What do I DO about learning?


I talk a lot about learning on this blog. Because in my definition of knowledge management, it’s a central part. So the equation is KM = CDL. But the conversation and documentation parts feed that learning. As is also the case in Jaap Pels’s KM framework:

Jaap Pels's KM framework

Jaap Pels’s KM framework

But what do I do exactly, concretely, at my level, both for myself and the initiatives I’m part of, to walk my talk on KM and learning?

Conversations (C)

I’m having many conversations with many people. But let’s focus on the conversations around KM perhaps. I’m having those conversations with colleagues in my team, in my organisation, in the projects I’m part of, in the networks I’m part of (KM4Dev first and foremost), and with a host of people I come across in the meetings and events I facilitate or if I just bump into them. Though because it’s difficult to explain what KM means and what I do about it, I don’t always jump on the topic of KM with them.

I’m also having lots of conversations online with my personal learning network. On this blog, obviously, but also on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on Google+, on others’ blogs. Here’s how I do it for now:

  • I rarely use Facebook for KM, unless there’s something that matters to a much wider group of people than the KM community
  • I use Google+ more for the KM-focused conversations, as I use that social network in a rather professional perspective. But I don’t engage on Google+ very much these days
  • I comment on others’ blogs when their topics really strongly resonate with my interests – it’s the ‘engagement’ gift of attention that I use here. And occasionally I refer to posts on my own blog on these comments
  • I use Twitter to post information but occasionally to also react on others’ contents, to share perspectives. The limitations of characters put a boundary to this engagement though
  • On LinkedIn I also react on others’ writing and sometimes I participate to conversations from groups, but again it has to be something that is very close to my heart because I don’t spend much time on LinkedIn otherwise

And I’m having a conversation with myself on this blog, when I think about topics or I play with ideas that I would like to put to blogging later.

Back to learning, some of these conversations are totally open and free-for-all, and others are exploratory, intentional. At a certain stage some of these intentional conversations become more analytical, including the conversation with myself on this blog. And that’s how I prepare for learning, as I also move on to…

Documentation (D)

This is the part where some of the thoughts and insights I’ve had with people have resonated so much that I need to put them in writing (and also because my memory’s not that great and ‘stuff’ disappears from my brain’s hard drive if I don’t capture it in a way or another).

The ways I document these insights?

  • Obviously on this blog, when a thought is sufficiently well-formed in my mind
  • But usually before that I put them in a proto-blog on TumblR, or on a Google doc where I list my ideas for the blog
  • I also capture some insights on Twitter at times, and I probably should do more to connect that with my TumblR and blog
  • I note down most conversations I’m part of, on my Samsung note app or in Word on my computers
  • In my organisation, I also document some of these insights on our Yammer network(s), and on our LinkedIn group or other such platforms
  • There are other blogs I use to document reflections, for instance the Maarifa blog we have at ILRI comms/KM to document all the work we do on comms and KM

In most conversations I end up, I actually keep track of the main insights and ‘to do’s’ as it seems I’m not the only one who tends to forget what was said in the absence of written records, so it’s useful for me and all to take notes.

For me, putting things in writing is one of the surest ways to remember things and make sure I act upon them, so it’s part of that intentionality that I think is a crucial accelerator of learning.

2014-01-06 Learn how you learn//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Learning (L)

And finally learning is really the combination of these elements. But I do other things to sharpen my learning:

  • I ask for feedback a lot – from my colleagues and friends, from you readers of this blog, because I value that feedback as one of the best ways to go forward and grow
  • I also have a daily after action review to find out what I think I did well and what I could have improved, and at the end of the week I review these for the entire week and reflect a bit more on what I want to or would do with these insights
  • I try new activities every so often (e.g. Yoga, meditation, running) and I try to use them to also improve my own learning, not pushing it but seeing if it helps. And for instance running helps me generate ideas, meditating helps me shift my attention to other important aspects etc.
  • In planning my work I also take a bit of time reflecting on the ways I do my work (single and double loop learning)
  • And as much as possible, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, I try to reflect on holidays over my life and work. This is when I consider the ways I learn (triple loop learning). Though with two young children that I love, I find it quite difficult to block that quality time.

What are your practices around conversing, documenting and/or learning generally and specifically? What do you think about the above and what is missing you think?

learning//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Related blog posts:

 

Sharing and learning: the ‘glue and grease’ of comms and (I)KM


The ‘glue and grease’ – what a horrible expression!!!

The glue and grease: sharing/learning (Credits: GaryPuppa)

The glue and grease: sharing/learning (Credits: GaryPuppa)

 

The first time I heard a former colleague of mine use that expression to refer to the role of communication I didn’t like it either.

But I’ve got to say that until I find a better expression for it, it’s a pretty accurate description of what our (then) comms team was supposed to be to others: the glue that brings everyone together, and the grease that lets knowledge flow easily.

But the ‘glue and grease’ only happens when the sharing (and learning) in KM comes together with communication.

Not many organisations have a KM unit that covers knowledge sharing. Not many companies have a comms team that looks into the learning and sharing that true agile KM offers… In a typical (research for) development organisation, one finds a ‘comms’ unit that typically takes care of media contacts, press releases, corporate communication and public relations, and generally publications. It’s the ‘big mouth’ of an organisation. And then one finds a ‘KM’ unit which essentially is an information management unit taking care of databases and portals and all kinds of information systems etc. That’s the ‘legs’. But where are the hands and arms that join forces and the brains that connect all actions with intentions?

The glue and grease is the sharing and learning (not in a literal, respective manner). And it’s time to bring comms and KM together, to power comms with KM inside, to pay a central attention to processes of sharing and learning. So: what are you doing in your organisation or environment, to ensure there is this glue and grease?

And add that to your process literacy kit, please 😉

Image from page 344 of "Anthony's photographic bulletin for .." (1870)

Related blog posts:

What are you waiting for? Become a knowledge manager NOW!


Suffering from email overload?

Spending too much time finding information you need?

Feeling isolated and need to meet new people?

Annoyed by the fact you may be reinventing the wheel a little all too often?

Stuck in old habits and interested in new ways of working?

Want to work more smartly and get more out of your time?

KM might make you happier and wiser (Credits: Happy Buddha by Doug Wheller / FlickR)

KM might make you happier and wiser (Credits: Happy Buddha by Doug Wheller / FlickR)

Pick yours, but there are many good reasons to become a knowledge manager. Here and now!

Indeed, as illustrated in various writings, including the recent ‘7 habits of successful knowledge managers‘, here are some of the direct and indirect benefits to becoming a knowledge manager:

Direct benefits:

Indirect benefits:

Well, enjoying all the above may not be that automatic, but really chances are you will reap a lot of these.

So the next question is: when will you become a knowledge manager?

And the question after that: Will you move away from the KM field after that? That’s what seems to happen to a lot of KM folks…

Related blog posts:

 

How to navigate complexity in M&E and where KM can help


What’s happening in the world of monitoring and evaluation?

How is complexity – the thinking and the reality – affecting it, highlighting gaps and creating opportunities?

What can KM help to do about this?

Here are some of the questions that this Prezi addresses.

I’ll be presenting this in the course of next week at a retreat on M&E.

This is a draft, so please let me know what you think so I can improve this last minute, still before it is uploaded on official channels 😉

Related blog posts:

Institutional memory (making) and learning across project silos


Every (smart) development organisation wants to be a ‘learning organisation’. It’s perhaps a doomed enterprise, or a red herring. But there is one thing that every organisation can do to reduce its silos: to learn across its various projects and programs (let’s call them projects here).

How to ensure projects share the best lessons from one another like a champagne fountain? (Credits - KievCaira)

How to ensure projects share the best lessons from one another like a champagne fountain? (Credits – KievCaira)

Developments projects are rich learning grounds, since most development (cooperation) work follows a trial-and-error process – it’s not necessarily condemnable actually.

The basic idea is that the lessons learnt at the end of the project are carried over to subsequent projects, developing the institutional memory. Perhaps it happens, but not always. Yet it could happen throughout the lifetime of projects, not just at the end – continuous institutional memory making. Remember process documentation and related approaches?

Yet that doesn’t happen much. Everyone’s too busy. Projects take time to find their own dynamics, to create their common language, to develop trust among key parties, to get all parties involved in the transformative part where they start developing greater than the sum of the parts and start thinking outside their project box.

So let’s have a shoot at learning across project silos and explore what could be useful ways to learn and share that learning…

What could be interesting ways to learn across project silos?

Usually, projects are mostly concerned with the ‘what to do’. Few are wondering about the ‘why and how’ but this is sometimes just as important, if not even more important. The what is concerned with the activities and outputs that supposedly will bring success to the project. The why connects visions, ideals, perspectives and bonds people at a deeper level. The how is what makes or breaks a project and is the architecture that conjugates concepts and visions with actions and responsibilities. What skills, methods and processes are required to achieve the project objectives.

Why is universal and important to share in order to influence the culture (and the soul) of the organisation as a whole (across its projects), it’s what helps generate principles that guide whole groups of people and generate energy. What is usually very much focused on each project and perhaps the least share-able part of a project (because we focus so much on this partly explains why we don’t spend more time sharing across projects). How is rich in lessons, ideas, capacity development tips and tricks, tutorials and materials that guide the effective implementation of activities, and it relates to other questions such as who (a critical question), when and where etc.

So what can be learnt across projects?

Why Principles, political agendas, drives and motivations of the organization, culture, soul, mission and purpose, (implied) leadership model, assumptions about impact pathways
What Activities, outputs, assumptions about impact pathways
How Conceptual frameworks and mental models, approaches, tools and methods, guidelines and tutorials to use these, identification of capacities (knowledge and know-how) necessary to achieve objectives
Who Mapping of actors, their agendas, the nature and strength of their relationship, the density of the network, who are the connectors, who are the isolated nodes, where are opportunities to reinforce the social fabric among actors
Where Spatial scales and geographic mapping of actors and their activities
When Temporal scales and pacing of actors and their actions and of influence pathways over time

So how can we effectively learn across projects?

There are a few pre-requisites that make this learning more likely to take place:

  • A conscious approach to documenting change and willing to use what has been collected to inform activities – and a place where that documentation is easily accessible for others.
  • Realising what is good to capitalise on, in a project – the unique selling point or added value of that project;
  • A flexible monitoring and evaluation framework that embeds this learning in adaptive management;
  • Good relations among project teams and a willingness to share for a wider collective benefit – be it the organisation or anything beyond.

And there are many ways we can build that cross-pollination and learning among projects:

If we made all these aspects more explicit in each project, we could organise share fairs among projects to assess how we are looking at the rationale and ideal of the project (the why-related issues), how we are thinking of relating all activities in the project’s impact pathway (the what-related issues) and how we are thinking about capacity development and concrete approaches and methods to implement the project (the how-related issues).

Simple meetings to zoom in on one aspect of the table would also help to come up with simple and concrete guidelines that bring together the experiences and insights from various projects.

Developing fact sheets about the methods and approaches used would itself help understand the how factor better.

Planning organisational retreats to zoom in among others on the ‘why’ would also inform a collective design of projects and reinforce conditions for learning across projects.

Systematic reviews of these different aspects as part of the M&E or process documentation – undertaken or shared with other projects’ proponents – could also help cross-pollinate better.

Developing project proposals that relate to the same set of issues would also help make these projects more comparable and easy to learn from one another.

Inviting another project team in another project’s workshop is another way to share across projects.

Of course, relying on people to cross-pollinate individually (as they end up working in different projects) is another way but a slower and perhaps more hazardous one – as it also requires those people to have solid personal knowledge management and to consciously carry over lessons from the past to the present and future.

So, there really many ways to learn across these projects. Now that we are conscious of what it takes, what are we waiting for?

Related blog posts:

Musings about learning about action about change in an Exchange


Last week I was on the premises of the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) in the UK co-facilitating an interesting Knowledge Exchange about ‘Acting on what we know and how we learn for climate and development policy‘.

Together with fellow co-facilitators Pete Cranston and Carl Jackson and with the benediction of the CGIAR research program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS – with respect to the work we are doing together around the social learning sandbox) we embarked on a triple-loop learning journey…

Social change, mixing learning and action (credits - APC Women)

Social change, mixing learning and action (credits – APC Women)

The design of the event was ambitious in as far as we hoped to induce all participants into a triple loop social learning journey that would reveal and challenge our assumptions out in the open and map the way to action and change – in this case for climate change.

Our plan was simple: look at what we have learnt so far (single loop social learning), what we could do to change this (double loop) and how we might go beyond our current perceptions and unearth new jointly defined solutions to some of our problems (triple loop). Pete already shared his views about the event and what answers, questions and insights it brought forward. Some more posts may be coming and will be shared here. Here are mine, as they relate to the focus of this blog on learning for social change.

Of learning…

We all said it and all felt it: triple loop learning didn’t (really) happen. The kind of transformation that is alluded to in triple loop learning can only really take place with most, if not all, of these ingredients:

  • A full cycle of moving from learning to action and back to learning and back to action and… More about action below, but the point is: working together over time induces triple loop learning because it stimulates…
  • Trust, which leads to understanding each other’s perspectives and the assumptions below. We just surfaced some of these assumptions in the event but did not really went beyond. There was initial mutual exchange and interest but the deeper the trust  the more profound the learning as we can explore rougher edges and less comfortable areas.
  • Multiple and complementary – not similar – perspectives and ‘knowledges’. This was perhaps crucially missing in our event since the majority of participants were Northern academics (a really nice group at that!). All very different of course but with a broadly common socio-cultural and professional background.
  • More time for individual and collective reflection – across three stretches of 1.5 hours  of group work, we hardly had the time to elicit that collective reflection leading to the generation of properly new insights.
  • A collective agenda (not necessarily a common one but one that brings each agenda into a collage) that pushes all to stay on course and go through the ups and downs of engaging with different visions, languages, capacities…

It was only naive of us to hope to achieve any of this in a workshop, even though a good deal of single loop and double loop learning did take place and helped us understand what we have done in the past and what we could do in the near future.

Ha, the near future…

…leading to action…

Is there much purpose for learning that does not lead to action? Knowledge to do what? We did have a marketplace of actions, insights and commitments towards the end of the workshop but I have to confess I am quite skeptical about the intention and capacity (time and attention!) of participants to keep true to their words.

Dealing with elephants in the room like 'power', a prerequisite for learning to ACT! (Credits - Michelle Mockbee)

Dealing with elephants in the room like ‘power’, a prerequisite for learning to ACT! (Credits – Michelle Mockbee)

One of the groups was candid enough to mention that the ideal picture they had developed over the event was not going to happen because of the general inertia of the (policy) system to do anything about our findings. They were probably right. But frankly, shouldn’t we worry about having (great!) conversations that lead to no action? Perhaps we need to turn our reflection up side down and gear ourselves up to action from the start.

I did find a few useful elements in the Knowledge Exchange to think about the linkage between learning and action in such settings:

  • Address the elephants in the room. Power is one of them. Ignoring these big drivers is  unrealistic, yet ending our reflections with them leads to that powerless feeling that none of this matters and nothing will ever change anyway because we’re facing a big challenge. Instead, one group really addressed such issues from the start and got to a very good start in identifying smaller but useful steps to act upon our learning. 
  • Thinking again about the commitments of our participants, we seem to be onto re-evaluating what happened after the workshop in 3, 6, 12, perhaps 18 months… this would be great to help everyone realise that we have to challenge our assumptions about action also.
  • Related to that light evaluation, there is perhaps something to say about facilitating learning for change. Without a finger on the pulse, a (group of) guardian(s) of the action temple, words remain up the air and action has difficulty following learning. This is one of the lessons of that CCSL sandbox mentioned above: the active presence and intervention of knowledge gardeners increases the fertilisation of beautiful knowledge trees.
  • Action finds a fertile ground in tighter-knit groups. Where social capital has been built, the lessons unearthed in an event find a more hopeful pathway to be a seed for something else which might be…

…leading to change…?

Change, like wisdom, is not only difficult to reach – and easy to be reluctant about – but it’s also quite elusive. In a typically complex manner, it is the subtle result of many inter-connections, inter-weavings and interactions, on a long temporal scale and often a multi-layered geographic scale. Even if action happens, and even if it builds on learning, it may not be the guarantee that change itself comes about.

The Knowledge Exchange helped relate change to action and learning:

  • Don’t we just need – as individuals and collectives – to do something about change, genuinely, in a militant sort of way? That’s what I read through Dave Pollard’s writings too. In that sense, realising we may not be able to change the system is – in my humble opinion – simply not acceptable if we care about purposeful learning. 
  • Don’t we yet also need precisely a purpose – and a good timing – for learning and change? In his post, Pete relayed this impression from a participant that we may only act upon our learning and effect change within ourselves much after an event – like dormant sentinels of change ready to be activated when the occasion presents itself?
  • As civic-driven initiatives teach us and some ideas about embarking on an agile KM enterprise, we have to work with the existing ground – the ‘enabling environment’. That is where the large institutional picture comes in, and where social learning is a really promising avenue for social change. Work with what is there already, rather than with (only) an aspirational ideal that ignores the current situation.
  • Real change happens when individuals and collectives coalesce. All the work we have done in groups, as one plenary group and as individuals in this event, to challenge our assumptions and think about what we have learned and what we can do about it is a set of inputs that sooner or later may contribute to a general direction of change. We may not be able to evaluate it, to attribute it or to learn deeply enough about it, but change happens this way anyhow.

So what then?

If I consider that we had fun as facilitators, and that most participants seem to have learned something and to have enjoyed themselves, the Exchange was – despite all shortcomings – quite successful. And as facilitators we always have a slightly different take from an event.

As for triple loop social learning, well, the Knowledge Exchange was a sort of mini-lab to think about it. If anything, we’ve understood that the required scales of time, space and engagement depth are simply not going to happen in such a short setting. Yet, some seeds are planted and, who knows: if social learning is not affected by climate change too badly, we might see new knowledge gardens flourish over time, pollinated thanks to the distant breeze of a Knowledge Exchange.

Related blog posts:

The path to wisdom is paved with effectiveness, focus, humility and empathy


“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

― Confucius.

Wisdom features highly in the world of knowledge management. One of the biggest heresies it has produced, the erroneous DIKW pyramid (which I also questioned here and here), is putting wisdom at the pinnacle of a pyramidal meaning structure starting with data.

Seeking wisdom is like exploring Terra Incognita

Seeking wisdom is like exploring Terra Incognita

I want to find out what wisdom really might mean in (agile) KM. Much has been told about wisdom. Yet it is a very elusive definition.

My going in position? Wisdom is accumulated experience and expertise which allows us to activate our knowledge in a more effective way, both in terms of the intervention (the content of it) and of the process to bring it about (the process of that intervention). It is a reflection of an ingrained practice of triple loop learning which helps find a more appropriate response to a challenge we’re facing, an issue we’re grappling with or an idea we’re battling with.

In some ways, if we consider that in a field we accumulate some experience (some knowledge – as the sum of insights we have about that field), it looks as though we are exploring that field as if we were unraveling the map of that field, bit by bit, with some recognized borders and ‘unknown lands’. In the process, we are unraveling the complexity of all the interactions in that field – the horizontal connections between different items, actors and factors of that field as well as the vertical connections, the deeper understanding of the structure of things and how they work in and of themselves – and across, with adjacent fields.

Moving from unknown unknown to unconscious known... on the quest to wisdom?

Moving from unknown unknown to unconscious known… on the quest to wisdom?

As we explore that field, we progressively understand its arcane principles, its ‘buttons and levers’ which when activated produce the best results, the political economy of that field, the chain of consequences that might be set off by an initiative, or for lack of causal relations the bigger picture of that complex and fine mess. We also keep on making the ‘known unknown’ known and to turn the ‘unknown unknown’ as a ‘known unknown’ (see the graph).

This is perhaps where I think wisdom might be nested, or easier to perceive: wisdom gives us both a) shortcuts to relate to the greater over-arching principles, the sources of power and the ways to activate a field b) a finer perception of how difficult that is and what consequences are and perhaps more importantly c) another reality call to understand that really what we have to put up with is a whole lot more complex than we first thought it was and d) an appreciation of the inputs from others and interdependencies that matter in the field (we get more socially connected or at least warmer to others’ efforts).

Wisdom thus helps us get more effective, more thoughtful, more humble and more empathetic. And as Confucius says there are various ways to sharpen our wisdom. But in the end perhaps Socrates got down to the essence of it all:

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
― Socrates.

As such, this teaches us that wisdom management is a complete aberration and that what matters is to carry on trying and reflecting. Learning has no end indeed.

Related blog posts:

And while at that, here’s a selection of supposedly wise quotes from supposedly wise men.

Thank you all for your great support – and a merry Christmas and happy holidays!


Dear readers, commenters, likers, raters, followers, friends and others,

Thank you for your great support! (Credits - Woodleywonderworks)

Thank you for your great support! (Credits – Woodleywonderworks)

One more year of blogging. The first year – over the past five years of blogging – when I have managed to consistently blog throughout the year, month in, month out. 63 posts. Many comments, quite some likes and ratings. A good year.

This is all thanks to you 🙂 Thanks to your interactions on this blog, on Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Your readership makes this blog worth keeping up and I can’t express my gratitude warmly enough for engaging with me and my posts and helping me reflect continually at different levels and conversing with the quality hearts and minds that you have.

As I am going on home leave for the end of the year, looking back at this good year, here are some final reflections, with some inspiration from John Stepper’s reflection post about   his first 1.5 years of blogging.

The 5 most successful (most viewed) posts this year were:

  1. Portrait of the modern knowledge worker
  2. Tinkering with tools: what’s up with Yammer?
  3. Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
  4. Settling the eternal semantic debate: what is knowledge, what is information
  5. What the heck is knowledge anyways: from commodity to capacity and insights

The 10 posts I enjoyed writing most were:

This year has also seen the development of a Pinterest board about this blog. It’s a nicer way to navigate through a see of posts (152 to date). You reckon?

Next year I sure will come back to blogging with renewed energy, ideas and inspiration, about the content and the process of learning. Holidays are great for that: they feed learning by letting parts of your brain rest while activating others and stimulating our hearts… well at least mine in this case.

So have (hopefully) great holidays and Christmas if that means something to you, and see you in 2012! And again MANY MANY THANKS. I hope to keep exploring the role of knowledge work in social change and development work thanks to you and with you next year and beyond.

Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année !

Harvesting insights (5) KM / Over rated or under the radar


KM overrated / under-rated? (Credits - BrazenApparel)

KM overrated / under-rated? (Credits – BrazenApparel)

Knowledge management, as a field, is no longer hyped. It has gone under the radar. As a practice, however, it keeps surviving and remains useful. But some of its past life is still lingering, pumping up absurd expectations among (knowledge) managers. So it’s time to review some of the over-rated expectations that people once (or still) bestowed upon KM – and some of the ‘under the radar’ features that KM can help fix.

Over-ratedStocking and managing knowledge

Although this was the main credo of various KM initiatives from the first KM generation, it still pervades some organisations that want to set up lessons learnt databases, that want to stock everything they do. Lost cause. Bottomless pit of quickly failing and fading relevance…Let go of stock approaches. And managing knowledge is impossible.

Cultivating future leadership (Credits - Neighborhoodcentersinc)

Cultivating future leadership (Credits – Neighborhoodcentersinc)

Under the radarCultivating knowledge and leadership

Instead, how about ensuring that knowledge flows and is applied to solving problems? And what about developing a strong focus on personal  knowledge management, personal and collective effectiveness, personal and collective decision-making and the development of leadership? Don’t build knowledge silos, build and encourage knowledge leadership through ongoing cross-culture conversations and action-focused meetings.

Over-ratedIn the interest of the organisation only

Granted, we work in organisations to serve their purposes. But keeping a blind eye to our personal aspirations is a massively missed opportunity to brace the motivation of staff. Expecting that we all work only in the interest of the organisation is a misconceived, obsolete take on employees. No one ever starts working for an organisation hoping to be there 30 years later any longer. So open to your employees’ aspirations.

Under the radarIn the interest of the organisation first

On the other hand, granting staff the liberty to work on their own projects and initiatives – provided that they might serve the organisation ultimately – that is a useful way forward. And that is the success behind Google Friday. KM in 2012 (and 2013) is all about using social media and enhancing personal knowledge management, in the interest of the organisation and that of the employee.

Over-ratedIn the organisation network only

Directly deriving from the above, we have been focusing too long on the organisation’s network (if on any network at all). This is what causes very fuzzy discussions in any organisation about ‘who are our partners?’, ‘how do we define partners?’, ‘what do we do with which partners?’. Being aware of the constellations of organisations around which a company evolves is obviously important, but it’s not enough.

Under the radarInterweaving networks 

Social network analysis has become an important tool of the networked society we live in. And indeed this tool has helped us refine our understanding of network dynamics. Of the distinction between institutional and individual networks, of professional and personal networks, of peer and alternative networks, of conversational and coordinating networks, of our main network and all other networks on the edges, of central nodes and outliers. And there is much we can benefit from using this refined understanding in the way we weave conversations and relations around the organisations we work in. With social media we are all spiders on the web and our webs gain from mingling with each other. Recognising the contributions of our individual connections to the work that our organisations can deliver is equally crucial. We are no longer in the organisation-centric network age but rather in the age of network-centric organisations…

Over-ratedIntranets

Traditional intranets fail (Credits - Teale & Shapcott)

Traditional intranets fail (Credits – Teale & Shapcott)

So many articles talking about intranets and their shortcomings. Let’s face it, (traditional) intranets have generally failed to deliver on their promises. For wanting to be too much for too many, they have ended being too little to too few. A wrong balance setting between stock (important procedural information) and flow (news and updates), between information and conversation, between compliance-based reporting and trust-based sharing? I don’t know but clearly this is one over-rated expectation in the KM realm.

Under the radarInternal services at your fingertips.

Rather than expect people to visit an intranet and hope they will linger there (why would they), how about reaching out to staff habits, bringing internal services to their habits rather than forcing their habits to comply with the intranet? Developing a bespoke smartphone application with all kinds of useful internal services, creating a web browser toolbar giving access to all kinds of information from the organization, setting up widgets related to the organisation’s workflows… that might prove a much better track to ensure staff find and use handy information services, following current behaviours, not desired ones.

Over-ratedOne-stop shops

The delusion of one-stop shops is close to that of global information systems which I blogged about recently. It’s also close to that of intranets. No one system can realise all your wishes. You wish, but it’s not the case. So for all people struck by the YACC syndrome, unfortunately there’s not much hope for a solution soon. Even though Sharepoint seems to have improved hugely over time, many problems remain (see this conversation).

Under the radarConstellations of winners

Instead of one-stop shops, KM can be mobilised to connect ‘winner platforms’, champions of their services (e.g. Slideshare for presentations, Yammer for conversations, wikis for collaboration etc.). By means of RSS feeds, interlinking platforms, connecting work processes across platforms, it’s possible to ensure that a set of different platforms converse with one another and form a winning constellation. The services they will accommodate will be much stronger than any one-stop shop. And if password management is an issue, there are password manager solutions out there.

Over-ratedThe Golden Folder structure

Before we realised that information was going to overwhelm us anyhow, we believed that we could come up with a logical, clean and clear folder structure to let information get found by anyone. No need to emphasise the cruel delusion of this aspiration. I have yet to come across an organisation’s set of shared network folders that staff do not describe as ‘a big mess’, ‘a big dump’, ‘a big nightmare’. And once again, we reinforce the heresy of thinking that everyone would order information in folders the way we do… Not so, alas…

Under the radarThe big search

A former colleague of mine was always a fervent advocate of a great search facility over a logically ordered folder structure. His approach has come of age – so this one is not so much under the radar – and I am happy that more and more effort is put into developing strong search capacity, following the Google trail. And together with the big search comes the big filter that well-manicured social networks provide. A wonderful set of mirrors to global content, which help us find the gems out there.

Over-ratedExpertise databases

I plead guilty for this. I once thought it would be great to have databases explaining who’s good at what, who has what knowledge and know-how. But let’s face it: we never use those databases when they are in place. Because we know the people. Because these systems are more often than not out of date. And because we don’t all have the same understanding of a field of expertise. I don’t believe in expertise databases any longer.

Re-creating the socialising magic of water cooler conversations (Credits - Rich Lem's)`

Re-creating the socialising magic of water cooler conversations (Credits – Rich Lem’s)

Under the radar: Expert watercoolers

Rather than sustain a system that is doomed, best is to unravel the expertise of in-house people in exercises and assignments. Working together, with as many people as possible, that’s the best option to let awareness of various expertises permeate the fabric of the organisation or network. Re-creating, as it were, the socialising magic of watercoolers to find out more about each other and each other’s work. Using the power of informality. As much as possible, as wide as possible.

Over-ratedSocial media galore (be there)

The tool obsession is particularly present in the social media world, with all its bells and whistles. So tempting to try it all out (and we should, that’s the best way to learn what works for us or not) and to let it be without further thought. But we can’t just let social media proliferate. As mentioned in the social media guide ILRI and AfricaAdapt released a few months back, every social media outlet we open is a shop window to ourselves (whether organisations or persons) and if we don’t manage those outlets well, it reflects badly upon us. So step back and think about why you want to choose social media.

Under the radarSocial media purpose

Or social media with purpose! Once you know what you want to achieve with social media, it becomes a lot easier to decide the mix of social media you’ll be using. It doesn’t prevent you from exploring new tools, but perhaps you can explore with some process in mind to make out the wheat from the chaff. Better invest in a small set that you use well than a large set of tools that reverberate and amplify your inability to cope with the social world.

Over-ratedThe KM silver bullet big bang

Another avatar of the 50-cent approach? Lots of people still think that a big bang KM approach will come solve all the problems. One system that will solve all the issues. One initiative that will mysteriously remove all the hurdles. With such ambitions, how to resist heralding a KM initiative loud and clear? That’s the KM big bang approach. Mixed with silver bullet ambitions, it’s a clear recipe for a disaster and the guarantee of a backlash that will create a long term aversion to KM. In an article from 2009 I looked at this issue already. Managing expectations… that’s the secret for a happy life.

Under the radarShadow KM warriors

The opposite end of the spectrum is the stealth approach to KM. There are, in your organisation and networks, lots of people that are very effective KM agents – sometimes without realising. The best we can do is to highlight them as role models and to amplify their practices. #KMhappensanyway.

Over-ratedBig data

And now, as our servers’ hosting capacities and computers’ processing capabilities allow, we are moving into the ‘big data’ phase. Everyone wants big data, everyone wants to dig data and to come up with the best number-crunching systems. Of course we’d be foolish not to take advantage of big data. But ‘don’t believe the hype’! Or keep wary of it… Data can be dangerously manipulated, and it takes a fair amount of experience to be used well.

Under the radarWide learning

Instead of focusing on data, or even information which is ever expanding (for a couple of years we’ve known that every two days we double the amount of information available), we’d be well advised to focus on learning – the capacity to process information and turn it into knowledge – and to do that as widely as possible, involving as many people as possible. That’s the best guarantee to make sure we avoid any of the above-mentioned mistakes in the future…

Social learning strategy framework (Credits - Jay Cross)

Social learning strategy framework (Credits – Jay Cross)

So while there’s much we can do with KM, there’s much we can learn and un-learn from the past and there’s a lot of other ideas we can try out… Time for mature, dynamic, ever-learning agile KM, you reckon?

Related blog posts:

A journey through five years of blogging


On this day, exactly five years ago, I started blogging. On this very blog. My first time ever. Not a particularly great post actually. Nor many posts that followed that primal scream on the web.

Five years of blogging and much more coming (Credits: Stephen Mitchell)

Five years of blogging on KM & co. and much more coming (Credits: Stephen Mitchell)

But like for many others before (Leo Babauta, Harold Jarche, Irving Wladawsky-Berger and most recently Jeff Bullas in the corporate world), blogging has become a central part of my practice. A hobby. A habit. A drug. A source of comfort and peace. A source of intuition and emotions. A passion – shared… And many more useful things

So for this five-year anniversary I’d like to offer a journey through these five years of blogging, selecting some posts that may have gone unnoticed (or not) but really matter to me and characterise the various phases I went through in this blogging journey…

The genesis: confusion of a confusiast

That first post was by a confusiast, but it was also quite confused. I knew I wanted to blog about knowledge management (my main field [of interest]), about communication (my main activity), about monitoring and evaluation (my extended hobby, to focus on learning), about complexity (my main source of confusion and fascination) and other things that popped up in my brain along the way. And I did a bit of all that.

Perhaps the most important posts of that period were:

Back in that period, there was not much quality in my blogging generally (not to say I don’t have my bad blogging days now either): I hadn’t clarified my thoughts, sources of information (sites) and knowledge (people and networks) and had not yet found my writing style, I didn’t link, I didn’t have anyone to converse with… But most importantly I had started blogging and that hugely helped make sense of information over time…

Another asset was my connection with KM4Dev. It is perhaps the main reason that pushed me to blog, but also to tweet, to use Slideshare, Del.icio.us, FlickR, to facilitate workshops in a different way etc. So in a way that genesis period of blogging owes much to this great community which has always been an extraordinary source of inspiration.

The IRC period

My previous employer – the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) is a marvellous organisation, full of learning, innovation, critical thinking, autonomy and fun… so much so that I almost worked for 10 years there. IRC’s cutting edge work really gave me lots of inspiration for blogging before I really moved on to focusing on my own ‘pet topics’. So back in those days I blogged a lot about multi-stakeholder processes (such as learning alliances), process documentation, resource centre networks, sector learning generally.

This is a period during which I focused a lot on monitoring and evaluation (M&E), as I got more and more involved in that type of work. At any rate, most of my posts from that period related to the work I was doing at IRC.

Some blog posts I enjoyed writing, from that period:

My learning take at IRC

Progressively I defined my own route on the blogging seas and took more and more liberty to use my IRC work to reflect on broader topics of discussion. In that period I started to be involved in various initiatives that went beyond IRC: SA-GE the francophone KM4Dev network, the IKM-Emergent research programme, my work in the core group of KM4Dev and as KM4Dev journal editor, my involvement in the KMers group of Tweeters (backed by a much more thorough and consistent use of Twitter) etc.

This is where I also put more and more emphasis on learning in all my KM, comms and M&E work – realising that knowledge management was meant to serve that learning objective to improve, more than anything else – and that comms with learning (and sharing) was in my eyes a lot more valuable than comms with messages.

The blog posts from that period reflect that shift:

An escapist route?

As working at IRC became more of a burden – or fatigue – towards the end, I also shifted my focus even more on other topics and external networks that mattered to me: IKM-Emergent once again, but also the AgShare Fair group (which eventually led me to work for ILRI). During that period I also had a long blogging holiday as I went through a difficult period… only to come back with a renewed and firm commitment to blogging regularly, as I also realised I really enjoyed and needed it.

During the last 15 months of my time at IRC I therefore moved on from focusing on the IRC work to look more broadly at e.g. development work more generally, education, conditions for effectiveness etc.

Some of the blog posts from that period:

Working for ILRI

And then in November last year I started working for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in a fantastic team of really dedicated and good knowledge and information professionals. The bulk of my work when I started off working at ILRI revolved around facilitation (as you can see on this overview of events we supported, there were many workshops since November 2011). So it’s only normal that quite a few of my posts in this new phase have been around event and meeting facilitation.

But there have also been a few posts about the connection between communication and knowledge work / learning. Although my workload increased, paradoxically I have never been as active on this blog as since I joined ILRI, posting up to 3-4 posts some weeks. The work environment in our team and around its projects is stimulating enough that I find lots of matter to think and blog about.

Some blog posts from this period:

The work at ILRI is changing little by little and this means I might end up blogging about different matters…

(Agile) KM for me... and you? as a word cloud

(Agile) KM for me… and you? as a word cloud

The next fork on the road?

Now I’m still working for ILRI (for almost a year day for day, as I started on November 1, 2011) but also broadening my scope to other areas that reflect some of the relevant topics for ILRI and for me: information management, monitoring of knowledge work (re-delving into the IKM work I did on that but with an emphasis on practical routine indicators and ways to assess the use of our ‘knowledge work’), training people on information and knowledge management, complexity theories in the field of agriculture innovation systems, change management, agile KM and the importance of mobilising all people towards ongoing change…

I can’t see further than that, but perhaps you have ideas as to where I should focus my blogging and our conversations next?