Saturday, September 30, 2006

Practical example: the value of the Poverty Analysis Community for the World Bank

Via Elsua I found and was able to watch the 14-minutes video with Ludovick Leon Shirima, community leader of the Poverty Analysis Community (PAC) interviewing Frannie Leautier, the World Bank Vice President. You can view it too here

You can watch it in 4 separate parts too:
- The PAC and knowledge sharing
- What does the PAC add to the World Bank?
- The PAC benefits for the World Bank?
- What is the impact of the PAC community of practice on World Bank clients?

Some highlights: The whole approach of communities of practice is based on the idea that people get knowledge around the coffee machine, and hence CoPs work to make learning easy and flexible.The thematic groups (the CoPs in the World Bank) deal with immediately relevant and available knowledge. Lessons learned flow from the CoP into the World Bank. It hence helps the World Bank to learn from the outside.

How to keep people interested if they are not meeting face-to-face (from the interview you'd assume the PAC functions completely virtually)? If you have a good topic or domain and real practitioners, you can create excitement with real creation of ideas. If you have this, you can manage to keep people connected and create more value in the long run. You keep people connected to each other and the materials. Plus you can identify knowledge gaps easily by the CoP.

Impact on clients of the World Bank can be enhanced by linking the CoP to other CoPs. It is important to make sure members of the CoP are linked to changes and policy discussion. They could work with the media and hence disseminate the agenda.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Technology, culture and virtual weddings in Zimbabwe

(picture from BBC article)
The BBC writes about virtual weddings in Zimbabwe.

"Zimbabwe's traditional weddings, usually joyous occasions with singing, dancing and plenty of food, are now increasingly being held in the absence of those whose presence might be considered vital - the bride and groom. "

Couples living abroad find it hard to be there for the traditional wedding ceremony, so instead send money home for the ceremony to take place without them. This means some parts of the tradition can not take place, for instance, "A day or two after lobola has been paid the bride is supposed to be covered in a white sheet and taken by her aunts to join her husband and in-laws at their homestead, where she carries out household duties."

Playwright and cultural analyst Stephen Chifunyise says: "It does satisfy minimum requirements, because in the actual process of paying lobola, the couple does not play a major role," he says, explaining that everybody appreciates the reason they are out of the country. And it also shows that we've been able to marry technology and tradition adequately."

Another example of how cultural habits do shift over time. It was not clear to me, how exactly technology was used to support this wedding, apart from the couple phoning afterwards to hear how it has been.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Technology: the Dgroups success story

Last week we had several discussions on how to get lively discussions going on online fora. It made me think again about the success of Dgroups "the starting point for fostering groups and communities in international development" and how hard it is to pinpoint the critical success factors and hence to replicate this success.

In July there was a meeting for Dgroup administrators and moderators in the Netherlands. The slogan of Dgroups is "Development through dialogue". Dgroups was designed in 2001 from the desire to create a simple, reliable and accessible communication and information-sharing tool that could be used by development organisations and its partners. Currently there are 21 supporting organizations. The system is e-mail based, but has an online platform as well, where message, resources, members and a calendar are accessible. In 2006, 12.000 messages pass through Dgroups every month, and a 1000 files or links to files are shared. In total, since the beginning of Dgroups, 288.000 messages have passed and 27.000 resources. The growth in number of groups has gone in rapid expansion since 2004 as you can see in the graph.

The report highlights some different organizational uses of Dgroups, ranging from Dgroups as a handy way to reach a group of people through a single email address by INASP, to the moderated topic and case discussions by the Pelican initiative . For PPGIS, a group on Geographical Information Systems, Dgroups is one of many tools, like a website, RSS, translation tools, webring, skype and more. I guess this may be true for most groups. Future directions for Dgroups include Improving facilitation of Dgroups, engaging Dgroups administrators and users and improving the web platform and interface.

Through a blogpost by Sarah Cummings I had the chance to read a report on the use and characterization of Dgroups in Latin America. This report identifies 7 different ways organizations utilize the platform:

* Internal communication in one organization
* Communication between organizations
* Organization of events
* Virtual communities
* Virtual forums of limited duration
* Work groups
* Publications

With the majority defining themselves as virtual communities (34%). It concludes that Dgroups is simple to use, suits low bandwith, is free of publicity and has the endorsement of a partnership of organizations working in development themes. These characteristics may explain in part its success I guess. It also states that Dgroups is not useful for all purposes it is currently used for. So there may be scope for more appropriate design of online tools, specifically designed for southern users. This may work better than adopting 'northern' tools.

The story of how ICCO, a Dutch development organisation introduced and uses Dgroups can be found here

Technology: videoconferencing

Cartoon by Pathuis: Bert Beamer via SNT conferencing services.

"finally after all those months! Free World! Seeing Family! Fresh Air! Birds!"

"Eh, no, nowadays we use life videoconferencing for bringing prisoners up to court"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Technology: Help! New train ticketing software

Today the Dutch Railways (NS) had new software on their ticketing machines.
I got to know about it because the lady in front of me said the machine was not working. It normally asks you for the first letter of the city you want to travel to. Then it gives you the options of the various cities starting with that letter. With the new software, it still asks for the first letter of the city you want to travel to; but then it asks for the second letter. On top of that -totally unexpected- question there are only few letters of the alphabet you can chose from (for instance if you chose D from the Hague, you can only chose the a, o, e and i. So the lady kept on repeated her first letter again and again, and the machine did not react. Later in the train they announced the introduction of the new software because they had a lot of questions about it.

It's a story about how easily people get used to routineous use of technology and get upset when things work differently. Or a story about how to upset the Netherlands (people are no longer upset by train delay....)

I just discovered you can practice with the ticketing machines online. A nice exercise for people abroad who intend to travel to the Netherlands. Unfortunately it still runs with the old software.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Technology: using flickr for find digital pictures you can use

Beth Kanter has made a perfectly clear screencast (explanation supported by visual from your computer screen). You can watch it when you click here. The screencast explains how you can use the photo service flickr to find digital pictures which you may use for your publications, blog or website or whatever. You can do so by looking for certain tags and the creative commons license.

Culture: international experience and innovation

Via life2.0 I found the post: are you a lulu? The company is seeking smart, creative, energetic, web-savvy people and have developed this quiz to find innovative people.

I'm happy with the 'have you studied or lived abroad' and 'are you multilingual' as an appreciation for what this does to your capacity to see other patterns. On the other hand there is a huge number of people who have studied or lived abroad, and I wonder if this automatically enhances innovative skills.

But most of all, this brings me to my deep conviction that you can have a company full of innovative people, if the organisational culture does not favour innovation, these people will just be frustrated. (hm, how do I know?)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Technology: how to develop the Dutch online competences?

I talked to Jos van Brummelen who is doing his thesis for the Erasmus University in Rotterdam about communities of practice. In particular he is investigating whether developing an online game would work to stimulate people into online corporate conversations. The idea followed from the observation (an observation I share!) that a learning event like an in-house training could trigger a more continuous online community of practice. He found me via my statements about online competences of Dutch companies on the emerce website. (it's amazing to find out this has been copied here and here amongst others, sort of rapid pumping around of information on the web!). The way he found me is a good example of how online networking exists in addition to the good old way of networking. It also brings me back to my old fascination that information travels so rapidly when people are really interested in the information.

His questions forced me to formulate some of my ideas that I developed over the past year more clearly. I thought I'd blog them before I loose them (rather than scribbling them down in one of my paper notebooks).

1. It is only meaningful to think of developing a community of practice after a learning event when the training topic constitutes of an appropriate level of domain, not to narrow, not too broad; when a sufficient number of people is passionate about that domain, and when the domain is important enough for the organisation (or organisations). And if you want a training to develop into a community of practice, it needs a high level of investment, it is not something that develops completely organically.

2. People have to develop a certain trust in online communications; this type of trust is different from the face-to-face trust. Once people have developed that trust they can more rapidly interact online and with more confidence. There is an interesting article called communication and trust in global virtual teams by Leidner and Jarvenpaa, which I also blogged about here. They talk about swift trust and their questions is: from where is trust imported to the global virtual team and how is trust maintained via electronic communication? rather than how to 'build trust'. So the radical difference is not saying that people need to build the same level of trust, but that it is important they they have built previous trust in online communication in general! My positive experience was the foundations workshop during which I developed a lot of 'swift trust' in the possibilities of online communications.

3. There is a generational thing: probably the younger generations will have that type of trust online, confidence automatically, and will have access to a wider range of communications. Yet, organisations can not wait for them to fully take over before they can add easy online interaction for effective learning and innovation to the face-to-face repertoire. So how to deal with this variety in organisations? One thing is to use the younger generational advantage to your own advantage. The fact that management team are often made up of older people who are 'blind' to the full range of online possibilities does not help make an important shift.

4. I consider myself as part of the older generation (I learned wordperfect as a student and handed over my first report in university typed with the aid of a typewriter). I believe I have developed some level of online trust over the past year which allows me to blog rapidly, enter online discussion fora etc. (so there is hope :)). Hence, I think it is important to realize that people can learn new ways of interacting online and new ways of building trust. I think we have to understand more about how people learn this; how to open up their interest, etc. I think for instance that when people are uncomfortable for whatever reason (at the start of a new group, because of a reorganisation), introducing new technologies adds up to their level of discomfort. So you'd have to introduce the use of new technologies when people are sufficiently at ease in general. There is probably a relationship with individual learning styles too.

5. It would be great to see research into companies in the Netherlands about these differences, how are the number of employees conversant online distributed over the organisation and how does this influence the level of online interactions and learning? I need to dive more into Dutch articles and literature, which I haven't done so far. Tips for interesting articles and blogs are welcome.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Technology: the mzalendo project

Through a post by Ethan Zuckerman I can sit in a boring place and still know what
Ory Okolloh talked about during the citizen media and blogging conference in South Africa.

Ory observes, “In Kenya, you hide information without knowing why you’re hiding it. With technology, you can break that open.” Mzalendo is putting draft bills online and reporting their status, letting people search by issue, and providing a bill tracker so you can watch the progress of a piece of legislation. They’re offering a database of MPs, searchable by gender, province, district, and party affiliation. Coming soon is a list of bills sponsored from 2003 to the present. It’s difficult to put voting records online, because many Kenyan votes are voice votes. But a searchable Hansard online is a future goal. Her project, Mzalendo (pronounced: “me za len do”) uses new technologies to try to hold Kenya’s government accountable.

I think this case tries and change things from the technology side. On one hand I'd think people will try and meddle or withhold information (a database or blog in itself will not make you share), on the other hand, presenting information in new ways can also be helpful to draw new conclusions or ask new questions. My favorite example is the level of salaries of development agencies directors. Most information was available through annual reports. But it wasn't till journalists picked it up that the individual donors to these organisations started paying attention to the level of salaries of the organisations they donate to.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Technology: I collaborate, e-collaborate, we collaborate

I'm very proud to link to a new group blog I collaborate, e-collaborate, we collaborate, of the e-collaboration group that I co-facilitate on behalf of IICD. Interested people meet quarterly, exchange by Dgroup, and now the group has a new public space by means of this blog. From the description: This blog belongs to the “e-collaboration among Dutch NGO’s,” group, which is facilitated by a joined initiative of PSO, IICD and ICCO in The Netherlands. The members of this group all work in the development sector and have a shared interest in e-collaboration. The purpose of this blog is to share personal stories about encounters and experiences with working over the internet. I'm very fond of the blog's name, which was selected through an online poll.

Maaike van Steenhoven, student from the University of Utrecht, faculty of new media and digital culture interviewed about 15 people from this group to talk about the introduction of a new tool for e-collaboration. The stories are very interesting and easy to read. I think it will be both inspiring to read the stories for the creative use of the tools, as well as interesting to use the stories to detect some common trends about the introduction of new technologies in development organisations. There are already 5 stories up, and the rest will follow soon.

The blog will continue to be the public space of the e-collaboration group, after Maaike has put up her stories, a group of 6 members will take up this challenge. We thought about linking up to the Netsquared case studies blog, but finally decided that it would be a different kind of case as the netsquared blog highlights the various initiatives, but does not talk about the introduction process itself.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Technology: loosing skills through the virtual world?

Dave Snowden blogged about the virtual and the real. He wonders about the younger generation, reflecting on his own past and the way he learned to interact with other minded people:

" We played on the street, with whoever else was on the street at the time and we learnt to adapt to different people and different attitudes and backgrounds. Our interaction was not virtual, it was physical; it was not restricted to people we wanted to be with, it required us to play (and then work) with people we would not necessarily choose to be with"

'Now if this is the case, and the next generation are only used to operating in a symbolic virtual world, in which they limit their interactions to like minded social groups (and it is at least arguable that this is happening), what will happen when they enter the world of business?'

And his question: "So the dilemma and the question, to which I have not developed any answer. How do we take advantage of social computing and all it offers, while not degenerating the richness of human intelligence to the poverty of a machine?"

This is a question I and others raised too when talking about the faster linking web2.0 world of communities of practice. How to leverage the power of differences if you quickly find like-minded people all over the world? How to make sure communities of practice are diverse enough to innovate? How to make sure you don't loose the skills of conflict resolution and at the first sign of conflict people hop on to find like-minded people?

I think this trend of homogenenisation started with urbanisation and is continuing. In smaller villages, people were forced to live together and find ways of solving conflicts (or not- and then forever living cut off from their families due to feuds... ). Personally, I learned a lot about completely different people through hitchhiking all across europe. When I lived with a smaller community of Dutch people in Takoradi, Ghana, I have the idea I was able to go 'back in time' to experience village life including its social pressure and force to conform. On the other hand, people would always help when in troubles and you are forced to live and work with people with different styles etc. that are useful skills. I currently invest more time in communicating via the computer (this blog etc.), time I do not use to communicate with my neighbours (people with very different ways of thinking).

I hence recognise the dilemma quite well. I don't have an answer, but I tend to think positively, that there are new additional ways of learning social skills by the new media. For instance, with the current ability to peek into other lives, there is a different way of learning about group dynamics and other people. Eg. a program like boer zoekt vrouw is very popular and a great way of learning about farmers, and the diversity amongst farmers. Same for expedition Robinson and other programs, and blogs... I wonder if the younger generation will not just be much smarter in finding and switching groups which help them enhance some of their knowledge and skills. Better in coping with changes and different social settings. And how does that support innovation, being able to focus on a topic with a like-minded group? Don't know really. And these are such generalizations.

But I sure think a large challenge will be in bridging the generational differences in use of technologies in companies.

I do think it's funny that I'm now of the generation who knows how life was before the internet. When I talked to our intern, she said that when she did not have an internet connection she wondered how to find out about the train schedule (without internet). Well...., then you need dinosaurs like me who still know the OV telephone number as well as the 'spoorboekje' :).

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Technology: blogging ripples

I found the blogging ripples model via knowledge cafe on the logic+emotion blog

"Yet another stab at the blog levels of influence idea. There are multiple ripples overlapping, happening in a three dimensional space—in real time. If this were animated, the ripples would not dissapear, but radiate."

Personally, most of the times I try to upload unique stories because I think people already read the same blogs as I do. I did notice though that a lot of blogs do copy ideas and links (and building on them as well) - like this post does. In a way, it then works as a measurement of what is important in a certain field. A way to test ideas and see whether they get picked up and amplified by other blogs. The good thing is ofcourse that even 'small' blogs have the chance to come up a superbe idea, which could be amplified. This as compared to a f2f meeting or conference where the 'small' blogger might not dare to speak up. So I might do it more often if I think something is important.

On the other hand blog influences seem to work very subtle. You read something, you start thinking about it, and it leads to a new blogpost which is much harder to trace. Sort of cross pollination. Harder to track but still influence ripples?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Knowledge management: the typical mom

On the beach, my daughters thought of a nice game; in turns, they were making drawings of 'typical mama' , 'typical grandpa', etc. - including themselves. After that the others had to guess. It was really an exercise which gives some feedback. Besides what I expected (mom behind the computer), there was a typical mom who doesn't want to read to them in the early morning and prefers to sleep. And talks to Sil like she is 2 years old (though she is 5)...

Never knew that. It reminded me of the catch phrase that we learn from our mistakes. Often when someone makes an obvious mistake eg sending a mail to the wrong address and it bounces, we do learn from this mistake and correct the mail address. But I wonder if we really learn from our mistakes. Most of the 'mistakes' are not outright mistakes, but rather imperfect actions, are not so obvious and we may never get the feedback to know the effect of our actions. Or the effect takes place much later. Or the people affected do not tell you how they feel (for instance because they are subordinates, or do not want to hurt you). So to enhance learning from mistakes it is crucial to increase the various feedback mechanisms and channels, not only formal anomymous evaluations, but short evaluations, informal checking, sensing or asking for feedback outrightly.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Knowledge management: interpretations and online car parking)

I received quite some online jokes and I won't bother blogging all of them. I received a joke where you are asked whether you want a salary increase. When you try to click on Yes, it is impossible (the yes moves away) so you can only click on No.

So when I got this online driving test where you have to park a car and had game over! You hit another car! for three subsequent times, I thought it was the same joke structure as with the salary and that it was impossible .... only to discover much later that it was possible and that I am a bad driver after all (online that is :)). But it is a nice example of how what you see and perceive is coloured by your recent experiences. Like the typical seeing pregnant women when you are pregnant.

By the way I have added a sixth stream to my blog: knowledge management in general; as some knowledge related posts are beyond just CoPs.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Communities of practice: rhythm and rituals

Saturday night in Zhongdian

My favorite place in China was Zhongdian, where I made this video of the people dancing on the market square in the evening. It was saturday evening, actually don't know whether they do it every evening or just on saturdays, but the atmosphere was great, on the way back the square was completely full of people who had joined this group. It reminded me of rituals and rhythm in communities of practice. In the e-collaboration group, we agreed to quarterly meetings to complement the online exchange, wednesday afternoons, everytime hosted by a different member. I hope that may provide a sort of rhythm. I don't think that a rhythm dictated by a CoP coordinator can work though, in a way the rhythm has to come from the group. (I use the word rhythm because I'm almost allergic to the word rituals as it sounds close to traditions and I always feel stiffled by traditions..); it also has some kind of religious connotation, googling on rituals gives all kind of weird sites and references to satanic rituals!! But then what can you do as facilitator to create a rhythm?

Nancy White has written something about rituals in online interaction
"Rites and rituals, celebration of special events and member milestones can help bring members together and feel like a group or community. Rituals might include new member initiations, rituals for elevating members to formalized volunteer roles (greeters, cybrarians, guides) or simply a place for people to note it is a birthday, anniversary or special event and allow other members to "celebrate" with them. Celebrating milestones, friendly initiation rituals, reflection practices and holidays are some examples."

By the way I decided to try and host my video on Youtube instead of my old castpost and I got a remark from someone going to Zhongdian. So it's easier to make links using such a popular site. Blogging your video is as easy as on castpost.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Communities of practice: learning to cycle

I'm teaching my daughter how to cycle. Or rather: trying to because there is not much progress, even though we cycle almost every day. I suspect she is not very motivated to learn it now as she keeps on going in weird direction whereas I believe she can keep the cycle straight (if only she wanted to :) and then I get angry which doesn't help. My other daughter learned it very quickly so that's another lesson that the teacher cannot take full credit for a rapid learning process.

But it made me reflect on the cycling skill as a very visible one and hence easy to explain what you learned: I learned how to cycle. This in contrast with what I have learned over the past year about blogging for instance. While cleaning my folders, I found a discussion I had with Beth Kanter not even a year ago, on blogging, when she stimulated me to start one during the online facilitation workshop where we met. During the year I learned a lot, not only about how to post and how to install a sitemeter, but also about the blogosphere, blogging 'cultures' (whenever you can provide a link, do so) and a lot of things which are even harder to express, like fiddling with the tools made me more audacious with other online tools, or like not being embarrassed. And sometimes I talk to someone about a topic I blogged about, and maybe able to articulate my thoughts much more clearly. At time I feel the same while working with a younger colleague. It is then, that I realize how much I have acquired/changed over time.

So why am I saying this? Partly to be able to show this nice picture (some of my postideas start with my visualisation of a picture) but also because I notice so often that it is hard to talk about knowledge and know what people can contribute, or articulate what you or your organisation can bring to the process. It is in the contrast with other people (working or talking with them) or with yourself in the past, that this may become more visible.