Thursday, November 30, 2006

Technology: the power of web2.0 for African Civil Society

Kabissa has written about the power of the social web or African Civil Society. "The social web, also called Web 2.0 by trendsetters, represents a new era of the Internet in which people no longer go on the web expecting to merely access information provided by others. Everyone can now comment on what they read, change it, rate it, and put up information of their own - all using new user-friendly web interfaces. As a result, many now approach the Internet as a place to make and develop relationships with friends, network professionally and socially, and to create an image for themselves."

They mention some of the revolutionary promises like sharing information freely under the creative commons license, the easiness of sharing text, photos, video and audio materials via the web, communicating in real time through Voice over IP and teleconference-like tools, and the combination of mobile phone and the web (like I could blog by SMS from Ghana).

But maybe I like the pitfalls even better: (copied and shortened from their site):
  1. What to do when you’re away from the Internet? People that spend alot of time online begin to take it for granted - this was already the case before Web 2.0, but now new Web 2.0 services are encouraging you to do more online than ever. What do you do when you’re not near your Yahoo mailbox, your blog, your flickr account?
  2. Choose online services carefully. There are now a great many online communities, news portals, support forums, instant messaging providers, and advocacy sites that are serving every conceivable interest and perceived business need.
  3. A "stale" blog makes you look incompetent. Setting up a blog is quick and easy to do - but keeping it going takes perserverence, nurturing and planning. Many make the mistake of creating a blog, adding an optimistic launch post and then abandoning it forever.
  4. The web is forever. This may be hard to imagine, but thanks to sites like Google and the Wayback Machine, anything you add to blog websites or post to an e-mail mailing list might be retrievable even years later.
  5. Bad information is worse than no information. With a read-write web, any nutcase can set up a beautiful, legitimate-looking blog website and start posting falsehoods to the world.

I'd probably like to add that you still have to find people to whom it is useful to communicate and with whom you want to collaborate. You can easily waste your time writing a blog that nobody reads. And then I'd say the potential of the web is mostly in finding people who have dealt with likeminded problems as you, found innovative solutions, or finding people who are willing to think with you. So it needs a whole new skillset not to drown.

And with all this collaboration over the web- fighting over scarce resources will not diminuish. But maybe we can become smarter in using the resources? Yesterday I read about the Free studying through the internet (in Dutch) which is becoming a world wide trend. So people who are curious and want to learn (and are connected) can now really start self-learning. This is a huge shift.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

knowledge management and the exploding whale

Exploding Whale

I told someone about the video with the exploding whale, that I got to know through a message on the knowledge management for development listserv. I was curious whether the whale had already made it to youtube. And there it was... ready to be blogged.

The advice by the knowledge managers was that the exploding whale video can be used to illustrate the usefulness of doing an After Action Review. It does make this point quite clear indeed.

Challenges for facilitation in communities of practice

Recently I blogged about a facilitation taxonomy developed by Halbana Tarmizi en Gert-Jan de Vreede, you can find the article here.

Through a comment on a blogpost somewhere I found a follow-up on that article called challenges for facilitation in communities of practice written by the same authors, in collaboration with Ilze Zigurs. For this study they formulated two research questions:
  1. What are the most difficult tasks in CoP facilitation?
  2. What are the most important tasks in CoP facilitation?

Knowing the most difficult tasks would help facilitators and organizations to work harder on them, while knowing the most important ones might help facilitators to allocate sufficient attention to those tasks. The results are based on 45 people who took an online survey (I'm thinking I may be one of them, if it was announced at the com-prac yahoo group :).

The most difficult tasks were (according to facilitators with more than 5 years experience):

  1. Encouraging new members to participate in the community's activities
  2. Creating and maintaining an open, positive and participative environment
  3. Creating comfort with and promoting understanding of the tools and tool outputs

The most important tasks (facilitator with >5 years experience):

  1. Building cooperative relationships among members
  2. Keeping community focus on its purpose; creating and maintaining an open, positive and participative environment; mediating conflicts and managing community through guidelines and rules (all equally important)

Encouraging participation is still the most difficult task, and is recognized as important too.

The results look a little biased by online facilitators (see the third most difficult task), and that may be the focus of the article, but that could be made more explicit (if so). What are my own experiences and do I recognize this? I think encouraging participation is important, but participation in a community of practice flows from having a solid base in practice a domain that's interesting enough to a number of people. I get the feeling that it might be different whether you talk about online facilitation, face-to-face or hybrid communities of practice. Next year, Sibrenne Wagenaar and myself will write down our experiences with facilitation of the e-collaboration group. This article claims the facilitator role in communities of practice is still under-researched. So we can contribute a practical case. We are already documenting our reflection in a wiki (which reminds me I should add something to that wiki).

Friday, November 24, 2006

Knowledge management: how to know what you need to know

Time for a story of about 500 years ago.... It came back to my mind yesterday in relation to my last blogpost on Claus and culture. When I studied at the Agricultural University in Wageningen, I had the chance to go to Gem Rae, in Kenya to work for the Provincial Irrigation Unit in Kisumu. I studied smallholder irrigated rice schemes and lived with the farmers there.

One of expatriate engineers worked in Gem Rae but lived in Kisumu. One of his remarks was that he never understood why the farmers did not plant their rice fields on time, at the same time. This was one of the assumption for the design of the waterflow. Because I lived within the scheme area, interacted a lot with the farmers and did interviews, I quickly learned that their system was as follows: there are different plots, of the husband, and of the various wives (there were many polygamous households). The men, often the sons, are responsible for ploughing. They plough in the morning and have a high number of plots to plough. There is a certain hierarchy in the plots that are ploughed, the male household head first, then the first wive, the second wive, etc. Women of migrated husband often have to hire a plough team and have to wait till the team has finished all their family plots. Not hard to see that all farmers can not plant at the same time, because they have to wait for their fies to be ploughed!

I was flabbergasted that it needed my study to highlight this (amongst other things). In a way I felt that the answer to the engineer's question was lying in front of him. The engineer knowledge (design of the waterflow) did link automatically to the relevant knowledge of the farmers (rotational system of ploughing) even though they did interact. And mind you, the problem was not that the engineer were designing from the drawing boards and did not go for field visits. Yet, it wasn't easy to link the relevant sections of the two knowledge systems.

This is something I often see, though people are interacting, have meetings, the relevant links don't surface easily. This is where I see a role for learning facilitator, knowledge managers, brokers, etc.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Claus on culture

Prince Claus was a German married to the Dutch queen Beatrix and as such was able to see the Dutch with German eyes and vice versa. He had a personal intercultural experience which influenced his thinking about development cooperation. Jan Pronk in his book Willens en wetens bring this again to our attention. Claus often said: 'on ne developpe pas, on se developpe', refering to the fact that people take their own learning and developement processes at hand, which you can stimulate but not orchestre or control.

He also felt that there needs to be more attention for the cultural side of the development cooperation (or international cooperation). "Rethinking development means first and foremost curbing ethnocentrism". "The poly-cultural nature of the world we live in is indeed something to be treasured and kept alive."

He thinks that "it is recognised that there is a cultural dimension to development, but it is at the same time regarded as a nuisance and solutions are ought by just adding a dash of culture to our development efforts which otherwise remain valid as before. Such a conception is rooted in the economically minded cultures. Economic achievements are still at the top of their scale of values."

Though it is written 10 years ago, I wonder how much things have really changed in this regard and how much the development sector has learned about the cultural elements at play in development cooperation.

PS. somehow it feels weird not to write about the elections in the Netherlands, you see how much blogging is somehow associated with citizens journalism.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Knowledge management and snow

It is by now famous that Eskimos have many different words for snow from 'crust on fallen snow' to 'soft, deep fallen snow on the ground'. And this is logical because they can and need to distinguish many different conditions of snow. (for snowboarding :))

But we live in a 'knowledge' society, I'm an 'officer knowledge sharing' and yet we have only one word for knowledge. And sometimes I go crazy because of the different meanings people attach to this word (same goes for learning by the way). So if knowledge is so important, can't we develop a bunch of different words to distinguish the different types of knowledge and learning processes?

Patrick Lambe just posted a taxomomy of ignorance here. With many attitudinal differences to the type of ignorance someone may display. Denham Grey distinguishes 3 types of knowledge in one of his blogposts of september and sees them as a continuum:

1. Tacit knowledge is closely related to intuition, gut feelings, compiled experiences and skills. This tacit stuff is very hard to explain, it comes from exposure, arises out of repeated learnings, consists of deeply held feelings and beliefs. Tacit knowledge allows us to reason without logic, to act without reflection and to make sense of new situations.

2. Implicit knowledge sits in the middle. Here we are able to model, explain, draw, surface, share insights and explicate beliefs. This often requires time, deep reflection, dialog, introspection and mulling around.

3. Explicit knowledge is documented, illustrated, captured, stored and retrievable. It takes many forms from transcripts, to business rules, from detailed definitions to evolving scripts e.g. such as we see in wikipedia or video sequences.

This is more refined than the common two-fold distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge, but does it help sufficiently to talk about knowledge and learning in practical cases?

Let's take two extremes of things I feel I have recently learned but which are very different.

A. In the office, I used to take a large cup of coffee from the machine, which overflows easily while climbing the stairs to my office. My colleague told me she takes a large coffee cup but draws a small coffee from the machine, plus an espresso. The cup doesn't overflow and the coffee is stronger and better. So this is what I do now. It doesn't cost me anything to change my habits.

B. On the other hand I have read about, observed and practiced acquisition of consultancies. It seemed very scary, but it's slowly demystifying a little. I feel I'm gradually learning how to do it and how it works (and realized this when someone told me that I talk about it differently) but it is still difficult. Sometimes I have to force myself into unnatural behaviour. (and sometimes I feel I'm doing the wrong things).

Here the model of explicit, tacit and implicit is not very helpful. The coffee case is not explicit knowledge (it is not documented), but a very superficial type of knowledge. The acquisition case involves tacit, implicit and explicit knowledge.

I'm tempted in this case to go back to Argyris model of single and double loop learning. I'd think in this case as well, we should rather see it as continuum from single to double loop learning where you can place a certain learning process at the appropriate level of learning. The two extremes determined by how deep your belief systems or assumptions have to change/will change. Knowing where to place a learning process will help to know how hard it will be to acquire the knowledge, how long it will take and what will be needed to guide the processes. Any pointers to interesting articles which delve into this?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Technology: One liners that stick in your head

Jack Vinson writes about blogs again and shares a quote from Martin Roell in his blogpost : "Blogs are like emails to someone you don't know yet". This reminds me of two quotes that have stayed with me lately:

One via my colleague who overheard two small boys in Burkina Faso. The first boy asked the second boy what a computer was ('qu'est-ce que c'est un ordinateur?'). The answer was: 'C'est une machine pour parler aux blancs.' (it's a machine to talk to the white people).

Angelica Senders from ICCO shared the other quote (don't know where she got it): "if you don't know how to cycle, walking is always faster": in the context of using new technologies or new tools to communicate. This ressembles the quote about talking about tagging to people who have never tagged like 'talking about sex to virgins'. (read this in a blog somewhere too).

Though I'm not such slogan person, a good one liner or slogan which captures an important notion can have its value, because it really sticks in your head. I think it sticks because you recognise it's a good compressed representation of reality.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Advising: Statements to facilitate discussions

Yesterday we had a CPsquare session with Robert Tollen who facilitates an online discussion group about Myeloproliferative diseases. He talked about the deep differences in beliefs between members (eg. believing in scientific treatment versus alternative treatment), and how you can deal with this as a facilitator. The lesson that I took from the discussions, is that as a facilitator you have your own beliefs too, and you have to be aware of your own biases, so that it doesn't limit the conversations. So working as a team you may be much more complementary (but you have to analyze that as well).

It reminded me of two practical sessions I facilitated at work where I tried to make use of statements to surface and bridge diverging group opinions, and which worked very well in my opinion. We are working towards a common strategy for network strengthening, based upon practical experiences in various countries. There seem to be very different ideas and beliefs amongst the group so the challenge is to work with this wide variation and arrive at a common strategy. So I tried to formulate roughly 10 statements (ended up with 11), which capture the main controversial issues. Everyone was then asked to look at the statements on paper, write down whether they agree or disagree, after which they transfer their opinions on a flipchart. The results were in our case very revealing in itself. Issues which seemed controversial ended up with a majority of the votes on the same side, showing that we'd agreed more than expected. The second step was to ask a person who agrees to voice his/her ideas and the same for a person who disagrees, after which a discussion follows. This discussion may lead to a complete rephasing of the statement, as the statements are to open the floor. In our case, it has helped us to improve understanding and get to a next level of the bottlenecks.

I guess it's important for the success of this method that the statements are phrased by someone who is familiar with the informal discussions so that he/she can get to the core dilemmas. The great beauty of the method (as compared to an open discussion) is that it highlights individual opinions. Without the counting of the individual opinions, it may look like there is a lot of divergence because two vocal persons disagree.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Technology: Great Britain's classification of ICT users

On the spatial literacy site you can find a classification of "neighbourhoods using data about our levels of awareness of different information communication technologies, how we use them, and how we think they might improve our quality of life." (in Great Britain).

The 8 main categories are:
1. E-unengaged
2. E-marginalised
3. Becoming engaged
4. E-for entertainment and shopping
5. E-independents
6. Instrumental E-users
7. E-business users
8. E-experts

It's not really linked to age-differences, though from the group of e-professionals it is said these are mostly young people. It demonstrates the wide range of comfort levels and uses of technology. Again, it's not really linked to type of access, yet I remember seeing a graph indicating how internet use changes with the change from dial-up to broadband. (and ofcourse this is different from use from cybercafes or other joint facilitaties).

Friday, November 10, 2006

Technology: how to backup your blogger blog

Quite some time ago, I did a presentation about blogging, and someone asked whether I had made a backup of my blog. Well, I hadn't, but he made me think about it. Now I'm a little lazy with these kind of things (as figuring this out takes some time investment) but they usually stay in my head. Today I managed to find out and back up my blog in less than 30 minutes (for free).

Though google I found the blogpost how to back up your blogger blog. I chose and downloaded htrack (for free!). You can indicate where you want to have the back up and the URL of the website you want to back up and there you go... Still amazing what's possible for free...

Technology: blogs and inequality on the web

Via a blogpost by Nancy White I found a piece written by Jakob Nielsen about Participation inequality: encouraging more users to contribute .

Jakob Nielsen refers to the famous 90-9-1 rule for large-scale, multi-user online communities that 90% of users are lurkers, 9% contributes and 1% accounts for most contributions. I think that you have to be specific: this rule may apply to public large-scale online interaction. I think the danger of the rule is the people working with smaller (sometimes pass-word) protected online community spaces take the same rule as a guideline and accept this high level of inequality. (which I would not)

The writer talks about 1.1 billion internet users, with only 55 million users (5%) having weblogs according to Technorati. Though I think that's enormous, and produces an overwhelming amount of information, he sees it from the side that blogs participation is very inequal on a world wide scale, with only 0.1% of the blogger posting daily. The problem is that the overall blogposts are not representative of web users. (giving more influence= power to the bloggers). He continues with some tips to enhance participation equality (like making it easier to contribute).

I'd rather look at the use of blogs within a single community of practice. For instance, for our e-collaboration community of practice with about 60 people, I think there are about 8-9 bloggers (plus a group blog) and some people want to start a blog. So the CoP may actually encourage others to start blogging. Unfortunately, it is hard to say how much the blogs influence knowledge sharing and relationship building. I know that it has helped me to know what blogging members are doing and thinking (I subscribed to their blogs). It could be interesting at some point to ask more explicitly how many people in the community of practice read the blogs. And of course it is not imperative that everyone should be blogging. (it sounds a little bit like that's the ideal situation for Jacob Nielsen). To be honest I'm happy that not all 60 have a blog because I wouldn't be able to keep up reading all.

In CPsquare (with about 200 members) roughly 12 (didn't count) people are bloggers and a feed combines all blogposts into a community of practice feed. My concern for this intiative was that people may blog about a wide variety of topics, but I guess in daily life you also talk about a wide range of topics. Again, it would be interesting to know whether it's mainly the bloggers using the feed, the other members, or whether it also works as a boundary tool (open for people outside CPsquare).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Managing communities of practice in organizations

Of late, I have printed more articles than I can read, so maybe I should stop printing them... But I have read one article written by Joeri an Laere called Managing communities of practice in organizations. I don't know how I found it, but had a hard time finding it back on the internet (googling didn't work).

He writes about the management dilemma: should a manager interfere with communities of practice (rule them or support them) or would it be wiser to leave them in peace? His paper based on research within the Amsterdam Police Force suggests that 'managers should not make a choice, but rather manage the competing values of different strategies'. The manager could both guide and facilitate the community from time to time rather than only support it.

He did 3 years of action-research including a simulation game. He noted down 4 coordination problems with the CoPs of the Amsterdam Police Force:

  1. Work for the CoP (called regional projects) has low priority, participation is hence unreliable.
  2. Intranet only supports formal, static information (eg. on laws) but there is a need for technologies that support informal coordination mechanisms.
  3. Police culture; policemen are selected for their self-conceit, but don't often show their weaknesses and thus do not consult others very often.
  4. The central coordinator is the only reliable source of information.

At the same time he does report that part of the members is very enthusiastic and they often work for the CoP in their free time.

He recommends that management can make a big difference by rewarding the preferred behaviour (consulting, reflecting, spending time with communities, focus on quality instead of quantity). CoP Coordinators have a lot of freedom, and might benefit from stronger monitoring.

A great explanation is given on the possible strategies of managers, from defensive blocking strategies, via neutral nurturing strategies to active interference strategies. (check that out if that is an area of interest to you).

I really liked the explanation of the possible strategies of managers, I think I will use it to analyze the behaviour of managers vis-a-vis a community of practice.

I think in this case of the Amsterdam Police Force, the CoPs work within the setting of a general organizational culture which is not favourable to the kind of knowledge sharing within CoPs. So I agree that managers can (and should) play a strong role there to turn the organisational culture around. On the other hand, I have a question about the role of CoPs themselves in turning the organizational culture around. In my own experience in West Africa the CoP created a completely different culture (much more positive) than the organisational culture.

Lastly, I would recommend coaching the coordinators, in addition to monitoring the results. Also, I would recommend to pay attention to the group of members who invest free time in their community of practice. Those are the people who are probably very passionate about the domain of the CoP because they experience it in their daily practice.

Communities of practice: two disastrous approaches

Dave Snowden wrote on his own blog about communities of practice. He writes about the dilemma that communities of practice are self-organising versus whether you can direct communities of practice.

The two disastrous approaches he sees are:

"1 - Creating an organisational template for communities of practice, with a full roll out plan, dedicated staff etc. etc. This is the classic engineering approach which assumes that there must be a top down, designable RIGHT answer.
In practice different communities work in different ways and in different ways at different times. A list serve may be good enough, maybe Grove or similar to get started. A point may arise where you need a taxonomy, formal roles, start up
processes etc. but that is expensive and requires a lot of energy to give it any chance of working. Better to create the right ecology in which different types of collaboration can take place, and then consolidate successful experiments when (and only if) they or the organisation can benefit from formalism.

2 - Taking a paternalistic (or maternalistic approach) in which people are held to be children or kids needing help or assistance. This to my mind often goes with consultants to take up therapeutic techniches (in narrative Appreciative Inquiry is one) and move them sideways into organisations. Such approaches were designed for situations where the Therapist takes a dominant role (which is why some consultants like them) and assumes that the recipients are in need of therapy. Most of the time they are not - its the management and consultants who need it not their subjects/victims."

I agree that both approaches are disastrous. There is definitely a balance you have to find between designing events and linking people and trying to find initiatives that emerge 'naturally'. So you have to build in flexibility in how you are going to proceed. The paternalistic approach probably works nowhere working with adults on the long run (at least not in international development settings). In the short run though, it may seem to work well.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Culture: diversity and inclusion

Via Gurteen I found 3 conversations about diversity and inclusion talking about the UK and France. The audio quality was bad, but there is a transcript as well. Interestingly, there are questions that go with the interview (see the blue slide here).

In one of the three conversations, Hamid Senni interviews Daniele Joly, Director of the Centre of Research in Ethnic Relations, who grew up in Africa. She states that a society has to look into diversity issues because of the need to create a well-balanced society.

She talks about the business case for diversity; you should not think about diversity as part of charity, but for equal opportunities and enhancing business capacity. On top of that, there is the legislation in Europe.

On direct and indirect benefits of a diversity policy:
* The babyboom generation will retire, there will be workforce scarcity and we need migrants (Europe is now not welcoming migrants like the US/Canada)
* You develop more harmonious relations with open attitudes leading to better productivity
* It appeals to the clientele
* It introduces novel ideas

A roadmap could be to do an audit, develop a public policy, implement it and monitor this. The other interview on the UK touches very similar issues.

I first thought that diversity is approached from the positive side, rather than as a problem. But on second thoughts, it still sounds quite defensive, to fill the labour gap when babyboomer retire? Also, unfortunately she does not go deeply into what organisations should do to deal with diversity constructively. Because it sets organisations up for confict situations too. I read the book the inclusion breakthrough by Miller and Katz which deals with that in much more detail. (I read it before I blogged, maybe I should still blog it)

Culture: prisoners and inhabitants of Amsterdam

Last week I heard on the news that in Amsterdam 15% of the inhabitants don't live on the address where they live according to municipality's administration. That was followed this week by the news about our 17.000 prisoners. From a sample it was deducted that in about 7% of the cases the person in prison is not the person he/she should be. In other words, people send their representatives to sit in jail for them.

When I read these kind of stories I'm always impressed with how ways people act are stronger than the system. That's why I think it is strong that people working with a communities of practice perspective try to leverage what happens organically between people. Not to say that they should not try to get the right people in prison though...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Technology: 10 ways and 5 quick tips into blogging

cartoon by gapingvoid

I found two great blog resources if you are looking for 'how to's'. The first one uses the cartoons of gapingvoid to point out the 10 ways to a killer blog. The cartoon doesn't always match the advice but never mind.

If you want to focus on 5 tips there are the Five Quick Tips to Building a Great Blog by Meryl K. Evans. Thanks to Cincy for the link. Meryl Evans' tips are not very special in my opinion (a little obvious like make them silent, don't let them start with music), but I really liked her personal way of talking about her blogs. And to be honest, thanks to her I have editing my blogging profile (and found out it had been viewed over 1000 times, just to find out there was nothing!!). An excerpt:
' Entering a blog compares to stepping into one's home where the owner feels at his or her most comfortable. In other words, we are more apt to be ourselves when blogging, and that's a good thing.'

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Practical examples: Rede Nos in Brasil and PEM-Pal in Eastern Europe

(in the picture you see Monica Amorim from Brasil)
Erik Johnson from the World Bank sent me the link to the World Bank video of a brown-bag lunch about client communities of practice on October 23 at the World Bank. Since I'm always on the outlook for practical examples, I am very grateful to be able to sit in on a brown bag lunch in the US! I do wonder if it affects the level of exchange, knowing that you will be visible in public on the internet. The participants do not seem to bother much...

The whole exchange is 81 minutes but you can watch separate parts: either the presentation on the Rede Nos project in Brasil (Monica Amorim; 18 minutes) or the presentation by Elena Nikulina on the PEM-PAL program for learning on public expenditure in Eastern Europe that covers 13 countries (10 minutes). Personally, I found the comments by Phil Karp and Erik Johnson more interesting if you want to learn about the process of cultivating the communities.

The community of practice in Brasil focuses on poverty alleviation and social inlusion in Northern Regions in Brasil, and started as a World Bank initiative in 2004 out of a need to develop more practical, low-cost solutions to local economic development. To create a space for people to interact, often working on projects in an isolated way. It uses online discussions (Dgroups), a website, tours, seminars and storytelling as its main learning tools. Phil adds that the value of this community of practice is really on connecting rather than collecting. There seems to be a large demand as people keep on showing up. It has also helped the World Bank to be closer to client needs, small and medium scale enterprise came on the Bank's radar through this community of practice. The mutual learning is very valuable, rather than asking another consultant to do a study.

The community of practice PEM-PAL on public expenditure management regrouping practitioners from 13 countries in Eastern Europe started only this year, and will rather be a constellation of communities of practitioners like treasurers, auditors, etc. The community of treasurers has been launched, and other communities may come up through a rather organic process. The main challenge is that the launch started donor-driven and hence the World Bank will need to make sure that their is sufficient ownership with the community itself. Some of the lessons shared are:

* Working across 13 countries is challenging due to timezones and language variations.

* A good preparation for the launch is key, you have
to get in touch with interested parties and get a sense of their interests.

* For sustainability sake, it's important to show that something happens
after the launch, to show that it's not an one-off event, for instance in
this case the topic of 'single treasury account' seemed a 'hot topic' during the launch and hence
a new event will be organised on this topic.

* Evaluation will need to be different from project evaluation as the results will be harder to define. Stories which understand the impact of the community of practice on inidividual participant's level may be important.

During the question and answer session a participant asked about the cultural sensitivity to the target groups. In the given responses, I found it interesting to hear that there was very little hierarchy in the e-discussion in Brasil. The virtual medium for discussion seemed to work as a leveling mechanism for this group.

Another remark I found highly interesting was about the nature of the community of treasurers. As a 'technocratic' community it gets harder to find their energy. From this response you would guess that the 'culture' of the field of treasurers is more determining for the way knowledge is exchanged and the community will function than the various national cultures involved. (which links back to my earlier post on dealing with differences)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Technology: Helpalot

I met Julius Huijnk of Helpalot online and we decided to meet and exchange in Utrecht. Since we had both done our online homework, I could explain him the concepts, and he knew where I worked, so we could get to the point very rapidly. (which was useful since I had missed my train..)

When we did a scenario planning with IICD on the changing future of development cooperation, the influence on the internet on establishing direct linkages north-north, north-south and south-south surfaced as one topic. We also thought humanitarian aid will play a bigger role in future and saw rapidly changing alliances as well as changing power blocks.

Helpalot is a nice example of a new initiative to create a site which aims to linking people around their interest in charity through the internet. The idea is to leverage the power of social networking tools like hyves for 'charities' (goede doelen in Dutch). Its mission is to "Help individuals and organisations to find a charity that fits them, by making objective and subjective information on charities accessible and transparent. By strengthening social contacts and stimulate feedback, Helpalot aims to increase the trust people have in charities and stimulate charitable activities. "

You can see a one minutes introduction of the concept by clicking on the video:

There are existing sites with information on Dutch charities like goede doelen, alle goede doelen, helphelpen and geef gratis. On an international level there is for instance the charitynavigator. There is the initiative of Nabuur, linking villages to expertise and assistance. None of them works from the principle of leveraging online social networking though. It does make opinions very visible in a rapid way, and has the potential to change power relations and give the individual donors more influence. So I'm curious to see how this is going to work. It seems most beneficial for small organisations and volunteers. Given the number of times I'm asked if I know a place where a volunteer can work I'd definitely say this has potential, but provided it attracks a sufficient number of organisations and people... If you are interested you can sign up at the site of helpalot

On the way back I thought about the fact that this is new for me, to think from the 'charity' or 'donor' side. As I've mostly been a direct advisor in the south working with local organisations. I started thinking: Suppose we would use this idea to link civil society organisations in the south to talk about donor agencies and partners in the north? Wouldn't that have the potential for a real power shift?