How social can you be?

Where are human beings in the 'social revolution'? (Credits: intersectionconsulting / FlickR)

Where are human beings in the ‘social revolution’? (Credits: intersectionconsulting / FlickR)

Let me keep this short, and in question style…

Is the internet all about being social? Doesn’t it wear us out? Doesn’t it keep brilliant introverts away from the action? Doesn’t it turn us into online social animals but offline antisocial beasts? Are we not living and going through life increasingly alone?

Also, does ‘going social’ mean we can never be purposeful any more because we always react epidermically, superficially? Like having difficulty finding a balance between thinking and acting?

Is ‘getting social’ our collective goal? Is that the only guarantee that people will share, learn and improve, or are there propositions on the table?

Is the ‘spacing of social moments’ not a useful alternative? Like organising special social happenings, and letting people be the rest of the time? Or can we not resist getting connected but shunning real conversations?

What is better: ever social or ‘intensively social at times’ like the difference between my organisation’s campus in Addis and its ever-social cafe/bar vs. the ‘Last Friday of the month dance bonanza’ of my organisation’s headquarters in Nairobi?

Or is it actually better to keep social at all times to keep sharpening our social sense, one of many aptitudes to develop for the future?

Is the creation of extra, informal ‘social spaces’ (link subject to log in credentials) what it takes for meaningful interactions? Like designing coffee break spaces and other ways of unwinding outside formal event sessions for instance?

Or is the solution not to create safe social spaces for different types of social animals? To encourage dialogue – and sometimes creative conflict – including people that may not otherwise get to speak?

Do we not have different aptitudes to face the ‘social wave’? And if so, do we want to all become more social, or do we want to encourage that difference and the complementarity of minds and souls (like introverts and extroverts) that it might bring about?

Is ‘Social’ the real path to empowerment? Or the golden prison that we’ve been forced to love? Who decides the rules of this game? Who sets the limits?

What are the limits of the social revolution?

How social do we want to be? 

How social can you be?

And really: to do what?

Time to think carefully about this, before we treat ‘getting social’ just like the next email management challenge… with a much bigger hangover upon awakening… You reckon?

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Social web metrics: between the cracks of evidence and confidence

Assessing knowledge work is back on my menu for this year and I need to start somewhere simple(r): social web metrics.

Rather than focus on the high end of monitoring/evaluation (M&E) of knowledge work, I’d like to look into current web metrics in use and to understand what they are really capturing, what they fail to capture or what problems they pose and what links them together or what we could do with them.

The social media analytics framework below proposes a good entry point to this exploration. I will come back at a later stage to such analytical frameworks.

A framework for Social Media Analytics (Gaurav Mishra)

A framework for Social Media Analytics (Gaurav Mishra)

The social web metrics we have at our disposal to assess knowledge work are related along a chain from attention to action (the famous [social] AIDA again) – or from content to collective intelligence as suggested above. First comes discovering a particular resource and last comes using it, appreciating its use and being transformed (at scale) with it. Each resource, each piece of content,  hopes to tick as many of these goals. With it comes a potential useful insight, but also limitations… and mitigations.

Here is an overview of some objectives we might legitimately have with our content (which metrics try, mostly insufficiently, to capture).

Find me!

Sometimes we just bump into a site or resource on the web, while looking for something else… A page view is a reflection of that. Page views can thus be intentional views (effectively linked to your content/focus) or accidental views (someone ends on a web page after looking for term that is only vaguely connected with that content). An instance of this: I suspect quite a few visitors to my blog are actually looking for information about the gay podcast ‘the feast of fools’ but they end on this blog post – no connection other than the name. Then again, people do come across your content for good reasons too.

Limitations and mitigation: Page views are thus not entirely helpful. Oh, and in case you didn’t know by now, a hit really is not a useful metric, even though it’s all about finding stuff online.

The remedy is to properly (meta-)tag your content, use descriptions on your photos, add links to relevant related content. Linking is the currency of the time with search engine optimisation. The more you are linked to by others, the more likely people will find your content genuinely related to their focus, in relation with specific search terms.

Grab my attention!

Ending on a page or resource is the first step. Attracting our curiosity as online visitors is the second step, and it is not straightforward with our 8-second attention span. (Intentional) Page views are still the main metric here. But so are retweets on Twitter.

Limitations and mitigation:

This is where a good title comes in handy (one of the many useful tips of Ian Thorpe in sharing his blogging experience). But a retweet in particular doesn’t mean that the person re-tweeting the page/resource actually liked it… or even read it. These visitors just seemed to like your shop window’s look and feel! Mind that they like your content for the right reasons beyond that sweet first impression. All ‘Find me’ advices are applicable here too!

Like my content!

Ok, now people have checked your content. And they enjoy it! They ‘like’ it. Or they +1 it, or  they rate it… There are various ways to show appreciation for content. Perhaps the most valuable one is to comment on content and show appreciation this way. It’s useful feedback, provided it’s genuine.

Limitations and mitigation: The danger is that some people just ‘like’ because the like button is easy to push, with or without checking the content in the first place (see the shop window problem above). The other problem is that there is still no indication as to why they like your content (perhaps the tone, the image you chose, the serendipity effect that led them to your content at a moment when they were looking for something similar). Most liking metrics are only partly useful, unless a certain volume of these signals is aggregated throughout various collections and it starts indicating trends.

Focused comments, however, should be encouraged as they help find out why people liked your content and helps you engage with your audience one step further…

Pass it on to others!

If people liked your content, perhaps they didn’t rate it (most people find giving feedback a daunting step) but they might have shared it with others. Metrics here include: linking to your content, social shares (re-tweets are a point in case, but Facebook shares, Google+ shares and email shares are other examples), citations of your work etc. People might be sharing a link to your content or the full content (re-blogging content is an indirect metric of sharing here).

Limitations and mitigation: The same danger of people sharing without having checked your content is still looming. But sharing content is generally a better indication of appreciation for your content, especially when it is shared in quantity and quality. Pay attention to who shares your content. Trusted and valued sources are great indicators of the quality of your content. I am not aware of tools that track the sharing of content with a specific breakdown of the popularity of sharing sources but that would be useful.

Keep me for later!

People may keep track of your content for different reasons:

  • They haven’t read it yet but want to do so later when they find time for it;
  • They want to share it with others but haven’t gotten around it;
  • They like it so much – or find it useful enough – that they want to collect and curate your content.

At any rate, they seem attracted to your content enough to keep it for later.

Metrics here include: Bookmarks, favourites, downloads etc. These are possibly good measures of some following for your content.

Limitations and mitigation: Two out of three reasons above do not point to any particular appreciation. Resources could be put aside and never used again. Even when downloaded, their effective use depends on the discipline and willingness of the bookmarker to actually use his/her saved resources for another activity. Again here large numbers of these metrics can plot useful trends, but individual measurements or isolated bookmarks remain marginally useful.

(re-)Use me!

The objective of your content is to be used – and re-used. Directly or indirectly, now or later, as intended or otherwise, as direct inspiration or diffuse source of innovation. But this is very difficult to track. Only direct references in someone else’s work are (usually) straightforward indications that content is being used.

Readily available metrics thus include: reblogs, citations, links in other important writings and works. Testimonies (e.g. stories of change and the likes) are not a given in social media but are probably the best approach to hear about the use of content. Indirectly, comments may play a similar role, if they mention how the content is being applied somewhere else (as opposed to just reacting on the content itself).

Limitations and mitigation: It is very difficult to get such references and accounts of use – but from this point on it becomes really interesting and relevant. Aiming at collecting such testimonies and developing a culture of feedback and critical reflection (e.g. by means of comments, ratings etc.) all contribute to getting better at and closer to collecting interesting results about the use of content.

Let me make a better you!

One of the best results we can hope for any resource we develop is for it to contribute to changing behaviour. Using content doesn’t equate change. Change is very elusive and difficult to assess as it is an intimate matter, which perhaps requires the realisation of the person changing that they are changing. 

Among other metrics here, the most important one are testimonies, and to a lesser extent comments (provided these comments relate to the usefulness and effect of the resource itself, how it was used not just about the content of the resource). These are not available web metrics (yet?) and would be more typically part of process/outcome/impact monitoring efforts. But these results are worth tracking down.

Limitations and mitigation: As for the use of content, accounts of change brought about by resources or otherwise are very diffuse and hard to collect, even harder to attribute, unless  mentioned in the testimonies. The same approach as for the use matters here, it just goes one level deeper in the exploration.

Become a movement thanks to me

The ultimate goal of any resource is that it is so seminal that it is referred to over and over again and has the tendency to provoke a knock-over domino effect on the behaviour of many. What the Bible or the Coran or the little red book achieved. Tough job…

Limitations and mitigation: Frankly, if you are at that stage, you should be blogging about this instead of me 😉 I can only say that radical innovation, use of locally nested word-of-mouth conversion effects and tapping into the viral potential of some technologies and their disruptive nature might offer shorter paths to this holy grail.

 In conclusion…

What is difficult is that there is no linear following along these metrics. Furthermore, some of these metrics only become useful at a certain scale – or in combination with other metrics occur e.g. only when various people have downloaded and favourited a resource can one tell that it probably has a transformative effect on people. The only sure way to get a relatively sure account of evidence is through testimonies – if they are truthful and sufficiently marginally biased.

The table below summarises some of the metrics available to suggest evidence of any impact of your content/resources.

Direct metrics Indirect metrics
Finding Page views, hits
Liking Likes, +1’s, ratings, comments
Retweets and other social shares
Sharing Links, Social shares, citations Downloads, comments, reblogs
Keeping Downloads, bookmarks, favourites Re-tweets, Social Shares, (some) social ratings
Using Citations, links, testimonies, reblogs Comments
Being transformed by it N/A Comments, testimonies

All in all, what matters in those web metrics are a combination of: effective consumption of the content, appreciation of that content (its quality and relevance), intent to use it, effective use of it, transformation brought by that use, scale of that transformation.

There are many tools to collect these. But the tools only address the collection part (your demand for it as content provider wishing feedback). What is more difficult is the supply of such evidence, and that comes only progressively with a culture of feedback and critical inquiry… Until that culture is there, we always navigate between the cracks of evidence and personal confidence.

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Social media: why bother? A French misunderstanding

I spent last Chrismas holiday in France, my birthplace, my homeland, a place that I am so estranged from in many respects. A people for which social media sound so strange too – apart from a few isolated voices and some interesting articles. Among others, Jay Cross also found out about the chasm between France and the rest of the world in terms of  learning, social media, agile KM and so on.

Social media face skeptics, in France and elsewhere (credits - Spiral16)

Social media face skeptics, in France and elsewhere (credits – Spiral16)

This post is addressing some criticism I heard in my own country about social media, more as an illustration of how they miss the point about it rather than about bashing France at that.

In Voltaire’s craddle, social media are portrayed – particularly by traditional media – like futile media where ego-maniacs describe every second of their mundane habits (all the way down to toilet matters) and spurt out the dirt and stupidity of the narcissistic divas and divos that form the ranks of the French social media fans.

Why do the media miss the point so entirely about social media and why do I believe in them?

I find the gems of the world on the social web

Clay Shirky got it right, in this age of knowledge, we don’t have problems with information overload but with filter failure. Social media are extremely precious to make out the wheat from the chaff and to find the gems of the web brought forward by my online friends. Mind that gardening your social network is key to make it work though. A lot of the key information in my field (knowledge management, learning, communication etc.) I  actually find through Twitter and Yammer. The system of retweets and likes does wonders to single out great stuff passing by.

Others can find the gems of the world thanks to social media through me

If I come across great stuff, others can benefit from it too, since everything is transparent and easily accessible. A lot of us can simultaneously benefit from social media, including (and particularly) Twitter… Be around, engage and you will also come across wonderful finds. The online content curation trend means that it’s super easy for others to find stuff that we have all been finding, collecting, saving, collating, tagging, documenting, commenting etc.

I reflect and get better thanks to the social media

I hear and read a lot that social media are fastening the pace of information sharing and consumption, and therefore reducing our space and time for genuine engagement and reflection. That is true. For some social media. Blogs are part of social media, however, and they really stimulate our reflection and sense of deeper connection with matters that indeed matter to us. Paradoxically, even micro-blogging platforms force us to reflect and synthesise information so they help reflect too.

In addition to reflecting on our own, the social nature of social media means that we get more feedback more often. That is a true foundation for reflection and improvement.

Social media help me strive ever more for excellence and relevance

As I explained in a previous post about knowledge ego-logy, the very fact that we are attracted by social feedback is a key factor to make us want to get better. If we want comments, ratings, retweets and the likes, we need to deliver good content. On the contrary, every egomaniac ego-logist will harvest the scorn that their narcissism sowed.

I keep track of my assets much more explicitly

This is the benefit of information management. By saving information in social repositories such as, Pinterest, YouTube, wikis, Slideshare etc. I can always find back information that matters to me. It’s much easier to build upon it and reuse it ad infinitum, than reinventing the wheel.

And my assets are not just the information I have, they’re also my expertise (LinkedIn), my network (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.) and my personal outputs (Mendeley, Zotero,… What is the alternative?

What about the skeptics?

Granted, the egocentric nature of social media is plaguing some parts of that sphere and too many people probably use social media for very futile purposes. But perhaps it’s part of their trajectory of development in using social media (remember: don’t be too quick to judge).

To let the French (and other skeptics) understand how social media can work, here are some of my guiding principles:

  • Care for your network. relentlessly – prune it and expand it where you see pockets of (ir)relevance and energy (sucking) pop up;
  • Use social networks professionally before you judge them personally;
  • Take some time to explore and accept it’s not perfect straight away. Social media (and any new activity for that matter) always take a bit of time to get the hang of. Networks also take time to grow and reach relevant proportions and depth;
  • Accept that there’s no blue print for us all. Social media don’t work for everyone. We all need to give different social media a try, see what works or not for us and adapt our practice accordingly – and certainly to do that before we feel free to judge if theyr work or not;
  • Reflect and improve: As for pretty much anything, ongoing reflection about social media is what makes the difference between good and bad practice…

History shows that every great empire that started to shut its interest and borders to external influence lost its edge (medieval Japan, feudal China, The United States of America in the 1920’s). This holds wider lessons – something that many of my fellow countrymen would be well advised to remember, in a phase when France clearly shows all the signs of decline and over-anxiousness and might be about to miss out on the biggest (r)evolution since Gutenberg’s press.

Related blog posts:

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…


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:

Harvesting insights (4): Making knowledge travel?

Time to revisit a concept that’s key in the recent past of ILRI’s and some other CGIAR knowledge work architecture: making knowledge travel. This concept and approach was, among others, central to the Agricultural and rural knowledge Share Fair organised in Addis Ababa in October 2010.

This post written by organiser Nadia Manning right after the event summarises some perceptions about ‘making knowledge travel’ from the Fair.

Making agricultural knowledge travel (Credits - Nancy White / FlickR)

Making agricultural knowledge travel (Credits – Nancy White / FlickR)

What are we talking about and what are the implications of this concept and its meaning?

The idea, in the ILRI/CGIAR practice is quite simple: we are overwhelmed with knowledge and information but we also struggle to unlock useful information (and perhaps they would say knowledge) that remains stuck in silos, databases and private spheres. We should promote ways for that information and knowledge to travel further than those static ranches of safeguarded knowledge treasury. We have to make it travel.

An important distinction: let’s agree that for this post by ‘information’ we mean concrete/tangible data put together to be consumed readily (i.e. articles, videos etc.) and by ‘knowledge’ we mean peoples’ exchange about information.

So what does it mean in practice?

A lot of things:

  • We have to make information available, accessible and applicable (the Triple-A framework that the above-mentioned post highlighted) which means information should be developed (available), easy to find in full access (accessible) and developed in a way that makes its use possible (applicable). More on this in the implications.
  • It means we should make use of the information long tail to counter the tyranny of ‘pushing yesterday news out’ – some of that older information remains useful long after its first publication.
  • Finding, encouraging, stimulating, developing spaces for connection between information sources and consumers – whether these be multi-stakeholder processes or specialised channels between certain groups of people.

What it implies for our organisations and for ourselves?

There are lots of lessons to take upstream if we want to make knowledge travel downstream.

Indeed, information-wise we and our organisations need to:

  • Turn our work into information – not only the results but also the work processes – documenting the process to tease out important insights.
  • Share that information in various ways, using websites, social media (which have a very strong potential to redistribute that information more widely by the virtue of trust-based network affinities) and other media that are fit for that purpose.
  • Save that information in available, open access places where anyone can find it later – ideally properly (meta)tagged to help others and search engines assess the relevance of that information against a given query.
  • Develop that information in open standards so that it can more easily be (re-)used and adapted by others.
  • Format/version/package that information possibly in different formats and levels of language and technicity for different audiences.

And knowledge-wise:

  • Encourage contacts with wider networks, beyond our familiar networks, which can be amplified by social networks (following people that are at the edge or our own networks i.e. the people that are followed by the people we follow).
  • Organise effective events and conversations to weave information and knowledge in trust-based networks that are reinforced by face-to-face contact.
  • Indeed use multi-stakeholder processes – where applicable due to the complexity of the agenda at stake – to encourage knowledge sharing and further connect distant/remote parts of a given social network.

As you might have picked up, this involves once again a sound personal knowledge management practice of ‘working out loud’ but also other things. And then again, ‘making knowledge travel’ does not entirely unveil what is at stake.

What this approach perhaps doesn’t emphasise enough?

Perhaps the ‘knowledge’ aspect itself was not sufficiently emphasised – as the overall approach of making knowledge travel actually seems to relate mainly to information. What it thus doesn’t say enough is that not only should we make sure our information is available, accessible, applicable (and actually applied!) but that we should also organise processes – using specific tools, since despite their over-reliance tools are not so bad after all – to ensure that people connect and share knowledge to make it travel further.

Consequently, the most important aspect is to connect knowledge (thus people) rather than information because what matters is not information, not even knowledge, but learning from both and acting upon it. Learning out loud is instrumental, in this respect, to go one step further than making knowledge travel perhaps emphasises.

Maybe we should talk about making learners travel together, as a more accurate and more useful paradigm. Using other face-to-face methods of social learning would come in handy in this respect too: farmer field days, exchange visits, study tours, secondments, knowledge fairs, coaching and on-the-job training, job rotation, peer assists, action research and the likes are all ways to do this – and the more consistent, repeated, long-term these processes are, the more likely they are to build trust and to become useful for social learning and more effective action.

Finally, the very idea of making knowledge travel could be fallacious, if we believe a great few influential KM thinkers on the basis of this post by Harold Jarche and its comments. I tend to agree with them. I think we can share knowledge but we can’t transfer it (more on this in this post), so I doubt we can make knowledge travel, but information we certainly can. And stimulating more and more diverse ways to share knowledge should be amplified as part of this approach too.


At any rate, making knowledge travel is more helpful than making information rot in the cavern and knowledge stay quiet in our heads. So, thank you Nadia, Peter and others for inviting us to make knowledge travel about making knowledge travel… the journey is very exciting already!

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Social media for empowerment – a guide for African climate change workers

The social media guide for African climate change practitioners

The social media guide for African climate change practitioners

After a couple of months of hard collective work on it, and after several other months of to-ing an fro-ing between AfricaAdapt and ILRI, the Social media guide for climate change practitioners in Africa is finally OUT!

  • The final version of the guide as a PDF doc is only 10 pages long (about 2000 words) and an easy reference for anyone not all too sure what social media are and how they can be used for climate change (and other) work.
  • The complete version of the guide, as a wiki, is more comprehensive and is the object of this blog, as it really emphasises ways that social media can empower people, in this case particularly African climate change workers.

Social media can indeed be an incredibly powerful way to mitigate imbalances between groups by pooling resources together – when the wisdom of the crowd turns into the power of the crowd. The case of Africa – which is the focus of the guide – is particularly revealing in climate change and other development work. A lot of development initiatives have pretended to help Africa and to empower its inhabitants, only to further increase the concentration of knowledge and know-how in the strongholds of Northern development goodwill.

Yet, social media are slowly changing this game, offering African entrepreneurs, artists, development workers and creative people from all African walks of life to connect, share ideas, review and assess products and services, question policies and practices together. And indeed some initiatives mentioned in the guide such as Africa Gathering are tapping into the unrivalled opportunities for mobilisation that social media bring about.

A whole section of the guide is dedicated to this particular aspect of African empowerment. A hidden version of this page provides a slightly more elaborated overview of this topic. Some of the work highlighted in this section is borrowed from the excellent IKM-Emergent programme and other initiatives that really intended to let Africans (and other developing country ‘aid recipients’) define their own approach to development.

This is only one of the elements of the guide but an important one for AfricaAdapt and its constituents, but also for many Africans wishing to organise their physical and intellectual livelihood according to their own terms. Some of the initiatives listed in the guide are a testimony of the vibrancy of such indigenous movements making creative uses of social media.

What the social media guide offers, altogether

This social media guide offers a simple ‘how to get started‘ section on what are social media in general and what are some of the most visible ones in particular, but it is principally structured around four main sections, each displaying a selection of key resources that are worth reading to know more about:

  1. The first section looks into what it means to promote African knowledge (about climate change adaptation).
  2. A second section tries to offer very practical advice on how to use social media along the knowledge cycle.
  3. The guide also highlights some doubts that surround social media and offers some constructive ways to address these.
  4. Finally, the guide also looks beyond social media to see how mass media, face-to-face, mobile telephony and the likes can offer very strong complementarities when used with social media.

For further research and resources, the guide also provides a series of useful appendixes.

There are chances this wiki guide continues to be updated in the longer run. If you are interested in this, contact me on this blog or any other social media where you know to find me…

In the meantime, I hope this guide offers you and your network some additional ways to use online connections (mixed with offline ones) to increase freedom of speech, thought and action. That is after all the single most powerful promise that the Internet once held…

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Knowledge management, social media and ecology – the complexity of three sessions (218, 206 & 173)

During the Share Fair, I was happy to participate to three very interesting and complementary sessions on a) the IFAD experience of putting KM and learning into practice (#218) b) using social media for development (#206) and c) IKM-Emergent’s idea of a knowledge ecology  (#173).

The first session explored the experiences of IFAD with knowledge management in their programme. It was a great sharing moment recognising the failures and issues that IFAD (like many other organisations) had/has been facing. What worked in their case: iterative coaching and workshops, development of systemic competences, focusing on improvement rather than on ‘KM’ as such, facilitation of communication processes, focus on various levels (individual, team, organisation), challenging the institutional set up, developing pilots to learn quickly from them, promoting and marketing the value of learning (for self improvement), working on the attitude and willingness to learn and improve, and time is needed for all these ingredients to form a savoury meal. And by the way some cooking instructions help too – so here’s the IFAD learning framework, which proved very helpful to turn concepts into practical activities for those involved in this experience.

The IFAD learning framework

The IFAD learning framework

Although there is palpable progress already, much remains to be done. Oh yes, and languages are still very much an issue: no translation budget, interpretation problems… We just can’t keep saying this though. It’s time to act on the language divide!

The second session (1) was around using social media for development – a big buzz word at the moment, confirmed by the over-attendance of this session and the social media reporting overkill. After a short presentation by Musa Masilela, the many participants discussed: the rapidity at which social media are evolving and the need to find a balance between exploring and mastering these tools; the difficulty of justifying and using social medias in institutions when so many corporate procedures hamper their quick uptake; yet at the same time a social media policy proves helpful to frame the approach and visualise the value expected from using social media; and no, not only communication people are in charge of social media, it’s everybody’s business! My take home here was that social media are there, used by many at work and outside and that they have the power to expand conversations and to connect individuals, teams and organisations.

The uber-well attended 'social media for development' session

The uber-well attended 'social media for development' session

The third session was organised by Sarah Cummings from IKM-Emergent around the indeed emergent topic of ‘knowledge ecology’. Sarah blogged about this topic on the Giraffe, the blog of IKM’s working group 3 (which focuses on organisational practices of knowledge management). In brief, the knowledge ecology perspective is about recognising the values and contributions of multiple knowledge cultures in development work and about finding ways to ensure they all connect with one another to embrace a richer (and complexity-friendly) understanding of development processes. At the heart of the idea is also the recognition that local values and expectations should be the starting point, rather than the knowledge industry that is all too often imposed in friendly or non-friendly ways by Northern development actors. In our group work in this session we made a critique of that ‘development bus’ which we are trying to stop so that all inside and outside the bus start discussing their journey and perhaps transform the bus in the magic bean that will bring them to another dimension, or even a space ship that brings us all where we need to be.

One visual take on the knowledge ecology

One visual take on the knowledge ecology

The sum of these sessions is the recognition for a number of key aspects:

  • Context drives initiatives and its design. Current (Northern-driven) development initiatives all too often do not take that into account;
  • Development issues are complex – we are dealing with systemic issues that cannot be solved by a single perspective and type of intervention. Therefore the contribution of multiple perspectives (or knowledge cultures) is essential;
  • It takes a certain willingness and recognition to start working together in the right direction. And we need to stimulate individual and social learning initiatives to create such a fertile ground for improved development;
  • Development is an iterative process that benefits from regular interactions and reviews, as well as from taking time to assess where we are at in the process;
  • Try-out pilots are thus a good idea – and they help move away from fail-safe approaches (wary of any problem) to safe-fail approaches (where quick failing is seen as the best way to improve over time).
  • There are many tools (and social media are crucial in this) that help this network dynamics. They shift the emphasis from organisations to individuals and networks, although ultimately they rebound back up to organisations too;
  • All of these developments are about behaviour change and it just takes time to see behaviours change – but uniting in a perspective of improved collective development is worthwhile even if it takes money, time and dedication. Positive results have started to trickle down, and we just need to carry on and stick to ‘doing it’.

The ShareFair itself, with its parallel sessions, diversity of participants and outbursts of holistic action was in itself a great demonstration of the importance of multiple knowledge perspectives in the process of designing and implementing development initiatives – whether civic-driven or externally-steered.


All tweets from this session are archived here:

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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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