Friday, June 30, 2006

Culture: the functioning of networks in Ghana

As I said in an earlier blogpost, Mr. Boateng who is a board member of GAPVOD, the NGO umbrella organisation of Ghana, gave an excellent and inspiring talk about networks in Ghana. Though not all networks in Ghana have learning at their core, as communities of practice have, I think it is interesting to explore where these dynamics stimulate or inhibit communities of practice within networks. Hence a summary of what he discussed (any reformulations may be mine):

o There are ad hoc and institutionalised networks, the latter help members to do their work in a more competent way. Ad hoc networks come together and dissolve after the work is done.

o In Ghana lots of networks compete with their members for project implementation as they start to do projects, rather than helping member to do their work eg. GINKS should not educate people on ICT4D, but rather help members to do so.

o Networks are expected to engage in advocacy to remove bottlenecks impeding member’s activities, create a conducive environment. Members need capacity to advocate. A network is credible in its advocacy attempt when it not only shows what’s going wrong, but also ways of moving forward. If a network criticises too much, it get a troublesome name and will be seen as ‘opposition’ hence closing the ears of people who should listen.

o For funding you can also look into the network. Members can put something on the table as well. Combine strengths to provide the necessary materials for the work.

o It is important to have strong people to be part of your network. The strength of a network is in its members. Executives don’t have to be everywhere, an executive doesn’t have to move to Tamale to do a project, while a member is there.

o Commitment and dues: if executives have to use their own money to travel it is demotivating, while there are members who can work. Dues are very important to sustain the work, either annual or monthly dues. Donors come to support what you are already doing, but most networks are donor-driven. “No representation without taxation, no taxation without representation”, dues also create commitment.

o Leadership, leaders who become employees of the network is a threat to the network. While choosing leaders, it is important to check the background of these leaders and monitor. Audit reports should be presented to the general assembly meeting.

o Local networks must appreciate that they are local and base decisions on its functioning on that. For instance, while choosing an office, how do you sustain the office rent? Development partners will not always help us.

o Information should flow, not only between the coordinator and the secretary. An audit report should be presented to all, so that people know about it.

o Look at your allies and supporters. Eg. the village chief. The chief has to give his support to get to work in the communities, this is something you have to respect.

o Network challenges are funding and fundraising, proposal writing, and making use of local assets. Everybody has limited resources, so be the link with others in the community. You need strong people to take the network off.

o Institutional structure. Talked about members and blocking information for the members, so that people are voted back in office. The constitution should not be manipulated. If people don’t understand things, you have to repackage it so that they can understand.

o It is important for network to identify the strength of its members. Eg. can use SMS to get quick feedback on issues. Have the right people managing the right positions, and partner with the media as important allies. Try to weave your way into the political leadership. ‘Who can I use? Where is he going to church?’ And tell them about alternatives. When presenting something, think about ‘what’s in it for me’ while packaging your advocacy message.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Culture: different meanings attached to the same word

Yesterday I experienced a nice example of different meaning attached to words. Ibrahim asked me, when we were going to have breakfast in Bolgatanga: "which tea do you want.?" "Uhm with milk?" I said, unsure of what he was looking for. I wanted to know whether you want lipton (=tea) or milo (=chocolate) or nescafe (=coffee) was the response. So for Ibrahim "tea" means either coffee, tea or chocolate, whereas for me tea = tea. (and yes, if it would be your first trip to Ghana, you might not know that milo is chocolate and lipton is tea either..)

By the way, this is a great way of using SMS: for typing the idea quickly, and cleaning up the blogpost and adding any pictures and links later!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

SMS To Email

this is a Blogpost by mobile phone ..feels weird not to be able to see the result . Dorine asked whether this will make any sense but i guess this is part of experimenting .an important habit to stimulate innovation. As you see this post is already longer than my last as i am now more Confident that it works....

Culture: A presentation in Ghana

I will add a picture later! Yesterday we had a meeting with GINKS members interested in discussing network membership and sustainability issues. We invited Mr. Boateng, board member from GAPVOD, a Ghanaian umbrella organisation for NGOs to talk about his experiences with networks in Ghana, so that GINKS can benefit from these lessons.

When he came in (in a hurry) without any support materials, saying he doesn't need a beamer or flipchart, I was a little worried. But when he started talking- he talked for 45 minutes with any break, in a loud voice- he had a his audience glued to his lips. His stories were so to the point, recognisable and honest that it got everyone attracted. (I made notes, so can share some of his points later). What's making me think all the time, is how he violates all the 'presentation rules' (at least the ones on visual aids) and still has a great presentation. I think some of the ingredients that contributed to the effect of the presentation were: the fact that he knows his topics by heart from many practical personal experiences with networks and network management, his passion for the topic and the fact that all present had a huge interest in network membership issues (if not, they would not sacrifice their saturday to it) and the use of very practical, recognisable examples.

It has happened to me before in Ghana, that various speakers had nice powerpoints, but the best presentation was by the person who excused himself that he had not had time to prepare a powerpoint, and he scribbled his ideas on the overhead sheet while talking.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Communities of practice: we leren allang alleen niet bewust

(cartoon by Mark de Koning- who was the cartoonist present during the workshop on organisational learning and made cartoons based upon what he overheard!)

This is our week of fame as I figured in the article we leren allang alleen niet bewust by Vice Versa, the volkskrantbanen and my daughter was interviewed for stadsblad about her views on the playground. (the last is not available online). The article talks about organisational learning for development organisation- is it a hype or not. Unfortunately, no mention of the role of communities of practice. But probably I should have brought that up as functional CoPs can play an important role in fostering learning processes and innovation within organisations.

Quite some media experience suddenly, and I think the volkskrant experience worked best (a face-to-face interview- represented by a column in the article). For Vice Versa, I was interviewed for almost an hour by phone (in the train, but that was my own fault) and only three quotes are taken from the interview for the article, which quotes various others (now can't believe why I actually said those silly things, but I remember I did, so that's also my own fault). I felt very dependent on the journalist's mercy and very powerless even though I got to see the text before it was published. She decided not to link to my blog for instance, even though I suggested this. But it makes me even more aware of the power of blogging (web2.0 thinking) versus old media (web1.0 thinking). Why didn't they tape the whole interview and make that available online? Why not provide as many links as people may find interesting?

By the way in the same Vice Versa there is another article which sounds interesting: cultuur en ontwikkeling een missie in het eigene? Another thing I don't understand about Vice Versa is why they publish in Dutch while talking about development cooperation. Several of my own colleagues will not be able to read it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Technology: supporting decision-making

Many articles (like this one by Wenger have written about the waves in knowledge management, the first focussing on technology, the second on people, the third on strategic capabilities). Nancy Dixon in Does your organisation have an asking problem? also talks about the challenges of software-based knowledge systems, and how to combine it with access to tacit knowledge in the heads of colleagues.

While planning our holiday in China (with a friend who lives in Beijing) I experienced a nice example of how technology (information from the internet) and people (talking to friends) interact for decision-making. Though we originally planned to visit Tibet from Liyang in southern China, a friend (met by coincidence in the train) alerted me to altitude sickness. I then started discussing it with my friend in Beijing and starting reading lots of things on the internet about altitude sickness (facts, like the name of a medicine, etc and personal accounts). Still it was hard to make a decision because the information is hard to evaluate and translate into a good decision (and information is sometimes contradictory). Till we talked to friends who have lived in Nepal. They have never been to Tibet, but were able to tell many stories about altitude sickness, what matters (for instance sleeping at the same altitude is very different from when you go up and sleep at a lower altitude). Knowing the friends, their experiences, their seriousness, etc. made it much easier to make a decision. So we are not going to Tibet and I'm very happy with our (well thought-through) decision!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Technology: more media and interaction

I was interviewed by Volkskrant banen as 'spouse' of someone who has worked abroad. (now my husband has spent more time as spouse than I have, but OK, let's face it, I'm the woman :)).

I thought it would just be an article in the paper, and it is, but it also available on the web. There you can click through the separate parts of the interview, like my interview you can react to the full article (title: 'Nice, work abroad, but what to do with your partner') and there is an animation which is funny. The animation highlights that people (read men) used to take the wives abroad, and the wives would decide to have the children there (see picture), whereas nowadays women want their own careers (and I did 15 years ago).

Now that I touched on gender roles; this morning we discovered that we have an overkill of women in our tagging experiment- and noticed that though men dominate in technical ICT things, women seem more predominant in web2.0?? (nothing scientific, could be a coincidence). So if you are male, interesting in tagging knowledge management for development sources, you can apply for participation...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Communities of practice: Naava's example of the role of a facilitator

Naava Frank posted a comment on lurkers and I asked her if I could repost it. (thanks!). I liked the story as it demonstrates the role of a CoP facilitator (or weaver as she call it) in connecting people and stimulating private exchanges within the CoP, not only public- for all- meetings or discussions.

Below is a story from my work about a lurker who becomes a former lurker. The lesson I take from this is: Systematically reaching out to peripheral members of a community may have unexpected positive outcomes.

The Lurker
I was seated at a national conference session eight months after the HoS (Heads of School)community had formed, and a man came in and sat down in the seat next to me. When I looked at his name tag, I noted that he belonged to the one school in the area that had not participated in the HoS community to date. I had recently reached out to that school by making a call to a staff person who was not listed as the primary contact for the school but who had been identified by a friend as a promising audience. I introduced myself to the man at the session and asked him if he was familiar with our work, to which he responded:“I am a lurker. It looks like things are really moving along nicely.”He explained to me that he did not want to take the formal position of the primary contact, the Head of School, because someone else was currently holding that position. I mentioned that there were members of the HoS community who held other titles at their schools. He mentioned that he had talked to a friend about the CoP and about his hesitation to attend because of the potential issues of competition between his school and others, and that his friend had encouraged him to try it out. It was quite evident in our conversation that he had been reading the materials I was sending to him over the course of the HoS community’s development. This man was quite engaged with the community, though he had not to date attended any group events.

I saw the Lurker at another session at that same conference and introduced him to my co-weaver, and we all agreed to have lunch together. Over soup and salad, he filled us in on what was going on with his school. He told us about its special and unusual warmth and that he was working on how to grow and professionalize the school without losing that warmth. I asked what would be helpful to him in doing that and he said he would like to speak with “someone who has done it - or an expert.”I was impressed by his decisiveness and sophistication. As I sipped on my soup, I noticed at the table ahead of me another head from Boston, D, a very thoughtful and articulate man who had been through a similar process and who is very generative. After lunch, I introduced them and they exchanged contact information. A point of interest about this pair, and about the relationships that are often developed through Communities of Practice, is that the two men have very different backgrounds, coming from different religious streams.

Less than two weeks later I received the following email from the “former” Lurker: I met last night with B and had a nice chat over dinner. Thanks for the connection.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Technology: the tagovates

Picture by Beth Kanter using a picture by Ed. I may start using flickr. So far I tried to avoid signing up everywhere... Though I did sign up for the famous Tagovates

I found this via the references on my sitemeter- the best feature on my blog to know why I'm blogging! (apart from comments). The references indicate how people have found out about your blog, and it is a way to see where your blog or a blogpost got mentioned (blogger blogs don't have the trackback function, but this is good enough).

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Communities of practice: legitimate peripheral participation and lurking

56 (!) messages ago I asked a question in com-prac, refering to a paper by Miguel Cornejo 'Revisiting Communities of Practice' who observed that "a person can participate in a peripheral way in a community without it implying a lack of qualification: the person can be engaged as a core member in other communities." I asked how people see lurking (the picture is a lurker :) ) versus legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) and how we can ensure the adequate participation of 'experts' in online communities?

I want to use my blog to capture what I gathered from the whole discussion. Legitimate peripheral participation is an analytical perspective (LPP) that has to do with opening the practice to someone who is not a core member and who has something if not a lot to learn about the practice. So can lurking on a discussion list be said to be a way of opening up the practice of a community of practice to new entrants? David Gibbons proposed to call lurking "legitimate peripheral non-participation", as it is not about participating in the practice, but rather reading in on discussions about the practice, which sparked a whole thread about the role of lurkers in online discussion forums. Lurkers participate by reading posts. This may be a form of LPP, but different from the real participation in the practice (like fishing, advising or training).

John Smith pointed out the 'Net extends the periphery and makes it larger, but it also creates more tenouous forms of participation. It's up to community leaders and facilitators to be looking for correspondence between the talk and the walk (or the fly casting or the teaching or the policing or whatever the practice)'. Madalena Pino Santos added to this by saying that the ideas that are discussed in an online forum like com-prac are also discussed in our minds, with our closer peers, so there are activities going on, even if not always visible in digital form and in a local space (this one). A side conversation on the blog of Nancy White brought in the criteria of changing practice: "The conclusion I am drawing is that these labels are only useful in context if we want them to define a boundary. In theory, they are handles with which we can talk about participation. If I learn from reading and it changes my practice, that counts as participation in a community of practice for me." Whereas Beverly Trayner brought in the aspect of identity and accountability; if people identify with the community of practice behind a discussion list and have the aspiration to learn and grow, lurking may be a way of LPP. (but hence not in all cases, a lurker is brought into the practice of a community of practice).

The discussion then shifted somewhat to how to draw in lurkers into the conversation of the community of practice (and a discussion of whether com-prac is a cop or not plus a question whether the institutionalised term lurker should not be replaced with a more positive term).
Pierre Gagnier then brought the ideas of potentiality and actuality to bear. Lurkers may feel some deligitimizing pressures (often self-generated) about their contributions, as when for example they are faced with the challenge of inserting themselves into an established space with established experts. So how open is the community of practice to new contributions and how are new or different perspectives welcomed? Followed by some very useful posting on why people may/may not move from lurker to poster. (check it out, or maybe I should summarize that in a separate blogpost).

Concluding, I think that communities of practice may use a variety of means to communicate, work and learn together. A discussion list may be one of the more public means of that community and may provide a low-threshold space for people to get interested in the community of practice. (a form of LPP?). If they identify with the community of practice, they may move on to other forms of communication/participation. So not all lurkers may actually aspire to become really part of the community of practice, you may use it just to fish for links (like I do with some discussion groups). But for a community of practice it is unlikely that the discussion group is the sole means of interaction (though it may be the most visible part for outsiders).

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Technology: RSS, tagging and back to work!

Beth Kanter calls for nonprofit tagvocates (she writes tagovates, but yeah, I think I can read her mind), to use tagging for social change, not just for personal information management. The netsquared conference had interesting sessions, I still want to check it out more through their podcasts (just don't know when!).

I've used my delicious account for a couple of months now for my personal information management (just like an archive) and it's proven very handy. To use it for team, organisations, or across organisations (in communities of practice) is new to me, and I'm involved in two experiments (one is the km4dev list on the right); one across organisations, another in my own organisation. What's very clear is that it's really hard to explain/imagine/dream up for people who have not experienced social bookmarking and/or RSS at work. As it was hard for me to imagine when I first heard about tagging.

In terms of information management for professionals: I believe RSS alone has the huge potential to bring some space back into the worklives of professionals sweating to work away their email inboxes. I have transfered three email based discussion lists into my RSS reader and that gives so much more fun and energy back to read the lists when you feel like doing so!

What happened (and I think this happens to lots of people) was that I subscribed to a discussion list in a crazy mood or because it is recommended by a colleague and ended up going through all these mails in your inbox as a 'to do list', which kills my interest, fun and creativity. I have the impression lots of professionals are now struggling to keep up with their inboxes and this duty because heavier and heavier.

Transferring more to RSS feeds (and this can be topical feeds from joint unique delicious tags tagged by colleagues too) will shift the feeling of having to read to reading when you are ready, interested and available. Much more interest driven, user-centric. Leaving professionals to do their work and not mix it with potentially distracting mails. This is a huge shift RSS/tagging can bring into the workspace.

Going back to tagging for social change: that's a whole different topic: I haven't seen how tagging could really work for social change other than bringing the right information together in faster ways? The other observation I can make so far on our tag experiments is that it doesn't foster any exchange/conversation, unless you combine it with reading your co-tagger blogs...