanks to the power of the collective

    Work the net: Involve ‘connectors’ and mavens (according to Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point), so they can spread the word, influence specific spaces and people and help create a real buzz… and get your network to show the importance of your work and grow the shadow of your jointly co-created content… This is why collective initiatives like the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit are valuable (and read a very interesting conversation about this and re-creating the wheel on Ian Thorpe’s blog and on Nancy White’s blog).

  • Test the speed of your network – not like an internet speed test, but rather to find out if most people that are in your knowledge ecology are rather slow-paced or high-octane. Perhaps they react better to long pieces read at leisure, perhaps they prefer staccato style communication, with elevator pitches and tweets only because they don’t want to spend time absorbing longer pieces.
  • Invite, gather, cherish, process the feedback you receive from the people and groups in your knowledge ecology, and mix it with your next batch of ideas… keep the conversation going like a snowball rolling, each time accumulating more and more matter around yet going faster and faster to the point…

That last bit – the knowledge ecology (oh 2011! Yes, this is another evergreen topic) – really is the crux: you don’t get the ecology right, you don’t get the (political) economy right and no one reads your content, let alone use it.

Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, we could think of… the Highslow pyramid/hierarchy of information needs… But I’ll come back to this some other time…

So far, does this echo your gut feeling? The signals you’re getting around? Your aspirations? Your practice? Your lessons?

What is the next stage? Where do you strike a balance given the shortage of time you’re also suffering from? What do you see as trends on this horizon?

If you answer, make it quick please, I need to move on to my next task 😉

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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Managing contacts, as impossibly as knowledge flows?


I promised myself never to deal closely with a customer relationship management (CRM) system ever again.

Back in my IRC days, I did end up in that position and came to know about all the horrible details that make CRM any information manager’s worst nightmare.

The "5M's" of Social CRM - holding a promise for dev orgs too? (Credits - eremiah_owyang)

The “5M’s” of Social CRM – holding a promise for dev orgs too? (Credits – eremiah_owyang)

Indeed CRM systems are among the most difficult systems to keep up to date. The reason is manifold, either at individual or at collective level:

  • The data CRM is concerned with is most fluid of all: people. Human beings. In all our complexity and idiosyncrasies. We change organisations, we move positions, our teams are restructured, our competencies and pet-topics evolve over time. We live, we change, we make tracking our every move quite difficult, whether intentionally or not.
  • Because we change a lot, it seems to make sense to give us control over the CRM system so we can update our own records, preferences, subscriptions etc. alone – but that’s an open door to messing it up and multiplying duplicates (the real hell of CRM: which John Smith do I want to contact among these 17 entries for three really different people?)
  • What of modern workers who live across two or three locations, use up to seven email addresses and are actually better reachable by Yammer or Facebook than by phone or email? Where does all this complexity sit in a CRM system that wishes to remain simply usable?
  • We tend to need a point of contact to manage the central system, but then that means we abdicate our sovereignty over our own network, and our ownership into keeping the system up to date. It’s the brother bugger of letting chaos in by allowing everyone to manage the CRM system. 
  • And how much time are we *really* happy to invest in tagging business cards with all appropriate and relevant attributes for a given record, the kind of ‘intelligence’ that makes the difference between a contact entry and a strategic contact that allows us to DO something with it? Not much, likely. I never sat longer than 10′ going through business cards I had brought back from an event. 
  • Organisations are sometimes based in various countries. Their name changes, the letter at which they’re registered may change too, their acronym changes – though not always. Despite elaborate protocols to sort lists of contacts and organisation names in a logical manner, it remains extremely difficult to keep all records up to date.

Whatever the CRM system is, however it works, however up-to-date a system once is, in no time it relapses into the dangerous waters of 50% quality 50% garbage – and soon dips further down from there. So it happens that I haven’t (yet) come across any (development) organisation where CRM worked well.

But recently I talked with a colleague who was telling me that her previous employer was using SalesForce CRM to great success. And I came to think again about it. The colleague was working for a private sector business and then the obvious dawned on me: There can be no really successful CRM system among development organisations, so long as there is no financial/business incentive to keep the database up to date.

What this suggests?

A) that compared with private businesses, development organisations are really sloppy with some basic business gardening such as keeping track of contact details…

B) that probably most development organisations still start from their own perspective to reach out, rather than from their partner/beneficiary/donor/patron and customer relationship perspective. The likes of Outcome Mapping are luckily tilting the balance towards our boundary partners but by and large we fail to really . The same wishy-washy story as with partnerships. We’re befuddling our own most precious resource together with our skills and insights: the people we work with and around.

If this era is truly social, truly we should zoom back on our key contacts, and our CRM would follow. So perhaps managing contacts is not as impossible as knowledge flows, it’s costly and time-consuming and messy and complex, but it’s the price for quality work made with a quality network.

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The lessons I learned about lessons learned


Another one of these fascinating KM4Dev conversations that flares up without notice – or perhaps prompted indeed by this great title ‘Lessons Learned – The Loch Ness monster of of KM‘.

When will we know what to do with our lessons? (Credits - Notionscapital/FlickR)

When will we know what to do with our lessons? (Credits – Notionscapital/FlickR)

The conversation initiated by Johannes Schunter from UNDP elicited a great many fascinating responses about another one of KM evergreens (along institutional memory) – some of these came after I drafted this post.

Johannes’s original question was:

Would you know of any good paper, research article or other evidence that looks at this in a comprehensive way and supports the conclusion that collecting lessons learned documents in a database might not be smart KM?

Fair enough a question… Here is a selection of my personal favorite replies about lessons learnt (LL) databases // and my personal reactions to these:

Our problem owner is alluding to the traps of LL databases. The essential problems with such databases is that:

  • On the one hand, they are still seen by some as an end (the typical first generation KM trap)…
  • On the other hand, they relate to an essential behavioural problem that our species faces:

Getting people to actually use knowledge that is already available is a behavioural challenge in general (I. Thorpe)

Now, assuming learning lessons is still a valuable thing to pursue and codify in some way, what really makes a lesson learnt? A lesson is only learnt if it is applied. “Knowledge needs action and effective use to realise it’s potential” (N. von Holzen) // though sometimes the proof of the learning is not only in the action but in the discourse, the attitude, the thinking and guiding principles that command our actions, before there is any opportunity for action.

But what makes a lesson learnt really interesting? “replicability, evidence, and context” states D. Piga as, he continues “there is no lesson learned that is worth reading if the experience described in it isn’t replicable.” To which Stephen Bounds responds that, on the other hand, “understanding the bias and prejudices of the person or people reporting gives readers a much more powerful sense of the thinking process involved. This provides a much stronger context for critical evaluation of the material presented, as well as a stronger narrative involvement in the actual course of events.” // So a yes to qualifying who came up with the story, in what context, but striving for the universal lessons at the same time? I tend to stick to the personal angle, as universal tends to mean ‘lowest common denominator’, like a bad Hollywood remake of an excellent national film. 

Ian Thorpe argues that LL databases are just one element in a broader KM strategy including events, communities or practice etc. The database lessons are then more of a prelude to a deeper conversation. Interestingly he also points to other uses: as field examples for advocacy publications, as thematic analysis and planning resources, as ‘evidence’ that something is happening, as case studies for internal advocacy, to push a new way of working. // Excellent reflections – the question is ‘how much effort do you want to put into this database as opposed to other KM approaches and tools, and for what purpose really? Those hard questions help find a better fit.

Ok, so what can be done specifically about lessons learnt databases?

Eric Mullerbeck suggests adding “‘push’ features like RSS linked to specific and well-defined topics, that will automatically push the LL documents to the persons who have interest in those topics, without them having to do anything more than sign up to get the updates.” Pete Cranston adds: “perhaps we need a collection of personal stories on success and failure”. This echoes Robin van Kippersluis’s plea to process lessons at different levels in an integrated way – as a “true learning organisation” would do – and with a view to track evidence // Indeed compelling ideas that might enhance the effectiveness of such databases, or certainly the drive to structure them better, with a clearer view to satisfying donors.

What you do with the lessons again affects the chances of success of using the database. Thiendou Niang summarises the steps he and his team took to make best use of lessons learnt in a project in West Africa:

  1. We took time to reflect on past experience, formulate development theories and share initial thinking with a peer group
  2. …wrote the lessons learned and debated on the issues
  3. …produced a booklet with the lessons learned and disseminated the outputs including , in some cases through national TV
  4. …used the lessons learned in debate, policy influence and resource mobilization. // To me that sounds about right, perhaps not perfect but here’s a good example of knowledge ‘just in time’ (not just in case) with a purpose to using the lessons, not just to storing them. Rinko Kinoshita also shared his example of linking the LL database with a newsletter to garner more momentum and interest around the lessons.

Perhaps indeed lessons learnt databases will never satisfy our needs and so be it – because learning and knowledge are and remain transient, fluid,  Behind all of this, Eva Schiffer ponders:

How can you codify the time people need to spend in the shower each day to have good ideas, how can you standardize, make controllable, create and attribute the culture change you need for a vibrant knowledge sharing organization?

Or perhaps as Ian Thorpe enquires, we might settle for a mixed solution of high-end, rather expensive LL databases combined with cheap but rich self-reflection, using the “personal insights of those people managing the project about how it works on the ground, interpreted through their experience.” Self reflection is at the heart of Rinko Kinoshita’s final comment, that:

We cannot neglect the effects on the LL producers’ side (…) the process of documenting enabled them analyse and self reflect on their own experiences- there is a key learning here.

// Now that’s a compelling idea. Perhaps pushing this even further, the lessons learnt database could be indeed combined with ongoing conversations leading back to the database, adding new insights as conversations go along. In a way the KM4Dev wiki is a very good example of a lessons learnt database that kinda works: a conversation happens, it gets documented (including the lessons and cases), it is stored there, someone else later comes back to the topic and updates the wiki entry or adds another one in relation…

What I learnt about lessons learnt is that we have much to learn about them still, that they work in combination with other means – information and knowledge, tacit and explicit, people and technology – that they are a beginning, a process and an end result, that they can serve various purposes other than learning, that they affect the storyteller and the reader, and that we will be trying to fetch these lessons for a long time still, but the solution lies with the learner and his/her (collective) learning, not with the lesson itself… We might want to talk about (continually) ‘learning our lessons’ rather than what to do with our lessons learnt’…

The crux of the matter is in the learning, not in the lesson... (credits - Pocket full of perspective / FlickR)

The crux of the matter is in the learning, not in the lesson… (Credits – Pocket full of perspective / FlickR)

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We need more / better communication! But not from me…


When it comes to communication, everyone points the finger elsewhere (credits: Evalottchen/FlickR)

When it comes to communication, everyone points the finger elsewhere (credits: Evalottchen/FlickR)

I hear that a lot, in many organisations: communication is not good enough or there isn’t enough of it.

What does it really mean though? We are quick at pointing the finger to the problem, but not so keen on explaining what we really mean and what this implies.

Unfortunately also, too often we assume that the communication officer or team will solve all these problems, because ‘communication is their field, not mine’.

The reality is once again less black-and-white than it seems.

What they (might) mean What is really happening (and what we can do about it)
They don’t know enough about other people and departments’ work  Not enough is documented about: ongoing projects, movements (calendaring), meetings and events, outputs published.♣ Contribute to these records: share your travel plans, schedule your meetings publicly, channel your outputs to the official repository. 

Crucially, use a public (working out loud) channel to share information about what they’re doing, their questions, finds and ideas – be it on Yammer, a corporate Facebook group, Sharepoint or the organisation’s Intranet.

♣ Do this individually and in your teams. And stimulate others to do just the same. 

♣ If the above is impossible (e.g. because channels don’t exist), contact the communication team to help make it happen.

They don’t find relevant information through the formal communication channels and experience little connection and relation between the informal (bilateral chats) and formal channels They may not know how to look for information and where, there might not be any information for lack of content ‘fuel’; they receive little information as compared with corridor talks and chatting with people at events♣ Look for an overview of communication channels and procedures. 

♣ Contribute to these channels to enrich them – otherwise there will always be a disbalance between formal and informal channels.

They experience lack of coordination The different relevant entities of the organisation have few structural channels and processes to share relevant knowledge and information among themselves and rely on ad-hoc encounters to share strategic information♣ Use conversation channels and wikis that help people get in touch with each other despite distances, leaves documentation traces for themselves and others, and allow collaboration on joint projects.

♣ Use meta tags to ensure all relevant resources are tagged according to the taxonomy or folksonomy in use.

They feel they are reinventing the wheel There isn’t enough documentation going on during and after projects to share useful insights. Perhaps not enough attention is paid to the process of conducting projects and the specific approaches followed, as opposed to just carrying out stated objectives♣ Very similar to the previous point, this relates to the lack of records or their disorganisation (e.g. for lack of metadata). The agile organisation will ensure resources are easily findable and the persons related to these resources easy to locate. A social network analysis/mapping of sorts might be helpful here. 
They feel the organisation is not well equipped to face up and coming challenges that require more complex cooperation They feel the limitations of the above in doing their job and know they need to connect to other sources of knowledge but are perhaps not so sure as to how to proceed♣ This is where an engagement-focused communication team could really provide high added value support by helping design, facilitate and manage engagement processes with other parties and stakeholders, inside and outside. 

♣ What could also help is to organise more conversations (brown bag seminars, conferences, discussions) that bring together different parts of the organisation and external parties, to shape up a big picture that matters to the organisation’s agenda.

They don’t enjoy enough communication support They may have some genuine capacity needs in terms of communication and knowledge management/sharing but may not be aware of these, and perhaps there isn’t any (adequate) offering to fill these gap or perhaps these are not well known♣ See below. The task of the communication team is to connect the dots and to ensure that people use existing channels and processes to their advantage, without burdening them.
They hear “we ought to do more about communication” There is just external pressure (from donors, partners etc.) to communicate, reach out to and engage with other parties… Either way there is a problem of externally felt need, not a self-recognised weakness♣ This is not an ideal situation, but better realise it than remain ignorant. In this case, all the above applies, and perhaps it would be good to connect with other people, networks, communities of practice and organisations that seem better prepared to 21st century engagement, to get some ideas about what could work or not in this organisation. 

Of course the communication officer or team does have a role to play, that is to:

  • Set up the channels (public calendaring system, output repository, chat/knowledge sharing platform to share simple updates)
  • Set up recommended processes to use these systems
  • Provide training initially to help staff members make use of these systems and processes/procedures, at various levels (from simple users to power users and administrators), with particular emphasis on meta-standards which help organise information more systematically and retrieve it more easily
  • Coach staff and answer their question (seek their feedback on what works or not) to adjust the work
  • Monitor how these channels and processes are performing over time and contributing to accomplishing the organisation’s objectives
  • Over time, contribute to stimulating a culture of knowledge sharing and open enquiry that is conducive to adaptive management and proactive leadership cultivation

So, next time you wonder why communication in your (team, organisation, network) is so bad, ask yourself what you can do to improve it, and how your communication team can help you help yourself 😉

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