KMers navigating between fast flow and slow space

On 12 April (2011), I finally facilitated the KMers’ chat about balancing quick sharing of information and reflection in a slow space – a paradox that most knowledge workers have to come to terms with at some point, usually repeatedly. This blog post set the scene for the discussion.

It was not a straightforward chat because at first sight the discussion topic is not a typical or indeed topical KM issue, unlike using social media, exit interviews, monitoring KM, data/information/knowledge or the likes… Instead, the focus shifted on a deeper background issue: the pacing that shapes our engagement with knowledge work.

And what came out of the chat is really rich – hence this post. It also replaces the transcript which I failed completely at getting in time for software issues (see note 1). The discussion meant to address three questions:

  1. What is the value of fast versus slow information & reflection?
  2. How do you balance the desire to consume and share and the need to think and create?
  3. How do you deal with different information pacing with your relations?

Of course – and luckily – the discussion went in all directions. At the heart of it though, we covered most questions and stressed four elements: (contextual) purpose, (strong) relation, (deep) reflection and (agile) execution… and some reflections about what this all means to us (conscious knowledge workers) and where we might be headed.

How to deal with the maze of time? (Photo credits: Robbie73, FlickR)

How to deal with the maze of time? (Photo credits: Robbie73, FlickR)

The issue of speed was very familiar to all of us, as we acknowledged that knowledge helps people reach the right decision faster (@JeffHester), be it for quick decisions in the heat of the action, or long term strategic orientations… And while we’re grappling with KM, “all the social networks and other offshoots are always “faster” than KM” (@Swanwick). So as knowledge professionals, we just have to deal and juggle with slow and fast information, knowledge and learning. But not just for the sake of it…

Purpose in context

Whether we communicate more quickly or not is irrelevant; purpose dictates pacing. Fast information flows are useful for product management – to get quick information from customers and prospects though e.g. in the pharmaceutical industry, “slow and steady may be the best bet” (@Vivisimo_Inc). @NancyWhite’s gut feeling on this was that: “fast is useful for tactical decisions and reflection for strategic decisions”. Planning helps decide what are strategic goals that require reflection and what operations then need to take place rapidly. “Not every task requires the same attention/care. So minimize time on low impact tasks” (@VMaryAbraham).

And in spite of a society that seems to be driving us ever faster, we also reckon there is a problem with that attitude: as @4KM put it: “KM exists–in part–because of costs associated with fast. Knowledge & opportunities lost” – to which @JeffHester tacked along: “YES! Speed does not equal effectiveness”. This is particularly true when it comes to our working relationships.

Strongly related?

Working in a symbiotic way (Photo credits: Jillclardy, FlickR)

Working in a symbiotic way (Photo credits: Jillclardy, FlickR)

Speed and relations cross over at least at two junctions: In adjusting to each other’s pace and most importantly in building the relationship. Adjusting the pacing is no easy task for many of us because our partners and clients are sometimes entangled in a maze of procedures, distracting opportunities and resistance to change.

A few tips to adjust this: Focus on one big project rather than “100 pinprick projects” (@VMaryAbraham), use “reverse brainstorming” and “future backwards” to identify organisational prioritisation (@NancyWhite) and generally “helping them reflect on their priorities, their passion and related knowledge is critical” (@4KM). The same Alice McGillivray further stresses that “many clients are craving a few successes rather than constant activity. Again, systemic work is needed”.

We all recognise that beyond that pacing adjustment, “there may be something to building relationships, time, and community curation that all benefit from “slow” (@JeffHester). Nancy stresses that “the key is to act in a way that enhances relationships. Strong bonds have a time element.”Sometimes, crisis can lead to quick strong bonds too, but the crux in the matter is that “good relationships yield better results” (@VMaryAbraham), and taht is the first quality step, deep reflection is the next one…

Reflecting in the deep

Rather than slowing down which may feel negative (an interesting question for later), we might refer to “standing down to avert problems” (@BarbaraFillip). Alice neatly captured the problem: “our society has reflection-deprivation disorder, so (we) can’t easily overdo (it)”.

We need to reflect deeply, whether because we find ourselves “following the herd too much” (@Swanwick), because we have to set priorities for systemic change (@4KM), to find the 20% that Pareto says is useful to focus on, or to consider a wider range of issues/possibilities.

There are many ways to reflect deeply: using mindmapping (@VMaryAbraham); using a pen because it’s slower than typing and reflection requires that slow writing (@BarbaraFillip); encouraging shorter interventions such as shifting traditional meetings to open space sessions or even following this example (via @4KM): “There was a Deputy Minister (highest level public servant) who’d put his feet on his desk and reflect for short chunks of day. Radical”.

At any rate, “stepping “out of the flow” needs to be scheduled. Otherwise, it will be forced on you when standard operating procedures fail (@VMaryAbraham) – so we need to cultivate our reflective space by figuring out “at least a few things to STOP doing!” (@NancyWhite). And even if there is a culture of deep reflection, it needs to be taught and can be refined (@VMaryAbraham).

The real point of reflecting deeply, though, is to recognise patterns. This can happen through fast and slow knowledge flows, but “without reflection, we might miss value of patterns?” (@4KM). To do this, it might be a good idea to have “small, quick frequent reflections to capture stuff “in the flow” – (and make them) later available for more thoughtful, slow reflection” (@NancyWhite). In the same vein, @Healthieststate introduces the lean/kaizen approach: “info flows quickly, then at regular intervals (daily, weekly, etc.) hold retrospectives to integrate learning”. This is where deep reflection meets agile execution…

Acting on the dot

Provided we focus on the context, have good relationships at hand and in mind and heart, and we have spent moments of deep reflection, we need to execute our actions with agility. @Swanwick explains: “Agile execution should always be following a priority stack. That priority stack should be carefully (slowly) considered”. Better preparation makes acting effectively with speed possible states @cdn. And @VMaryAbraham reminds us that “iteration speed is helpful — as long as someone is reflecting on results”. Agile support moves go hand in hand with detailed strategic planning (@4KM). This is also the lesson that Kanban offers us, as stated by @OurFounder: “I believe that kanban actually notes the natural constraint of work flow & stops us from artificially exceeding it”.

@Healthieststate raises a tricky issue: “Serendipity happens fast. But, does it take slow reflection and consideration to put ourselves in a position where it can strike?” Is this the path to using intuition in our decisions? An unanswered point for later perhaps. On the other hand, @ourfounder reminds us that “speed specifically thwarts effectiveness, as it promotes multitasking”.

What is sure: We get faster > we get more work > we reflect to find more efficient ways to work (delegate or improve systems) and with this statement, @VMaryAbraham opens the door to all kinds of scenarios about the future…

Where are we headed?

We shared a few perspectives: @Swanwick: “I feel our society is moving towards maximizing efficiency. I don’t see that trend turning” and later “All the little decisions add up to making big decisions that don’t necessarily take us where we want our lives to go”. @NancyWhite echoes this by urging us to “maybe rethink how we evaluate/value things”, following @JeffHester, who is (rightly) pondering: “Do we really want to live our lives as efficiently as possible?” Nancy is also worried that: “it is not just more slow or more fast, but also quantity of work”.

Although Nancy further points that throughout the discussion we are “making a compelling case for the “yes, AND”, for slow and fast”, the last few words that resonate with me are from @healthieststate: “the slow hunch” is the untold story of breakthrough ideas and innovation according to Steven Johnson. Even if info flows quickly…” – there goes a point for thinking of slowing down.

Now is the time to make choices that matter (Photo credits: Swamibu, FlickR)

Now is the time to make choices that matter (Photo credits: Swamibu, FlickR)

Throughout this rich discussion, Nancy led us to a small experiment: to take our hands off the keyboard for 60 seconds to reflect. Alice McGillivray bravely said she’d done 20 seconds. I didn’t take my hands off the keyboard. Hey, I was moderating too so that has to count for something, right? No? Well, I guess we still have some way to go to find that balance between slow space and fast flow.

All I know is: the Twitterchat felt like it went in a split second, but it certainly took me quite some more time to compile this overview. Will it be consumed quickly? And digested slowly?


In the chat, we shared a couple of links:


(1)    What the Hashtag would help generate a twitterchat transcript easily but the service is down. The Twitter advanced search menu is a good alternative but its server kept crashing – and tweets are only archived for a week. Finally I used a mix of going through the Twitter timeline of some discussion participants to recover all their tweets from that time and used Topsy to recover further tweets. The broken transcript is to be found under:

Related posts:


What the *tweet* do we know (about monitoring/assessing KM)?

This week Tuesday I moderated my first ever Twitter chat thanks to the opportunity provided by KMers (as mentioned in one recent blog post). A very rich and at times overwhelming experience in terms of moderating – more on this in the process notes at the bottom of this post.

KMers provides a great opportunity to host Twitter chats! Tweet on! (photo credits: ~ilse)

The broad topic was about ‘monitoring / assessing KM’ and I had prepared four questions to prompt Tweeters to engage with the topic:

  1. What do you see as the biggest challenge in monitoring KM at the moment?
  2. Who to involve and who to convince when monitoring KM?
  3. What have been useful tools and approaches to monitor KM initiatives?
  4. Where is M&E of KM headed? What are the most promising trends (hot issues) on the horizon?

After a couple of minutes at the beginning to wait for all participants, we started listing a number of key challenges in terms of monitoring/ assessing KM:

  • Understanding what we are trying to assess and how we qualify success – and jointly agreeing on this from originally different perspectives and interests;
  • The disconnect between monitoring and the overall strategy and perhaps its corollary of (wrongly) obsessing on KM rather than on the contribution of KM to overall objectives;
  • The crucial problem of contribution / attribution of KM: how can we show that KM has played a role when we are dealing with behaviour changes and improved personal/organisational/inter-institutional effectiveness?;
  • The dichotomy between what was described as ‘positive’ monitoring (learning how we are doing) and ‘negative’ monitoring (about censoring and controlling peoples’ activities);
  • The occasional hobby horses of management and donors to benchmark KM, social media, M&E of KM etc.
  • The problem of focusing on either quantitative data (as a short-sighted way of assessing KM – “Most quantitative measures are arbitrary and abstract. …adoption rate doesn’t really equate to value generation” – Jeff Hester) or rather qualitative data (leaving a vague feeling and a risk of subjective biases);
  • The challenge of demonstrating added value of KM.
  • The much need leadership buy-in which would make or break assessment activities;

The challenges were also felt as opportunities to ‘reverse engineer successful projects and see where KM played a role and start a model’.

An interesting perspective from Mark Neff – that I share – was about monitoring from the community perspective, not from that of the business/organisation.

This last issue hinted at the second part of the chat, which was dedicated to what turned out to be a crux of the discussion: who do you need to involve and who to convince (about the value of KM) when monitoring KM.

Who to involve? Customers / beneficiaries, communities (for their capacity to help connect), even non-aligned communities, users / providers and sponsors of KM, employees (and their capacity to vote with their feet). Working in teams was suggested (by Boris Pluskowski) as a useful way to get knowledge to flow which eventually helps the business then.

Who to convince? Sponsors/donors (holding the purse strings), leaders (who are not convinced about measurement like managers but instead like outputs and systems thinking).

What is the purpose of your monitoring activities? Management? Business? Productivity? Reuse? Learning? Application? Membership? Mark Neff rated them as all interesting (another challenge there: choose!). Rob Swanwick made the interesting point of measuring within each unit and having KM (and social media at that) mainstreamed in each unit, rather than dedicated to a small group.

Raj Datta shared his interesting perspective that it is key to explore and expand from the work of communities that are not aligned with business objectives.

The third part continued with some tools and approaches used to assess KM.

The key question came back: What are we looking at? Increasing profits, sales and the engagement of customers? Participation in CoPs? Answers provided in 48 hours? Adoption rates (with the related issue of de-adoption of something else that Rob Swanwick pointed out)? Project profile contributions? Percentage of re-use in new projects? Stan Garfield suggested setting three goals and measuring progress for each (as described in his masterclass paper about identifying objectives). Mark Neff also stressed that it all depends on the level of maturity of your KM journey: better to build a case when you begin with KM, to look at implementing something or at the adoption rate when you’re a bit more advanced… At his stage, the man himself sees “efforts to measure the value we provide to clients and hope to extend that to measures of value they provide”,

And storytelling wins again! The most universal and memorable way to share knowledge? (photo credits: Kodomut)

In spite of these blueskying considerations, the KMers’ group nonetheless offered various perspectives and experiences with tools and approaches… social network analysis (to measure community interaction), Collison’s and Parcell’s KS Self assessment, outcome mapping (to assess behaviour change), comparative analysis (of call centre agents using the KM system or not), a mix of IT tools and face-to-face to create conversations.

But really what stole the show were success stories. Jeff Hester mentioned “they put the abstract into concrete terms that everyone can relate to”. Stories could also take the form of testimonials and thank you messages extracted from threaded discussions. But at any rate they complement other measurements and they sell and are memorable.

Rob Swanwick pondered: “Should stories be enough to convince leaders“? Roxana Samii suggested that “leaders wil be convinced if they hear the story from their peers or if they really believe in the value of KM – no lip service” and Boris Pluskowski finished this thread with a dose of scepticism, doubting that leaders would find stories enough to be convinced. In that respect, Mark Neff recommended assessing activities on our own and leading by example, even without the approval of managers or leaders, because they might not be convinced by stories or even numbers.

Of course the discussion bounced off to other dimensions… starting with the gaming issue. A new term to me anyway but indeed how to reduce biases induced by expectations on behalf of the people that are either monitoring or being monitored? And should we hide the measurements to avoid gaming (“security by obscurity” as mentioned by Lee Romero) or should we on the other hand explain them to reveal some parts of the variables to get buy-in and confidence, as suggested by Raj Datta or the transparency that is important for authentic behaviours as professed by Mark Neff?

Finally, the question about where M&E of KM is headed (fourth part) didn’t really happen in spite of some propositions:

A Twitter chat can also mean a lot of tweets running in parallel (photo credits: petesimon)

  • Focusing more on activities and flows in place of explicit knowledge stock (Raj Datta)
  • Mobile buzzing for permanent monitoring (Peter Bury)
  • Some sort of measurement for all projects to determine success (Boris Pluskowski)
  • Providing more ways for users to provide direct feedback (e.g., through recommendations, interactions, tagging, etc.) (Stan Garfield)

After these initial efforts, the group instead happily continued discussing the gaming issue to come to the conclusion that a) most KMers present seemed to go for a transparent system rather than a hidden one that aims at preventing gaming and b) gaming can also encourage (positive) behaviours that reveal the flaws of the system and can be useful in that respect (e.g. Mark’s example: “people were rushing through calls to get their numbers up. People weren’t happy. Changed to number of satisfied customers.”).

With the coming of V Mary Abraham the thorny question of KM metrics was revived: how to prove the positive value of KM? Raj Datta nailed an earlier point by mentioning that anyway “some quantitative (right measures at right time in KM rollout) and qualitative, some subjective is good mix”. On the question raised by V Mary Abraham he also offered his perspective of simplicity: “take traditional known measures – and show how they improve through correlation with KM activity measures”. This seemed to echo an earlier comment by Rob Swanwick” Guy at Bellevue Univ has been doing work to try to isolate ROI benefits from learning. Could be applied to general KM”.

In the meantime Mark Neff mentioned that to him customer delight was an essential measure and other tweeters suggested that this could be assessed by seeing the shared enthusiasm, returning and multiplying customers (through word of mouth with friends).

Boris Pluskowski pushed the debate towards innovation as well, as an easier way to show the value of intangibles, as opposed to KM. V Mary Abraham approved in saying “Collab Innov draws on KM principles, but ends up with more solid value delivery to the org”. To which Raj Datta replied: “to me KM is about collaboration and innovation – through highly social means, supported by technology”. And the initial tweeter on this thread went on about the advantages of innovation as being a problem solving exercise at its heart, including a before and an after / result – and it is possible to measure results. V Mary Abraham: “So #KM should focus on problem-solving. Have a baseline (for before) and measure results after”, because solving problems buys trust. But next to short-term problem-solving Mark Neff also pointed at the other face of the coin: long-term capacity building: “Focus people on real solutioning and it will help focus their efforts. Expose them to different techniques so they can build longterm”.

And in parallel, with the eternal problem of proving the value of KM, Raj Datta (correctly) stated: “exact attribution is like alchemy anyway – consumers of data need to be mature”.

It was already well past the chat closing time and after a handful of final tweets, this first KMers’ page of monitoring/assessing KM was turned.

At any rate it was a useful and fresh experience to moderate this chat and I hope to get at it a second time, probably in April and probably on a sub-set of issues related to this vast topic. So watch the KMers’ space:!

Process Notes:

As mentioned earlier in this post, the Twitter chat moderation was a rather uncanny experience. With the machine gun-like speed of our group of 25 or so Tweeters, facilitating, synthesising / reformulating and answering to others as one participant all at once was a hectic experience – and I’m a fast blind typer!

This is how I felt sometimes during the moderation: banging too many instruments at the same time (photo credits: rod_bv)

But beyond the mundane I think what stroke me was: The KMers’ group is a very diverse gang of folks from various walks of life, from the US or the rest of the world, from the business perspective or the development cooperation side. This has major implications on the wording that each of us uses – which may not be granted (such as this gaming issue that got me triggered at first) but also on the kind of approaches we seem to favour, the people we see as the main stumbling block or on the other hand the champions that we see as aspirational forces, and the type of challenges that we are facing… More in a later post about this.

There is finally the back-office side of organising such a Twitter event, and I think as much about preparing / framing the discussion, as inviting people to check out your framing post, preparing a list of relevant links to share, sharing the correct chat link when the event starts (and sending related instructions for new Tweeters), but also generating the full chat transcript (using, thank you @Swanwick 😉 all the way down to this blog post and the infographic summary that I’m still planning on preparing… it’s a whole lot of work, but exciting one and as the web 2.0 follows a ‘share the love / pay it forward’ mentality, so why don’t you give it back to the community out there? This was my first attempt, and I hope many more will follow…

Related blog posts (thank you Christian Kreutz for giving me this idea):

The full transcript for this KMers twitter chat is available here.

(Im)Proving the value of knowledge work: A KMers chat on monitoring / assessing knowledge management

KMers chat on 16/02/2010 on monitoring/assessing KM

On 16 February 2010, I will be hosting a KMers chat about the topic of ‘monitoring / assessing knowledge management’ (1).

When Johan Lammers (one of the founders of KMers and of invited KMers (the people, not the platform) to host a discussion I jumped on the occasion. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s fun, it’s useful: what else can you dream of? And talking about useful discussions, it just fitted my work on this topic of monitoring knowledge management very well.

So here you go, if you are interested, this is the pitch for this KMers chat:

Knowledge management is ill-defined but even more crucially ill-assessed. The inaccuracy and inadequacy of monitoring (2) approaches for KM has left behind a trail of tensions, heated debates, frustrations and disillusions. Differing perspectives on the value of KM and on ways to conduct monitoring have further entrenched these reactions.

How to reconcile expectations from managers / donors on the one hand, from teams in charge of monitoring knowledge management and clients / beneficiaries on the other hand? How to conjugate passion for and belief in knowledge-focused work with business realism and sound management practice?

What are approaches, methods, tools and metrics that seem to provide a useful perspective on monitoring the intangible assets that KM pretends to cherish (and/or manage)? What are promising trends and upcoming hot issues to turn monitoring of KM into a powerful practice to prove the value of knowledge management and to improve KM initiatives?

Join this Twitter chat to hear the buzz and share your perspective…

In this particular KMers chat we will grapple with four key questions, i.e.:

  1. What do you see as the biggest challenge in monitoring KM at the moment?
  2. Who to involve and who to convince when monitoring KM?
  3. What have been useful tools and approaches to monitor KM initiatives?
  4. Where is M&E of KM headed? What are the most promising trends (hot issues) on the horizon?

This discussion ties in closely with a couple of posts on this topic on this blog (see for instance this and that post) and three on IKM-Emergent programme’s The Giraffe blog (see 1, 2 and 3). Simon Hearn, Valerie Brown, Harry Jones and I are on the case.

Back on this KMers’ chat, here is an outlook on some issues at stake – I think:

Fig. 1 The starting model we are using for monitoring KM (credits: S. Hearn)

  • KM is not well defined and the very idea of ‘monitoring’ knowledge (related to the M in KM) is fallacious – this is partly covered in this post. What does this mean in terms of priorities defined behind a KM approach? What is the epistemology (knowledge system) guiding KM work in a given context?
  • KM is often monitored or assessed from the perspective of using intangible assets to create value. Is this the real deal? Perhaps monitoring may look at various dimensions: knowledge processes and initiatives (inputs & activities), intangible assets (outputs), behaviour changes and ultimately valuable results (outcomes and impact). See fig. 1 for a representation of this model.
  • In this, where should we monitor/assess knowledge, knowledge management, knowledge sharing and possibly all knowledge-focused processes – from the knowledge value chain or another reference system?
  • Monitoring is itself a contested practice that is sometimes associated with only the simple focus of ‘progress monitoring’ i.e. establishing the difference between the original plan and the reality, to prove whether the plan is accomplished or not. Where is the learning in this? What is more valuable: to prove or to improve? And could we not consider that monitoring of KM should arguably look at other valuable monitoring purposes (like: capacity strengthening, self-auditing for transparency, sensitisation, advocacy etc. (3)?
  • With respect to the different epistemologies and ontologies (world views), isn’t it sensible to explore the different knowledge communities (see slide 8 on Valerie Brown’s presentation on collective social learning) and expectations of the parties involved in monitoring/ assessing KM? After all, the monitoring commissioner, implementer and ultimate beneficiary (client) may have a totally different view point on the why, what and how of monitoring KM.
  • If we take it that monitoring moves beyond simple progress monitoring and does not simply rest upon SMART indicators and a shopping basket for meaningless numbers, what are useful approaches – both quantitative and qualitative – that can help us understand the four dimensions of KM monitoring mentioned above and do this with due consideration for the context of our knowledge activities?
  • And finally what can we expect will be the future pointers of this discussion? I am thinking here both in terms of broadening the conceptual debate, looking at promising new approaches (such as the semantic web and its possibilities to map contextualised information, Dave Snowden’s Sense Maker, Rick Davies’s most recent work on the basis of his old Most Significant Change method) or developing a more practical approach to make sense of knowledge and to support the work of KMers (us), our patrons, our partners and our beneficiaries / clients?
  • Do you have case studies or stories about the issues sketched above?

Hopefully, further down the line, we may have a clearer idea as to turning what is too often a costly and tiresome exercise into an exciting opportunity to prove the value of knowledge-focused work and to improve our practices around it…

If you are interested in this topic or want to find out more about KMers’ chats, please check in on 16 February and join the chat; oh, and spread the word!


(1)    KMers is an initiative that was started in late 2009 and has already generated a few excellent discussions (the last one was about knowledge for innovation), usually hosted on Tuesday around 1800 CET (Central European Time). The chats Twitter-based and always involve a group of dedicated KM heads that are really passionate and savvy about the broad topic of knowledge management.

(2)    By monitoring we mean here the ‘follow up of the implementation of programme activities AND periodic assessment of the relevance, performance, efficiency and impact of a piece of work with respect to its stated objectives’ as regularly carried out in the development sector. In this respect we include the purposes of evaluation in monitoring as well. In the corporate world I guess you would translate this in regular assessment. Monitoring / assessment may happen by means of measurement and other methods.

(3)    A forthcoming IKM-E paper by Joitske Hulsebosch, Sibrenne Wagenaar and Mark Turpin refers to the nine different purposes for monitoring, that Irene Guijt proposed in her PhD ‘Seeking Surprise’ (2008). These purposes are: Financial accountability, Operational improvement, Strategic readjustment, Capacity strengthening, Contextual understanding, Deepening understanding, Self-auditing, Advocacy, Sensitisation).

Related blogposts: