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:

Engagement and deeper connection in social networks, a dialogue with Jaume Fortuny


What? Do I smell something new?

This will not be your typical KM for me & you post. Instead, it’s an idea of Jaume Fortuny (and see his Twitter profile as Jaume’s a terrific and prolific tweeter) which we have gently pushed forward to shape it up into an online conversation that we wish to continue here rather than just among us two (narrating our work life, right?).

The engagement pyramid (credits - FogFish)

The engagement pyramid (credits – FogFish)

The crux of this conversation: how to generate and maintain engagement on social media? In more details, what makes a person follow another person online and keep on doing so over time? Jaume is a regular follower of this blog and it’s time to address you as ‘You’ indeed :)

As I told you in our email conversation, I rather approach engagement from the side of social engagement (as in this really excellent resource about youth engagement) and I have blogged about the engagement happy families, engagement in facilitation and how KM can drive more engagement in comms etc.) but never in the way that you portrayed.

You seem to say that there are factors attracting people to a given blog, either aspirations about spreading interesting information or perhaps even improving peoples’ lives. Depending on peoples’ interests, they are attracted to a given blog (or any other social media for that matter but let’s talk about ‘blogs’ for the sake of the conversation) because of its focus and how the content on that blog is crafted. But that is only the first step.

The second step is to make sure that people remain interested in that blog. You suggest this happens through (as a blogger) inviting interaction, displaying humility and kindness, showing that you care for reciprocation. You also suggest that over time, some other incentives help maintain this engagement: recognition, meeting face to face and establishing a physical (i.e. non virtual) bond, rewarding and motivating the person following the blog.

Finally you mention that you also have ‘a gang of people’ that you follow and with whom you entertain engagement over time without waiting for any return.

This is all really interesting to hear and I have a few questions for you – either generic or related to our interactions around this blog:

  • What do you find ‘turn-offs’ (repulsive behaviours) on the blogs and in the people that you follow regularly?
  • To what extent does the content and the content type (e.g. using different media) weigh in compared with the personality of the blogger and the relationship s/he has with their followers?
  • Which posts on this blog have you particularly liked but more importantly why?
  • Do you follow people in their social network ecosystem or around one specific platform?
  • Do you think this engagement is susceptible to change over time with different people and how does this happen?
  • Is there a point for bloggers to specifically invite their audience/readers/followers/friends to react either via surveys or specifically prompting them via e.g. Twitter and other social networks?
  • What do you hope to achieve – if anything – with the people that you engage with more thoroughly and what can make it happen?

I also would like to say that for me, having people like you engaged over time and really following, re-sharing, questioning, reflecting is really great. It’s what helps me get a sense of direction and relevance from this blog. My blog has a niche focus with a likely limited audience, so any feedback is really great and is one of the reasons why I blog after all.

Engagement between social network connections is not a topic I really paid much conscious attention to so far, yet it is the currency of our networked age and a real zeitgeist signpost. Good that you woke me up to it Jaume! I look forward to the next round of this conversation to go deeper in our mutual exploration and understanding. Thank you for your excellent suggestion, and thank you for your engagement, as ever!

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 – and 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:

Annual reports, the gold standard for the state of KM in the company?


The annual report, a flame in the dark to highlight our practices or to shine without reason? (Credits Josh Kenzer / FlickR)

The annual report, a flame in the dark to highlight our practices or to shine without reason? (Credits Josh Kenzer / FlickR)

Annual reports are a painful exercise, for most companies anyway.

I have seen managers, designers and communication specialists from various organisations tear their hair by lumps working on this annually recurring chore.

Being personally much more inclined towards the knowledge-sharing and collective thinking side of communication (away from unidirectional message massaging, marketing verbose and public aware-mess) I never quite understood what was the big deal about the annual report: a glossy production that usually reveals little about the real struggles and aha-moments of a company. And that report is sent to a group of people that either don’t really read that information because they don’t care or they do care but know enough about the company in the first place to make the reading of this peculiar publication totally superfluous.

But then, perhaps annual reports are actually interesting in another way: They may be the gold standard that reveals the maturity of knowledge management and its status in each organisation – an epitome of all the struggles and opportunities that knowledge management may face in an organisation all bundled in one.

Annual reports are indeed an open battle field of different influences and forces in presence which reveal a lot about the ‘KM culture’ of each company:

  • Form vs. function: The design says a lot about the place given to form vs. function (pure text text text). The integration of multimedia, the use of infographics, a different way to present the report are all ideas indicating there is attention put on the way information is presented or not (with a view to encouraging the reading of the contents);
  • Formality or informality: The very tone of the report indicates to some extent the degree of informality that is tolerated in the company. In many cases, annual reports are very corporate and formal productions, but the wording and design can make informal dents into that ‘keep-it-serious-don’t-smile’ publication, which might also say something about the tolerance for informal peer-learning at other moments than the development of the annual report;
  • Marketing vs. learning: How much of the report is oriented towards promoting the organisation and how much is it focused on the agenda (i.e. the set of strategic issues and challenges) that the organisation pretends to address? If it is learning-oriented it might stress crucial questions and aha moments achieved in the past year, rather than reassure everyone that the the organisation is doing the best job in the world in the most important arena of the world.
  • Internally focused vs. externally focused: The position of partners and other actors or networks acting at the edges of the organisation is presented quite starkly in most annual reports (or indeed royally ignored). This might give an indication as to the tendency of the organisation to include learning on the edges (through personal and organisational networks), which itself indicates the organisation’s maturity vis-a-vis learning (as we know that learning at the edges is crucial);
  • Unidirectional vs. engaging: most annual reports tend to just disseminate carefully selected information without inviting any feedback. However it doesn’t have to be this way – perhaps the annual report could indeed invite others (especially important partners) to share their view. Perhaps it was done in the process of compiling the annual report and that can be mentioned – but perhaps nothing of the sort happened and then so much for a culture of engagement and conversation;
  • Centralised vs. decentralised knowledge flows: The production process of annual reports reveals some power and knowledge flow tendencies: will it be compiled by a central unit or with a wide involvement of other staff – crucially those in decentralised offices? This is a very good indicator of the state of documentation as well. In many cases, this is precisely the painstaking point of annual reports: it feels like pulling teeth and tongues from all staff members to get these stories that will illustrate the work done, results achieved and new questions unravelled… Although an organisation with a mature approach to knowledge work should find it easy to reap the fruits of working out loud and continually documenting processes.

How do all these factions and factors come into play in a concerted way (or not)? This is what the annual report production process (and the finished product itself) actually reveals. It does give a good overview – perhaps more so for internal staff than external audiences – about the state of learning, knowledge sharing, documentation and conversations (remember KM=CDL) in the organisation. It also weighs KM against public awareness and message-based communications.

So, however painful the annual report exercise turns out to be, it does disclose a great deal of useful information for the organisation. Perhaps it’s time for me to look into the ILRI annual report and get a better sense of where we’re at…

Related blog posts:

The wealth of communities of practice – pointers to assess networked value?


Building upon the CoP 4L model by Seely Brown, Wenger and Lave (credits: dcleesfo / FlickR)

Building upon a.o. the CoP 4L model by Seely Brown, Wenger and Lave (credits: dcleesfo / FlickR)

The KM4Dev community of practice is going through an intensive action phase, beyond the conversations, as the grant given by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for the period 2012-2013 is leading to a number of interesting activities.

Among them is a learning and monitoring (L&M) plan which really focuses on learning from all other IFAD-funded activities, rather than focusing on monitoring (in the sense of checking delivery of outputs against the plans). And the focus of our L&M plan is about the networked development and value-creation of a community of practice (CoP). How does it fare against governance principles, identity and level of activity, engagement channels and learning / outcomes (which really focus on the most important value creation).

I am involved in the learning and monitoring team and as part of it have started (with support from other L&M team members) developing the table below.

This table offers a suggested selection of ‘learning areas’ that in our eyes matter when working in communities of practice such as KM4Dev.

Learning area Specific issues in this area Description
Governance Transparency Systematic sharing of and accessibility of results of conversations, decisions, initiatives, reification (see below) activities etc. also including the selection process for core group members
Vision, values and principles Development, existence, clarity, understanding and acceptance of general vision, principles and values for the  community of practice by and for its members / normally this is not really a ‘learning’ area but if it isn’t in place it becomes one.
Leadership Demonstrated (and particularly accepted) leadership of the core group and occasionally others by other members of the KM4Dev community. Is there any dissonance between the two groups?
Mobilisation and commitment See below. This is also mentioned under governance as people involved in the CoP governance have to mobilise resources and commit themselves to activities in a specific way
Identity and activity Diversity and expansion Profile of members of the community and the core group (language, region, type of organisation etc.); Growth and expansion (frequency of new members, how etc.) and ties with external networks
Conversation Frequency and quality of conversations around the domain (knowledge management for development) or the community (KM4Dev)
Reification Tendency (quality and frequency) of the community to ‘reify’ conversations into tangible outputs e.g. blog post, wiki entry, journal article etc. Also has a bearing on learning and outcomes
Mobilisation and commitment Capacity of core group members and other KM4Dev members to mobilise themselves and commit to activities (which activities? to what extent/degree of involvement?) and indeed deliver according to the plan and with strong learning. This also has bearing on the governance
Participation Degree of participation of different members to conversations and other activities
Reflection Evidence of social learning, development and sharing of new insights as part of activities (and results – this has bearing on learning/outcomes)
Cohesion Evidence that the relationship between members of the community is good and that everyone finds their place in the community while feeling they are part of a whole
(Learning and) Outcomes Reification / outputs See above. Production of outputs (quality/frequency?) – planned or spontaneous
Reflection / changed thinking and discourse See above. Evidence that reflections from the KM4Dev community have achieved change in thinking and/or discourse among others e.g. citations, semantic analysis.
Inspiration / changed behaviour Evidence of change as a new way to proceed, inspired by KM4Dev activities
Innovation / changed artefact or approach Evidence of KM4Dev influencing development of a new artefact or method, codified concretely
Impact Evidence of larger changes (in autonomy of decision and well-being related to livelihood) where KM4Dev activities have inspired/influenced others within community and particularly beyond. Caveat: attribution.
KM4dev engagement channels Suitability for participation The different KM4Dev channels (mailing list, wiki, ning community), annual meetings) foster dialogue and engagement, and learning
Ease of use / Availability of KM4Dev outputs The different channels are easy to use and complement each other. They make KM4Dev activity outputs visible, and available.
Identity Governance of Km4dev is clear in all engagement channels

This table and the plan which we highlighted triggered a very rich discussion in the KM4Dev core group over the  past couple of weeks. This conversation was meant to provide some initial reactions before opening it more widely with the entire community. As we are about to embark on a much wider and open consultation process with the rest of the community, I thought it might be useful to post this here and see if any of you has any suggestion or feedback on these learning areas…

At the IKM Table (2): individual agency vs. organisational remit, accountability and impact pathways for the future of IKM-Emergent


Day 2 of the final IKM workshop dedicated to ‘practice-based change’. As much as on day 1, there is a lot on the menu of this second day:

  • Individual agency vs. organisational remit;
  • Accountability;
  • Impact and change pathways;
  • A possible extension of the programme: IKM-2
Day 2 - the conversation and cross-thumping of ideas continues

Day 2 - the conversation and cross-thumping of ideas continues

On individual agency and organisational remit:

We are made of a complex set of imbricated identities and cultures that manifest themselves around us in relation with the other actors that we are engaging with. These complex layers of our personality may clash with the organisational remit that is sometimes our imposed ‘ball park’. Recognising complexity at this junction, and the degree of influence of individual agents is an important step forward to promote more meaningful and effective development.

Pressed for time, we did not talk a lot about this. Yet we identified a few drivers that have much resonance in development work:

  • As little as organisations tweet, people do, organisations do not trigger change, individual people do. Pete Cranston mentioned a study done about three cases of critical change within Oxfam, all triggered by individuals: a manager with the power to change, an aspirational individual quickly building an alliance etc. – our impact pathways need to recognise the unmistakable contribution of individual ‘change agents’ (or positive deviants) in any specific process or generic model of social change. Individuals that are closely related to resource generation obviously have crucial leverage power and play a special role in the constellation of agents that matter in the impact pathway;
  • We are obscured by our scale: In politics it took us a long time to realise there were crucial dynamics below nation-states and above them. In a similar swing, in development let’s go beyond merely the organisational scale to focus on the individual agency as well as the network scale – all organisations and individuals are part of various networks which impact both individuals and organisations engaged in them. Teams also play an important role to explore and implement new ways – it is at that level that trust is most actively built and activities planned and implemented. The riddles of impact from the teams emulate in sometimes mysterious ways to the organisational level;
  • These differences of scale tend to place subtle tensions on individuals between their personal perspectives and the organisational priorities. The multiple identities and knowledges (including local knowledge) are inherently in ourselves too, adding layers of complexity as the predominance of one identity layer over another plays out in relation to the other people around – see presentation by Valerie Brown.

On accountability:

Accountability is a central piece of the development puzzle yet, so far, we have embedded it in too linear a fashion, usually upwards, to our funders. Accountability should also embrace the wider set of stake-holders concerned in development initiatives, including beneficiaries and peers, and find alternative ways to be recognised, acted upon and expressed.

The crux of our accountability discussion was around the tension to reconcile accountability with the full set of actors that we are interacting with in our development initiatives. The work carried out by CARE in Nepal (recently finished and soon to be uploaded on the page listing all IKM documents) is a testimony that accountability can and should be multi-faceted.

  • At the core of this conversation lies the question: whose value, whose change, whose accountability? We perhaps too quickly jump on the idea that we know who is the (set of) actor(s) that has(have) more value to bring and demonstrate, that their theory of change matters over that of other actors, and that our accountability system should be geared towards their needs.
  • About theory of change, we already mentioned on day 1 that it is just a tool and any simple tool bears the potential of being used smartly (despite inherent technical limitations in the tool) as much as any complex tool can be used daftly (regardless of the inherent flexibility that it may have). However, the theory of change (of which one guide can be found here) can be quite powerful to ponder the key questions above. A collective theory of change is, however, even more powerful.
  • Perhaps a practical way forward with accountability is to identify early on in a development initiative who we want to invite to map out the big picture of the initiative and the vision that we wish to give it. The set of actors participating to the reflection would represent the set of actors towards whom the initiative should be accountable to. In the process, this consultation could reveal what we can safely promise to ‘deliver’ to whom, and what we can only try and unpack further. This might even lead to shaping up a tree map of outcomes that might be simple, complicated, complex or chaotic (thereby indicating the type of approach that might be more adequate).
  • More often, in practice, we end up with a theory of change (or a similar visioning exercise) that has been prepared by a small team without much consultation. This implies a much simpler accountability mechanism with no downward accountability, only upward accountability to the funding agency or the management of the initiative. This may also imply that the chances of developing local ownership – arguably a crucial prerequisite for sustainable results – are thereby much dimmer too.
  • Robin Vincent also referred to the peer accountability that pervades throughout social media (Twitter, blogs) to recognise the validity and interest of a particular person could be a crucial mechanism to incorporate as a way of letting good content and insights come to the surface and enriching accountability mechanisms.

On impact and change pathways

The next discussion focused on the impact and change pathways of IKM-Emergent. Each member drew a picture of their reflections about the issue, whether specifically or generally, whether practically or theoretically, whether currently or in the future. We produced eight rich drawings (see gallery below) and discussed them briefly, simmering conclusive thoughts about impact and the influence that IKM-Emergent has or might have.

  • Impact happens at various scales: at individual (for oneself and beyond), at team level, at organisational level and at network level (at the intersections of our identities, relations and commitments), it follows various drivers, strategies, instruments and channels. Keeping that complex picture in mind guides our impact seeking work.
  • Our impact is anyway dependent on larger political dynamics that affect a climate for change. The latter could become negative, implying that development initiatives should stop, or positive and leading to new definitions and norms;
  • In this picture, IKM seems to play a key role at a number of junctions: experimentation with development practices, network development, counter-evidence of broadly accepted development narratives, recognition of individual agency and its contribution to social movements, ‘navigating (or coping with) complexity and developing resilience, documenting case studies of how change happens, innovative approaches to planning and evaluation and developing knowledge commons through collaboration;
  • And there certainly are lots of sympathetic agents currently working in funding agencies, international NGOs, social movements, the media as well as individual consultants. Collectively they can help;
  • The combination of public value, capacities and authorising environment are some of the stand posts around IKM’s ball park;
  • IKM’s added value is around understanding the miracle that happens at the intersection between, on the one hand, interactions across many different actors and, on the other hand, systemic change at personal / organisational / discourse level. We can play a role by adding our approach, based on flexibility, integrity, activism and sense-making;
  • If we are to play that role of documenting the miracle and other pathways to change, we should remain realistic: We are led to believe or let ourselves believe that evidence-based decision-making is THE way to inform (development) policies and practices, when – in practice – we might follow more promising pathways through developing new knowledge metaphors, frames of development, preserving documentary records and interlinking knowledges;
  • There is also an element of balancing energy for the fights we pick: Impact and engagement with people that are not necessarily attuned to the principles, values and approaches of IKM-Emergent takes energy. But it matters a lot. So we might also interact with like-minded people and organisations to regain some of that energy.
  • Finally, there are lots of exchanges and interactions and great development initiatives already happening on the ground. The layer above that, where INGOs and donor agencies too often locate themselves, is too limited as such but our impact pathway is perhaps situated at the intersection between these two – how can we amplify good change happening on the ground?

On IKM-Emergent 2:

In the final part of the workshop, after an introduction by Sarah Cummings about where we are at, we surfaced key issues that will be important themes for the sequel programme suggested for IKM-Emergent (the so-called ‘IKM 2’). We briefly discussed a) practice-based change, b) local content and knowledge and c) communication and engagement.

On practice-based change: In this important strand, we debated the importance of the collective against the individual pieces of work – challenging issue in IKM-1. Building a social movement and synthesising work are on the menu, although at the same time it is clear that each team or group of individuals working on independent pieces of work needs to find their breathing space and to some degree possibly detach themselves from the collective. IKM Emergent has been successful at unearthing rich research and insights thanks to the liberty left for each group to carve their space. But the message is clear: connecting the dots helps bring everyone on board and picture the wider collage that an IKM-2 might collectively represent.

On local content and knowledge: In this equally important strand, language is key. So is the distortion of knowledge. We want to understand how localisation of information and technology may differ from one place to the next, we want to move on to ‘particular knowledges’, zooming in on specifics to draw on them. We want to further explore diverse ways of connecting with multiple knowledges through e.g. dancing, objects, non-ICT media. We want to better understand the dynamics of local social movements and knowledge processes and do that with the large African networks that we have been working with.

How is this all to unfold? By creating a network space that allows content aggregation, meetings online and offline, experimental research and production of artefacts, organising exhibitions and happenings and integrating social media.

On communication, monitoring and engagement: This has been paradoxically, and despite the efforts of the IKM management, an area that could have been reinforced. A communication strategy came very late in the process, was somewhat disconnected from the works and rather message-based than focused on engagement and collective sense-making.

What could we do to improve this in IKM-2?

Further integrating communication and M&E, focusing on collective… conversations, engagement, reflection, learning and sense-making. And recognising that both communication and M&E are everyone’s business – even though we need someone (a team?) in the programme to ‘garden communication’, prune our networks (to keep interacting with relevant actors at the edges) and to provide support to staff members and IKM partners to connect to the communication attire of IKM-2

This implies that internally:

  • The success of communication depends also on the production of excellent content to engage people on and around. The constant exploration and openness to new opportunities that characterised much of IKM-1 should be maintained to ensure a wide diversity of mutually reinforcing sources of great reflection and conversation;
  • More conscious efforts are taken to distil key insights from ongoing work – even though we recognise the necessity of (a degree of) freedom and disconnect to develop good work;
  • Distilling those insights might benefit from strong process documentation (1), undertaken by a social reporter (2), supported by regular collective sense-making sessions where those key insights and ‘connecting points’ between work strands could be identified and analysed.
  • We aim at ‘quick and dirty’ (link to post) communication cycles to quickly churn out insights and discuss them, rather than wait for long peer-process processes that slow communication down and reduce the timeliness (and relevance) of the work undertaken;
  • There is a strong need for consistent communication (supported by proper information and training for staff members to feel comfortable with the communication tools and processes) and robust information management (tagging and meta-tagging, long-term wiki management etc. – to be defined).

And externally it implies:

  • That we care for the growing community of conversation that we are having – as an overarching goal for our comms work;
  • That we use the insights to regularly engage a wider group by e.g. organising thematic discussions around emerging (sets of) pieces of work from IKM-2 and invite external actors to connect to and expand that body of work, possibly fund parts of it etc.
  • That we find innovative ways of relating content and ‘re-using it’ smartly by e.g. writing ‘un-books’ with regular updates on the wiki, blogging, syndicating content via RSS  feeds etc.;
  • That we use different communication tools and channels to engage with a multi-faceted audience, so that they find comfortable ways to interact with us and the same time that we titillate their curiosity to try out alternative modes of communication too. There are many relations between external communication and the ‘local content/knowledge’ strand with respect to alternative modes of communication that may not (re-)enforce Western modes and preferences for communication.

 

What now?

After two days of workshops and five years of collective work, we come out with an incredibly rich set of insights – of which this workshop is only the emerged tip of the iceberg – a wide collection of outputs (and more to come), a number of messages for various groups and a dedication to engage with them on the basis of all the above in an expanded programme. There is no funding yet for IKM-2 but with resources, ideas and ambitions, there may well be all the elements to bring us on that way and find like-minded spirits to transform development practices. Impact pathways don’t need funding to work, we are on it, wanna join?

 

Notes:

(1) Process documentation is a soft monitoring approach including a mixture of tools and techniques to ensure that a given initiative’s theory of change is kept in check and questioned throughout its lifetime and ultimately leads to a set of lessons to inform similar initiatives in the future. It has been better described in this IRC publication: Documenting change, an introduction to process documentation.

(2) Social reporting is very close to process documentation although it is usually applied for specific events rather than long term processes. It is better explained in this ICT-KM blog post.

Related blog posts:

At the IKM table: linearity, participation, accountability and individual agency on the practice-based change menu (1)


On 20 and 21 February 2012, the  London-based Wellcome Collection is the stage for the final workshop organised by the Information Knowledge Management Emergent (IKM-Emergent or ‘IKM-E’) programme. Ten IKM-E members are looking at the body of work completed in the past five years in this DGIS-funded research programme and trying to unpack four key themes that are interweaving insights from the three working groups which have been active in the programme:

  1. Linearity and predictability;
  2. Participation and engagement;
  3. Individual agency and organisational remit;
  4. Accountability

This very rich programme is also an intermediary step towards a suggested extension for the programme (“IKM 2″).

In this post I’m summarising quite a few of the issues tackled during the first day of the workshop, covering the first two points on the list above.

On linearity and predictability:

Linear approaches to development – suggesting that planning is a useful exercise to map out and follow a predictable causal series of events – are delusional and ineffective. We would be better advised using  emergent perspectives as they are more realistic, for lack of being more certain.

Linearity and predictability strongly emphasise the current (and desired alternative) planning tools that we have at our disposal or are sometimes forced to use, and the relation that we entertain with the actors promoting these specific planning tools.

Planning tools

After trying out so many ineffective approaches for so long, it seems clear that aspirational intent might act as a crucial element to mitigate some of the negative effects of linearity and predictability. Planning tools can be seen as positivist, urging a fixed and causal course of events, indeed focusing on one highlighted path – as is too often the case with the practice around logical framework – or can have an aspirational nature, in which case they focus on the end destination or the objective hoped for and strive to test out the assumptions underlying a certain pathway to impact (at a certain time).

Different situations require different planning approaches. Following the Cynefin framework approach, we might be facing simple, complicated, complex or chaotic situations and we will not respond the same way to each of those. A complex social change process may require planning that entails regular or thorough consultation from various stakeholder groups, a (more) simple approach such as an inoculation campaign may just require ‘getting on with the job’ without a heavy consultation process.

At any rate, planning mechanisms are one thing but the reality on the ground is often different and putting a careful eye to co-creating reality on the ground is perhaps the best approach to ensure a stronger and more realistic development, reflecting opportunities and embracing natural feedback mechanisms (the reality call).

There are strong power lobbies that might go against this intention. Against such remote control mechanisms – sometimes following a tokenistic approach to participation though really hoarding discretionary decision-making power – we need  distanced control checks and balances, hinting at accountability.

Managing the relationship leading to planning mechanisms

Planning tools are one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is the relationship that you maintain with the funding or managing agency that requires you to use these planning tools.

Although donor agencies might seem like ‘laggards’ in some way, managing the relationship with them implies that we should not stigmatise their lack of flexibility and insufficient will to change. In a more optimistic way, managing our relationship with them may also mean that we need to move away from the contractual nature of the relations that characterise much of development work.

Ways to influence that relationship include among others seeking evidence and using evidence that we have (e.g. stories of change, counter-examples from the past either from one’s own past practice or from others’ past practice etc.) and advocating itProcess documentation is crucial here to demonstrate the evidence around the value of process work and the general conditions under which development interventions have been designed and implemented. It is our duty to negotiate smart monitoring and evaluation in the intervention, including e.g.  process documentation, the use of a theory of change and about the non instrumentalisation (in a way that logical frameworks have been in the past). In this sense, tools do not matter much as such; practice behind the tools matters a lot more.

Finally, still, there is much importance in changing relationships with the donor to make the plan more effective: trust is central to effective relationships. And we can build trust with donors by reaching out to them: if they need some degree of predictability, although we cannot necessarily offer it, we can try, talk about our intent to reduce uncertainty. However, most importantly, in the process we are exposing them to uncertainty and forcing them to deal with it, which helps them feel more comfortable with uncertainty and paradox and find ways to deal with it. Convincing donors and managers about this may seem like a major challenge at first, but then again, every CEO or manager knows that their managing practice does not come from a strict application of ‘the golden book of management’. We all know that reality is more complex than we would like it to be. It is safe and sound management practice to recognise the complexity and the .

Perhaps also, the best way to manage our relationship with our donors in a not-so-linear-not-so-predictable way is to lead by example: by being a shining living example of our experience and comfort with a certain level of uncertainty, and showing that recognising the complexity and the impossibility to predict a certain course of events is a sound and realistic management approach to development. Getting that window of opportunity to influence based on our own example depends much on the trust developed with our donors.

Trust is not only a result of time spent working and discussing together but also the result of surfacing the deeper values and principles that bind and unite us (or not). The conception of development as being results-based or relationship-based influences this, and so does the ‘funding time span’ in which we implement our initiatives.

Time and space, moderating and maintaining the process

The default development cooperation and funding mechanism is the project, with its typically limited lifetime and unrealistic level of endowment (in terms of resources, capacities etc. available). In the past, a better approach aimed at funding institutions, thereby allowing those organisations to afford the luxury of learning, critical thinking and other original activities. An even more ideal funding mechanism would be to favour endemic (e.g. civic-driven) social movements where local capacities to self-organise are encouraged and supported over a period that may go over a project lifetime. If this was the default approach, trust would become a common currency and indeed we would have to engage in longer term partnerships, a better guarantee for stronger development results.

A final way to develop tolerance to multiple knowledges and uncertainty is to bring together various actors and to use facilitation in these workshops so as to allow all participants to reveal their personal (knowledge culture) perspective, cohabiting with each other. Facilitation becomes de facto a powerful approach to plant new ideas, verging on the idea  of ‘facipulation’ (facilitation-manipulation).

Beyond a given development intervention, a way to make its legacy live on is to plug those ideas onto networks that will keep exploring the learning capital of that intervention.

What is the value proposition of all this to donors? Cynically perhaps the innovativeness of working in those ways; much more importantly, the promise of sustainable results – better guaranteed through embedded, local work. The use of metaphors can be enlightening here, in the sense that it gives different ideas: what can you invest in projects and short term relationships? e.g. gardening for instance planting new initiatives in an existing soil/bed or putting fertilizer in existing plants…

Interesting links related to the discussion:

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On participation and engagement:

Sustainable, effective development interventions are informed by careful and consistent participation and engagement, recognising the value of multiple knowledges and cherishing respect for different perspectives, as part of a general scientific curiosity and humility as to what we know about what works and what doesn’t, in development and generally.

The second strand we explored on day 1 was participation and engagement with multiple knowledges. This boils down to the question: how to value different knowledges and particularly ‘local knowledge’, bearing in mind that local knowledge is not a synonym to Southern knowledge because we all possess some local knowledge, regardless of where we live.

A sound approach to valuing participation and engagement is to recognise the importance of creating the bigger picture in our complex social initiatives. The concept of cognitive dissonance is particularly helpful here: As communities of people we (should) value some of our practices and document them so that we create and recognise a bigger collective whole but then we have to realise that something might be missing from that collective narrative, that we might have to play the devil’s advocate to challenge our thinking – this is the ‘cognitive dissonance at play – and it is more likely to happen by bringing external views or alternative points of view, but also e.g. by using facilitation methods that put the onus on participants to adopt a different perspective (e.g. DeBono’s six-thinking hats). Development work has to include cognitive dissonance to create better conditions to combine different knowledges.

Participation and engagement is also conditioned by power play of course, but also by our comfort zones; e.g. as raised in a recent KM4Dev discussion, we are usually not keen on hiring people with different perspectives, who might challenge the current situation. We also don’t like the frictions that come about with bringing different people to the table: we don’t like to rediscuss the obvious, we don’t like to renegotiate meaning but that is exactly what is necessary for multiple knowledges to create a trustworthy space. The tension between deepening the field and expanding it laterally with new people is an important tension, in workshops as in development initiatives.

We may also have to adopt different approaches and responses in front of a multi-faceted adversity for change: Some people need to be aware of the gaps; others are aware but not willing because they don’t see the value or feel threatened by inviting multiple perspectives; others still are also aware and don’t feel threatened but need to be challenged beyond their comfort zone. Some will need ideas, others principles, others yet actions.

At any rate, inviting participation calls for inviting related accountability mechanisms. Accountability (which will come back on the menu on day 2) is not just towards donors but also towards the people we invite participation, or we run the risk of ‘tokenising’ participation (pretending that we are participatory but not changing the decision-making process). When one interviews a person, they  have to make sure that what they are transcribing faithfully reflects what the interviewee said. So with participation, participants have to be made aware that their inputs are valued and reflected in the wider engagement process, not just interpreted as ‘a tick on the participatory box’.

Participation and engagement opens up the reflective and conversation space to collective engagement, which is a very complex process as highlighted in Charles Dhewa’s model of collective sense-making in his work on traducture. A prerequisite in that collective engagement and sense-making is the self-confidence that you develop in your own knowledge. For ‘local knowledge’, this is a very difficult requirement, not least because even in their own context, proponents of local knowledge might be discriminated and rejected by others for the lack of rigor they display.

So how to invite participation and engagement?

Values and principles are guiding pointers. Respect (for oneself and others) and humility or curiosity are great lights on the complex path to collective sense-making (as illustrated by Charles Dhewa’s graph below). They guide our initiatives by preserving a learning attitude among each and every one of us. Perhaps development should grow up to be more about  ‘ignorance management’, an insatiable thirst for new knowledge. The humility about our own ignorance and curiosity might lead us to unravel ever sharper questions, on the dialectical and critical thinking path, rather than off-the-shelf (and upscaling-friendly) answers – which we tend to favour in the development sector. The importance here is the development of shared meaning.

A collective sensemaking framework (by Charles Dhewa)

A collective sensemaking framework (by Charles Dhewa)

As highlighted in the previous conversation, not every step of a development initiative requires multi-stakeholder participation, but a useful principle to invite participation and engagement is iteration. By revisiting at regular intervals the assumptions we have, together with various actors, we can perhaps more easily ensure that some key elements from the bigger picture are not thrown away in the process. This comes back to the idea of assessing the level of complexity we are facing, which is certainly affected by a) the amount of people that are affected by (or have a crucial stake in) the initiative at hand and b) the degree of inter-relatedness of the changes that affect them and connect them.

Iteration and multi-stakeholder engagement and participation are at the heart of the ‘inception phase’ approach. This is only one model for participation and un-linear planning:

  • On one end of the spectrum, a fully planned process with no room for (meaningful) engagement because the pathway traced is not up for renegotiation;
  • Somewhere in the middle, a project approach using an inception period to renegotiate the objectives, reassess the context, understand the motivations of the stake-holders;
  • At the other end of the spectrum, a totally emergent approach where one keeps organising new processes as they show up along the way, renegotiating with a variety of actors.

Seed money helps here for ‘safe-fail’ approaches, to try things out and draw early lessons and perhaps then properly budget for activities that expand that seed initiative. Examples from the corporate sector also give away some interesting pointers and approaches (see Mintzberg’s books and the strategy safari under ‘related resources’). The blog post by Robert Chambers on ‘whose paradigm’

“]Adaptive pluralism - a useful map to navigate complexity? [Credits: Robert Chambers]

Adaptive pluralism - a useful map to navigate complexity? [Credits: Robert Chambers

counts and his stark comparison between a positivist and adaptive pluralism perspectives are also very helpful resources to map out the issues we are facing here.

At any rate, and this can never be emphasised enough, in complex environments – as is the case in development work more often than not – a solid context analysis is in order if one is to hope for any valuable result, in the short or long run.

Related resources:

These have been our musings on day 1, perhaps not ground-breaking observations but pieces of an IKM-E collage that brings together important pointers to the legacy of IKM-Emergent. Day 2 is promising…

Related blog posts:

Dotty dotted communication – can we avoid this please?


Sometimes, the best example one can offer is a counter-example. My colleague and boss Peter Ballantyne recently proved this point when sharing a presentation, and later a blog post, about what communication in a (research) project could and should look like – and what NOT.
The presentation depicted the general direction of communication and engagement efforts in a research project, as a curve which displayed both what is hoped for and what should be avoided in terms of communication activities and results.

Communicating agri-water research over time

The counter example – here the red line of course – shows that all too often, communication efforts, if at all undertaken, mean:
  1. A big bang project introduction (usually with project leaflet, kick-off workshop, poster, press release etc.) – the moment of glory of public relations and marketing – and spending of course.
  2. Then a long curve of nothingness - perhaps the result of a weak (or absent) engagement strategy?
  3. And then at the very end of the project, another series of activities related to the release of information and communication products – when the project closing / output delivering fever is kicking in.
This is a dotted communication approach: no continuous line, no constant progression. This dotted approach becomes downright dotty if one thinks that this type of interrupted engagement will lead to a wide uptake and impact. Unfortunately, all too often that is what happens in projects for lack of strategic communication thinking and lack of attention for endowing communications with proper resources.
What should change in practice is to ensure that the communication dots get much closer to one another to form an almost continuous line of communication (probably interlaced with all kinds of other lines going up and down but following the general progression trend). This means regular engagement with a wide range of actors, documentation of processes throughout, meshing together people, issues and insights that play out in the initiative, getting our hands dirty to ensure that people reflect, talk, write and work together.
That alternative approach takes courage and yes, resources too, but it brings back the investment manifold. If communication is to play a role, let it be even a modest one but a continuous one. Dotty dotted communication has long lived. Check Peter’s ideas for how we can ensure continuous engagement…
Related blog posts: