Knowledge management strategy development: Taking stock

Nothing like having your back to the wall to do some useful research.

Here I am, fishing for ideas on good communication and knowledge management strategies. I addressed how to develop a communication strategy a while back. And though I’ve shared some ideas on how I would go about a KM strategy, I haven’t really synthesised all the stuff I’ve found useful to do so through the years; so here’s some stock-taking exercise for resources dealing with designing and rolling out a knowledge management strategy.

How to develop a KM strategy? (Credits: UNU-ViE_SCIENTIA / FlickR)

How to develop a KM strategy? (Credits: UNU-ViE_SCIENTIA / FlickR)

Caveat: This is not a simple exercise, as most companies want to preciously hoard their information about this business-critical area of work. Case studies do exist a bit everywhere but this post doesn’t attempt at highlighting those in particular.

Caveat 2: Because it is not simple, and I didn’t get enough time to search thoroughly for all that might be out there, this will be a ‘living post’: I will enrich it with other resources that I think should feature here. So, feel free to bring up your key readings on this 🙂

…or indeed videos (haven’t yet checked this Kana 5-video tutorial on KM strategies)…

KM4Dev conversations about KM strategies (Stock-taking on stock-taking)

A KM4Dev conversation (Credits: Westhill Knowledge)

A KM4Dev conversation (Credits: Westhill Knowledge)

As ever, the KM4Dev wiki is a gold mine of relevant information and as you might expect, KM4Devers have explored this topic more than once. So we have four waves of KM strategy conversations here, as well as some useful (quite recent) case studies at the end.

The four conversations cover:

  • How a 10-year vision about KM can be developed in an organisation
  • Where to start with a KM strategy
  • Using frameworks and getting started
  • The stealth approach in KM strategies

What’s useful: the attention to principles of action and the fact that this resource is quite easy to absorb and to implement as it has a good, concrete, summary section. An excellent starting point.

APQC’s resources on knowledge management strategy

APQC KM strategy chart

APQC’s interactive KM strategy framework

APQC have a lot of experience with KM and they are really interested in connecting with other people that work on or around KM (they incidentally interviewed me a couple of times about getting KM and comms accepted and valued and about developing a content management strategy that works across generations of workers (the second part of a two-piece series).

Their interactive KM strategy framework allows you to select a different phase of KM strategy development and zoom in on specific challenges and related posts, other writings or resources… So a good complement to the KM4Dev wiki. However here nothing is said about how you should go about it, but that’s because APQC, like quite a few other people mentioned here, makes a business out of advising you on KM too.

Josef Hofer-Alfeis KM master course (and module on KM strategy)

Josef Hofer-Alfeis

Josef Hofer-Alfeis

This series of 12 Powerpoint presentations might, at times, seem a bit dry to read  but it contains a wealth of advices regarding knowledge and knowledge management. The part 5 focuses on developing a knowledge and then a knowledge management strategy, looking also at how to measure KM successfully and how to launch your KM program.

There is perhaps nothing really brand new in this but the merit of this master course is to be quite comprehensive and to be transparent.

Designing a Successful KM Strategy (N. Milton & S. Barnes)

The recent book by Stephanie Barnes and Knoco’s Nick Milton is allegedly one of the best reads on this topic and is most likely selling fast too. I don’t like to promote pay-for resources so much, that’s why I’m keeping this for the end of this selection.

Designing a successful KM strategy

Designing a successful KM strategy

The reason why this features here – and before I have even read the book myself (though I ordered it) is that Nick Milton has been blogging very regularly the past few years, and very regularly about some very good stuff. So do check his blog.

The points that I like about his approach to KM strategy include among others: Pilots, change management (not just KM), attention to facilitation as part of the skill set of a knowledge manager, guerrilla strategy, attention to principles and key knowledge areas, in addition to the standard stuff you can find in other resources mentioned here.

The tip of the iceberg: tentative first steps in cross-organisational comparison of knowledge management in development organisations

What we think about with KM strategies is sometimes just the tip of what needs to be taken care of (Credits: Infertilegirlinafertileworld)

What we think about with KM strategies is sometimes just the tip of what needs to be taken care of (Credits: Infertilegirlinafertileworld)

Sarah Cummings and I wrote this overview of KM strategies a few years back. Although dated (2009) this comparison draws a few conclusions that are relevant regardless of the KM strategy context:

  • Four pointers to make decisions: the complexity of the organisation (or network etc.), strategic orientation (navel-gazing or outward-focused), learning phase in the strategy development and reference framework;
  • Four elements of a KM strategy: scope, approach, tools/practices, monitoring and evaluation…

The link above leads to the pay-for version of the full text article on the Taylor & Francis website but you can also request it to me here as it has become public access and will soon be moved to the Open Access platform of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal.

What about agile KM then?

Now, if I’m true to my own model of KM=CDL, I would end this stock-taking exercise by wondering how a KM strategy addresses a) cultivating conversations, b) documenting these and other experiences and c) stimulating action-focused learning, and this at organisational level but with a strong inclination to connect with individual level and (inter)institutional level. But that is too much at this stage, so more matter for another post.

You can see more resources in my bookmarks on KM strategy and as mentioned above I’ll keep on updating this so watch this space!

Related blog posts:

And of course all other ‘stock-taking’ posts

The art of blogging: Taking stock

The topic of ‘Blogging’ is a phoenix in the blogosphere. Blogging about blogging keeps emerging and emerging and reemerging. No later than this week again, only in my personal learning network I spotted Euan Semple’s piece about ‘How writing a blog can make you a better manager‘, while Ian Thorpe was reflecting about the value of keeping a journal, like a blog [and even more recently shared these 10 tips for bloggers]. Perhaps it’s the welcome mental break of summer holidays that makes bloggers reflect about one of our favourite reflexive activities: BLOGGING.

How blogging matters for different people (Credits - IsaakWok/FlickR)

How blogging matters for different people (Credits – IsaakWok/FlickR)

And so, after over five years of blogging and over 182 published posts, I thought it might be a good time also for myself to look back at the art of blogging. Not so much what I make of it, because despite past experience I have a lot to learn about blogging still and I already blogged about my blogging here and there.

No, this is a post sharing ideas and experiences from thought leaders who have seen the benefits of blogging, have enjoyed and analysed it well enough to share some gems. So hereby comes another stock-taking post which may help wannabe bloggers (Hermella, do you read me?) as well as well as more seasoned bloggers always looking for inspiration…

Why blog?

Five minutes with Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson: “Blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now” (Feb. 2012). A welcome wake-up call for academics about the power of blogging and why it has become unavoidable to spread research uptake. This is a short but high octane interview with a few additional tips. This one is a bit of a dedicated resource for my academic colleagues…

Seth Godin and Tom Peters on blogging – A must watch! (April 2009)

Another short video where life2.0 guru Seth Godin and fellow interviewee Tom Peters share their point of view as to why Blogging matters and how it has affected them deeply. Great inspiration to get started, from one of the very few bloggers (Godin) who blogs successfully every day.

Simple tips and tricks

  • Blog post checklist for great authors (Aug. 2013): The latest resource I came across, filled with excellent guerilla tips to outsmart typical blog (and other bloggers’) traps and ensure blogging leads to action (yours and others’). Perhaps the best series of tips and tricks in this selection.
  • 12 blogging mistakes (Aug. 2013): what not to do with your blog to avoid making it useless. Great no nonsense tips that move away from the ego-logy a bit. I particularly like the advice to do away with ‘Blah’ posts and to come up with more ‘wow’ content. I hope I’m applying this lesson better now.
  • 23 essential elements of sharable blog posts (June 2009). Very short list of very good tips to prepare useful and usable blog posts. This one is so short and so relevant that despite its age it was difficult to avoid.
  • The absolutely foolproof blog post checklist (Feb. 2013). A great series of technical tips to make sure that the content on your blog is fool proof. I found this resource via Jurgen Appelo’s resource listed above and its peculiar focus on technical blogging makes it stand out as a great resource.
  • Tips for conference bloggers (Jan. 2008): Live blogging is tricky. Here’s a series of useful tips to make it work. Probably worth a revamp but the core of the tips is still very much valid. This has been compiled with experts in the field of social media such as Beth Kanter and is essentially a short guide available in PDF format.
  • Blogtips (ongoing blog): Peter Casier is an experienced social media enthusiast who’s set up this blog full of advices about blogging and more. He may not update this blog every month but he has been updating it over time and this place remains a good place for blogging tips, particularly for those of you working in global development. Peter leads major social media campaigns for agricultural research consortium CGIAR in major global events.
  • Three things you should know about blogging (July 2013). Steve Wheeler explains three important pillars of blogging to help you make the most of it.

Personal experiences

Many bloggers have related their experience with blogging. Hereby a selection of my favourite posts from these bloggers reflecting upon blogging:

  • Ian Thorpe (KM on a dollar a day) with ‘Personal professional blogging – what I’ve learned‘ (Feb. 2013). Ian Thorpe is a blogger I follow avidly and respect enormously for the clarity and potency of his ideas. In this post he provides a good overview of the type of blogs (and bloggers), various tips, types of posts that can be used and a list of other bloggers to look up to. A great complement to this stock-taking post.
  • Mike Shanahan (Under the Banyan) and ‘Why blog? Ten things I learned about blogging this year‘ – Dec. 2012). Mike is giving really fresh advice, not (just) the typical advice you find about blogging. Like his ideas of repeat visits to past posts and the fact that speed matters – seize opportunities. This proved true for me with a recent summary of a KM4Dev discussion on lessons learnt while the discussion was just about petering out.
  • Irving Wladawsky-Berger ‘Blogging and personal feelings‘ (March 2012). A very blog-like account of how blogging has become a really important part of life of Irving and how it resonates in his work.
  • Harold Jarche (Life in perpetual beta). Another one of my favourite bloggers. In his piece on ‘Net Work skills‘ (March 2012), Harold talks about blogging and other skills but refers to blogging as a central engine for conversations (themselves a central piece in the networked world) and mechanism to speed up serendipity. A great testimony of how blogging can make a difference.
  • Marc F. Bellemare (Agriculture, development and food policy) and his post on ‘What I’ve learned from a year of blogging: advice for would-be bloggers‘ (Jan. 2012) I selected this post because it is particularly useful for new bloggers or wannabe bloggers. Marc reflects back on one year of blogging and offers simple but useful tips to get started.
  • Steve Wheeler (Learning with ‘e’s). Steve Wheeler is a wonderful learning and education blogger and he explains in ‘Life thru a lens’ (Aug. 2013) his experience with vlogging – or video blogging – as a great complement to his ongoing blogging practice.
Blogging is writing's extreme sport (Credits - WillLion/FlickR)

Blogging is writing’s extreme sport (Credits – WillLion/FlickR)

And I decided to add -ex-post- this other post (by Chris Lysy) which summarises blogging challenges and advices of 22 different bloggers (including yours truly):

Who blogs (how)?

Blogs are topic-specific generally, at least the better blogs I’ve come across. So there’s no selection that would satisfy everyone of you, but here is a list of bloggers that I find really interesting to read, from their blogging technique or the way they use their blog:

  • Duncan Green (From poverty to Power). A very prolific blogger, Oxfam’s Duncan Green is a real thought leader in his field, sharply networked and with real passion and objective detachment at the same time. His blog is one of the best examples, in global development) of what can be achieved with a blog once the author behind is smart and well connected. A must-visit for influence blogging.
  • In the KM world, Nick Milton from Knoco Stories has been blogging on a daily basis with unrelentlessly good advice. His way of blogging is interesting because it is a real challenge to keep up with such daily discipline. I like the references he makes to other posts from his long blogging experience.
  • And finally Susan MacMillan, an ILRI colleague who has been blogging prolifically, with rather long posts though very detailed, full of passion and quotes and facts and questions. It is a peculiar style; some people don’t like it, some love it. I find it really an inspiring ‘other’ way of blogging than most blogs I follow. See some posts of hers on e.g. ILRI Clippings and ILRI news.

There could be many many more, as you understand…

A (totally non comprehensive) summary of tips and tricks contained in these resources:

    • (You) Be yourself, be bold, be unique, continually reflect about your blog and your blogging practice, accept it takes time to get good at it and to reap real benefits from it;
Some blogging (moo card) pointers (Credits - MexicanWave/FlickR)

Some blogging (moo card) pointers (Credits – MexicanWave/FlickR)

  • (Your blog) Find your focus and goal, have a go, let it flow, embellish your blog with pictures (or videos, presentations and other creative bits), make it scannable and ‘blog-friendly’, chase typos and errors away, improve your blog and change stuff about it every so often – in line with your learning;
  • (Your audience) Engage with them, work with them, comment on their blogs and respond to their comments quickly, share your posts actively on other social networks, link to other blogs and content (from you and others), use your blog as basis for much wider engagement.

Now – what are your favourite blog posts about blogging, the why, what, how and all the rest of it? What have I missed out here? And what might you do about blogging yourself?

Related blog posts:

Find the resources mentioned in this post and other resources about blogging in my bookmarks about Blogging.

Assessing, measuring, monitoring knowledge (and KM): Taking stock

Been a while since I last properly ‘took stock’ of a specific topic in my knowledge garden. The last one about storytelling. But I’ve recently been working again on one of my pet topics: assessing knowledge work, so a good stock-taking exercise will be really handy for upcoming work, and hopefully for you too!

Some takes on M&E of KM via IKM-Emergent (Credits: Hearn, Hulsebosch & Talisayon)

Some takes on M&E of KM via IKM-Emergent (Credits: Hearn, Hulsebosch & Talisayon)

Knowledge Management Impact Challenge (KMIC) work and related KM4D journal issue

In 2011, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) launched a KM impact challenge, inviting authors to submit entries explaining how KM could be effectively assessed. 45 different case studies were shared and reflected upon in a final report and a series of articles published in the Knowledge Management for Development Journal. These cases spanned a spectrum of KM interventions from capturing lessons, developing capacities, improving organisational performance, looking into learning events, impact of communities of practice etc. A lot of common challenges to assessing KM and practical recommendations and question to move forward are identified in this (to my knowledge) penultimate attempt at taking stock of assessing KM in development work.

Read the KM Impact Challenge final report or discover the Knowledge Management for Development Journal issue dedicated to the KMIC experiences (limited access, come back to me for specific articles).

Methods for measuring intangible assets

I first came across this resource in a blog post (itself worthwhile reading) from Gerald Meinert about ‘KM asks for value compensation‘. Karl-Erik Sveiby is one of the KM tycoons. He has been writing a lot of really good conceptual and practical pieces on KM as a professor and as founder of Sveiby Knowledge Associates. Although this list of approaches to measure intangible assets is not strictly focusing on assessing KM, it is very useful to consider as KM relates very much to intangibles. Sveiby looks at four different methods to measure intangibles: Direct intellectual capital methods, market capitalisation methods, return on assets methods and scorecard methods. He goes on looking into 42 different methods falling in either category.

The merit of this work is to consider the valuation of knowledge capital in various ways. Perhaps not enough is said about how knowledge leads to other changes but that is covered by other methods and resources listed here.

See Sveiby’s methods for measuring intangible assets

Nick Milton’s series of quantified KM stories

Nick Milton, of Knoco Stories, is a prolific blogger on KM and he totally should have been much higher on the top 100 KM influencers on Twitter. Among the many things that Nick has been blogging about are a series of quantified success stories – 60 to date while blogging here – which look at ways KM helped make or save money, adoption of new practices, increasing implementation speed, increasing effectiveness and benchmarking it against other comparies etc.

Have a look at these Knoco Stories ‘quantified success stories‘.

The use of indicators for the monitoring and evaluation of knowledge management and knowledge brokering in international development

This is the latest I’ve come across. Compiled by Philipp Grunewald and Walter Mansfield on the back of a KM4Dev Innovation Fund grant, this survey report came together with a workshop report which consists in fact mainly of a list of 100 indicators to assess knowledge (management, sharing etc.). See the survey report or discover the top 100 indicators in the workshop report.

KM4Dev curated discussions on monitoring and assessing KM

Over time, various KM4Dev members have been asking about this perpetually reappearing conversation topic (and the reason why I consider M&E of KM one of the phoenixes of the KM field). Of all these discussions, ‘Monitoring and evaluating KM‘ and the more recent ‘Measuring knowledge sharing‘ are perhaps the most pertinent pointers, although other conversations helpfully addressed specific aspects related to e.g. after action reviews, partnerships, portals, conferences etc.

There is another one of these conversations happening on the KM4Dev mailing list as we speak. Feel free to join and perhaps to help document the conversation, I may include it in this stock-taking post.

Check the KM4Dev wiki on M&E-focused discussions

The IKM-Emergent papers on monitoring and evaluation of knowledge management

Finally, I couldn’t ignore these two papers that the Information and Knowledge Management (IKM) Emergent project came up with, which I also co-authored:

The first paper takes stock of the major problems with assessing knowledge management in its various forms and how it is currently being done. The second paper suggests an alternative approach to doing it, inviting a variety of people that have a stake in the evaluation of KM and collectively reflecting with them on what assessing KM could be and how it would add more value.

These papers – while in the making – were presented at one of the KMIC webinars:

I have some more resources which I’d like to share with you from my Delicious bookmarks for your own sake.

There must be many other key resources, reports and inputs and I would love to hear from you: What are your personal gems about assessing knowledge work? What resources and ideas have changed your view of this complex and uber-important aspect of our work in the field of KM?

And here I don’t provide a meta-analysis of all these resources, but this might be the next step in my own perpetually restarting journey in the territory of KM.

Related blog posts:

Storytelling: Taking stock

Stories have been the rage in the knowledge field lately. Hold on… Stories have been the rage in the field of human beings for ever! KM or not, it doesn’t matter, stories are part of our hard-wiring. We were born for stories. Which is what makes this stock-taking post quite a daunting challenge. And yet, recent discussions on the KM4Dev mailing list about process documentation and the use of stories reminded me of the everlasting importance of storytelling in the specific field of KM. And so I figured I could kick my lazy arse and graft for a stock-taking post on another phoenix (1) of the KM field.

Storytelling, a powerful learning and sharing KM technique

Give me a play, give me a picture, give me a story and I will understand your complex nonsense (FlickR photo credits: Normalityrelief)

But first off, here is what this list of resources could look like and you’ll understand why I hesitated about writing this stock-taking post. Tim Sheppard’s website has not been updated since 2003. I’m almost tempted to say “thank goodness for it!” as my mind starts boggling. Instead, I’m focusing here on a short series of (PDF) resources that offer practical guidance on how to use storytelling in knowledge-focused work, primarily in development work, but not only. These resources all include a tiny bit of theory and mostly some practical tips, tools and templates. The list is not exhaustive, it is not pretentious, but I hope it offers some useful links. It was certainly helpful for me to compile this list for future reference.

So here are some nuggets hidden in the river of web knowledge…

SDC’s guide to using story and narrative tools in development co-operation (practitioner’s version) (Source: Swiss Development Cooperation /

This 24-page practical guide (from 2006) offers an excellent introduction to storytelling, explaining the difference between stories and reports, introducing exercises and questions to tease out stories, examining the structure of stories, offering checklists for the different parties involved in storytelling, giving a useful overview of different story techniques and finally a troubleshooting guide.

Like most resources from the SDC, this guide is neat and rather practical, leaving fuzzy conversations at the door. It really is meant for development practitioners to use storytelling in their work in various handy ways. The attitude is, as ever, not prescriptive but rather indicative, yet offering useful kick-starts for those needing more guidance. A must in this list.

The leaders’ guide to storytelling (Source:

One of the storytelling leaders, certainly in the field of development cooperation, Stephen Denning has written a number of important books on the topic (see the who is who below). This practical guide for leaders is a 50-slide presentation of one of his books (this resource’s title) and offers a great glimpse of human psychology and liking for storytelling. It goes further in explaining the process of springboard storytelling which is geared towards action. This is only a sketchy introduction of the process but gives good ideas about the power of stories and some process to set up storytelling. Jumpboard storytelling is mentioned in other resources in this list. This resource is a bit older than the rest (around 2005) but his book is still a reference (find more info about it and buy it here) and I couldn’t do justice to this post without mentioning Steve Denning’s work.

Ultimate guide to Anecdote circles A practical guide to facilitating storytelling and story listening (Source:

Anecdote has long been an organisation specialised in storytelling, as you would expect. This 28-page guide, oops e-book, from 2008 sets the scene of corporate storytelling following the infamous but bang-on travelling metaphor. The specific storytelling technique used here is the anecdote circle. The great value of this resource is the simplicity of its language, the practical stories offered throughout to support the theory and the interesting research and other material backing the use of stories at work (for those moments when you try to justify stories against hard metrics). And it is rare enough that a private consultancy firm offers its methods out in the open, so we can only encourage them in this direction. The e-book also contains a handful of useful references, although none is more recent than 2005. Then again, new is not always better.

If you like the Anecdote approach, they released a more recent (2009) 4-page white paper on storytelling in the business world. It is available here. And their website is packed with other creative story stuff!

Storytelling, in the knowledge sharing toolkit (Source:

The advantage of working wikily isto keep the content fresh. This entry of the KS toolkit is indeed updated regularly (last in February 2011 with a link to a recent KMers’ Twitter chat on storytelling and KM). This resource informs us how to use storytelling in knowledge sharing/knowledge management work, particularly in workshops. It includes a handy story template, some ideas to introduce storytelling in workshops, some materials required, an indicative method to follow and some examples and further resources. Although this summary page is not the most comprehensive out there, it was set up more recently, and you’ve got to like the wiki attitude on this one.

The KS toolkit is a joint initiative by the ICT-KM programme (of the CGIAR), FAO, UNICEF and KM4DEV. It’s a rather rich resource portal pulling together a number of practical tools and approaches to knowledge sharing and knowledge management in development work.

And (almost) finally: StoryCorps’ story instruction guide for great questions (Source:

Stories are very nicely teased out through interviews and this 4-page guide just seemed to bring a lot of useful considerations for conducting interviews and capturing excellent quality stories. I particularly like the list of ‘great questions’ that appear on page 3 which really could be used anywhere, and I confess I also selected this resource because it was released on the national day of listening (StoryCorps came up with it: in the US it’s thus November 26). That day really is a great occasion to celebrate. Listening is critical in today’s multicultural workplace, as the Harvard Business Review reminds us again in this very recent blog post. As for StoryCorps, it is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.

Finally, my fellow Tweeter Peter West graciously shared his resources on storytelling which contain (as of 22 March 2011) over 40 resources, some pay-for but also a great many free ones. I have to delve into quite a few of these resources for an updated version of this post. Enjoy it without guide for now.

Storytelling who is who

And finally, a new addition to my stock-taking series to crown this post: here are some influential KM peeps that you should not miss in the field of… storytelling (links to their Twitter profile).

  • Shawn Callahan – From Anecdote. The work introduced above shows the credit due to M. Anecdote. He writes and tweets about stories on a regular basis. You can also watch him on this video justifying the value of storytelling.
  • Stephen Denning – formerly working for the World Bank where he pioneered some storytelling work in the field of development and wrote seminal books about the ancient art of storytelling – as mentioned on his bio page. He has moved on to focus on innovation and leadership of late.
  • Dave Snowden – from Cognitive Edge. Dave Snowden has been working for a long time with narratives and is currently implementing the Cognitive Edge™ software across various domains to analyse patterns among stories. The intention here is a.o. to help quantify these patterns and generate quantitative information on qualitative data. If you wonder: Snowden is not among the references above because he has not have written practical papers or articles recently about the topic of storytelling in the field of development that I know of – though he certainly could.

Of course this list is far from exhaustive. I keep open for other suggestions and references. As ever, this is KM for me, and you?


(1) By phoenix I mean one of those discussion topics that keeps coming back because there are always new layers to discover and discuss about them.

Related posts:

Learning cycle basics and more: Taking stock

It seems that, home page aside, the most popular post on this modest blog has been the one I wrote about ‘cycles, circles and ripples of learning’.

Finding light through a different reflection? Deep learning loops (Photo credits: Philippe Leroyer)

Finding light through a different reflection? Deep learning loops (photo credits: Philippe Leroyer)

Search engine queries confirm that a lot of people out there are looking for more on these dizzying learning cycles and loops.

That learning cycles were so popular was a discovery for me. I like the idea of learning cycles but never used the model much in KM training or discussions. The recent poll I organised to elect the topic of this stock-taking post confirmed the general curiosity for learning cycles. Following your wishes, here is a stock-taking post on learning cycles, but to keep it interesting and different I’m foraying into adjacent areas such as…

Kolb learning styles (source:

Might as well begin with the beginning as David Kolb has theorised learning styles and experiential learning (1) which are at the cornerstone of learning loops and cycles. There are other authors upon which Kolb inspired his work but this is only a short visit to academic park.

The theory here distinguishes four distinct learning styles:

  • Concrete experience (related to feeling);
  • Reflective observation (watching);
  • Abstract conceptualisation (thinking);
  • Active experimentation (doing).

These learning styles are connected, in Kolb’s theory, through the following cyclical sequence:

Kolb's experiential learning cycle (graph credits: Businessballs)

Kolb contends that every person uses the four learning styles in different ways depending on their progression on a maturity path that spans acquisition (of basic abilities and cognitive structures), specialisation (towards a specific learning style) and ultimately integration (where other learning styles are also expressed / used in work and personal life). But he also contends that we cannot use two styles simultaneously so we opt for either doing or watching and then either for thinking or feeling.

At the intersection of these two dialectical sets of choices, Kolb places his theory of preferred learning styles, as shown in the table below:

Doing (Active Experimentation – AE) Watching (Reflective Observation – RO)
Feeling (Concrete Experience – CE) Accommodating (CE/AE), i.e. hands-on, intuitive, relying on others’ information, group-work focused… Diverging (CE/RO), i.e. making links between different approaches, interested in brainstorming. Emotional, group work-focused…
Thinking (Abstract Conceptualization – AC) Converging (AC/AE), i.e. with a practical focus, interested in technical problems/solutions, specialist/technological applications… Assimilating (AC/RO), i.e. logical, concise, interested in readings, lectures, analytical models…

This model has been elaborated on by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford. They relabelled the four preferred learning styles to use some labels that are more familiar to us:

  1. ‘Having an Experience’ (stage 1), and Activists (style 1): ‘here and now’, gregarious, seek challenge and immediate experience, open-minded, bored with implementation.
  2. ‘Reviewing the Experience’ (stage 2) and Reflectors (style 2): ‘stand back’, gather data, ponder and analyse, delay reaching conclusions, listen before speaking, thoughtful.
  3. ‘Concluding from the Experience’ (stage 3) and Theorists (style 3): think things through in logical steps, assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories, rationally objective, reject subjectivity and flippancy.
  4. ‘Planning the next steps’ (stage 4) and Pragmatists (style 4): seek and try out new ideas, practical, down-to-earth, enjoy problem solving and decision-making quickly, bored with long discussions.

I think this model has a lot to be argued with – any model that claims too quickly to show the truth is disputable, however useful that claim is to stimulate critical reviews and further researching limitations, gaps, edges of this theory.

More information can be found on the learning and teaching website, about learning styles: with some additional adaptations as briefly mentioned above. This resource also contain some links to critiques made on the Kolb model – in stock-taking posts I refrain from giving an opinion.

Chris Argyris / Donald Schön: theories of action, double-loop learning and organisational learning (source: Mark K. Smith – INFED)

The other heavyweights in learning cycles and styles are obviously Chris Argyris and Donald Schön, and in this extensive explanation by Mark K. Smith, we are touching the inner cords of learning loops and cycles. This is hard to summarise here but the starting point is the difference between theory and action and the fact that everyone has two theories of action: theories in use (governing our actual behaviour) and espoused theories (what we say we do). In popular terms this also relates to the saying: “do as I say (not as I do)”. Argyris argues that effectiveness comes from aligning these two theories of action.

Then comes learning (seen here as detection and correction of errors):

  • Single-loop learning comes from the fact that human beings, faced with adversity, just try to set the same governing variables in a different way – as a quest for efficiency.
  • Double loop learning is when we look at the governing variables (norms, policies, objectives) that guide our activities and our responses to events occurring. This is where effectiveness (as opposed to just efficiency) comes in.
  • In another article, another author explains that on the topic of organisational learning, Argyris is also referring to deutero learning as the awareness that (single and double-loop) learning must happen. This means identifying the learning styles and facilitating factors to understand the gap between targeted outcome and actual performance (not a very complexity-friendly theory really though).

Double-loop learning according to Argyris (graph credits: Deborah Kendell)

Argyris and Schön considered how to expand the capacity of organisations to engage in double-loop learning – as they saw this as crucial to adapt to fast-changing environments – but it is also inherently difficult because the reasoning process of individuals “inhibits exchange of relevant information”. In his study, Argyris compares two models of human behaviours and contends that almost everyone follows model 1, a model that promotes superficiality, not losing face, defensive relationships etc. as opposed to a more win-win focused model 2.

Of course a lot of this theory should also be taken with a pinch of salt and some distance with respect to its linearity and dual approach. But the bottom ideas stick around.

The author of this article also points to the fact that Argyris and Schön’s theory has been central to unearthing the role of facilitators (of learning), reflecting on and questioning the difference between the two theories of action, as opposed to individual / private learning.

All in all, this web page is probably one of the best introductions to Argyris’s work without digging out the books.

More on single, double and triple loop learning

On the topic of learning loops, the ‘Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development’ offers a short and to-the-point definition on this one-pager (PDF document):

  • Single-loop learning is understood here as following the rules – like a thermostat that only corrects temperature when it goes too low or too high.
  • Double-loop learning is described as changing the rules – where the focus is not on applying the rules but on using creativity and critical thinking to find out if the rules that you are applying are indeed most appropriate.
  • Triple-loop learning is simply referred to as learning how to learn, implying that not only should we think about applying the rules or changing them but we should think about the rules themselves. The authors also depict triple-loop learning as double-loop learning applied to double loop learning itself.

This reference has the merit of being short but thereby offers little value to apply the analogy to other contexts (if the examples provided do not make enough sense).

In the context of learning alliances (one of my hobby horses as I work with learning alliances and IRC wrote about it (2) and works a lot with this type of multi-stakeholder approach),

Double loop learning in learning alliances (graph credits: CIAT)

CIAT one of the CG centres who has pioneered learning alliances refers in the ILAC sourcebook (part 2 – tools and approaches, chapter 14 on learning alliances) to the importance of a double loop learning cycle to implement strategic actions, as depicted in the image (right here).

Then there is this interesting article ‘Transformational change in organisations’ by Mary R. Bast which focuses mainly on individuals (contrary to the organisational double-loop learning practice described in the figure above) and particularly emphasises triple-loop learning as the condition for transformational change, as opposed to incremental learning through single-loop learning and reframing through double-loop learning. This article borrows from Robert Hargrove’s Masterful coaching and explains that the essential contribution of triple-loop learning is that it paves the way for transformational change (3) – a process that essentially requires that we reassess our point of view about ourselves. Another interesting point made here is that transformational change can be hindered by single and double loop learning. This article covers, with explicit (and built-on) examples, the three types of learning loops and gives perhaps the best illustration about learning loops that I could find, even if it could have been written in a more simple manner.

Learning cycles, according to Wikipedia

Of course I shouldn’t afford not to mention what Wikipedia has to say about learning cycles… in this case not very much (nor to the point) as it goes on about a research-supported method for education looking successively at engaging, exploring, explaining, extending and evaluating… ah, when the wisdom of the crowd becomes the wastedump of the proud…

Learning and KM in the development sector, a KM4DEV discussion

And finally, although this wiki entry could be a bit more structured, it offers a number of very valuable insights into the topic of learning and touches upon the learning loops (particularly by Irene Guijt).

I hope that these references provide a bit more information about this topic of learning cycles. As usual, feel free to point to more relevant resources…

In the meantime, I’ll be working on my next stock-taking post, either about complexity theories or about facilitation tools and approaches. What say you?


One of the key references that is not mentioned here but was talked about in the previous post on learning cycles is the article (PDF) that Marleen Maarleveld and Constant Dangbégnon wrote, where they refer extensively to triple-loop learning.

In-text notes:

(1) Experiential Learning: Experience As The Source Of Learning And Development was published in 1984

(2) The book that IRC authors wrote about learning alliances in the water sector is available here.

(3) Transformational change is described as: “…empowering people to transform who they are and reinvent themselves by helping them to see how their frames of reference, thinking, and behavior produce unintended consequences… to surface and question the way they have framed their points of view about themselves, others, or their circumstances with the idea of creating a fundamental shift”

Related blog posts:

What should be the next topic for a stock-taking post?

[This poll is closed since 15 February 2010 – The elected stock-taking post will be about ‘Learning cycle basics and more’  which I will write before the end of February. Many thanks to you all for your participation!]

I started a series of stock-taking posts to give an introduction to a given topic by providing a short summary to some of the most useful resources on the topic that I know of. So far I have written only two of these posts: on capacity development and on network monitoring.

Taking stock in this way is useful for me for future reference but it would be grand if they could be useful to you too!

So here is your chance to suggest the next topic for a stock-taking post, from a series of 4 propositions.

I’m all ears and ready to follow suit!

Network monitoring & evaluation: Taking stock

Another stock-taking post: not DVDs but network M&E (credits: Hooverdust)

Another stock-taking post on the collection of network M&E resources (Photo credits: Hooverdust)

It was about time to prepare another of those stock-taking blog posts, don’t you think?

This time the topic is monitoring and evaluation (M&E) for networks, among others because there are a number of networks that I am involved in which will need to develop a solid M&E framework for themselves and for their respective donors so this post could help come up with a better approach. And, who knows, perhaps you will also find something useful in there. If this is all rubbish, please put me out of my misery and help me read some quality references on the topic, ok?

When it comes to M&E of networks, documents are a lot more scattered than for the capacity development stock-taking post I wrote earlier. And to spice things up, on Google, there is a hell of a lot of misleading resources pointing to LAN/WAN network monitoring – clearly the web is still the stronghold of a self-serving (IT) community.

Fair enough! But luckily there are also relevant resources among my documents, of which I would like to mention:

Guides, tools and methods for evaluating networks (direct link to a Word document)

(Amy Etherington – 2005)

As the title indicates, this paper focuses on evaluation rather than monitoring of networks – as a means for networks to remain relevant and adapt if need be. Three major considerations are taken into account here:

  • measuring intangible assets (related to characteristics of networks such as social arrangements, adding value, creating forums for social exchange and joint opportunities);
  • issues of attribution (linked to issues of geographic and asynchronous complexity of networks, joint execution of activities, broad and long term goals of networks);
  • looking at internal processes: the very nature of networks renders internal processes – of mobilisation, interlinking, value-adding – very interesting. The further effects of the network on each individual member are also useful to look into.

And then follows a selection of nine evaluation methods (all dating from 1999 to 2005 though), very well documented, including checklists of questions, tables with dimensions of networks, interesting (or sometimes scary) models, innumerable steps referring to various maturity stages of communities. This seems one of the most relevant references to find at least practical methods to tackle network M&E.

Evaluating International Social Change Networks: A Conceptual Framework for a Participatory Approach (PDF)

(Ricardo Wilson-Grau and Martha Nuñez – 2006)

Among the most influential authors on the topic of M&E and networks, Wilson-Grau and Nuñez have been writing a lot of documents referred to in other papers mentioned here. This paper – which also focuses on the evaluation of networks – introduces the 8 or so functions that networks perform and considers four qualities and three operational dimensions. The result is a table of 56 criteria – shaped as questions – which ought to be answered by members of the network – with a careful eye for justification behind each criterion, because each network is different. The authors continue with the four types of achievements one can hope for social change networks: operational outputs, organic outcomes, political outcomes (judged as most useful by the authors themselves) and impact. Again the table is of great help and this document is a useful introduction to the author’s body of work.

A Strategic Evaluation of IDRC-Support to Networks (Word)

(Sarah Earl – 2004)

Epitomising the long term experience of the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) with monitoring and evaluation of networks, Sarah Earl presents, in this seven-page briefing note, a questioning process to evaluate the function of IDRC in supporting networks. In doing so, she stresses a series of questions pertaining to the coordination, sustainability and intended results / development outcomes of networks. She further explains the methodology used (literature review, key informant interviews and electronic survey of network coordinators, lesson learning sessions leading to writing stories from IDRC staff). This paper can be useful for actually setting up a methodology to collect evidence about the functioning of a network.

Network evaluation paper (Word).

(June Holley – 2007)

June Holley has been working for over 20 years on economic networks. This five-page paper  introduces a method that focuses on network maps and metrics, network indicators and outcomes. The paper suggests using scores and looking at awareness (of the network as a whole), influence, connectors, integration, resilience, diversity and core/periphery.

Network mapping and core-periphery (credits: Ross Dawson)

Network mapping and core-periphery (Image credits: Ross Dawson)

In terms of indicators, Ms. Holley recommends a series of questions that point to the self-organising and outcome-producing characteristics of the network, but also at questions of culture (as in shared norms and values) and evidence of skills that allow the network to change.

There are more (*) papers specifically focused on networks and their evaluation but I found them less relevant, often mostly because they are a bit dated.

Of course there are many other references on monitoring and evaluation in publications and resource sites about networks. Here is another, shorter, selection:

While on the topic of network M&E and its link with the specific monitoring of knowledge management, I would like to point to the summary of a discussion that took place in 2008 on the KM4Dev mailing list on the topic of M&E of KM: This topic will probably remain interesting. It has been explored various times on the KM4DEV mailing list, it was recently touched upon in the francophone KM4DEV CoP SA-GE and it is likely to reappear as a topic of choice in 2010 on various platforms, not least because IKM-Emergent is planning to work more on this issue after having released the first of two commissioned papers on M&E of KM (this working paper on monitoring and evaluation of knowledge was written by Serafin Talisayon). I will certainly report about this in the coming weeks / months.

As ever with this series of stock-taking posts, I will try and keep this overview updated with any other interesting resource I get my hands on. So feel free to enlighten me with additional resources that go deeper, provide a lot of synthetic clarity or provide a refreshing perspective on the topic of network monitoring. What has worked for you in your work with networks? What have you found useful ways to measure their effectiveness and other dimensions? What would be your words of caution when assessing networks?

Networks are here to stay for a while so this discussion goes on…


I came across a number of other papers that all have something to say but are a bit out of date and I decided not to reference them here.

Related posts:

Capacity development: Taking stock

(This is potentially the first of a series of stock-taking posts about inspiring literature on topics I blog about – the series will start if you find this interesting, so plmk).

Recently I met all staff of the Water Integrity Network (WIN) which stands for more integrity and transparency and preventing more corruption in the WASH sector by organising coalitions of institutions and individuals to cooperate and share useful ideas, resources and tools and to join hands in this fight.

The starting point: a capacity development workshop by WIN (26-27 May)

The starting point: a capacity development workshop by WIN (26-27 May)

On 26 and 27 May, WIN will be organising a workshop on capacity building in order to define its priorities for the years to come and to develop a strategy in line with those priorities. As I met the person in charge of organising this workshop and we exchanged some ideas by mails and face-to-face, it gave me a nice opportunity to take stock of some good articles and papers I have read about this concept.

The following list represents an attempt at mentioning and briefly describing the contents of some of the reads I found most inspiring on the topic of capacity development. This is by no means an exhaustive list of resources on the topic so feel free to suggest your inspired reads.

Many of these articles have been written by or inspired after Peter Morgan (private consultant as far as I can see but in a brief search I wasn’t able to find the right Peter Morgan out of 40 Peter Morgan’s (on LinkedIn alone).

Capacity and capacity development – some strategies

(Peter Morgan – 1998)

The oldest reference of all papers, this article is interesting because a) it provides some pointers to define capacity development (the processes and strategies), capacity (organisational and technical abilities, relationships and values) and impact (developmental benefits and results) and b) it considers various ‘capacity development’ strategies that have been employed, namely:

  • supplying additional and physical resources;
  • helping to improve the organisational and technical capabilities of the organisation;
  • helping to settle a clear strategic direction;
  • protecting innovation and providing opportunities for experimentation and learning;
  • helping to strengthen the bigger organisational system;
  • helping to shape an enabling environment;
  • creating more performance incentives and pressures;

The article ends with a series of questions to address the strategic value of capacity development and the operational recommendations to make it work.

What is capacity?

(Peter Morgan, 2006) – this is a direct link to the paper in PDF format.

This paper is firstly valuable for pointing at the lack of a clear and agreed definition on capacity development – that ‘missing link’ in development according to the World Bank – and particularly its common confusion with (individual) training. As a result, capacity development becomes an umbrella concept devoid of any useful meaning. The second contribution of this paper is to single out five central characteristics of capacity development: 1) it’s about empowerment and identity, 2) it has to do with collective ability, 3) it is a systems phenomenon, 4) it is a potential state and 5) it’s about creating public value. A third pointer is the definition of individual competencies, organisational capabilities and institutional / systemic capacity. Then Peter Morgan focuses on the meso level (organisations and their capabilities) to extract five core capabilities:

  1. The capability to act: having a collective ability to define a vision and an agenda and implement it (related to leadership, human resources etc.);

    The 5 capabilities' framework (Credits: ECDPM)

    The 5 capabilities’ framework (Credits: ECDPM)

  2. The capability to generate development results: the thematic and technical capabilities that lead to results (outputs, outcomes), which is usually the central attention of capacity development – though the author argues it is in the combination of the five that capacity development becomes meaningful and effective.
  3. The capability to relate: connecting to other actors relevant in the field where an organisation is evolving; this relates to working on the exhausted (or rather over-used) concept of ‘enabling environment’ but also on power struggles and political intrigue in a sometimes seemingly uncompetitive sector (how wrong!).
  4. The capability to adapt and self-renew: learning, innovating, adapting to changing environments or pre-empting changes;
  5. The capability to achieve coherence: maintaining a focus while using all separate resources to the fullest of their abilities. This is a major challenge with the growing recognition of complex and intricate relations among development actors

Finally, the author opens the debate as to capacity being a means to an end or an end in itself.

A balanced approach to monitoring and evaluating capacity and performance

(Paul Engel, Tony Land, Niels Keijzer – 2006) – this is a direct link to the paper in PDF format.

This paper is very much in line with the previous one but it lists a number of useful questions to assess capacity and performance and provides a five-step approach to develop the assessment framework. These five steps are: 1) Situational reconnaissance and stakeholder analysis 2) Calibration of the assessment framework 3) Implementation 4) Review of the draft results with key stakeholders and 5) Sharing the assessment report with the full range of stakeholders.

Capacity for a change

(Peter Taylor, Peter Clarke – 2008).

The report from a workshop that IDS organised in 2007, this excellent resource is probably the reason why I’ve been thinking a lot more about capacity development (CD) recently. The 26 participants provided outstanding matter for reflection which led the authors to analyse the current situation of capacity development interventions, re-imagine CD processes and suggest ways forward.

The paper is a useful resource for its facts (e.g. figures on public expenditures on CD), its evidence from study: about the importance of knowledge and learning, power relations, having good theories of social change, the relations between intervention agents rather than just results and perhaps above all else the importance of the local context – here we go again! and finally it is useful for the recommendations to address capacity development systemically.

In the forward-looking part, the authors recommend considering five useful pointers for CD interventions:

  • Empowering relationships – having that empowerment perspective at the core;
  • Rallying ideas – favouring a clear language that comes from joint reflection;
  • Dynamic agents – recognising the importance of local champions to take things forward;
  • Framing and shaping context – favouring a flexible design through interaction with the local context;
  • Grounding enabling knowledge / skills – working on abilities to understand and interact with one another;

The report ends with some suggestions for donors, research institutes, service providers and practitioners at large to take their own share and improve CD interventions. Last but not least, the bibliography provides actually enough references for me to write another blog post…

Capacity development: between planned interventions and emergent processes. Implications for development cooperation

(Tony Land, Volker Hauck and Heather Baser – 2009) – this is a direct link to the paper in PDF format.

The most recent resource of the list, this policy management brief by ECDPM poses that complexity theories and particularly aspects of emergence and ‘complex adaptive systems’ provide a welcome contribution to unpacking capacity development. The authors consider capacity as an emergent property that cannot be ‘engineered’ by organisations (even less so by external agencies, often Northern-based I would argue). Their assessment is that the forces around organisations and capacities are sometimes far greater than the former and it is therefore important to map them to understand better what may play a role in the success of an intervention (hence the importance of carrying out a kind of ‘forcefield analysis‘ perhaps I would add). The brief continues with a comparison between ‘conventional’ (engineering, pre-determined, risk-averse) approaches to capacity development and approaches inspired by emergence and complex adaptive systems.

Emergence and iteration: two key factors of capacity?

Emergence and iteration: two key factors of capacity?

One interesting aspect of this brief is also the identification of 12 pointers that may help in organising capacity development interventions. The authors are cautious enough to warn against the chase for a silver bullet (in this case ‘complex adaptive systems’) but advise to consider the pointers to develop incremental approaches that reconcile intervention engineering (the current practice nowadays) with emergence.

As mentioned above, this is no exhaustive list, so what did you find useful references on the topic?

If you think it’s useful to publish such ‘stock-taking’ blog posts in the future, on capacity development or other topics, let me know (and about what topic).

To find all these resources in one place check my online bookmarks on capacity development:

Related posts: