Nothing new under the sun? Here’s what’s new: your dying thirst for learning

It’s a natural tendency of skeptics, experts, people who’ve been in a field for a while: they’ve¬†seen it all, nothing is new, why bother?

This is happening currently on KM4Dev in relation with a conversation on what is different about communities of practice now and then. Some people have the tendency to say that indeed nothing is genuinely new.

Every rediscovery of an old topic is like a kaleidoscopic reflection on the same 'ingredients'. Let's keep being amazed! (Credits: EllenM1 / FlickR)

Every rediscovery of an old topic is like a kaleidoscopic reflection on the same ‘ingredients’. Let’s keep being amazed! (Credits: EllenM1 / FlickR)


How can that be? That people ask similar questions then and now is not so surprising: it takes much more time to answer questions than to raise them. But then, there’s always new aspects to identify, examine and appreciate. New layers of subtlety, new and recombined ways of looking at things, new perspectives on old topics.

That’s why there’s values in the phoenix conversations (such as M&E of KM), and in reinventing the wheel.

Not recognising the subtleties of change is simply renouncing our curiosity and our -at least as specialised knowledge workers- sacro-sanct thirst for learning. That’s a risky trade-off for appearing to have ‘been there, done that’.

Let’s not fall in that trap, shall we?

Meanwhile, that conversation on communities of practice, and the upcoming issue of the KM for development journal will provide excellent opportunities to blog further about this topic on this blog in the coming months… So keep watching this space ūüôā


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 Рcertainly to me Рthe 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 ūüėČ

The death of nice communities of practice?

Greeks always argue about facts (Credits: papazimouris / FlickR)

Argument, oiling in respect among friends… but beyond? (Credits: papazimouris / FlickR)

An interesting conversation is happening in¬†KM4Dev¬†– when is it not the case? – in relation with¬†Dave Snowden‘s recent inputs to the conference on ‘Knowledge for Development (#DIEK4D see¬†¬†and his reflections on¬†this post¬†(full meeting wiki notes are available¬†here).

Oh and close down those communities of practice which are now so hide bound as to be only of use to the avid naval-gazers.  We need more disagreement, more passion, more argument, more engagement which is not conditional on not upsetting people. (Dave Snowden, reflections on #DIEK4D, 9 July 2014)

Two interesting take-homes from this:

a) Let CoPs die!

b) Nice is the new poison

Interesting and provocative statements of course Рjust wanted to rebound on these, but I highly encourage you to see all strings from that conversation on the KM4Dev mailing list here (link possibly requiring log-in credentials).

Ad a) Let CoPs die!

Not getting Involved (Credits: Tarik B / FlickR)

Communities of practice, between agreement, argument and indifference? (Credits: Tarik B / FlickR)

Communities of practice (CoPs) won’t die just now. Even though it seems many of them are not doing well.

The problem is rather the proliferation of these CoPs, and the fact that many of these CoPs might have been set up and labelled from the onset as ‘CoPs’ although they were just groups of invited people in a top-down manner. CoPs need their time to develop over time. The¬†case of KM4Dev¬†is testimony to that slow simmering process.

The proliferation of guidelines for how to set up and use CoPs (just see some of my personal bookmarks on CoPs) seems a fair indication that there is a lot of bad practice going on and that CoPs take time to grow to a mature level. So the problem is not so much with all those navel-gazing CoPs but rather all those that are steered by a navel-gazing base of narrow-minded people setting up the CoP without budging away from their original thinking, and probably inviting people that are too much alike.

The paradox is that even if it’s not forever and even if it’s not in a real¬†community of practice, having¬†a space for¬†people to question their practice can be a really helpful thing – it just takes a lot of time to develop into¬†a real community of practice that generates the critical mass required to make way for constructive¬†disagreement… And it leads thus naturally to point b)

Ad b) Nice is the new poison

That argument really is an interesting one, as it seems to denote a trend that happens at some point to¬†a lot of people studying (and ‘doing’) work on collaboration. The¬†Wageningen UR¬†teams who theorised¬†multi-stakeholder processes¬†have also progressively shifted their¬†interest away from the positive aspects of cooperation to the conflicts and negotiation of these conflicts around setting a collective agenda.

I think the issue here is rather about the conditions of¬†establishing a space for learning and decision-making. Learning is very much steered by the conjunction of ideas coming from people with very different walks of life. Allowing that diversity to flourish means that the people in that space need to be open to wildly different ideas, listen to all and make something of that. And the decision-making process in those spaces should cherish¬†that diversity and not kill any deviation from an ‘orthodox practice’.

This can mean allowing disagreement to revisit the foundations of work as we know it. That is deeply disruptive. And itchy. Not pleasant to most people, and thus the reason why disagreement is somehow snuffed in the bud in some spaces. Now, while I see how sterile conversations can be if everyone agrees to everything, I’ve always been an advocate of the ‘Yes and‘ principle of improvisation theatre, which is not about disagreeing but building upon each other in a creative way.

Every conversation has its dynamics, they need not be all about agreeing, neither about disagreeing… It is all about the space that you entertain and the negotiated outcomes that a group seeks at a given time. And it’s all dynamic, so agreeing to keeping an eye on the diversity of views and possible disagreements is an essential part of the process. Some of the¬†key questions are thus perhaps:

  • To what extent are you paying attention to diversity, curiosity over establishment and creative disruption¬†in your collective learning space?
  • What tells you that a space has become stale? What are the early signs that something needs to be done or that space needs to disappear – or that it needs to go through a massive disruption process?
  • Who are you actually to say that this or that space is not helpful and should disappear, if it allows others to find their own space¬†for personal development? What is your mandate and your stake in that decision?

    The Purpose of Argument (Credits: Imnotquitejack / FlickR)

    The Purpose of Argument (Credits: Imnotquitejack / FlickR)

Oh, an are you gonna say something about your silence these past few weeks?¬†On another note, I’m coming to terms with¬†some¬†of the feedback –¬†that I invited¬†and – that I¬†received a while back: This blog is indeed probably not the #1 most innovative of all blogs around. Yet¬†it is my blog and that blog reflects who I am. I may not be Harold Jarche, but I think I do have some innovative ideas…Yet¬†whether that’s true or not, I can’t really pretend to be someone else, so I reckon it will keep on reacting on the signals that I find interesting, because this is¬†my mode of processing a lot of that information, and actually innovation happens at the edge, in transforming and combining bits of information such as these… that does not prevent me from taking into account a lot of the other comments I received. But I prefer to keep blogging with my limitations rather than be stopped by the blank page syndrome because I¬†should be someone else…

Related blog posts:

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 ūüėČ

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¬†ūüėČ !

Related blog posts:

See all posts under the category ‘Facilitation’

Ripples of influence in a CoP, moving through the 90-9-1 rule

After seven years – the unavoidable and symbolic seven years – I have finally given up being a core group member of KM4Dev¬†(Knowledge Management for Development), my favourite community of practice. But I haven’t given up getting involved, far from it. And because KM4Dev is one of the most fabulous examples of communities of practice, all that follows here might bear some useful lessons for your own communities and networks…

The main reason for me to leave the core group of KM4Dev is that I am going to become a father for the second time and that requires, as you understand, quality time. The other reason is that seven years is quite some period, and while I totally believe in the importance of having a group of dedicated people, in a community of practice, to steer the group with the bigger picture in mind, I also see a danger in having such a group made of people that have been staying there for too long.

90-9-1 in a Community of Practice

90-9-1 in a Community of Practice

This leaving is not a joke, unlike Steve Wheeler’s fake intention to quit blogging¬†(to better explain, eventually, what he sees in blogging.

No, but it’s an excellent reason to try to move from the 1% to the 9% of the typical 90-9-1 rule of participation in communities of practice (oh, btw, another pyramid – see this post about debunking the myth of learning pyramids). And my (not-so) hidden agenda in this move, is to shift¬†the 9% toward the 1%, or in other words expand the 1% heavy contributors to 9%. Because a healthy community needs more people that contribute, all the time. Oh, and let me remind you that I don’t have any problem with the 90% ‘lurkers’ (err, ’empowered listeners’, please)…

As I explained in a past post, being part of KM4Dev and its core group has been a wonderful opportunity to learn, explore, make friends, try things out, gain confidence, find my professional family etc. But there are various ways to influence such a vibrant community of practice from various other angles, e.g.:

More time to work on my other related KM4Dev affiliations:

But more importantly:

  • More time to contribute to KM4Dev from another angle, proving (like other former core group members like Nancy White and Lucie Lamoureux, among others) that it IS possible to do a lot for KM4Dev even when you’re not formally part of the 1% ‘heavy contributors’;
  • More opportunities to help other members find their way without the intimidation of being part of the formal ‘centre’ (as I understand, a lot of people feel they don’t really understand KM4Dev and may not feel comfortable asking core group members how things work, or even how to contact those core group members);
  • More opportunities to invite other people to join the core group and to ‘buddy up’ with them to guide them on that path if they are interested;
  • More opportunities to take a step back from crisis mode and admin work and to reflect more profoundly (and share those reflections) about a community that is so dear to me and changing so fast – the way Nancy White did recently;
  • More opportunities to bridge the gap between core group and other members, as we’ve learned from an excellent little paper that there is a lot that can be done to improve formal leadership in KM4Dev. In a recent discussion that Carl Jackson and I facilitated, there are lots of ideas already just concerning the domain of core group transitions…

I hope all of these activities will help more people get involved closely with some part of KM4Dev, hoping they will also find their energy and passion to drive some agenda and activities forward, and to ever expand the ‘inner circles’ of 1% and 9% even to the remaining 90%.

KM4Dev 2013 - and generally who will step into the circle? (Credits: unknown)

KM4Dev annual gathering 2013 – and generally who will step into the circle? (Credits: unknown)

And although I’m already out of the core group – and some might say I’ll suffer from withdrawal syndromes – I really want to update the core group pages on the KM4Dev wiki, to help clarify to new KM4Dev members and all how the core group works, what one can expect from it etc.

The point is: communities of practice like KM4Dev keep on expanding and changing nature (just seeing how many local KM4Dev networks exist is mind blowing), and as such they need more people to join in, to get closer to the essence of the group, to want to understand what’s going on, to try and hone their leadership skills.

In the complex world we live, facilitating engagement and facilitating complex networks such as KM4Dev are excellent skills to possess, so hopefully my freed place will inspire forthcoming leaders to take it and play about, and my new place as an active member will help other members move away from the edge to the core, to try navigating chaos and become confusiastic. That would be a nice present back to KM4Dev…

Related posts:

Devons-nous rester SA-GE ?

(For once a post in French as I ponder about a francophone community of practice, SA-GE РI have offered a short translation in English at the bottom of this post).

SA-GE¬†(Savoirs-Gestion), la petite¬†sŇďur de¬†KM4Dev¬†qui a vu le jour en amont de la¬†rencontre annuelle de KM4Dev de Bruxelles en octobre¬†2009, a-t-elle atteint maturit√© ? A un moment o√Ļ je me pose de s√©rieuses questions sur l’avenir des communaut√©s de pratique au vu de la difficult√© √† en maintenir l’√©nergie, la raison d’√™tre et la pertinence – j’y reviendrai bient√īt, dans un post ult√©rieur et alors qu’une¬†discussion r√©cente et tr√®s active (en anglais)¬†compare KM4Dev et KBF (Knowledge brokers’ forum) – la question qui me taraude est donc :¬†y a-t-il un avenir pour SA-GE?

The language communities of Twitter even show no sign of French in Africa, what does this say of SA-GE? (credits - Eric Fischer / FlickR)
The language communities of Twitter even show no sign of French in Africa, what does this say of SA-GE? (credits – Eric Fischer / FlickR)

Ce qui est s√Ľr c’est que SA-GE :

  • Demeure une communaut√© de pratique unique en fran√ßais sur la gestion des connaissances pour le d√©veloppement et devrait donc vraiment remplir les besoins de cette ‘niche’;
  • Est reconnue, au moins au sein de KM4Dev comme un r√©seau et une communaut√© √† part enti√®re, ayant son utilit√©;
  • Compte un noyau dur (r√©v√©l√© par l’analyse des r√©seaux sociaux¬†-en anglais- ¬†entreprise dans l’ensemble de la constellation KM4Dev et recoupant √©galement SA-GE) qui joue peut-√™tre un r√īle trop pr√©sent;
  • Compte des sous-communaut√©s ou groupes associ√©s assez actifs (au¬†S√©n√©gal¬†et au¬†Burkina Faso¬†notamment);
  • Comprend r√©guli√®rement des envois et posts ‘informatifs’ mais ne semble pas d√©coller bien haut ou atterrir bien loin quand il s’agit de¬†converser;
  • Semble b√©n√©ficier tant soit peu d’un certain √©lan gr√Ęce aux initiatives qui gravitent autour de temps √† autre :
  • En d√©pit d’un excellent travail (soutenu par le¬†fonds d’innovation 2012 de KM4Dev) pour remettre en √©tat et organiser la partie documentaire de son¬†wiki¬†par l’interm√©diaire de¬†Gilles Mersadier, l’initiative n’a g√©n√©ralement pas suffisamment mobilis√© les membres.

Mais quel diagnostic en faire ? Et quels rem√®des adopter, s’il y a lieu d’en adopter ?

Mon diagnostic est le suivant :

Un nombre trop faible de membres ne permet pas d’√©changer suffisamment, parmi des membres qui seraient sans doute plus heureux de le faire face-√†-face plut√īt que par √©crit. Un nombre encore plus faible de membres (dont je fais partie, quoique de mani√®re de moins en moins visible), anime trop souvent les √©changes et ne laisse peut-√™tre pas assez d’espace aux autres membres pour prendre leur √©lan.

L’absence de r√©union ‘physique’ entre les membres ne permet pas d’entretenir suffisamment le lien entre tous et cons√©quemment ne permet pas de maintenir des √©changes nourris.

Un certain nombre de membres de SA-GE sont √©galement membres de KM4Dev et b√©n√©ficient davantage de la masse critique et de l’exp√©rience de cette communaut√© pour vraiment tirer parti de SA-GE. Par ailleurs, un certain nombre d’entre nous √©voluons dans des organismes¬†(ou dans un syst√®me, secteur ou domaine)¬†majoritairement anglophones, ce qui ne nous expose pas souvent √† des conversations et documents en fran√ßais – et la traduction est un obstacle suppl√©mentaire √† la spontan√©it√© des √©changes.

Aucun mod√©rateur attitr√© ne s’occupe de la communaut√© en raison de l’absence de ressources √† cet effet et des limitations du mod√®le, alternatif, de volontariat distribu√© (qui que ce soit peut animer la communaut√© comme il/elle l’entend). En lien avec ce probl√®me, SA-GE reste trop p√©riph√©rique √† KM4Dev et tout investissement dans cette derni√®re n’atteint que trop rarement SA-GE – le fonds d’innovation 2012 et l’analyse partielle du r√©seau social de SA-GE demeurent des exceptions dans le cadre du programme d’appui du FIDA (Fonds International de D√©veloppement Agricole) pour l’Afrique) √† KM4Dev.

Enfin, la production de documents en français (sur le sujet de la gestion des connaissances) et la tenue de conversations sur la gestion des connaissances sont peut-être trop anecdotiques dans le monde francophone pour susciter un réel engouement, se réverbérant sur une communauté comme SA-GE Рvoir la carte des langues sur Twitter pour nous en donner une appréciation relative.

En bref : trop peu de gens, pour trop peu d’int√©r√™t et d’opportunit√©s, avec trop peu de ressources et trop peu de confiance (i.e. connaissance) mutuelle entre les membres √©touffent les opportunit√©s de faire de SA-GE une communaut√© vibrante. Peut-√™tre la question n’est-elle pas de ‘rester’ SA-GE mais d’avoir form√© cette communaut√© trop t√īt ?

Mes recommandations sont les prochaines :

Malgré les défis mentionnés ci-dessus je crois vraiment que SA-GE doit perdurer et que ses membres peuvent bénéficier bien davantage de cette communauté, sous certaines conditions :

  • Ses membres doivent s’en faire ambassadeurs, autant que possible, au sein de leurs organismes respectifs, au sein de KM4Dev, et dans d’autres r√©seaux sp√©cifiques mais li√©s au domaine de SA-GE ;
  • Ses membres qui font √©galement partie de KM4Dev se prononcent r√©guli√®rement pour faire b√©n√©ficier SA-GE d’activit√©s et opportunit√©s propos√©es pour KM4Dev – l’id√©e actuelle d’un¬†montage de lettre d’actualit√©s KM4Dev¬†(en anglais)¬†pourrait √™tre une id√©e √† poursuivre sur SA-GE √† ce titre ;
  • Des organisations francophones mettent en¬†Ňďuvre des ateliers permettant aux membres de SA-GE de se retrouver et de discuter, √† l’instar de la FAO (et de l’excellent travail de¬†Sophie Treinen, entre autres, en ce sens) ;
  • Les sous-r√©seaux locaux continuent d’animer des rencontres et n’h√©sitent pas √† partager les r√©sultats des rencontres (pas la logistique de la tenue de ces rencontres) pour stimuler des √©changes au-del√† de leur propre √©chelle g√©ographique ;
  • Un syst√®me de pairs / correspondants pourrait se mettre en place pour organiser des √©changes entre deux membres de SA-GE g√©ographiquement √©loign√©s l’un de l’autre (reprenant entre autres l’id√©e des ‘buddies’ de la semaine de la communaut√© africaine) ;
  • Des opportunit√©s de financement pourraient √™tre poursuivies pour doter la communaut√© d’un(e) facilitateur(rice) pour renforcer les √©changes et leur documentation. Ces opportunit√©s sont peut-√™tre √† poursuivre aupr√®s de la communaut√© de la francophonie. Un¬†groupe d’int√©r√™t pour le financement de KM4Dev¬†existe d’ailleurs depuis peu (en anglais);
  • D’autres activit√©s telles que l’actualisation du wiki permettent √† tout un chacun de d√©couvrir la richesse de SA-GE ;
  • Les membres pourraient tout simplement commenter leur travail et leurs id√©es de mani√®re plus syst√©matique…
  • Un sondage pourrait √™tre initi√© aupr√®s des membres de SA-GE pour identifier ce qu’ils en retirent, ce qu’ils appr√©cient, ce qui leur semble manquer et ce qu’ils seraient pr√™ts √† contribuer le cas √©ch√©ant. Avec une question subsidiaire : ‘Quelle serait votre r√©action si SA-GE cessait d’exister ?’

Parfois, nos (mes) hypoth√®ses de perfusion d’une communaut√© qui n’est pas en pleine forme ne veulent pas suffisamment confronter la v√©rit√© : peut-√™tre vaut-il mieux se d√©barrasser de SA-GE apr√®s tout… ?

Qu’en pensez-vous ? Y a-t-il un avenir pour cette communaut√© ? Devons-nous rester en tant que SA-GE ?

Billets en relation :

(English – short – translation)

SA-GE is the sister community of KM4Dev since its inception in 2009 and has so far benefitted from a number of activities related to KM4Dev (see the list in French above). Yet it remains a not-so-vibrant community of practice (CoP), perhaps not unlike many other CoPs but still…

Looking at this, I reckon that despite the obvious niche SA-GE is occupying, the main issues are: not enough face-to-face events leading to trust-building, not enough people in the community (no critical mass) with a mandate to share information in French and relate SA-GE to their own domain’s conversations in French, not enough time and money to properly facilitate and attend to SA-GE and the francophone KM CoP remains too far at the edges of KM4Dev.

So what can be done? Heaps! Here are some ideas: Be an ambassador for SA-GE within our own organisations, and within KM4Dev; organising more face-to-face events or piggybacking on these to allow SA-GE members to meet each other; seizing every opportunity within KM4Dev (such as the¬†newsletter work that is upcoming) to tag SA-GE along; more continuous exchanges within regional hubs such as SA-GE Burkina Faso or KM4Dev Dakar; a peer/buddy system among pairs of SA-GE members to have more exchange and meeting each other; identifying funding opportunities to find more sustainable resources for proper facilitation; entertaining more activities like the recent¬†SA-GE wiki¬†update; commenting one’s own KM activities in French on SA-GE; starting a survey among SA-GE members to find out what they benefit from it, what they miss, what they would like to do for it and perhaps why they might bother (or not) if SA-GE ceases to exist.

It’s always been my conviction that there was a point for SA-GE but perhaps I just don’t want to confront the reality and indeed SA-GE has no¬†raison d’√™tre¬†after all?

What do you think? What would you do?

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) Рsome 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 “‚Äėpush‚Äô 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 Рbecause 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)

Related blog posts:

KM for Development Journal news, zooming in on the facilitation of multi-stakeholder processes

Some news about the¬†Knowledge Management for Development Journal, for which I’m a senior editor: the upcoming issue (May 2013) is just about to be released and will be the first open access issue again after three years of commercial hosting by Taylor and Francis. This is a really welcome move – back to open knowledge – and the issue should be very interesting as it focuses on knowledge management in climate change work.

The September 2013 issue is dedicated to ‘Breaking¬†the boundaries to knowledge integration: society meets science within¬†knowledge management for development.’

Discussing innovation and multi-stakeholder platforms (Credits: WaterandFood / FlickR)

Discussing innovation and multi-stakeholder platforms (Credits: WaterandFood / FlickR)

But here I wanted to focus a bit on the¬†December 2013 issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal which will be about ‘Facilitating multi-stakeholder processes: balancing internal dynamics and institutional politics‘.

Multi-stakeholder processes (MSPs) have been a long term interest of mine, as I really appreciate their contribution to dealing with wicked problems, their focus (conscious or not) on social learning, and the intricate aspects of learning, knowledge management, communication, monitoring and capacity development. Multi-stakeholder processes are a mini-world of agile KM and learning in the making – thus offering a fascinating laboratory while focusing on real-life issues and problems.

What is clearly coming out of experiences around MSPs is that facilitation is required to align or conjugate the divergent interests, competing agendas, differing world views, complimentary capacities and abilities, discourses and behaviours.

In particular I am personally interested to hear more about:

  • How homegrown innovation and facilitation can be stimulated and nurtured for more sustainable collective action movements, especially if the MSP was set up as part of a funded aid project.
  • How the adaptive capacity of a set of stakeholders is being stimulated beyond the direct issue at hand (be it education, competing agendas on natural resources, water and sanitation coverage etc.) or not and how it becomes a conscious objective of these processes.
  • What facilitation methods seem to have worked out and to what extent this was formalised or not.
  • How the facilitation of such complex multi-stakeholder processes was shared among various actors or borne by one actor and with what insights.
  • How individuals and institutions find their role to play and how their orchestration is organised in such complex processes (i.e. is there a place for individual players, how does this address or raise issues of capacities, turnover, ownership, energy, collective action, trust etc.).
  • To what extent – and how – was the facilitation of these processes formally or informally reflected upon as part of monitoring, learning and evaluation or as part of softer process documentation.

This special issue, which is very promising with almost 25 abstracts received in total, should explore these issues in more depth and bring up more fodder for this blog and for exciting work on using social learning to improve research / development. The issue will come out in December 2013 as mentioned. In the meantime, a couple of upcoming events in my work will also touch upon some specific forms of multi-stakeholder processes: innovation platforms.

What else is boiling around this blog? A lot!

Coming up soon: Another couple of KM interviews, some reflections on open knowledge and related topics and perhaps getting to a Prezi as I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of working with it after three years of interruption. Only even more is boiling outside this blog – as this turns out to be the most hectic season at the office these days. More when I get to it the week after next.

Read the December 2013 issue’s call for papers.

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Top KM influencer on Twitter? Why and what then?

MindTouch KM influencerThis week I had the very pleasant and slightly shocking surprise of landing as #23 on MindTouch’s top 100 Influencers on KM – see more information about this here¬†(or click on the icon on the right hand side).

Here is the top quartile:

  1. weknowmore
  2. David Gurteen
  3. Dave Snowden
  4. Stan Garfield
  5. Nancy White
  6. VMaryAbraham
  7. Jack Vinson
  8. Euan Semple
  9. Alice MacGillivray
  10. knowledgetank
  11. Ian Thorpe
  12. Richard Hare
  13. Peter West
  14. Gauri Salokhe
  15. Chris Collison
  16. #KMers Chat
  17. Stuart French
  18. KM Australia
  19. John Tropea
  20. KMWorld Magazine
  21. Christian DE NEEF
  22. Mario Soavi
  23. ewenlb
  24. KM Asia
  25. Steve Dale

How did this happen?

I’m still surprised. By no means do I consider myself worthy of making it to this list. If at all I could have featured in the bottom part. So if I try to understand how it happened, I guess ¬†what could have helped the ranking is, randomly: mutual connection to most of these top tweeters, consistent use of hashtags (#KM, #KM4Dev, #KMers), regular updates on this blog which is dedicated to KM from which I channel tweets, re-tweeting – and being retweeted for – interesting KM insights from other influential KM thinkers who are on Twitter or not.

And more importantly… so what then?

A few ideas and comments come to mind:

This rating is only¬†one¬†subjective, biased assessment and it’s only about Twitter. There are countless of KM specialists that should be there, who are very influential but are not presented in this top 100, either because they are not active at all on Twitter or because of the way the MindTouch ranking algorithms work.

As Nancy White¬†mentioned, it’s remarkable that many¬†KM4Dev¬†members are making it to this list, which is great for the community and an incentive to¬†really do something about it as it might change (y)our life. It looks as though it’s not just my biased understanding that assumes this community rocks and is a beacon of CoPs, despite all its ongoing doubts and issues – some of which will be addressed in the annual face-to-face event in Seattle this July.

From my Twitter stream, it seems that a lot of these people are also following each other, which shows that the KM Twitter community is fairly tight-knit and has quickly connected nodes to form this fantastic thinking grid that it is now. The wonderful gathering function of #KMers Chat has possibly been one significant mechanism to interconnect all these people too and to take stock of many of the challenges that KM professionals are facing, whatever their function title is or entails. This is good matter for entertaining such conversations and regularly convening a quorum of the critical KM minds.

As Stuart French noted, this ranking shows the diversity of the KM field and the focus shift from technology to humans and their interaction processes. However, this is likely to change as technology will play an increasingly important role. This is one of the key (and totally plausible) predictions of Steve Wheeler in his wonderful ‘learning futures’ presentation:¬†

The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself – it just keeps on happening, and the KM world, with its antennas in such diverse arenas as business management, psychology, education, cognitive science, human resource management, coaching, information technology, training, social activism etc. is a good place to map trends, raise questions, shape up conversations that keep on getting our ever-changing job done, and allow us to deal with complex issues and wicked problems. The positive issue of such a ranking is that it helps us all connect to this great thinking pool.

Finally, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s perhaps an example that the¬†knowledge ego-logy¬†sometimes comes with rewards, but also with responsibilities. For me this token of recognition is a call to become ever more helpful in the field of (agile) knowledge management, (social) learning and critical thinking, on Twitter and everywhere else.

At any rate, I’m also happy for this event and I’ll proudly keep the badge on this blog for a while.¬†Thank you if you were involved in compiling this ranking or helped me and other KM thinkers make it to this list!

As the no.1 KM Twitter influencer shows (together) ‘We¬†know more’.¬†


Related blog posts:

Revisiting the links between communication and knowledge management

At the fifth informal get-together of the Ethiopia/Addis Ababa KM4Dev network, one of the focused conversations we held was about the relations between communication and knowledge management. I wrote this year about how KM can power communication. I also blogged about the different families of engagement in which comms and KM can be found.

KM and comms overlap a lot - with the exception of learning?

KM and comms overlap a lot – with the exception of learning?

The KM4Dev Ethiopia discussion we had focused on the following two questions:

  1. Where do KM and comms sit in your organisation / project and are they formally or informally connected? How?
  2. Where do you see comms and KM work together and possibly integrate?

The conversation highlighted a few points which I think are worth looking into here.

KM and comms are defined very differently in different organisations¬†or projects; they encompass each other (KM is part of comms, comms is part of KM) or they are totally separate depending on the concepts that form the foundations of that organisation and the politics of different departments… What is sure: There has to be a real purpose in bringing comms and KM together to encourage formal and/or informal cooperation among these approaches.

As many other things, definitions don’t matter so much (we’ve been working on comms and KM all along without labeling these ways) so long as your organisation/project feels comfortable knowing what it does with it. That intention matters, particularly if as I have advocated¬†KM (and comms) includes a strong emphasis on learning. Purpose is essential to accelerating learning.

One of the main differences between KM and comms has been the idea of messaging (highlighted in the definitions in one of the resources mentioned below) which has characterised much comms work in the past: In organisations and projects, comms – understood here as a department rather than a function or skill set – has been traditionally focusing on unilaterally sending messages to target groups. There has been very little said about multi-lateral relations in comms work and also very little about (face-to-face and online) engagement from the start. This is changing, however, with more and more communication strategies and activities paying attention to nurturing the network (or ecosystem) as part of which the organisation or project is part. This change of approach is perhaps the main reason why there is such a blur between communication and knowledge management: comms is evolving; and so is KM, moving away from being understood as just information management (more about the difference between the two on the KM4Dev wiki). Adding to the blur, is that knowledge sharing is essential in KM and might be understood – wrongly – as communication.

Comms and KM retain nonetheless deeply distinctive features. As mentioned in the engagement families analogy, the marketing and PR branches of the communication family are very different from what KM does or intend to do. The learning aspect is also usually not a very prominent aspect of comms, while it is adamant to good, agile KM. And information management is only thought of as distantly supporting comms, while it is part and parcel of KM.

Perhaps another key difference is that comms is recognised and mainstreamed a lot more in business and has been traditionally used as a strong corporate arm, i.e. a controlled field which organisations pay attention to regarding what they are communicating and how they are engaging with clients, partners, beneficiaries etc. With the advent of social media, the corporate comms side has continued to extend its influence, while the KM arm is perhaps moving increasingly towards personal knowledge management and the role of social networks to influence the conversations, documentation efforts and learning issues of people Рand their organisations if they are employees. 

Ultimately both comms and KM wish to change the behaviour of a number of internal and/or external audiences… But communication tends to still have that ‘corporate’ feel to it, while KM and its inherent recognition of learning – and of the power of social learning – recognises much more explicitly the importance of external signals and of co-creating knowledge to get to smarter conversations that solve current problems and pre-empt future issues. This is introduced in this recent explanation by TheKnowledgeCore. The method to achieve change is not the same – much more controlled in comms and ¬†arguably much more open to social learning for social change in agile KM.

Coming back to the initial point here, if there is a real will to make communication and KM work together, it really happens. KM then informs ‘smarter’ communication while KM also benefits from the expertise of comms to approach different internal and external groups more effectively, offline and online. And such a comms-fuelled smarter KM connects strong information management (having information well organised, available, accessible and indeed accessed) with strong communication, to ensure that communication and knowledge sharing are based on existing and pertinent information.

So, this definition and distinction game is a fuzzy affair, but there is certainly much to gain in stimulating interactions between proponents of workers of the comms field and those of the KM field. That’s what agile KM is also about. I am a knowledge sharing and communication specialist, so it makes perfect sense to me that both fields are related, perhaps this post gives you some ideas to consider it too?

And while at that, here are some possibly interesting resources around similar discussions in the past:

Related blog posts: