The death of nice communities of practice?

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

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

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

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

Two interesting take-homes from this:

a) Let CoPs die!

b) Nice is the new poison

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

Ad a) Let CoPs die!

Not getting Involved (Credits: Tarik B / FlickR)

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

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

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

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

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

Ad b) Nice is the new poison

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

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

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

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

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

    The Purpose of Argument (Credits: Imnotquitejack / FlickR)

    The Purpose of Argument (Credits: Imnotquitejack / FlickR)

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

Related blog posts:


Facilitation and collective action back on the menu… big time!

(Disclaimer for Nadia, Russell and others who commented on this post [and see feedback/results here by the way]: This post was drafted before and thus does not yet reflect some of the changes that I hope to bring into this blog based on your collective feedback…)

Lots of different happenings in the world of event/process facilitation as far as I’m concerned – lots of useful links and ideas that might inspire you too…

Graphic Facilitation with Nancy White (Credits: Gauri Salokhe / FlickR)

Graphic Facilitation with Nancy White (Credits: Gauri Salokhe / FlickR)

I’ve finally gotten into reading ‘The surprising power of liberating structures‘, and what a platinum mine of useful reflections, methods, tips, designs etc. a real gem for all collective action process (and event) facilitators… It’s perhaps the best recent thing I can think about that might help me revive the post collection ‘The Chemistry of Magical Facilitation

I’ve been following some LinkedIn groups (particularly the ‘Professional facilitators network‘ – mind that this link requires login) on facilitation with excellent insights. This is some incentive for me to actually blog more about facilitation… and perhaps even start a blog on facilitation as it’s a slightly different topic than strictly agile KM and learning (even though the two are interlinked for their focus on learning and collective action).

Another interesting idea came my way this week, prompted by my colleague Peter Ballantyne: the walkshops – an idea that the UK’s Institute for Development Studies has piloted and reflected upon. This is something to try out, and I think I just might in what could possibly become the third workshop focused on CGIAR communication and management for CGIAR research programs (or kmc4CRP ;)). Actually last week for an ILRI Comms meeting we had a walking session and it was a hit.

Perhaps most importantly, me and a group of fellow KM4Devers are thinking about focusing on facilitation, for the issue 11.1 (May 2015) of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal. We are still debating the exact focus, as we’re rather struggling with too many ideas than too few. Our initial thoughts are available here. I personally hope we will cover blended facilitation (online/offline), moving away from events to fold into longer engagement and learning processes, modern uses of technology (using phones, clothes and other smart devices) to get groups to evolve, the distribution of facilitation and developing an empowering leadership culture as well as how capacity development comes into the picture. At last, I don’t despair finding time to come up with my own facilitation approaches – notably mimicking patterns found in nature and among animals. Wild, eh?

At last, I’ve had some conversation with Nancy White about doing an online (recorded) conversation for already quite a while, to feature on our blogs, and I think this ‘facilitation’ topic could very well be the topic we might want to zoom in on, but that is something Nancy and I need to co-create so certainly not certainty there 😉

Amidst all of this, I actually have a lot of events to facilitate in the coming months so time to kick myself out of comfort zone and to try daring new ideas and approaches. Wish me luck in changing myself, it’s never a given 😉 !

Related blog posts:

See all posts under the category ‘Facilitation’

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

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

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

90-9-1 in a Community of Practice

90-9-1 in a Community of Practice

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

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

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

More time to work on my other related KM4Dev affiliations:

But more importantly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related posts:

What to put in a KM training, off the random top of my head

I was never trained on KM. I just learned it by doing. Errrr, I am learning it by doing.

But if I was trained in agile KM next week, what would I love to find in such a training? Some people are wondering about exactly that on KM4Dev right now. So, let me think about this a bit…

There’s many ways that one can think of elements to include in a KM training, so I’ll start with my favourite order: random – spur of the moment-like. A first brush to peel this onion, to unravel the little patterns that gild this golden question.

Here’s a series of (perhaps not so) random concepts and keywords that I think should make it into an agile KM training course – focused on development – these days…


Networked organisations need to grasp how complex un-oder works (Credits - Verna Allee / Harold Jarche)

Networked organisations need to grasp how complex un-order works (Credits – Verna Allee / Harold Jarche)

That’s step 1. Understand we work with complex networks and agendas and have to realise where we find ourselves. The Cynefin approach that is at the heart of ‘The social imperative‘. Without that basis, no way agile KM can work, because it will become a world of hammers and nails.


Complexity doesn’t mean everything we do is complex or even complicated. It’s not simple either but…

Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler (attributed to Albert Einstein)

People don’t like change; complicated change, even less so… So agile KM might have to start with – or pass by – ‘Go organic, go civic! #KMalreadyHappensAnyways‘. Because a lot is already going on, and we can just build upon this rather than start from scratch. Oh, and don’t forget to forget the labels: Nobody should really care whether they ‘do agile KM’, they should just do it 😉

Taxonomy and folksonomy

However fancy fluff ‘big data‘ might end up being, the key lesson of it is to ensure content can easily be aggregated and processed, and that goes through tagging and meta-tagging. That’s where taxonomy (an ordered collection of tags, usually centrally) and folksonomy (the crowdsourced version of a taxonomy) come in handy. Invest in ways to help data-crunching at a large scale, but also at a human scale through social media keywords, tags and handles.


Facilitation, (a lot) more than just telling people what to do, it's about orchestrating energies and capacities (Credits - James Brauer/FlickR)

Facilitation, (a lot) more than just telling people what to do, it’s about orchestrating energies and capacities (Credits – James Brauer/FlickR)

Agile knowledge management has a lot to do with social processes (of social change) so a good understanding and command of how to facilitate such processes comes in order. That’s why a toolkit like the Knowledge sharing methods & tools: a facilitator’s guide (and the many more that exist out there just to think of a few here).


Perhaps that’s the essence of it all. How do we bring together all the elements above to conjure up the conversations that help us make sense of the world around us and to act in it? What is learning again? A whole area of work that brings together personal knowledge management, social learning, organisational learning etc. not least through the engagement families. Agile KM has to focus on added effectiveness through learning and other means.


Agile KM is no longer about keeping information just in case, it’s about moving collectively towards agile groupings of people, who can proactively anticipate upcoming changes and react promptly to unanticipated changes. It’s about unlocking the potential to innovate, via feedback loops (see this recent ‘How Feedback Loops Can Improve Aid (and Maybe Governance)‘ on this). So how can KM unlock our individual and collective capacity to innovate?


A KM training course surely hopes to equip trainees with means to implement (agile) KM in their own setting. But how do you know whether this works? Through assessment, monitoring, evaluation. All that stuff from social media metrics to impact assessment. That’s done through learning, and connecting dots, bringing reflection and analysis closer to action. Feedback loops again. But that’s the only way to get good. That and the proverbial 10,000-hour rule. And luckily, there’s plenty of good references about this – see this stock-taking selection.

Collective action and social change

Ok this one is for the development & cooperation knowledge workers, not necessarily those working for private businesses. But what point is there in agile KM if not to improve the world or prevent further damage to it. So that goes through understanding what makes up identity and the formation of collectives on that basis i.e. what brings people together, the kind of stuff that Dave Pollard recently blogged about in his excellent blog ‘How to save the world‘. At the heart of it, the concepts of empathy and trust become prerequisites to joint action and social change.

A model of identity (and community) formation (Credits: Williamson & Pollard)

A model of identity (and community) formation (Credits: Williamson & Pollard)

So as mentioned in prelude to this post, this is only one take about what to include in a KM training. I could also do it from the perspective of modules, of disciplines that come into play, of scales that matter, of approaches and tools that make this work… Perhaps a whole series of blog posts is just emerging here, shaping an ever-changing repurposing of training materials. That is also what Agile KM is all about: reuse past stuff, but do it in new and ever more meaningful ways.

More on the KM4Dev mailing list soon…

Related blog posts:

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:

A tribute to KM4Dev: how it transformed my life and how I hope to share the magic

For a long time, in the sector where I used to work, I felt out of place: a mad and fuzzy communicator in the rigid, logical (but smart) kingdom of water and sanitation engineers. I guess I kinda accepted I was different and just had to rub it in.

And then I had my first KM4Dev (Knowledge Management for Development) face-to-face experience. And it was, professionally speaking, absolutely life-changing. So here’s a tribute to this fantastic game changer of a community that has become my natural dysfunctional and confusiastic professional family.

The KM4Dev group at the annual meeting in Almada, 2008 (Credits: unknown)

The KM4Dev group at the annual meeting in Almada, 2008 (Credits: Peter Bury)

My colleague Jaap Pels had brought KM4Dev to my awareness and got me to sign up on the discussion group for a couple of years and I surely enjoyed the conversations, but I didn’t quite realise how important KM4Dev was truly going to be for me. My first face-to-face event was in Brighton in 2006. And I really had the eye-opening experience of finding kindred spirits for the first time in the professional sphere. People that were different from me and had different interests but also cared for a lot of similar issues: learning, communication, knowledge management, empowerment, social change… far away from the image of a geeky male-dominated picture that a colleague of mine had about KM4Dev at that time (obviously without knowing it first hand).

I became a core group member less than a year later, and started blogging shortly after that. And that was just the beginning.

So here’s how KM4Dev changed my life and how I decided to repay that back (and how it keeps paying off)…

How KM4Dev changed my life

There are so many levels at which KM4Dev has added depth. Here is a non-exhaustive attempt at listing some of the benefits of being in KM4Dev, following the typical KM ‘People, process and technology’ approach 😉

The people

  • I met wonderful people, who (for some) became very good friends, bound by a different kind of common chemistry;
  • These people revealed to me the art and science of creative and wonderful facilitation, paving the way for my future work in this field later;
  • I found, through the mailing list, the wiki, the Ning group, some people that to date I still haven’t met but have been connecting with on many levels to discuss KM and learning-related issues;
  • They have taught me to seek questions, not answers; to be happy with confusion (confusiasm), to dare asking questions and challenging thoughts, to build upon each other but to go beyond the ‘yes we all agree and that’s wonderful’, to look for what is not there, to care for each other, to value people and ideas beyond organisations, to trust myself and others, to let go, to experiment and experience, to live and learn…

The processes

Having been involved in the KM4Dev core group, the KM4Dev journal and from 2009 onwards the founding group of the Francophone KM4Dev sister SA-GE, I have learned a lot of things in terms of KM processes, particularly related to management, facilitation and communities of practice, from building initiatives around champions, decision-making processes based on lack of disagreement, testing and expanding ideas, self-organisation, technology stewardship, acting upon promises made (based on personal, non-funded, commitment), creative brainstorming and co-creation of events and processes, organising discussions and documenting these on the spot (e.g. with live minutes on Skype or otherwise)…

And of course again the creative facilitation using Open Space, World cafés, fishbowl, six-thinking hats, peer assist and many many more ideas for facilitation.

The technology

To date I still don’t consider myself a techie nor a geek. But I’m interested in tools in as far as they bring about new practices and new ways for people to learn and connect with one another. I’m certainly an early adopter for many online tools. And that is the legacy of KM4Dev.

I wouldn’t have tried the following tools if it were not for KM4Dev: blogs, wikis, Twitter, Slideshare, Delicious, Blip TV. And next to these direct influences, I am now much keener on exploring new tools such as Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ etc. as a result of my exposure to KM4Dev. Secondary – but crucial – tools such as Doodle, MeetingWords, Wordle etc. also came to my knowledge via KM4Dev friends and folks.

Last but not least, KM4Dev really helped me decide that my focus field would indeed be (social) learning and knowledge management.

What I’m doing to pay KM4Dev back for all it’s given me

Given the above, it sounds like I will spend the rest of my life paying KM4Dev back. I don’t know where my love story with the community will bring me but I have taken some small steps to pay something back:

  • Being a core group member. This is and has always been a totally voluntary effort. So I do this after hours, in the evening, over the weekend and holidays, but taking part to the reflections of this group of people who care for the community matters to me. And as much as I would love other people to invest their time in this, I see too little of it happening so for now I’m happy to play my part. And this gives me extra fresh information about some crucial information regarding the community: funding, next face-to-face events, and the overall governance of the community. It’s also a great way to keep in touch with my close KM4Dev friends – quite a few of them being core group members themselves.
  • Being a KM4Dev journal editor. Now this is a real challenge because I find it difficult to make time for it but the journal – although (and that is really terrible but about to change soon) it is not open access – is important to me as it encourages practitioners from the global South to publish their experiences and reflections, as opposed to many academic development or KM journals. This role of editor means I contribute to shaping up issues from the journal and discuss with other fellow editors how to make it evolve in the right way, e.g. coming up with different article types, finding solutions for open access solutions, reviewing the list of board members, discussing possible topics for future issues etc. I’ve headed some issues of the journal on francophone KM, KM in the WASH sector, organisational KM and soon about multi-stakeholder process facilitation…
  • Being one of the lynchpins of SA-GE. We are actually trying to rely less on the few people who, like me, have played a strong role in SA-GE since its onset. But when nothing happens, I chip in and share relevant links, conversations, documents with the Francophone group, as I really hope it takes off and see many opportunities for more exchange on KM and learning in the Francophone world.
  • Occasionally facilitating the community platforms for a month – like this month with Bruce Kisitu. A great way to make sure all conversations are attended to, answered, linked with other relevant links, that peoples’ questions are answered, that orientation is given if need be and that all the while new ideas for improving this community facilitation emerge along the way…
  • Being a member of the Learning and Monitoring group. IFAD has granted KM4Dev some funding for 2012 and early 2013 and I am part of the group reflecting on the funded activities and trying to understand what KM4Dev brings to people but also how it could become more effective. This is a fascinating endeavour to understand this community from up close.
  • Developing local KM4Dev networks. Wherever I’ve been working I try to export some of my enthusiasm for KM4Dev by stimulating people from the network (or people that could benefit from becoming members) to meet up. I did it in The Hague, in Burkina Faso and more recently in Ethiopia. These local networks have their own dynamics but somehow they follow the philosophical trail of the global community of practice.

Next to that, of course I’m a regular member of KM4Dev so I contribute to the mailing list, post some resources and questions or conversations on the Ning etc.

Last words… and if it were you?

If KM4Dev has made a profound impact on your work and/or life, like it has on mine then feel free to let the community know, or me for that matter, as that kind of testimony would be really useful to assess the effectiveness of this community of practice, and to ensure it continues to be a useful guiding light for all people hoping to use learning and knowledge work to contribute to a better world, of empowered people taking care of their own and their community’s livelihood.

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…

What the heck is knowledge anyway: from commodity to capacity and insights

Ten years into KM and this is perhaps the most frequent question I’ve heard or come across to date in the knowledge management field: What is knowledge? Time to shoot at it, or better: time to plant a shoot…
Currently again, there is a KM4Dev discussion about ‘knowledge banks’ (see word cloud below) and on the side, the ‘what is knowledge’ phoenix (1) is reappearing. At the bottom of this question lies another crucial question: do you see knowledge as a thing, i.e. a commodity, or not? This has a profound implication on the KM language you use, the assumptions around KM that you nurture and the KM activities that you might wish to undertake.
The 'Knowledge bank' discussion wordle

The ‘Knowledge bank’ discussion wordle which inspired this post

For me, it’s quite simple: knowledge is not tangible and is certainly not a commodity. And the noun ‘knowledge’ itself sometimes leads to delusional assumptions about what knowledge is. I find it more fruitful to think of knowledge as two different things:

  • Knowledge is a latent capacity that we call upon to combine information available with various insights we have from past experiences, and use it in a given context.
  • Knowledge is also the collection of insights that we have in ourselves, based on information, emotions and intuitions we have. It is in that collection of insights that we tap to use our ‘knowledge capacity’ or our ‘capacity to know’.
At any point, we can tap into the knowledge we have, but we can never give it as is to anyone else. Because it is our very own unique combination and our very own unique capacity, the fruit of our personal development path. So, when we say ‘what do we know about xyz’, we are referring to the combined (abstract) mass of fuzzy insights that we collectively possess about xyz and the potential use we might make from that combined, collective, capacity.
Now, for the sake of stretching our minds a bit, let’s compare a typical (and voluntarily caricaturing) perspective of knowledge as a commodity and one of knowledge as a capacity. It might reveal some of the assumptions and expectations we have about knowledge.
Knowledge as a commodity Knowledge as a capacity
Knowledge is the embodied result of ‘knowing’ (possessing the knowledge) Knowledge is the emerging property of learning (developing new insights / knowledge)
Knowledge is universal – it has generic properties, it is ‘self contained’; it exists as is Knowledge is personal – it is the result of a combination of personal factors. It becomes itself when mixed with insights from experience.
Knowledge is rather static – it represents the ‘knowledge’ we have and changes only every so often, when it is ‘updated’ by some people, experts (e.g. peer-reviewed academic publications) or not (as on Wikipedia) Knowledge is dynamic – it keeps changing whenever it is invoked by anyone, anywhere – it is multi-faceted and ubiquitous
Knowledge can be transferred (one on one) Knowledge can be shared (but it gets necessarily recombined – it is not shared one on one either)
Knowledge can be stored (in a knowledge bank or base?) Knowledge cannot be stored – but insights shared can be codified, turned into information and stored (in an information bank, database or else)
Knowledge can be developed in writing Knowledge can be developed, stimulated / augmented (the capacity of using information can be increased) through social learning, thus not in writing. Information, however, can be put in writing, based on available knowledge (expertise)
Knowledge can be assessed – e.g. by theoretical ‘knowledge’ tests (how much do you know about x, y, z) – in a rather clear, straightforward 1/0 way Knowledge can be assessed by practical knowledge and know-how tests (how can you respond to challenge x, y, z) but it remains a fuzzy process
Knowledge can be managed Knowledge cannot be managed but its development and sharing can be stimulated and elicited – the environment that stimulates knowledge, however, can be managed (working on processes, tools, cultural values etc. to enable the development and sharing of knowledge)
Knowledge management is essentially information management: collecting knowledge and getting it to the right person at the right time to deal with challenges at hand Knowledge management is essentially knowledge sharing and it is about learning conversations that stimulate everyone’s ability to respond better to their own challenges
Of course the table suggests that the dynamic conception of knowledge, as a capacity, is more relevant, and in my eyes to a large extent it really is. I have made this starkly contrasted comparison to emphasise this point. But, for instance, information management is also a very important part of a sound and more complete conception of knowledge management.
This is all about emphasising the dynamic nature of knowledge, rather than the skewed commodity perspective and the dangerous expectations it sometimes generates.
That said, there must be major blind spots in this comparison, I put my knowledge to the learning test here – so what would you say?
(1) The phoenix is a mythological animal that ignites, disappears into ashes and arises in its new avatar. I like this as a metaphor for discussions that keep reappearing. In the KM world, typically the ‘what is knowledge’ question is a phoenix. Monitoring/assessing KM is another one.
Related blog posts:

Live and direct from Rome – blogging & tweeting at the ShareFair and KM4Dev 2011

The second global Share Fair has started and some KM4Dev-related sessions are also unfolding as we speak.

The 2nd Global Share Fair has started!

The 2nd Global Share Fair has started!

I will be blogging here about the sessions I’ve been involved in and if I get a chance, on other sessions too.

An incredible amount of tweeting is happening already under the tag #sfrome – and for KM4Dev quite simply under the tag #KM4Dev.

Some sessions are webcasted – see the webcasting programme on:

The first blogposts and blips (post here and blip here) are started and will be soon linked up with the official event blog.

Aggregated feeds:

And finally, there is a daily Corriere to cover what has been presented or discussed every day:

So stay tuned and keep watching the incredible amount of social learning happening, this is most certainly one of the highlights of this year in terms of social learning and knowledge sharing for development work.

Related posts:

Settling the eternal semantic debate: what is knowledge, what is information…

(As of February 2012, a new post on this blog updates and extends this one: What the heck is knowledge anyways: from commodity to capacity and insights).

While being away in Ethiopia and characteristically without internet access, a debate was raging on the KM4DEV list, fiercer and hotter than it ever was. Another phoenix of KM is renascent and this is perhaps the phoenix of all phoenixes in the KM world: what is knowledge, what is information?

To understand this debate, you should know – if you don’t already – that a common way of explaining this difference has been to use the DIKW pyramid. And here DIKW does not mean ‘Do it knowledge worker’ like my mate Jaap amusingly suggested, but rather: Data – information – knowledge – wisdom.

This pyramid is here:

The DIKW pyramid: The starting point of 1000 fallacious KM approaches? (credits: unknown)

The debate on KM4DEV has been rather heated because Dave Snowden added his grain of itchy salt by provocatively mentioning that he “would reject the DIKW pyramid, aside from the fact it’s just plain wrong, it’s difficult to explain and leads to bad labels” and that “Anyone talking about wisdom as a higher level of knowledge should be taken out and shot for the good of the field”. Now of course the point is not to shoot anyone down and this is obviously not the man’s point either, but rather to consider carefully whether indeed this DIKW is a pyramid worth fighting for, or whether we should not get busier with constructions of another genre…

I personally find the DIKW also quite limited and rather dangerous.

It is limited because to me, data and information on the one hand, and knowledge and wisdom on the other, are of very different nature:

  • Data and information are tangible, they are explicit. They are what some call ‘explicit knowledge’ (to me yet another flawed fad). Basically they are plain bits of text or signals (data) or organised/formatted/packaged bits of text/signals (information) that are concretely available for our senses: in print or images (sight and touch) and in sounds and music (sound). I’ll actually have to think further about taste and odour on this one.
  • Knowledge is intangible by definition (to me anyway) in the sense that it represents the way that we combine data and/or information with a variety of inner characteristics (experience, skills, attitude, emotions, interest, intention and need to use data and information) to make sense of this data/information and apply it to a given situation where we need to apply it. In that respect I believe knowledge as a noun is not a terribly useful concept. The act of knowing, on the other hand, is much more relevant as it refers to our capacity to invoke all these inner characteristics to make informed decisions. In other words knowledge/knowing is about lining up what we have in our mind that may be useful for a particular situation (1).
  • Wisdom, well I guess I’m not wise enough to touch this one in depth. The only relation I could imagine is that wisdom – induced by experience, repeated exposure to various incarnations of similar ideas and actions in various contexts – may be what helps us make a better informed decision between two seemingly similar choices. It could relate to the triple loop learning that I blogged about in the past.

But more importantly, this DIKW model is rather dangerous in the sense that, by posing a linear representation of data all the way up to wisdom, it assumes a natural hierarchy among these four variables. And it seems to suggest that one is better than the other when we are talking about different things. If explained to people first exposed to knowledge management (gosh, that term again, that’s where the problem starts: one cannot manage knowledge!!!) it may give a feeling that they are at a certain level.

In reality we are all at different levels of understanding – partly because we may be interested in or need some information and not other: For some areas, we may have accumulated a lot of experience, in others we may be on a completely new territory, so we should not feel like we are at a certain level.

And anyway in any given context we would use data, information, our act of knowing and the wisdom we have accumulated (whatever that may be if it is not accumulated and analysed experience) in various forms and shapes.

So for me, if you lack better models to make sense of it, feel free to use DIKW but do it with caution. As for me, I’ve never used it as learning / coaching principle and I’m not planning to either…

(26/02/2010) By the way, I summarised the whole KM4DEV discussion on the KM4DEV wiki:


(1) In workshops, to explain this ‘knowledge as information in use’, I often refer to the equation K=I*ESA (knowledge is the product of information mixed with experience/skills/attitude, as pointed to me by Jaap). Thinking about it I think this equation also deserves a good brushing off but it sounds certainly more sensible than the DIKW pyramid.

Related blog posts: