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


Many people seem to be struggling to understand the differences between communication, knowledge management, monitoring, learning etc.

Finding the happy families (Photo: 1st art gallery)

Finding the happy families (Photo: 1st art gallery)

Let’s consider that all of them are part of a vast family – the ‘engagement’ family. Oh, let’s be clear, engagement can happen in many other ways but for the  sake of simplicity, let’s focus on these four and say that all of these family members have in common the desire – or necessity – to engage people with one another, to socialise, for a reason or another. And let’s try to unpack this complex family tree, to discover the happy families of engagement.

The engagement family is big, it contains different branches and various members in each of these. The main branches are roughly the Communication (Comms), Knowledge management (KM) and Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E).

Communicating

Communi-cating

The comms branch is large and old. Among the many siblings, the most prominent ones are perhaps Public Relations and Marketing. They used to be the only ones around in that branch, for a time that seems endless. All members of this branch like to talk about messages, though their horizon has been expanding to other concepts and approaches, of late.

  • Public relations has always made the point that it’s all about how you come across to other folks and enjoys very much the sheen and the idea of looking smart. But some accuse him of being quite superficial and a little too self-centred.
  • His old sibling marketing has adopted a more subtle approach. Marketing loves to drag people in a friendly conversation, make them feel at ease and get them to do things that perhaps they didn’t want in the first place. Marketing impresses everyone in the family by its results, but he has also upset quite some people in the past. He doesn’t always care for all that, as he thinks he can always find new friends, or victims.
  • Another of their sibling has been around for a while too: Advocacy is very vocal and always comes up with a serious message. Some of his family members would like him to adopt a less aggressive approach. Advocacy’s not silly though, so he’s been observing how his brother marketing operates and he’s getting increasingly subtle, but his image is very much attached to that of an ‘angry and hungry revolutionary loudmouth’.
  • Their sister communication is just as chatty but she is a bit behind the scene. Communication doesn’t care about promoting her family, selling its treasures or claiming a message, she just wants people to engage with one another, in and out of the family. She is everywhere. In a way she might be the mother of this branch.
  • Their youngest sister, internal communication, has been increasingly present over the past few years and she really cares for what happens among all members of her family. She wants people to know about each other and to work together better. She has been getting closer and closer to the second main branch of the engagement family tree: knowledge management, but she differs from that branch in focusing on the internal side of things only.
Knowledge management

Knowledge management

The Knowledge management branch also comprises many different members and in some way is very heterogeneous. This branch doesn’t care so much for messages as for (strategic) information and conversations. For them it’s all about how you can use information and communication to improve your approach.

  • The old uncle is information management. He has been around for a while and he still is a pillar of the family. He collects and organises all kinds of documents, publications, reports and puts them neatly on shelves and online in ways that help people find information. His brothers and sisters mock up his focus on information. Without people engaging with it, information does little.
  • His younger sister knowledge sharing was long overshadowed in the KM branch but she’s been sticking her head out a lot more, taking credit for the more human face of the KM branch. She wants people to share, share and share, engage and engage. She’s very close to her cousin Communication from the Comms branch, but what she really wants is to get people to get their knowledge out and about, to mingle with one another. She has close ties with her colourful cousins facilitation, storytelling and a few more.
  • They have another brother called ‘organisational learning’, who was very active for a while. He wanted everyone to follow him and his principles but he has lost a lot of visibility and momentum over the years when many people found out that the way he showed was not so straightforward as he claimed;
  • The little brother PKM (personal knowledge management) was not taken seriously for a long time but he is really a whiz kid and has given a lot of people confidence that perhaps his branch of the family is better off betting on him, at least partly. He says that everyone of us can do much to improve the way we keep our expertise sharp and connect with akin spirits. To persuade his peeps, PKM often calls upon on his friends from social media and social networks (though these fellas are in demand by most family members mentioned above).
  • A very smart cousin of the KM branch, innovation, is marching up to the limelight. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and keeps changing, never settling with one facet of her identity. Her beauty, class and obvious commonsense strike everyone when they see her, but she disappears quickly if she’s not entertained. In fact, many in the KM family would like to get her on their side but she’s alluding. Perhaps if many family members got together they would manage to keep her at their side.
Monitoring

Monitoring

The M&E branch has always been the odd group out. They are collectors and reporters. Through their history they have mostly focused on indicators, reportspromises made, results and lessons learnt. Other family members consider this branch to be little fun and very procedural, even though of late they have bended their approach – but not everyone around seems to have realised that.

  • Planning is not the oldest but perhaps the most responsible one of this branch. He tries to coordinate his family in a concerted manner. But he is also quite idealistic and sometimes he tends to ignore his siblings and stick to his own ideas, for better (or usually for worse). Still, he should be praised for his efforts to give some direction and he does so very well when he brings people to work with him;
  • Reporting, the formal oldest brother, is perhaps the least likely to change soon. He takes his job very seriously and indeed he talks to all kinds of important people. He really expects everyone to work with him, as requested by those important contacts of his. He doesn’t always realise that pretty much everyone consider him rather stuffy and old-fashioned, but he knows – and they sometimes forget – that he does matter a lot as a connector between this whole funky family and the wider world.
  • Data collection is the next sister who tends to wander everywhere; she lacks the sense of prioritisation, which is why planning really has to keep an eye on her. She’s very good at collecting indeed a lot of stuff but she doesn’t always help her siblings make sense of it. Everyone in the family agrees she has an important role to play but they don’t quite know how.
  • Therefore her other sister reflection is always behind to absorb what data collection brought forward and make sense of it. She is supposedly very astute but occasionally she does her job too quickly and misses crucial lessons or patterns. Or perhaps she’s overwhelmed by what data collection brought to her and she settles for comfort. But she usually has great ideas.
  • They have a young sister called process documentation. She’s a bit obscure to her own kin but she seems to have built a nice rapport with the other branches of the wider family and seems more agile than her own brothers and sisters. She goes around and observes what’s going on, picking up the bizarre and unexpected, the details of how people do things and how it helps for their wider work.
Learning is patient

Learning is patient

The wise godmother (1) of them all is learning. Learning generously brings her good advices to all her family, for them to improve over time. She wants her Comms branch offspring to engage in ways that benefit everyone; she encourages their KM siblings to nurture more genuine and deeper conversations that lead to some more profound insights and more effective activities; she invites the sidetracked M&E branch to find their place, not be obtuse and use their sharp wits to bring common benefits and help understand what is going well or not and why. More than anything, she encourages all her godchildren to get along with one another because she sees a lot of potential for them to join hands and play together.

Learning could do it all on her own but she prefers to socialise, she loves socialising in fact, and that’s how she keeps on top of the game, and keeps bringing the light over to other parts of the family. It’s not an easy game for her to bring all her flock to play together. There’s a lot of strong egos in there, but she is patient and versatile, and she knows that eventually people will come to seek her wisdom…

Do you recognise your work in those happy families? Who am I missing and where in the tree should they fit?

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M&E of KM: the phoenix of KM is showing its head again – how to tackle it?


I’ve started working on a summary of two papers commissioned by the IKM-Emergent programme to unpack the delicate topic of monitoring (and evaluation) of knowledge management (1). This could be just about the driest, un-sexiest topic related to KM. Yet, it seems precisely one of the most popular topics and one that keeps resurfacing on a regular basis.

On the KM4DEV community alone, since the beginning of 2009, nine discussions (2) have focused on various aspects of monitoring of knowledge management, some of them generating a traffic of over 30 emails!! Are we masochistic? Or just thirsty for more questions?

M&E the phoenix of KM? (photo credits: Onion)

Anyway, this summary piece of work is a good opportunity to delve again into the buzz, basics, bells and whistles of monitoring knowledge management (as in the practice of observing/ assessing/ learning inherent to both M&E rather than on the different conditions in which M or E generally occur).

In attempting to monitor knowledge and/or knowledge management, one can look at an incredible amount of issues. This is probably the reason why there is so much confusion and questioning around this topic (see this good blog post by Kim Sbarcea of ‘ThinkingShift’, highlighting some of these challenges and confusion).

In this starting work – luckily supported by colleagues from the IKM working group 3 – I am trying to tidy things up a bit and to come up with a kind of framework that helps us understand the various approaches to M&E of KM (in development) and the gaps in this. I would like to introduce here a very preliminary half-baked framework that consists of:

  • Components,
  • Levels,
  • Perspectives.

And I would love to hear your views on these, to improve this if it makes sense, or to stop me at once if this is utter gibberish.

First, there could be various components to look at as items to monitor. These items could be influenced by a certain strategic direction or could happen in a completely ad hoc manner – a sort of pre-put. The items themselves could be roughly sorted as inputs, throughputs or outputs (understood here as results of the former two):

Pre-put Input (resources and starting point) Throughput (work processes & activities) Output (results)
– None (purely ad hoc)- Intent or objective 

– Structured assessment of needs (e.g. baseline / benchmarking)

– Strategy (overall and KM-focused)

– People (capacities and values)- Culture (shared values) 

– Leadership

– Environment

– Systems to be used

– Money / budget

– Methods / approaches followed to work on KM objectives- (Co-)Creation of knowledge artefacts 

– Use of information systems

– Relationships involved

– Development of a learning/innovation space

– Attitudes displayed by actors involved or concerned

– Rules, regulations, governance of KM

– Creation of products & services- Appreciation of products & services 

– Use/application of products & services

– Behaviour changes: doing different things, things differently or with a different attitude

– Application of learning (learning is fed back to the system)

– Reinforcement of capacities

All these components are then affected by the various levels at which a KM intervention (or strategy) is monitored, which could be:

  • Individual level;

    Different levels at which M&E of KM could take place

  • Team level;
  • Organisational level;
  • Inter-organisational level i.e. communities of practice, multi-stakeholder processes, potentially verging on to sectoral level – though with the problem of defining ‘a sector’;
  • Societal level affecting a society entirely.

And then of course comes perhaps the most crucial – yet implicit – element: the worldview that motivates the approach that will be followed with monitoring of knowledge management.

Because this is often an implicit aspect of knowledge-focused activities, this is largely a grey area in the way knowledge management is monitored. Yet on a spectrum of grey shades I would distinguish three world views that lead to three types of approaches on monitoring of knowledge (management). These approaches can potentially be combined in innumerable ways. The three strands would be:

  1. Linear approaches to monitoring of KM with a genuine belief in cause and effect and planned intervention;
  2. Pragmatic approaches to monitoring of KM, promoting trial and error and a mixed attention to planning and observing. I would argue this is perhaps the dominant model in the development sector, judging from the literature available anyhow (more on this soon).
  3. Emergent approaches to M&E of KM, stressing natural combinations of factors, relational and contextual elements, conversations and transformations.

In the comparative table below I have tried to sketch differences between the three groups as I see them now, even though I am not convinced that in particular the third category is giving a convincing and consistent picture.

Worldview Linear approaches to M&E of KM Pragmatic approaches to M&E of KM Emergent approaches to M&E of KM
Attitude towards monitoring Measuring to prove Learning to improve Letting go of control toexplore natural relations and context
Logic What you planned à what you did à what is the difference? What you need à what you do à what comes out? What you do à how and who you do it with à what comes out?
Chain of key elements Inputs – activities –outputs – outcomes – impact Activities – outcomes – reflections Conversations – co-creations – innovations –transformations – capacities and attitudes
Key question How well? What then? Why, what and how?
Outcome expected Efficiency Effectiveness Emergence
Key approach Logical framework and planning Trial and error Experimentation and discourse
Attitude towards knowledge Capture and store knowledge (stock) Share knowledge (flow) Co-create knowledge and apply it to a specific context
Component focus Information systems and their delivery Knowledge sharing approaches / processes Discussions and their transformative potential
I, K or? What matters? Information Knowledge and learning Innovation, relevance and wisdom
Starting point of monitoring cycle Expect as planned Plan and see what happens Let it be and learn from it
End point of monitoring cycle Readjust same elements to the sharpest measure(single loop learning) Readjust different elements depending on what is most relevant(double loop learning) Keep exploring to make more sense, explore your own learning logic(triple loop learning)

The very practical issue of budgeting does not come in the picture here but it definitely influences the M&E approach chosen and the intensity of M&E activities.

Aside from all these factors, there are of course many challenges that are plaguing an effective practice of monitoring knowledge management, but this framework offers perhaps a more comprehensive approach to M&E of KM?

Again, I am inviting you to improve this half-baked cake or to reject it as plainly indigestible. So feel free to shoot!

Notes:

(1)    Knowledge management understood here as ”encompassing any processes and practices concerned with the creation, acquisition, capture, sharing and use of knowledge, skills and expertise (Quintas et al., 1996) whether these are explicitly labelled as ‘KM’ or not (Swan et al., 1999)”. This definition is extracted from the first IKM-Emergent working paper. Even though I don’t entirely agree with this definition, let’s consider it’s creating enough clarity for the sake of understanding this blog post.

(2)    Previous discussions related to M&E of KM on KM4DEV:

  • Managing community of practice: creative entrepreneurs (22/11/2009) with a specific message on the impact of communities of practice
  • Value and impact of KS & collaboration (11/10/2009)
  • Evaluation of KM and IL at SDC (08/07/2009)
  • KM self-assessment (18/03/2009)
  • Organisational learning indicators (13/12/2009)
  • Monitoring and evaluating online information (05/02/2009)
  • Monitoring and evaluating online information portals (03/02/2009)
  • Evaluation of KM processes (30/01/2009)
  • Evidence of sector learning leading to enhanced capacities and performances (05/01/2009)

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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: http://wiki.km4dev.org/wiki/index.php/Impact_and_M%26E_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.

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