Capacity development, organisational development, institutional change – The extended happy families of engagement

Encouraged by your comments on the post ‘Communication, KM, monitoring, learning – The happy families of engagement’, here is a follow up post attempting to complete the picture of the families of engagement. And despite my immediately previous post, this is the real final blog post for 2011.

So, the three main branches of the family have been mapped out (1): communication, knowledge management and monitoring. But as in any fascinating family, the engagement family has lots of extended branches that enrich the colourful engagement family tree. Here are just a few more that are worth considering:

Capacity development (image: AmuDarya basin)

Capacity development (image: AmuDarya basin)

The Capacity development branch. This branch aims at beefing up the potential of people to do their job better. And since work is better done together, it also focuses on engagement to get more people in its network. This part of the family kept changing names through history. It was originally known as training but its members said it was too restrictive a name for what the whole family does – so the first son kept that name but the whole family itself was re-baptised capacity building, but then it was accused of suggesting that capacity had to be built from scratch. So it became capacity development.

  • Training remains the most prominent son. Under pressure, however, it changed its approach. Where it used to bring people together intensively for two to three weeks, it now invites people for a couple or more days but repeats this exercise across a more extensive period and with more sustained interactions in and between training sessions. It seems to work out better for him now: Engagement around a process rather than just an event. Despite those more recent changes, it is still challenged by other branch members.
  • A sister in the lot is coaching. She has been around for a long time, in fact a much longer time than training although in the old age she was rather known as mentoring and apprenticeship. Her objective is to follow the practice of people over much longer time, to assess that practice in situ, identify good practices and provide a safe space to make mistakes and improve; her approach thus aims at giving better advice, going more deeply in the perspective of excelling at a function and of benefitting from others’ experience. Coaching is thus all about deep, not wide engagement.
  • Quite a few even younger siblings are coming to light: exchange visits, job rotation etc. For this branch of the family, learning is also essential. And it has become increasingly virtual in the past few years. The capacity development branch has been in touch with the distance learning relatives and this is really bringing engagement across various means of communication. Some are jealous of the booming business of this branch – certainly in the development/cooperation arena.
Organisational Development - too top down to fare well today?

Organisational Development

In contrast, the organisational development branch is not enjoying much wind in its sails these days. It is very close to the organisational learning brother in the KM family and it is basically concerned with all the ways that an organisation can perform more effectively. In fact, some argue that this is not really a branch in its own but rather a clan bringing different relatives together from the KM, communication, capacity development and monitoring branches.

  • The one person that rallies all of them under this banner however is the ambitious organisational leadership. Driven by entrepreneurship, this cocky lad is quite happy to shine brightly and show its managerial capacities. But it does so with a purpose: to bring the organisation to the next level. So it’s not pure flash and tack. He knows that without having a sincere goal that transcends self interest, it will never manage to bring the people that form organisation to that next level – so engagement has to be its mantra.
  • To ease this job, he is backed by his more distant cousin group dynamics, who knows how to get teams to work together and contribute to the bigger organisation. It is easier to rely on well-functioning teams than high individual performers only. Yet it’s still not enough.
  • Organisational learning is thus part of this family enterprise to make sure that group dynamics works in accordance with the goal and perceives the value of its successful efforts and the lessons of its not so successful ventures.
  • Change management also joins the club sometimes, to give advice from a system perspective, because the branch realises that it’s not possible to develop an organisation without adopting a broader perspective of systemic change. He is however much more related to the next branch of the family, the institutional change.

Some views on this branch even relate it to action research. It’s unclear where exactly this branch fits… and it is handing over to…

Institutional development

Institutional development

The Institutional change branch: close to the ‘organisational development’ branch, this family has a slightly broader look. It really aims at having a wider effect than the organisational clan. This branch believes in large scale engagement and logically talks a lot about systems thinking, change management and complexity. Subsequently, it is sometimes accused of being delusional (‘how can you achieve change at such a large scale?’) or too intellectual (‘you and your systems!‘). But for all this, it is enjoying a great wave of popularity at the moment.

  • The patriarch of this branch is institutional development. He is a reformed organisational development relative who has decided to branch out and look outside the organisational box. He quickly perceived the importance of the context surrounding the organisation if change is the overall objective. Engagement was in his DNA and he first looked at the edges of the organisation: the networks and personal relations that evolve as conscious or unconscious satellites of the organisation. He moved into networks and foundations, collective units of organisation, including legal aspects (statutes) etc. He has now brothers and sisters that adequately complement his ambitions technically and ethically.
  • Multi-stakeholder processes are the twin brothers and sisters that want to bring all kinds of people together to connect, learn and act together. They are very demanding, they eat a lot of resources (time and money) and they really need someone to help facilitating their interactions. But they offer a relatively practical solution for this branch’s objectives of wide scale engagement. Next to institutional development’s approach of changing organisations, they propose to combine forces between organisations; and that just fits the family ethos.
  • Social change is the turbulent little sister. She cries for social justice, she craves freedom, empowerment and engagement in favour of the (more) socially-deprived. Engagement is her main strategy and she wants to mobilise all her family members to help in this. She’s not considered very serious by some family members, but she knows that some extraordinary figures from the past are on her side, the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. And she also knows that focusing on changing people one by one is a long but right track to flip institutions over too.

A family in transition?

It’s worth noting a few trends affecting the main families of engagement:

In the main communication branch, two trends are moving things around. Every family evolves over time to espouse the zeitgeist and practical arrangements that come with it:

  • On the one hand, the communication branch is going ‘strategic’. This is the new motto to bring all family members in the same car for a journey to visit their contacts (their audiences) and have them come together as one, to align their methods and skills. In practice, having all members onboard does not mean that they play a melodious tune together. And the journey can be quite chaotic. But you have to praise the comms family for its intention to have one whole family experience. There’s chances that if they keep doing such journeys, one day they will play a beautiful tune together.
  • On the other hand when the family goes on a journey to developing countries, and perhaps as a result of going ‘strategic’, the communication family is really moving away from their original ‘messages’ approach. It was too uni–directional. They have all realised to some extent the value of genuine bilateral engagement.
  • Some elements of the family are coming back in the picture. It’s the case with coaching but also with the wild cousin storytelling mentioned in the previous ‘happy families’ post. is actually an age-old family member who’s been passing through the history of his engagement relatives time and time again to tell his tales and disappear again. He is celebrated again these days – is it yet another hype or is storytelling going to stick around this time?

Finally, much could be said about all the other clans evolving next to the engagement family. Some commenters mentioned artistic expression, psychology, I would add humour and jokes and all kinds of other related groups that gravitate around the engagement family and other families too.

At the end of the day, regardless of the specific portrait of each family, and regardless of their current and possible future transitions, what matters is that all these families contribute to more engagement across the board and in a networked way. In this sense, the elephant in the room that Harold Jarche mentioned in a post about managing engagement is perhaps indeed the networked approach that all engagement family branches are trying to follow, consciously or not. But perhaps the real elephant in the room is the collective sense-making and mobilisation of energies directed at a wider goal – in this sense social change is perhaps leading the pack.

But we’re not quite there yet, neither in the networked ways nor in the networked social change. Now we’re still at the stage of nurturing engagement, and such a family seems on the right path. For what good and what worth offers a family if not a place to develop deep relationships, trust in each other and trust in life, starting with the most basic steps of engagement?


  1. Again, this family tree does not pretend to be exhaustive nor the way to look at engagement.

Related blog posts:


Go organic, go civic! #KMalreadyHappensAnyways

It’s the last week of my work at IRC and it’s a crucial moment to reflect on various aspects of the almost 10 years of experience I’ve had at IRC. More than a week ago I had a wonderful farewell party with my amazing future ex-colleagues; it gave me an opportunity to reflect already and I gave a speech. In that speech I mentioned many things but here I want to zoom in on one aspect of it: the importance of local perspectives – NO, the fact that it is ESSENTIAL, if not vital, to start any development initiative with local perspectives; in other words, to go for civic-driven KM in development work; and to preferably do so in an organic way that reflects their pace of change.

An Indian advocate/weaver once showed us the way... it's time for civic-driven change! (Photo credits: Aditi Pany / FlickR)

An Indian advocate/weaver once showed us the way... it's time for civic-driven change! (Photo credits: Aditi Pany / FlickR)

KM is about change. Behaviour change. That is granted (isn’t it?). And behaviour change, we know, doesn’t happen if the change is imposed on the people that have to adapt their behaviour. Recently again, in a WASHTech consortium meeting, a famous thinker in the WASH sector, Richard Carter, referred to the immense efforts made to improve hygiene behaviour through informing people about the risks of unhygienic behaviours… Only to conclude that it didn’t work and that years of efforts and millions of dollars went down the drain. The trick to flip the behaviour though was deceptively simple: to focus on the perceived benefits of smelling good and being socially acceptable.

Well, with KM the issue is the same: rather than pushing information systems down peoples’ throats and forcing them to adopt certain behaviours (systematically saving documents on the intranet, sharing information from events with their colleagues, taking the time to reflect about what is going well or not), isn’t it more effective to simply observe how they get their job done? Their deep motivations and capacities? Here’s a hint to the personal effectiveness survey I blogged about earlier.

Isn’t it better to praise what they’re doing well and question their perspective about what’s blocking them? Isn’t it better to perhaps give them some inspiration – by showing the way (‘Be the change you want to see’ said an infamous Indian cotton weaver) – and letting them know how it transformed our life? Isn’t it better to let them decide how they will make sense of it and to let them find their own pace to adapt their behaviour?

It’s certainly worth a try, don’t you think? In the broader development work paradigm, this means it’s time to go civic – as in civic-driven change initiatives – because a change is only as valuable as much as it can be followed and embraced by people (as much as an idea is only worth the extent it can be shared as rightly suggested in the small infographic video of that post). And nothing beats movements founded from the motivation of people’s own choice. This change of perspective also means that change should follow an organic development, going through small iterations of trial and error and critical questioning to learn to improve. Because a forced pace will fail just as much as a forced change, and it might even put people off in the process (read: even less likely to change in the future).

The consequence for all of us (development) knowledge workers is that we should not keep on setting initiatives that start and end with our ideas. It’s time for us to LISTEN, to lend an ear and a hand to those that have the willingness to change and are already trying things out. And perhaps to buddy up with nay-sayers and finding out what’s hitching them and preventing them from changing their attitude…

Although I can’t talk of 100% observance of that rule of thumb, I can safely say that IRC has been lending that ear and that hand in its work – which is what inspired me in my work and in my speech – and I certainly hope to contribute to stimulating civic-driven change at ILRI. If KM is a light, let it be a candle that everyone can find and let them make magic happen with that simple spark!

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IKM-convergent? Annual programme meeting, Wageningen, day 1

A while back I blogged about the IKM-Emergent programme and its tendency to dispersion.

The programme has evolved since then and a number of things are coalescing on this first day of the all-peeps IKM-Emergent  workshop (which brings together the three working groups, but also a number of new guests that are working on issues related to IKM-E and/or that will be working for the programme from now on).

IKM participants getting their heads around common issues

IKM participants getting their heads around common issues

A lot of very interesting ideas and insights came out from the wide variety of participants but what stroke me as key converging points are the following:

  • Dynamics of change: A lot of us were wondering how to bring about change? Should we have a very upfront / head-on approach to change or should we rather follow more subversive ways of tilting the development system?
  • Related to this, we seem to agree on the concept of intention as the driving force behind a lot of development work. In a change process, our words (i.e. lip service or love declarations to change) matter much less than our real intention to stimulate change.
  • A lot of IKM-Emergent work seems to be concerned with raising awareness about development dynamics and biases at large and about specific lenses or approaches in particular: multiple knowledges, traducture (more on this later but I would describe this as the socio-cultural translation of concepts and approaches, not just the loss of meaning that is usually part of the linguistic transaction of translation), emergence etc.
  • As in the launch event of the Change Alliance (read this blog post about it), the key difference between agency-driven and civic-driven movements. We need to support civic-driven movements – going beyond the faddism of just supporting them as part of the latest craze. Instead, what do we do to implicitly or explicitly to support these movements?
  • The importance of critical analysis and questioning which can be the only focus area we provide as ‘agency’: we need to move from setting up water pumps and delivering food onto helping all development actors equip themselves with critical reflexivity as part of the survival toolkit that stimulates self-empowerment and (less biased) development. It is this reflexivity that helps us challenge ourselves, our discourse, our practices, our being.
  • Accountability as a central practice that goes way beyond upward accountability towards donors. We need to be aware that we are (or should be) accountable to one another in all our development transactions and it is that accountability that generates the trust necessary to engage in development relationships and to open up a space for joint critical inquiry.

There was actually a lot more content in the discussion but these items stick out as pointers that came back time and again in the presentations and conversations.

This was day one of the workshop and the rest of the workshop sounds very promising! On the menu on day 2: looking back at the legacy of IKM-Emergent, limitations of the programme and the possible foundations of an IKM-Emergent 2. Keep watching this space!

From ego-tripping to ego-rippling: the knowledge ego-logy paradigm

When I was putting together the materials for the web 2.0 session as part of the strategic communication workshop in Ethiopia (see a couple of presentations from that workshop in this recent blog post), I stumbled across various sayings that seem to epitomise the web 2.0 (r)evolution – I call it the web 2.0 approach here just for the sake of simplicity: ‘share the love, pay it forward, tweet unto others as you would have them tweet unto you’ etc.

Weaving networks to catch ideas... (photo credits: Pandiyan)

I realised then just how much some aspects of the web 2.0 movement are significantly affecting the networks we are part of, the way we co-create and weave these networks together and the ideals and inspiration we bring to them. This is all quite in line with the ‘knowledge ecology’ (1) approach I guess, although I’m not working with this concept (consciously anyway).


At the core of this significant change through the web 2.0 is a powerful thrust of self interest, built and used in a novel way, however. For a few years we have been focusing (rightly) a lot on the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) factor, putting due attention to what others expect from you. Push comes to pull, me comes to you, egocentrism comes to empathy and attention for others.

Oh, ego-tripping is far from having disappeared. In fact, it is even boosted because in the world 2.0, social networks rule, connections (relations) are central, but they link nodes (persons) and emphasize those crucial nodes that lead to more connections. With Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Slideshare and other social web apps, we are becoming central to information flows and we are flattered by this as well as by the following that we create, the influence that we span.

A simple piece of evidence of this renewed ego-tripping is the amount of tools that assess, calculate, calibrate your popularity, fame, recognition, trust in your networks… and help you become more popular (check this useful and funny post from Alex Wilhelm [hello Alex, are you reading this post from the trackback link, lol?] and this social media metrics superlist. Oh, and just as I’m posting this, Robin Good tweeted about John Cottone’s post on tips for improving your social media presence and Brian Solis blogged about ‘There’s an I in Twitter and a ME in social media‘).

The significant change is that ego-tripping is no longer an end in itself. In fact it is becoming the engine for a wider enterprise that in turn fuels or suffocates recognition which our ego-tripping is feeding on: we cannot just be full of ourselves, our following, our ideas… Instead we have to focus on the what’s in it for me but in the network knowledge ecology, WIIFM also means WIIFY, because YOU is the other ME. And it is the other YOUs that make ME famous, popular and cool. In other words, forget about the old ‘Knowledge is power’ (oh, it’s still practiced in many occasions though) and move on to ‘Sharing knowledge is (yielding) power’.

So we have to dig deep to bring the best of ourselves to the front and to share as widely as possible. Sure, we perhaps do that to boost our own morale and popularity, consciously or not, to a large extent or not. But this might even be irrelevant: many excellent humanitarian efforts were also built on the sense of self-appreciation and self-achievement of humanitarian workers. Yet the end result is a positive achievement and ultimately, that is what matters.

What are the consequences of this new knowledge ego-logy?

We cannot afford to serve useless content to our networks because they won’t buy it (and will punish our ego-tripping thirst for popularity with their feet), so that means:

  • We try to be relevant, dynamic, fast-spreading, helpful, creative and funny;
  • We remain authentic, genuine, off-show, as opposed to our tendency to show off with the corporate facade that may require us to act differently to ourselves;
  • We try to be inclusive in our approach (that makes more people follow you by the way);
  • We nurture relationships, we listen to others (we have to), we take their ideas into account;
  • We try to pay due references to authors we are quoting (as social media have also transformed gossip into a super effective weapon);
  • We indeed ‘pay it forward’ by doing things for others, hoping that they will pick up the same red thread – leading by example as it were;
  • We ripple up to develop the true networked brain that human beings together represent.

All in all, we strive for greater personal mastery (a pursuit of effectiveness) and aspire to be more relevant to others. Hence, the knowledge ecology that is becoming so fashionable may be based on a knowledge ego-logy…

The knowledge egology thrives in the social media ecosystem (graph credits: debs)

If I look at all these developments, I would say they’re rather more positive than negative. However, I can already hear some (Calvinists?) moan that it is not a right thing to contribute to the good with a self-serving purpose but hey! To hell with it! I totally believe in people’s personal transformation in a positive way by doing good things, even based on (originally) egoistic motives… We change! We improve! We get driven by our passion! We get carried in the game! Just give us a chance to do some good (oh, and give us some moments of popularity to keep the energy level – but it’s all about feedback really)!


What do you think about this: does it reflect your observations too? If so, does it matter? Is it good or bad? What does it lead to?

All interesting questions to be answered, but I’ll leave it at that (and check my blog stats in the meantime lol ;D )


(1) “Knowledge ecology” is an interdisciplinary field of management theory and practice, focused on the relational and social aspects of knowledge creation and utilization. Its primary study and domain of action is the design and support of self-organizing knowledge ecosystems, providing the infrastructure in which information, ideas, and inspiration can travel freely to cross-fertilize and feed on each other. (Source:

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Communication, strategy and revolution

Communication strategy, connecting the dots and conversations

Communication strategy, connecting the dots and conversations

When in Ethiopia recently I facilitated a workshop for an NGO forum around the topic of strategic communications in the WASH sector and particularly how you can develop a communication strategy – and does it make sense in the first place?

The workshop went very well and included a couple of very interesting sessions like a talk show about our experiences with developing communication strategies (funny how people are riveted to what is said in a talk show for being so close to a panel discussion format – but then a lot more informal), a fishbowl session on the pros and cons of using various communication channels, an open space session on any pending (parking lot) or new point and of course a number of presentations about the basics of strategic communication, just to clarify some initial doubts from participants and to have enough to chew on (a few years back I facilitated a workshop that I designed way too much as a participatory exercise to the extent that I didn’t provide enough matter for participants to share experience on – well it was in a specific context but I promised myself never to end up in that situation again). It is a fine balance to give enough information and enough space for participants to discuss and digest it (from their perspective and experience too).

But two of the more interesting aspects of that workshop were on the one hand a checklist of questions that we used to develop five draft communication strategies (based on the cases of five organisations represented by participants) throughout the workshop and then a special strategic communication 2.0 session.

The checklist of questions was actually developed with a number of IRC colleagues in 2008 and 2009 and I just updated and enriched it in view of this workshop (ah, the beauty of external assignments and deadlines to make things happen!). It turned out to be a rather useful checklist, judging from the results that participants came up with and their comments. I’m definitely planning to use it more and to keep refining it.

Hereby find this presentation:

And please share your suggestions on it!

The other bit was the presentation about the web 2.0 and how it could have some interesting applications for strategic communication work. This was meant to be a 20-min presentation at best but I got completely carried away and went on for 45 minutes through the presentation (of course in an interactive manner otherwise I would have performed in a room full of snoring folks).

It turned out to be a much more political exercise than I had anticipated as well and made me realise how much the web 2.0 and the opportunities it offers – creatively combined with everyone’s special attributes and crazy ideas – are a crucially working on a silent revolution agenda. Gil Scott Heron used to say ‘The revolution will not be televised, the revolution… will be live’. No man, the revolution will be (also) on-line…

The presentation is here and includes a number of excellent references I found through Twitter recently.

I need to dig further into this type of messaging because somehowit responds to my profound desire to work towards more empowerment and this seems to be the most promising approach in that direction so far, but at the same time I wouldn’t want to end up in a political struggle.

Starting with Powerpoint, to end with an Empower curve? The question remains open for now…

The change alliance

I just return from the launch event for the Change Alliance – a new initiative that aims at promoting multi-stakeholder processes (MSPs) that stand for a positive social change (towards more empowerment, justice, equity and the alleviation of poverty among others). Beyond this happy fluffy focus is an eclectic but converging collective of institutions and individuals that are committed to these beautiful values in a variety of ways. We explored these different strands in the Alliance across the two days of the workshop.

We found out was that generally there was a fair amount of convergence among us, although we should keep dissenting voices and a certain degree of ‘irritation’ on the fringes to keep stinging ourselves when we fall back to our comfort zone. And in spite of that convergence, we also found out there were perhaps two main dichotomies that polarised our group and steered the reflection and activities in a way or another – as shown in the picture below:Focus areas for the Change Alliance, around the central idea of social change

  • On the one hand a dichotomy between conceptual exploration and pragmatic documentation: some among us are more inclined in looking at the value and promises of MSPs through an academic lens, expanding the boundaries of this nascent field of multi-stakeholder process thinking. Others – including me – are more interested in the hands-on approach, exchanging tips, tricks, tools, models, approaches, documents etc. to get more effective and closer to achieving our hypothesis of change in the processes in which we are involved.
  • On the other hand, there is also a dichotomy between those involved in an MSP as endogenous actors (actors that are part of the social fabric where the MSP is taking place) and those that do it from a professionalised mandate. In the former case, we are also referring to local societal movements that try to reverse power structures on their own; in the latter, among the proponents of the MSP are external actors that intervene only as professionals, i.e. that are not part of the social fabric and may not be affected on a personal level by what is happening in the MSP because they don’t feel any endogenous pressure. In fact the majority of us participants were in that latter case, but we were really inspired by civic-driven movements and other endogenous MSP initiatives, so there are good hopes to learn across these two types of MSPs.

This is only the dawn of this new community of practice and as ever in these cases we all hold our breath to see how the Alliance will develop (or not). I will probably get back to this launch in future posts as I have digested the incredible wealth of information that was shared in these two days. The report of the workshop will hopefully follow soon.

In the meantime, for those interested, the Change Alliance’s website can be accessed by using as login and password ‘guest’ and it should be populated quite quickly with more information, resources, members etc.

This links nicely with a message that I recently posted on the WASH sector learning discussion group to share a series of lessons learnt with our learning alliance projects in the water-sanitation-hygiene sector. Having just posted those lessons as is (when they were planned for internal audiences only), I found out thanks to a comment by one of the list members that crucial context was missing. You can find the entire thread on: If you want more context you can always check this previous blog post about learning alliances.

More on change, alliances, learning in upcoming posts…

Network monitoring & evaluation: Taking stock

Another stock-taking post: not DVDs but network M&E (credits: Hooverdust)

Another stock-taking post on the collection of network M&E resources (Photo credits: Hooverdust)

It was about time to prepare another of those stock-taking blog posts, don’t you think?

This time the topic is monitoring and evaluation (M&E) for networks, among others because there are a number of networks that I am involved in which will need to develop a solid M&E framework for themselves and for their respective donors so this post could help come up with a better approach. And, who knows, perhaps you will also find something useful in there. If this is all rubbish, please put me out of my misery and help me read some quality references on the topic, ok?

When it comes to M&E of networks, documents are a lot more scattered than for the capacity development stock-taking post I wrote earlier. And to spice things up, on Google, there is a hell of a lot of misleading resources pointing to LAN/WAN network monitoring – clearly the web is still the stronghold of a self-serving (IT) community.

Fair enough! But luckily there are also relevant resources among my documents, of which I would like to mention:

Guides, tools and methods for evaluating networks (direct link to a Word document)

(Amy Etherington – 2005)

As the title indicates, this paper focuses on evaluation rather than monitoring of networks – as a means for networks to remain relevant and adapt if need be. Three major considerations are taken into account here:

  • measuring intangible assets (related to characteristics of networks such as social arrangements, adding value, creating forums for social exchange and joint opportunities);
  • issues of attribution (linked to issues of geographic and asynchronous complexity of networks, joint execution of activities, broad and long term goals of networks);
  • looking at internal processes: the very nature of networks renders internal processes – of mobilisation, interlinking, value-adding – very interesting. The further effects of the network on each individual member are also useful to look into.

And then follows a selection of nine evaluation methods (all dating from 1999 to 2005 though), very well documented, including checklists of questions, tables with dimensions of networks, interesting (or sometimes scary) models, innumerable steps referring to various maturity stages of communities. This seems one of the most relevant references to find at least practical methods to tackle network M&E.

Evaluating International Social Change Networks: A Conceptual Framework for a Participatory Approach (PDF)

(Ricardo Wilson-Grau and Martha Nuñez – 2006)

Among the most influential authors on the topic of M&E and networks, Wilson-Grau and Nuñez have been writing a lot of documents referred to in other papers mentioned here. This paper – which also focuses on the evaluation of networks – introduces the 8 or so functions that networks perform and considers four qualities and three operational dimensions. The result is a table of 56 criteria – shaped as questions – which ought to be answered by members of the network – with a careful eye for justification behind each criterion, because each network is different. The authors continue with the four types of achievements one can hope for social change networks: operational outputs, organic outcomes, political outcomes (judged as most useful by the authors themselves) and impact. Again the table is of great help and this document is a useful introduction to the author’s body of work.

A Strategic Evaluation of IDRC-Support to Networks (Word)

(Sarah Earl – 2004)

Epitomising the long term experience of the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) with monitoring and evaluation of networks, Sarah Earl presents, in this seven-page briefing note, a questioning process to evaluate the function of IDRC in supporting networks. In doing so, she stresses a series of questions pertaining to the coordination, sustainability and intended results / development outcomes of networks. She further explains the methodology used (literature review, key informant interviews and electronic survey of network coordinators, lesson learning sessions leading to writing stories from IDRC staff). This paper can be useful for actually setting up a methodology to collect evidence about the functioning of a network.

Network evaluation paper (Word).

(June Holley – 2007)

June Holley has been working for over 20 years on economic networks. This five-page paper  introduces a method that focuses on network maps and metrics, network indicators and outcomes. The paper suggests using scores and looking at awareness (of the network as a whole), influence, connectors, integration, resilience, diversity and core/periphery.

Network mapping and core-periphery (credits: Ross Dawson)

Network mapping and core-periphery (Image credits: Ross Dawson)

In terms of indicators, Ms. Holley recommends a series of questions that point to the self-organising and outcome-producing characteristics of the network, but also at questions of culture (as in shared norms and values) and evidence of skills that allow the network to change.

There are more (*) papers specifically focused on networks and their evaluation but I found them less relevant, often mostly because they are a bit dated.

Of course there are many other references on monitoring and evaluation in publications and resource sites about networks. Here is another, shorter, selection:

While on the topic of network M&E and its link with the specific monitoring of knowledge management, I would like to point to the summary of a discussion that took place in 2008 on the KM4Dev mailing list on the topic of M&E of KM: This topic will probably remain interesting. It has been explored various times on the KM4DEV mailing list, it was recently touched upon in the francophone KM4DEV CoP SA-GE and it is likely to reappear as a topic of choice in 2010 on various platforms, not least because IKM-Emergent is planning to work more on this issue after having released the first of two commissioned papers on M&E of KM (this working paper on monitoring and evaluation of knowledge was written by Serafin Talisayon). I will certainly report about this in the coming weeks / months.

As ever with this series of stock-taking posts, I will try and keep this overview updated with any other interesting resource I get my hands on. So feel free to enlighten me with additional resources that go deeper, provide a lot of synthetic clarity or provide a refreshing perspective on the topic of network monitoring. What has worked for you in your work with networks? What have you found useful ways to measure their effectiveness and other dimensions? What would be your words of caution when assessing networks?

Networks are here to stay for a while so this discussion goes on…


I came across a number of other papers that all have something to say but are a bit out of date and I decided not to reference them here.

Related posts:

The power of three learning approaches and their combination? Capitalising, systematising, documenting processes and experiences

Working with partners in Francophone West Africa always feels to me as a refreshing experience – except perhaps in a meteorological sense. It puts the concepts, approaches and tools we play with from my IRC base in the Netherlands in stark contrast with the local reality on the technological, conceptual and linguistic side of things. As such it invites me to explore my own mental models again and to ponder about different linguistic traditions of learning and knowledge management (1).

In one work session in Burkina Faso a few days ago two colleagues from CREPA Burkina Faso and I discussed the difference between ‘capitalisation’ (a learning approach almost exclusively referred to in French) and ‘process documentation’ (2). This blog post is an opportunity to compare these two concepts coming and in the process, to tackle the concept of systematisation (‘sistematización’) dear to many KM heads in Latin America.

Can we see more clearly when combining three learning approaches?

Can we see more clearly when combining three learning approaches?

What’s in the book?

So first off, here’s a short series of definitions from the best sources I could find (please enlighten me!):

  • Process documentation: Following the definition provided in the recent WASHCost process documentation workshop, process documentation is “an approach that helps track meaningful events, discern reasons for happenings and highlight project (or intervention) issues that need advocacy and action to create and improve impact of the project”.
  • Capitalisation: Often specifically refers to experiences (capitalisation des expériences). SDC’s excellent ‘guide sur la capitalisation thématique des expériences’ provides the following definition: “La capitalisation des expériences est un mode de traitement des expériences visant à produire du savoir. Il s’agit d’un processus d’apprentissage permettant d’amener des changements en s’appuyant sur des expériences disponibles encore inexplorées”. (3)
  • Systematisation: on the online SIWA discussion group (dedicated to knowledge management and learning in Spanish and primarily in Latin America), Margarita Salas recently shared a useful paper by Oscar Jara Holliday stating the following definition to systematisation: “se atribuye a la Sistematización la misión de recuperar y reflexionar sobre las experiencias como fuente de conocimiento de lo social para la transformación de la realidad, objetivo inherente a la naturaleza del trabajo social tal como era definido en ese período”. (4)

Nuances and differences

What do these definitions say?

  • Process documentation is more closely related to learning-focused monitoring and evaluation as well as communication and it emphasises observation and analysis;
  • Capitalisation is more closely related to (knowledge) management and specifically the task of supporting an improved practice and developing the institutional memory;
  • Systematisation is very close to capitalisation but it is more inherently related to the Latin American context and is particularly attuned to social work, its main objective perhaps being to bring about social change and empowerment.

So what distinguishes these terms?

I put together this table to try and outline differences between approaches but of course this is just a model. Each particular case of using capitalisation, systematisation and/or process documentation implies to adapt the approach to the context. This table shows some patterns, no more, no less.

An attempt at comparing the three approaches

An attempt at comparing the three approaches

Integrating approaches

Beyond differences, it is valuable to look at the synergies between approaches:

The key value of process documentation is its ongoing nature (it goes along other intervention activities), its creative use of media and its focus on continually informing implementation. The added value of capitalisation is to synthesise findings from experiences to inform change in future interventions. In turn, systematisation proves its worth in its social nature and the fact that it helps address issues of power relations and empowerment during an intervention.

If the context allows or commands it the three learning approaches could be integrated to offer a strong combination of documentation, learning, synthesis and application for social and other types of changes.

A combined approach would help make an intervention more effective now and in the future and it would also address power relations and negotiations between individuals and groups. It might offer a fertile ground for a deeply transformative learning experience, for the benefit of the people involved in and benefitting from the intervention (and from similar interventions in the future).

So far, I don’t know of such combinations and perhaps this idea is just a naive illusion but it seems certainly worth a more thorough analysis.

In the meantime, at the very least, I hope this post will offer a good basis to further discuss with my colleagues from CREPA and hopefully to trigger more reactions beyond…


(1)    This is all the more timely as we are in the process of setting up a francophone KM4DEV community of practice (see here the starting Ning group page and feel free to join!).

(2)    See more posts related to process documentation: Process documentation – Sandbox to influence donors?That PD thing againCapitalising on process documentation – and changing names please!

(3) Approximate translation: Capitalisation of experiences is a manner to processs experiences aiming at generating knowledge. It is a learning process that brings about changes based on available yet untapped experiences.

(4) Approximate translation: The mission of systematisation is to recover experiences and reflect on them as a source of knowledge about social phenomena with a view to transform reality, an objective which is inherent to the nature of social work as defined in this context.

Note: Thank you Nick Milton for pointing out to the need for translations. I hereby offer my own translations but would welcome any finer interpretation! Any translation implies a certain loss of meaning, which could be high in this case, particularly for the Spanish translation!

Capacity development: Taking stock

(This is potentially the first of a series of stock-taking posts about inspiring literature on topics I blog about – the series will start if you find this interesting, so plmk).

Recently I met all staff of the Water Integrity Network (WIN) which stands for more integrity and transparency and preventing more corruption in the WASH sector by organising coalitions of institutions and individuals to cooperate and share useful ideas, resources and tools and to join hands in this fight.

The starting point: a capacity development workshop by WIN (26-27 May)

The starting point: a capacity development workshop by WIN (26-27 May)

On 26 and 27 May, WIN will be organising a workshop on capacity building in order to define its priorities for the years to come and to develop a strategy in line with those priorities. As I met the person in charge of organising this workshop and we exchanged some ideas by mails and face-to-face, it gave me a nice opportunity to take stock of some good articles and papers I have read about this concept.

The following list represents an attempt at mentioning and briefly describing the contents of some of the reads I found most inspiring on the topic of capacity development. This is by no means an exhaustive list of resources on the topic so feel free to suggest your inspired reads.

Many of these articles have been written by or inspired after Peter Morgan (private consultant as far as I can see but in a brief search I wasn’t able to find the right Peter Morgan out of 40 Peter Morgan’s (on LinkedIn alone).

Capacity and capacity development – some strategies

(Peter Morgan – 1998)

The oldest reference of all papers, this article is interesting because a) it provides some pointers to define capacity development (the processes and strategies), capacity (organisational and technical abilities, relationships and values) and impact (developmental benefits and results) and b) it considers various ‘capacity development’ strategies that have been employed, namely:

  • supplying additional and physical resources;
  • helping to improve the organisational and technical capabilities of the organisation;
  • helping to settle a clear strategic direction;
  • protecting innovation and providing opportunities for experimentation and learning;
  • helping to strengthen the bigger organisational system;
  • helping to shape an enabling environment;
  • creating more performance incentives and pressures;

The article ends with a series of questions to address the strategic value of capacity development and the operational recommendations to make it work.

What is capacity?

(Peter Morgan, 2006) – this is a direct link to the paper in PDF format.

This paper is firstly valuable for pointing at the lack of a clear and agreed definition on capacity development – that ‘missing link’ in development according to the World Bank – and particularly its common confusion with (individual) training. As a result, capacity development becomes an umbrella concept devoid of any useful meaning. The second contribution of this paper is to single out five central characteristics of capacity development: 1) it’s about empowerment and identity, 2) it has to do with collective ability, 3) it is a systems phenomenon, 4) it is a potential state and 5) it’s about creating public value. A third pointer is the definition of individual competencies, organisational capabilities and institutional / systemic capacity. Then Peter Morgan focuses on the meso level (organisations and their capabilities) to extract five core capabilities:

  1. The capability to act: having a collective ability to define a vision and an agenda and implement it (related to leadership, human resources etc.);

    The 5 capabilities' framework (Credits: ECDPM)

    The 5 capabilities’ framework (Credits: ECDPM)

  2. The capability to generate development results: the thematic and technical capabilities that lead to results (outputs, outcomes), which is usually the central attention of capacity development – though the author argues it is in the combination of the five that capacity development becomes meaningful and effective.
  3. The capability to relate: connecting to other actors relevant in the field where an organisation is evolving; this relates to working on the exhausted (or rather over-used) concept of ‘enabling environment’ but also on power struggles and political intrigue in a sometimes seemingly uncompetitive sector (how wrong!).
  4. The capability to adapt and self-renew: learning, innovating, adapting to changing environments or pre-empting changes;
  5. The capability to achieve coherence: maintaining a focus while using all separate resources to the fullest of their abilities. This is a major challenge with the growing recognition of complex and intricate relations among development actors

Finally, the author opens the debate as to capacity being a means to an end or an end in itself.

A balanced approach to monitoring and evaluating capacity and performance

(Paul Engel, Tony Land, Niels Keijzer – 2006) – this is a direct link to the paper in PDF format.

This paper is very much in line with the previous one but it lists a number of useful questions to assess capacity and performance and provides a five-step approach to develop the assessment framework. These five steps are: 1) Situational reconnaissance and stakeholder analysis 2) Calibration of the assessment framework 3) Implementation 4) Review of the draft results with key stakeholders and 5) Sharing the assessment report with the full range of stakeholders.

Capacity for a change

(Peter Taylor, Peter Clarke – 2008).

The report from a workshop that IDS organised in 2007, this excellent resource is probably the reason why I’ve been thinking a lot more about capacity development (CD) recently. The 26 participants provided outstanding matter for reflection which led the authors to analyse the current situation of capacity development interventions, re-imagine CD processes and suggest ways forward.

The paper is a useful resource for its facts (e.g. figures on public expenditures on CD), its evidence from study: about the importance of knowledge and learning, power relations, having good theories of social change, the relations between intervention agents rather than just results and perhaps above all else the importance of the local context – here we go again! and finally it is useful for the recommendations to address capacity development systemically.

In the forward-looking part, the authors recommend considering five useful pointers for CD interventions:

  • Empowering relationships – having that empowerment perspective at the core;
  • Rallying ideas – favouring a clear language that comes from joint reflection;
  • Dynamic agents – recognising the importance of local champions to take things forward;
  • Framing and shaping context – favouring a flexible design through interaction with the local context;
  • Grounding enabling knowledge / skills – working on abilities to understand and interact with one another;

The report ends with some suggestions for donors, research institutes, service providers and practitioners at large to take their own share and improve CD interventions. Last but not least, the bibliography provides actually enough references for me to write another blog post…

Capacity development: between planned interventions and emergent processes. Implications for development cooperation

(Tony Land, Volker Hauck and Heather Baser – 2009) – this is a direct link to the paper in PDF format.

The most recent resource of the list, this policy management brief by ECDPM poses that complexity theories and particularly aspects of emergence and ‘complex adaptive systems’ provide a welcome contribution to unpacking capacity development. The authors consider capacity as an emergent property that cannot be ‘engineered’ by organisations (even less so by external agencies, often Northern-based I would argue). Their assessment is that the forces around organisations and capacities are sometimes far greater than the former and it is therefore important to map them to understand better what may play a role in the success of an intervention (hence the importance of carrying out a kind of ‘forcefield analysis‘ perhaps I would add). The brief continues with a comparison between ‘conventional’ (engineering, pre-determined, risk-averse) approaches to capacity development and approaches inspired by emergence and complex adaptive systems.

Emergence and iteration: two key factors of capacity?

Emergence and iteration: two key factors of capacity?

One interesting aspect of this brief is also the identification of 12 pointers that may help in organising capacity development interventions. The authors are cautious enough to warn against the chase for a silver bullet (in this case ‘complex adaptive systems’) but advise to consider the pointers to develop incremental approaches that reconcile intervention engineering (the current practice nowadays) with emergence.

As mentioned above, this is no exhaustive list, so what did you find useful references on the topic?

If you think it’s useful to publish such ‘stock-taking’ blog posts in the future, on capacity development or other topics, let me know (and about what topic).

To find all these resources in one place check my online bookmarks on capacity development:

Related posts:

A frame to work with learning alliances?

In the week of 20-24 April, IRC will be organising an internal workshop (including a few external participants) on the learning alliance approach. The aim of the workshop is to develop a framework to set up and facilitate a learning alliance process, looking at practical tools and taking into account all the lessons that IRC and partners have learnt in the various projects where we have been using a learning alliance approach.

This is the first significant step to document, across projects, our general understanding and experience with learning alliances. What are learning alliances? Check this presentation for some ideas:

…and feel free to ask for more on this blog.

Anyways, following the recent session on learning alliances which we organised for the fifth World Water Forum – for which I’m still synthesising the results and waiting for some fishbowl and marketplace results – this is indeed an ideal moment to try and synthesise how we approach learning alliances.

So far we have a mixture of ideas, key areas, steps and tools available:

  • Assessment of the situation;
  • Analysis of stakeholders, their needs, demands and expectations;
  • Visioning to rally stakeholders behind a common issue;
  • Communication activities to raise interest, inform and share with, influence;
  • Monitoring activities including a mix of qualitative/quantitative methods;
  • Process and event facilitation;
  • Process documentation;
  • (action) Research activities as the core focus;
  • Implementation of basic services;
  • Social inclusion to invite the marginalised voices around the table;
Fill that learning alliance framework please!

Fill that learning alliance framework please!

But this doesn’t make for a very useful framework to apply in a new setting/project, particularly if you haven’t been involved in a learning alliance process before.

So how could we conceive of it in a better way? The external people attending the workshop will be presenting their own ideas, but in the meantime let me share mine, based on the observation of the learning alliance (LA) process in the SWITCH, RiPPLE and WASHCost projects:

  1. Principles – the learning alliance starts with a few principles: demand-driven and locally owned research/implementation; social inclusion, better results (innovation, scaling up) through concerted action and reflection; action research as a way to instil reflective research; structured learning and two-way communication to ensure a dynamic flow of insights etc. This is the basis to create a fertile soil for a learning alliance process.
  2. Preparation towards a going-in issue: in spite of advocating for demand-driven research, learning alliances are still often initiated as part of a project and come up with a given agenda. To be fair, people starting LA approaches usually have been observing the situation beforehand and come up with an issue that has some degree of local relevance. This is where the situation analysis, stakeholder analysis and the likes comes in. A good trick is to have flexible enough a project design to be able to integrate demands as early on as possible in the process and to re-focus the going in position to where the demand is. And in a true sense, learning alliances should start from a locally owned situation analysis – perhaps facilitated.
  3. Participation: The next step is to bring stakeholders around the table. This means inviting influential stakeholders (the ones that can make or break your learning alliance if they’re in or out of it) but also guaranteeing that other relevant and usually marginalised groups take part to the discussions. This part requires intensive communication efforts to raise interest, inform stakeholders, invite them to join the dialogue and express themselves; further down the line, this is where advocacy (including policy engagement / support) comes in to influence certain stakeholders about the value of the work coming out of the process.
  4. Production: The core activities (research, implementation) that are supposed to address the issue at hand. And with an action-research approach, there is a guarantee that ideas are tested out, reflected upon and refined in the next round (see next point).
  5. Proving and improving: Where monitoring (and evaluation), process documentation and the reflective activities of action research lead to showing that the approach is delivering on intended outcomes, and to refine the approach for the next cycle.
  6. Pulling it all together: this is the management part of the project, everything that has to do with the internal project team (planning, implementing, monitoring etc.).
  7. People and capacities: Throughout the project, information and communication activities raise the awareness (knowledge if you prefer) of the parties involved. But their know-how, skills, capacities to play their role best is essential. Learning alliances are approaches geared towards social change; social change means behaviour change and behaviour change comes among others from capacity development activities, in the broader sense (from creating a learning space to training, to coaching, organising learning and sharing activities with peers or different parties).

This is only a half-baked model and perhaps more than anything else an input for the forthcoming discussion. Hopefully the rest will follow in the workshop… more very soon, and hopefully more documentation very soon too!