Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Netsquared thinktank: My best blogpost of 2009

I really enjoy Netsquared's thinktank blogging questions sent out to several bloggers each month.. it forces you to think about a topic and you read the other contributions with more interest (I don't read them beforehand). But when I look at my starred mails, there are four invitation of Amy Sample Ward that I didn't respond too. This month it's an easy one she said: What was your favorite, most read, most tweeted, or most commented on blog post from this year? This is your chance to bring it back into the spotlight!

I realized I didn't have a way to find our which blogpost was most often read, though I notice my 10 online icebreakers are often linked too. Through the communities and networks connection site, which aggregates several blogs including mine, I was able to click on my own name and see the best of. My best of are written in 2006 and 2008... But there is one surfacing from 2009:

Can you shift your organisational culture by introducing social media? It's a question by which I'm still intrigued. So here we go:

image through ericmackonline.com

This post may be a little chaotic as I'm using it to get a grip on some of my ideas about social media for organisations. Tomorrow I'm going to write with Sibrenne Wagenaar; we are writing a booklet on social media for learning and collaboration. We start with social media for professionals (individuals), then teams, then organisations. It's the organisational chapter that needs much more thinking. I once asked on twitter whether the exchange on twitter is not similar to the chats with your co-located workers. Someone replied that is it not, that on twitter people are far more open to sharing and helping each other. This started me thinking about the fact that introducing an internal twitter system would NOT make people share. The term enterprise2.0 is often used. But is that an open, creative organisation or is it an organisation with web2.0 tools? In my opinion, an organisation with less web2.0 tools could be more 'enterprise2.0' in terms of culture than an organisation that has a lot of web2.0 tools but lacks the culture.

One confusion is brought by the fact that organisations can embrace social media from so many different angles. I see a higher emphasis on social media from a marketing perspectives than from a learning perspective. If you jump on it for marketing purposes, you will have a different focus and process than when you want to explore how social media can stimulate learning and knowledge sharing processes. But probably in both cases, it has to match your organisational culture too.

Tools and culture: is your organisational culture ready for social media or do you want to shift the culture by introducing social media?. I'm re-reading Schein: organisational culture and leadership. Schein explains very well how cultures are created and reproduced. And that it's possible to influence cultures in organisations. At times I hear that an organisation is using wikis. Or uses Sharepoint internally with the blog function. An organisation seems enterprise2.0 enough because it has tools like blogs, wikis and social bookmarking. However, the juice of social media is far more in the culture of openly sharing knowledge, collaboration, and engaging in co-creation. Having the tools does not mean you have improved the collaboration between your professionals. So what is the actual change that you are envisioning? Can social media play a role in this? But what are the other interventions that are needed to help change the organisational culture? I see a lot of potential for change management professionals to help organisations with this process. On the other hand, there may be organisations that are already having an open culture in which social media fit neatly. But probably these organisations do not need any accompanying change process or at least a different process? So you'd have to start with assessing the culture of the organisation and see whether there is a match or a mismatch with social media cultures.

Another dilemma is how to balance individual preferences and creativity versus uniformity in tools. Back to the original question: what organisational processes do you feel can really be supported by social media? What is the organisational change that you envisage? I don't think there is any organisation that is completely enterprise1.0. I'm sure there are employees engaging in social media individually and that most do use wikipedia for instance. But a real enterprise2.0 is an open, collaborative, creative organisation that leverages the tools to the advantage of the functioning of the organisation. In this organisation: do professionals choose their own tools and are proficient in using them or do they work with the preferential toolset of the organisation?

By the way a nice guide of where to start with social media can be found here on the technotheory blog. However, this is also written from the assumption that you use social media to promote your organisation or products, not to stimulate internal learning processes.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Monitoring and evaluating communities of practice

We did a research for the IKMemergent program on monitoring and evaluating knowledge management strategies. The full publication will be up soon, but I already discussed the results in a teleconference in CPsquare and had a nice discussion how this relates to assessing results of communities of practice.

There are quite some challenges to overcome in monitoring and evaluating the effect of knowledge management strategies and interventies.

- One of the challenges is dealing with the time lag between the intervention and the impact. Sometimes benefits surface quite rapidly. We once had a new member who picked up an idea for elearning in the community, went back to her organisation and started implemented it organisation-wide. In other cases, ideas need greenhousing and it takes time for things to materialize or practices to change. On the other hand, the sponsors or donors may be eager to see results.

- Another challenge is quantifying the unquantifiable. You can measure whatever you can measure and use whatever data you have available, but you need stories to understand reality and how the community may have influenced the figures. You collect stories to understand the relationship between the figures: “this is where I took the idea and this is how I implemented it”. This will also help to prevent story-telling turning into success story telling.

- Yet anther challenge is to match inherent evaluation goals with extractive goals. An inherent evaluation is for people involved in the community or other effort, an extractive evaluation is for outsiders. At times a donor or manager starts asking for an evaluation at the time when doubt about the effectiveness has arisen. This is not the best time for an honest and open process. The question to be asked then is : does an assessment of results in itself imply a lack of trust in the leaders or the strategy?

In the end we realized that these dilemmas can not be solved by choosing a good method. It is the decision-making about whether or not to monitor and evaluate and ho wit will be done that matters. Therefore we wrote down 12 decisions that need to be taken in the form of answers. Hopefully that will guide people who are starting up a new initiative to improve knowledge management leading to innovation. You will find the 12 questions in the presentation. You will find the slides below.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Learning from masters and across disciplines

Rom Violist (Budapest, 2006)Image by daskar via Flickr

It is much easier to learn from practitioners who are doing similar things and are working in similar ways as you do. But maybe are slightly ahead of you in some ways.

Weggeman in his book 'Leiding geven aan Professionals? Niet doen!' about managing professionals recounts the story of a famous violist. The story illustrates at the one hand that there may be masters who may find it hard to explicitate their knowledge in words. On the other hand, it show that it is hard to learn from someone who is not a practitioner with a similar knowledge base. Here's the story:

A journalist asked him what the secret was of his success. He thought for a while and then said: "I think it is the way I use my bow, look, this is the way I do it. And this is the way a lot of my colleagues do it." The journalist didn't understand it and couldn't turn it into any sensible information. There was a masterclass pupil of the violinist who had heard the interview and was busy for about half an hour to try and explain to the journalist what the famous violinist had meant.

The journalist did not have the same basic knowledge about playing the violin as the masterclass pupil had. As a result the journalist could not understand the explanation. the pupil was able to understand it and make sense of it.

This bites the idea that you can learn and innovate by working across disciplines. The potential to learn from other disciplines may be high- but the risk that you never understand a thing is very high too.. It may explain for instance the sometimes apparent closedness of the development sector. You hear complaints that the sector is not open to learning from other sectors. It probably needs brokers like the masterclass pupil to make sure that learning is possible at all.
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Learning that Sinterklaas doesn't exist = double loop learning

{{nl|:nl:Sinterklaas tijdens het :nl:Het Feest...Image via Wikipedia

Sinterklaas time again in the Netherlands! Even though my children are getting bigger and we don't go to the intocht by boat, I enjoy this period quite a lot.

My youngest daughter is eight years old. At this age, you are not supposed to believe in Sinterklaas, hundreds of years old, coming by boat from Spain and bringing all the presents. At school, the children are not invited to the Sinterklaas celebration, but have a new type of celebration where you draw lots (lootjes trekken). You buy a present, make something nice and write a poem for that person.

My family is surprised though, that my daughter still believes in Sinterklaas bringing the presents. An intelligent girl, how come she doesn't see that the beard is not real? That the presents in her shoe are not brought by 'zwarte piet' in the night?

I think this is an example of double loop learning. Single loop learning involves the detection and correction of error. You want to do something and learn how to do it. Double loop learning, however, in contrast, involves questioning the role of the framing and learning systems. In other words, single loop learning takes place within the framework of existing belief system, double loop learning questions the belief system. It takes a lot more for double loop learning to occur.

My daughter has always been told, by friends, family and the media that Sinterklaas exists. She has seen him arrive by boat. She has seen the presents he brings. This has become part of her belief system. Even though there is now evidence against this belief: friends telling her he doesn't exist, buying your own presents for friends, the belief is so firm that it will take more to change this belief. Probably if I'll tell her that he doesn't exist... But let's wait another year, because it is a lot of fun to hide the presents and surprise them!
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

I want to facilitate online discussions but how do I choose the right platform?

Photo: participants in our workhshop on online facilitation

In many situations non-ICT specialists want to organise some online conversations and are looking for a good online space. A discussion forum functionality is key for this purpose, other things are nice to have but often blur the decision about the forum to choose.

Situation 1: You're looking for an online platform for your sailing club or for your family to prepare for the yearly family reunion. You make an easy choice and open a ning or groupsite. It is free (with ads), you do not have to install anything, it is easy to manage, so you're ready in a few minutes.

Situation 2: Now at work. You work for a company and may be asked to guide the process to develop a platform. There has been an intranet and an agency that has built the intranet. Now you're probably going into process to build a platform on your intranet.

In these two different situations seem as if the choice is made by the circumstances and often the choice is made for a platform that people are familiar with. It is very difficult to see the trees through the forest with all the tools.

But what are really the options you have for online community platforms and how you do it right choices? In this blog post I want to outline various possibilities especially for non-ICTers in organizations (like me) because it is a question I'm often asked. First it is good to know that many many online platforms offer similar functionality: a discussion forum, the possibility of personal pages, one page with the members, a document sharing tools, the ability to create subgroups and management tools for administrators. In order of increasing investment required I will present five practical options. The book Digital habitats of Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith has been an input, as well as the blogpost by Christian Kreutz: a starter for development organisations engaging in online networks.

Possibility 1. Opening a group on an existing social network sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn.

What is it? Most major social network sites such as MySpace and LinkedIn have the opportunity to start your own group. You can invite people to join your group. Often there are good functionality including announcing events, hold discussions and news announce.

Advantages: If all your participants are accustomed to this social network (and often already logged in), they do not get used to the technique. Since you appear in the list of groups, it is easy to attract new members, spontaneously. It's free. It's easy to set up.

Disadvantages: It does not work for participants who are not members in this social network (or you have to convince them they should become a member). Also, you do not have many possibilities to get the look and feel to suit your own organization. It feels like you are in the pub of this social network. This is not bad if everyone feels at home there, but it gives less the feeling of a home for the community or group. Also you have to do with the features available. Your information is stored externally.

So you can use this property for a group with a clear goal where almost all members already are a member of this social network, and it is not so important to create an 'own' online place for the group. The basic functions are sufficient for your group. It may also be strategic if you want to attract member who are frequently on this social network.

Option 2: A (free) Create email list like google group, or a yahoo group

Advantages: This is a way of communicating online that anyone who can email can handle, and is very low threshold. The advantage over email is that you have an archive, and a list of members you can share documents online. It is easy and free.

Disadvantages: It is limited to one single simultaneously discussion. Everyone follows (or does not follow) this discussion, but you can not run multiple parallel discussions. It does not look attractive.

This is still a great opportunity for groups who are not used much online to exchange email and do not have a need to feel part of a larger organisation. There is no learning curve (or a small learning curve). If you can email, you can do this. If you want to set up several online communities for an organizations, it may be less appropriate, unless you link the spaces.

Option 3: Your own social network platform like Ning, group site, grou.ps, Socialgo, collectivex, MINDZ.

What is it? There are web2.0 services for building your own free social network for your group can make. This is a revolution compared to the 'old' way of building a platform, with huge development costs. It is often free if you can cope with advertising, but you pay if you don't want advertising or other paid services. You can often host your own domain (redirect to a different Web address) or support for some payment.

Advantages: It's an accessible way to see if this type of exchange is working. If not so, then the platform can easily be deleted without having invested a lot of energy and money in developing a good platform. You lift on the success of a social network concept which is designed with the idea of strengthening relationships. It is common that every member has their own page. These services are often very well developed in the social aspect. It is easy to use even for administrators.

Disadvantages: You can not change everything to suit your own needs, and you are dependent on a number of choices that are made by the service. Nevertheless, you can customize some aspects, such as the number of tabs, or a number of features you want or not, etc. Content is hosted externally.

If you have a small budget, this is a good choice. For professional use you can get started with it too, if you want to experiment first and don't know yet how your interaction will flow. Compared with the first 2 options can include creating a clearer sense of group together because you have a special place online. It is also possible to invite a graphic designer to create and apply so that the appearance you want. It is important to make a comparison of the different platforms if you choose this option. Ning for instance doesnot have an easy file sharing possibility and groupsite does.

Option 4: Community software which is designed for knowledge sharing and interaction. Examples are Winkwaves, Tomoye, icohere, etc. or open source software like Drupal, Joomla or elgg (moodle is also used, but is actually optimized for Education)

What is it? Community platforms are software packages designed for use by online communities. In other words, the software is designed with the aim of encouraging online networking, sharing, online discussions, knowledge sharing. There is also open source software that is compatible for this purpose. It is often necessary though to have technical knowledge to install the software and adapt the open source software to the demands, but there are standard modules that you can use. Often there is the possibility to host the platform on your own server, but you can also host it externally.

Advantages: The advantage is that the functionality already fully developed and tested for optimal interaction in an online community. You take advantage of the experiences of others. You can use the software and customize the look and feel, choose the modules you want or not, so it is easy to customize to your needs.

Disadvantages: This is a more expensive option than the previous options. It requires more technical knowledge and the necessary support must be well thought through. The design process is longer.

Just as with option 3 you need to compare the software packages before you choose software for your situation. You should also study the pricing system. With open source software is useful to look at the experiences of others, the software is already well developed? It is good to find developers who have experience with this particular software.

Option 5: Build your own platform as an extension of existing software systems in use throughout the organization (eg. sharepoint)

What is it? You can also create your own discussion forum within existing intranets or other software used in the organization. You build it yourself to suit your own needs, with the help of the host and support of the other software. This requires an investment in the design process and the development (construction) costs.

Disadvantages: Often the existing software is developed for other purposes, such as data storage and document sharing. It is not optimal for social purposes and knowledge sharing. It requires a good design in close collaboration with an IT development company.

Advantage: It can be easy because you already have contacts and experience with you software support company. You do not have to find new external support. Also there is the advantage that people may have developed some routines like logging in to the system.

This is an option you can consider when people are very enthusiastic about the existing software and use it very actively. It is good to list all the technical functionalities that you would like to see upfront and asking whether it is possible to get all the features working. This prevents subsequent disappointments after everything has been built.

NB. It is also possible to combine different options. To create a Web2.0 platform AND create a google group email list. There are also options that offer the possibility to have conversations without having a discussion forum as the key tool, like twitter exchanges, or using the comments page of a wiki.
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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Twitter to start your personal learning network

I'm working with a learning network in education using a sharepoint platform. It's hard to move from face-to-face meeting to online interaction (for a number of reasons and we're writing a whole paper about the challenges). We're experimenting with webconferences and I was suggesting to experiment with other tools like a weblog, ning, or a google group. Some are hesitant: if online interaction with one platform doesn't work well, will other tools not be even more confusing?

When I saw this video on the free technology for teachers blog with about the use of twitter for educators I was struck by the way they see twitter as THE only tool for educators. Watch the 15 minutes video if you're interested.

How is twitter used by the panel? They use twitter to connect with students, parents and other stakeholders, to share resources for teachers and to have tweetpolls and conversations. For instance, every tuesday there are discussions using hashtags. These discussions are with an international group of teachers, including teachers from Turkey etc. The one on the necessity of homework was particularly lively.

They stress that it is not twittering away about learning together. They don't call it twitter but rather a personal learning network. People become learners rather than workers and twitter helps them to continuously learn. It is a great support to teachers. One in three teachers leave because there is lack of support for them, and this can be the way to create support. They decided to start a ning to work as a repository.

Mmm, should we start a twitter experiment? I wonder whether twitter fits the teachers practice because it is so much to the point!

Twitter & Education - #140conf LA from RealPlayer SP on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Madeleine Taylor on network weaving

I'm writing an article about challenges in fostering learning networks in education- based on 8 interviews we did last year- the writing is a bit of a long process but we're getting there. What is striking in the interviews is that the role of the coordinator or facilitator is so new to people. Compared to other tasks and working according to a plan, they have to learn to let go and see what emerges. But there is some confusion too, that letting go means doing less or waiting passively till others take initiave. In my experiences it means working hard, but doing more on the background, talking to people, knowing their passions and interests and knowing what will trigger their participation or even lead taking.

On Beth's blog, this blogpost I found this small interview on network weaving. I've never liked the term weaver, it's so domestic somehow... but it does highlight the invisible work on relationships of a network coordinator or facilitator.

Madeleine explains that you have to see connections and the value the connections bring to people. And knowing what connections to promote, because not everyone needs to be connected to everyone. I'd add that you can also do that from a deep understanding of the domain and the cutting-edges of the domain.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

the power of metaphors

Love boatsImage by fataetoile/ Cinzia Rizzo via Flickr

I'm always amazed by the power of metaphors. Sometimes I try to 'cook' one myself and then it doesn't work so formulating or rather designing a good metaphor is not easy. In Ghana, people were generally strong in using metaphors, but unfortunately I didn't write them down. But if you like proverbs too, you can follow the twitter stream of African Proverbs.

Some strong metaphors I've come across: We all know the metaphor about marriage as a sailing trip. You step into the marriage boat and you will face rough weather, storm and the boat will rock. A little overused, but probably popular because it appeals to couples.

A very strong one that I still remember, even though I've come across it some years ago, is about the integration process by immigrants in the Netherlands. There is a lot of political debate about integration and integration problems and usually the immigrants are blamed for not speaking the language, not adapting etc. Then a person said: "it is like the highway; you can try to merge with the traffic on the highway, but you need to be given the space to pull your car over". This is such a good metaphor because it show that it is a two-way process.

And two weeks ago Irene Guijt gave a presentation about accountability at Partos Plaza. What I now recall from her presentation is the metaphor of the goose and the golden eggs. Talking about accountability she explained that you need to be aware of not only counting the golden eggs (the results) while killing the goose at the same time. Because you will not have any golden eggs in future. I think that's a strong metaphor to warn about for looking short-sightedly at (short-term) results without caring for the organisations and other actors that produce the results.

Do you have any metaphors that stick with you? What makes them so strong?
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Friday, October 02, 2009

How to use social media for an event with people who are not used to social media?..

I've been to events where everyone is twittering, tagging and hopping around with their laptops. I've also been to events where nobody even knows what tagging is. In most events, you will find a mix of people.

I was asked by Partos, the branche association for development organisations in the Netherlands to think with them how social media can support their yearly event, Partos Plaza for roughly 100 participants. The event will take place next tuesday so we don't have any evaluation data yet, but I can share our design and some first observations about the process.

We thought very carefully about the aim of using social media. We didn't want to add a social media layer simply because you look old-fashioned if you don't (I think we can wait for the first event without any social media and it will be seen as a relief :). So our aim of using social media was:

  • To support interaction between participants before and during the event and between the organisers and participants
  • To experiment with social media and show participants some uses of social media
  • To ensure continuity and follow-up- other years it was very invisible what happened with all the ideas and energy. Having online interaction afterwards can help taskteams or interest groups to continue online (if there is an interest to do so). This may lead to better collaboration initiatives
So what did we design? We chose to start with a ning platform as the central place. The advantage of ning compared to other solutions was that it is a social network, and can stimulate networking through personal pages. We asked people about their LinkedIn profile and whether they have a twitter account or site they want to share. So there are more opportunities to connect. Ning doesn't require a huge investment, so we can close it down after the event if there is no interest to continue online, gives quite some flexibility. And its events function could help with the organisations of the workshop and registration of attendance. Furthermore, we thought that we could use the platform to invite people to co-create the workshops and come up with ideas for the open space. We decided to make everything public so that people hesitant to register could also read along. We also experimented with a twitter account without investing too much time in it because we did not expect many participants to be on twitter. During the event we will focus on:

  • A network wall with the printed profiles from the ning. We asked people in their profile about their interests and the knowledge that the person has they would like to meet. This will be displayed on the network wall and people will be invited to contact each other or suggest names of people to meet.
  • A twitter screen and twitter corner. We would like people to answer the question: what idea, insight of new contact did you gain today? so that it becomes collectively visible what is happening in terms of networking and creation of new ideas. The large majority not on twitter will be invited to twitter from a central account in a specially set-up twitter corner.
  • Last but not least, all workshopleaders will report something (small) back on the platform and investigate whether there is an interest to continue somehow working on their topic. This will allow people to read on what's happening in parallel workshop and ofcourse it will be easier for people who can not make it to peep into the content.
There will not be wireless access to the internet available. We did not stimulate people to bring laptops, and think it's OK to focus on the workshops and the conversation.

Our first experiences are mixed:
- There were not that many reactions to the statements and to the invitation to think along the programming. I guess it is due to not being that at ease with working through a social network because the people who did respond were all well versed with various social media. It is an repeated event, so I see that participants are quite passive and not that eager to co-create. It's fine if other organise it for them! (this is my interpretation by the way)
- The number of participants on the ning and the number of visitors were higher than expected. We are now at 90 people. We had expected a maximum of 60 on the social network because some might not be interested in it.
- Twitter has been an eye-opener! Without investing a lot, we have 31 followers in 4 weeks time. And from the participants, at least 30 are on twitter and/or have a corporate twitter account. Interesting to see that twitter has become such an easy entrance into social media.... about 7% of the traffic to the ning has come through twitter, even though it was not heavily used. And 20% is still through the website of Partos.
- There are some assumption in social networks that work against the hierarchy. Secretaries asking how they can register their bosses for workshops when the boss has registered on the ning... This is only possible to do it yourself or if the boss gives his/her log in data to the secretary.
- I have the impression it makes it easier for the not-so-obvious participants to join, like the private intiatives (as we call them) versus the professional organisations.

Will keep you posted after tuesday and definitely after we have some feedback from participants...

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fostering online networks in development (south-south learning processes)

I just finished preparing a presentation about the art of fostering online networks in development; with a focus on producer organisations in the south (for a session with progresonetwork). While preparing the presentation I thought again about the fact that the basics of online networks are still social networks. Nothing else. So that is what I stress in my presentation. Since I really believe in the power of peer learning, I am existed by the possibilities of web2.0 to make south-south learning possible.

I've always believed in south-south learning since you can learn a lot of people who face similar difficulties and practice- just slightly different. Not that everybody in the south can learn from everybody else, but for instance cocoa producer organisations in Ghana can learn a lot from cocoa producers in Ivory Coast- similar difficulties but different context which pushes you to think creatively. I'm refering in my presentation to a survey undertaken by the world bank with 137 respondents about south-south learning. 94% think it is important or extremely important for improving the impact of international development and poverty reduction. Partnerships and alliances score best as mechanisms for south-south learning, followed by networks and associations, exchanges/secondments and study tours.

I use the examples of km4dev (see interview Lucy Lamoureux) and the IFRTD networks (see evaluation) and the lessons here are definitely that you have to mix face-to-face and online communication creatively and that it really help to have a dedicated network leadership, consistent over time.

Suddenly thought it is sometimes discouraging to read these success stories (that are even hard to replicate too!) and included the lessons of two attempts to stimulate online learning networks which were less successful: one by Anne Hardon, virtual knowledge communities: lessons learned in making them work, the other by three authors titled Forming a community of practice to strengthen the capacities of learning and knowledge sharing centres in Latin America and the Caribbean: a Dgroup case study. Great that these experiences are also shared and they may be even more helpful and insightful than the success stories.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Why working wikily is so hard (at least for me)

Cover of "Grown Up Digital: How the Net G...Cover via Amazon

Yesterday I blogged about the working wikily paper. It takes the stand that the tools are not so innovative, it's the networked way of working that's revolutionary.. and that's partly engendered by the tools.

My own blogpost made me think about the generational differences and the different mindsets about collaboration. I read and blogged the book Grown up digital. Though many people I meet recognise that different generations use the web differently, often they point to exception to the rule. And don't really know how to work with the differences. The depth of the difference may be underestimated. Trust in working online and trust in jumping into collaborative partnerships is an issue. It's almost a paradigm shift, but it sure is a deep shift.

An example from my own experience to show that working wikily is a profound change of mind. Though I try to learn many new tools (and not just technically, but also diving in socially) I have a mindset about collaboration that is not fully networked. It feels like it is partly changing- for instance I met a person in the train and may jump into a collaborative project with her because we have common interests. I'm organising a series of workshops with 3 colleagues by open admission. People send an email to one of us, the central coordinator for that workshop. Since each workshop had another coordinator, it caused difficulties when people changed workshop etc. My solution was to propose a central coordinator for all admission. Even though I know all the tools, wikis, google docs etc. it didn't occur to me. My colleague then proposed to co-coordinate, use all our email addresses and put all admissions in a google doc. It a networked way of working at small scale. But illustrative of a different way of working nevertheless.

I do wonder whether my daughters will have a mindset of working wikily (they sure learn it on the various social networks they are already part of) and whether that's a good thing. There are probably also downsides to it. What do you see as the downsides of working wikily with a networked mindset?
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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Working wikily 2.0 with grants

I found some inspiration in the paper

Wiki SignImage by Ross Mayfield via Flickr

Working wikily 2.0. It is the title of the second version of a paper by the monitorinstitute. I like their intro: it's not about the wiki, it's about how wikis and other tools engender a new networked mindset. However, I'm also guilty of talking about tools because you still have to know the tools and how to work with them. (it goes hand in hand- the tools and the culture).

The paper specifically talks about how web2.0 is changing philanthropy. I'm thinking a lot about the question how working wikily is changing developing cooperation (we are starting an online discussion in Dutch here). Don't confuse philanthropy and development cooperation by the way! Philanthropy is the act of donating money, goods, services, time and/or effort to support a socially beneficial cause, with a defined objective and with no financial or material reward to the donor. Development cooperation is slightly more complex has to do with empowerment, social change, economic development and is also a political process.

Nevertheless there is a great example in the paper from philanthropy that demonstrates a new way of working and thinking that may inspire because grants are part and parcel of the development industry. The Case Foundation, launched the "Make It Your Own' Awards People could submit ideas for improving their communities, be reviewers and then vote for the best ideas to fund. They did build in a sort of control system. An open group selected the top 100 ideas, but advisors selected the 20 grant recipients according to the foundations goals and criteria.

If the development budget of the Dutch ministry would partly be allocated by a similar process, you would get a very different dynamic than the bureaucratic process it is currently. I liked the mixed approach, because I also believe in expertise and don't think you can make every process a democratic decision-making process. But the development budget is tax money, so it would give citizens some influence on how that money is spent.

Nice experiment or dangerous?
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Social media mean nothing without social capital

Another great talk by Clay Shirky available through Tedtalks. Watch it if you have 17 minutes break from work. Besides giving some examples of how social media are changing collaboration and cooperation in society, he makes a very important point: social media can have enormous impact because it can leverage existing social capital, existing networks between people. If you look at his example of the earthquake in China: social media made it possible that the first reports were online by citizens before the institutions could break the news. But it is through the social relationships with these citizens with other chinese people residing in other countries (and other nationalities too) that it could flow. So social media without the social capital is not really revolutionary... I think this is also a lesson for organisations- if you have never built a good constituency- don't think social media will build that for you. If you have already build it, social capital can make it more powerful..

What do you think? Or can social media also help to build networks from scratch?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Expertise and Ave Maria

Kodex Specialnik p.Image via Wikipedia

I'm interested in expertise: what is it and how to build it? And how is expertise changing in this social media world with information easily accessible?

When I returned from working in Mali, Ethiopia and Ghana and started to work in the Netherlands I was at times surprised about work given to younger and junior employees. I guess I picked up some of the respect for the expertise and wisdom of older people in the countries I worked previously. As times, age is seen as a disadvantage rather than an asset. What I notice is that often younger people seem to be able to do a certain job quite well, but take more time.

On the cognitive daily, a blog with daily news about psychological research and news, there was a repost with the title 'why can't we all be divas?' that may shed some light on expertise.

You are invited to listen to the two Ave Marias and see whether you notice a difference:
Ave Maria 1
Ave Maria 2

I thought the second one was slightly lower than the first Ave Maria.. From the blogpost:
"The difference between the two clips, readily identified by experienced professional musicians, is that the melody is being played in a different key from its accompaniment. While this technique is sometimes deliberately employed in both Western and non-Western music (the musical term for the practice is "bitonality"), it's certainly never expected in a familiar work like Ave Maria.....The fact that nonmusicians can't detect bitonality is the surprising result of a simple little study by Rita Wolpert of Caldwell College ("Attention to Key in a Nondirected Music Listening Task: Musicians versus Nonmusicians," Music Perception, 2000)....She then played the "music" for 40 nonmusicians and 10 professional musicians. Only 5 of the "nonmusicians"—which actually included 7 people with over 6 years of musical training—could conclusively tell that two of the arrangements were sung in a different key from the accompaniment. Meanwhile, the musicians uniformly reacted with disgust, easily identifying the problem with the flawed arrangements... None of the nonmusicians indicated that the bitonal arrangements were at all unpleasant."
In the discussion through the comments on the blog, some musicians wonder whether they are 'taught' by their education that the bitonal arrangement is unpleasant. In any case, it is an example of the fact that building expertise gives you the ability to distinguish/hear/see things that goes unnoticed for people without that expertise. And that that expertise may be quite invisible to outsiders. On the other hand, you can distinguish the real musicians easily through this small test.

By the way, if you ever get to Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina Faso, there is a nice restaurant 'l'eau vive' run by the Catholic sisters. At the end of the evening, the sisters sing the Ave Maria.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Designing an online and face-to-face learning trajectory

I co-facilitated an online trajectory about dairy development with dairy practitioners (for Heifer in collaboration with Agri-ProFocus) before a face-to-face learning event in the Netherlands. As the facilitator team of 3 we took an hour to look back at the process and formulate our lessons. I blogged it on the icollaborate blog, but thought I can cross-blog it here too. We used a Ning platform (private network with public face) to convene the participants. A huge advantage of the online process is that we have a secured continuous attention and more networking opportunities for the dairy specialists. We are now investigating options to continue as a network. In terms of impact on learning together I think this is huge compared to simply organising a face-to-face event. So here's the account of what we tried to achieve, what we achieved and what we'd do the same or differently next time.

What we tried to achieve:
The organizing team of three felt starting online could help with the following 4 things:
  1. Get to know each other so that a positive climate is created for learning together
  2. Better content-wise preparation for the learning event with the participants by sharing and discussing case studies online before the event
  3. Help to organize the logistics, in particular transport
  4. Disseminate and validate the draft toolbox developed by Heifer

A team of three facilitators was formed with a variety of skills; one was a dairy specialist from Heifer (not familiar with online exchange), one process facilitator from Agri-ProFocus and one consultant online facilitation (external). As always, time for preparation was short and the team met only once for about 2 hours to get to know each other, plan and divide tasks – and actually started the next day!

The design
There was one month left before the learning event, so that was the maximum time that could be used online. A dairy and development Ning platform was put together and a group of roughly 100 registered people from all over the globe were invited to the platform. The team chose to start parallel discussions: (a) the cases, (b) a thread of introductions, (c) an online game (two truths and a lie), (d) to ask for learning expectations and (e) logistics. The team agreed to communicate via mails and skype instant messaging and try to react within 24 hours to each others questions. Every week a message was sent out to all registered participants on the platform, tips from the facilitators were put on the homepage and updated when necessary and we made sure to welcome all participants with a personal note.

What happened?
Roughly half of the invited people responded (50) and signed up for the platform. Immediately, they started to invited others working in dairy development, so we reached a total of 94 participants on the Ning. The cases and introductions were very active threads and all cases received comments from people who had read them carefully. We noticed that we had to invest to get a first reaction to a question, after which more people followed. Almost half of the ‘Ningers’ could not participate in the event in the Netherlands. That brought us to the idea to make short videos to post back for the others who were not present. Unfortunately this person fell ill and nobody could take over. Therefore summaries were made and posted back to the Ning. The online facilitation took each of us 12-20 hours of online facilitation over the course of 4 weeks.

In the evaluation 62% of the participants in the learning event indicated they logged onto the online platform. The comments were appreciative: “It got me involved in the subject”, “I contributed and learned a lot”, “Everybody has a chance” and “Good preparation, great introduction, up-to-date information”

What did we achieve?
The online participation and discussions far exceeded the expectations of the organizing team, given the fact that most invitees are busy and not familiar with this type of online exchange. The case presenters on the learning event noted that people went deeply into the cases and they were able to go beyond trying to understand the case to a real analysis. There was a open, safe atmosphere which allowed people to be provocative and give constructive criticisms without others feeling attacked.

It is hard to measure the effect on the networking on the Ning. The online exchange allowed some acquaintance and dairy people are already well networked. Both factors helped to create a good atmosphere. Many people recognized faces from the ning and it probably helped to reduce anxiety levels because people had a clearer idea of whom to expect.

Most people carpooled- but it is hard to say whether that was a result of the ning. Only one person offered the carpool through the ning. We didn’t get a clear picture of the transport needs online. The draft toolbox was disseminated during the last week. Unfortunately we don’t have data how often it was downloaded (and less how often it was read).

What would we do the same and what to do differently if we’d had to organize it again?

We’re quite content and enthusiastic about the results, so we’d basically do the same thing we did. Investing in welcoming people, making sure a first person reacts online to questions, tips from the facilitator on the homepage and weekly summaries for all seemed to work well for this group of people with little online exchange experience. The focus on cases worked very well for the dairy professionals because it allowed them to go straight to the heart of their profession. The combination of skills within the team worked out well, as did the weekly or so skype teleconferences within the team. And of course part of the success can be contributed to the cases that appealed to the participants. Things to improve:

  • Plan enough time to make summaries of the ning discussions as an input for the face-to-face event. Since the reactions exceeded our expectations, making summaries was time consuming.
  • The icebreaker is good because it is low threshold activity for some participants. However, the ‘two truths and a lie’ was too complex. An easier icebreaker might get more reactions. One participant recognized the exercise from a face-to-face event, so you might go for a familiar icebreaker and translate it online.
  • Don’t combine two questions in one thread. One of the two questions might be ignored. Be very clear what your question is.
  • Navigation remained difficult. The lesson is to give priority to a very clear structure. However, for people who are new to ning or other online platforms the experience may remain chaotic, it is a learning curve for the participants. So it might also be good to allow more time for learning to navigate the online space, both for participants and facilitators!. An idea for participants may be to organize an online scavenger hunt on the forum or a teleconference for those who feel lost?
  • It might work better to focus attention of participant to plan case discussions one after the other rather than simultaneously. For instance, 2 cases per week. This helps to focus everybody’s attention. In our case, the period of 4 weeks was short for that because it takes more than a week to get a substantial amount of participants online.
  • Install analytics (eg. Google analytics) or ensure downloads via other sites that monitor the number of downloads so that you can monitor those data. For instance, you can upload a document on scribd.com and link to it on the Ning.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Leading a dance movement

I found this great video here in a blogpost about leadership in blogging. It's moving when there is a turning point and people come running to join in the dancing. The first 10-15 people seem to play an important role.

So who are you? Are you the one starting something new? (I'm not!)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Gordon Ramsey as change facilitator

Gordon RamseyImage by jo-h via Flickr

Yesterday I watched Gordon Ramsey while he was trying to change a restaurant in Brighton that wasn't doing well. I'm not that much interested in cooking, but I like watching him as a change facilitator. He works very much as an external expert- he's not the type of relax and see what happens... I think this works in his case because he is a well-respected cook-advisor. (for many other advisors who are not that famous it may not work!).

He had a very strong intervention explaining the financial situation using a cake metaphor. He took all ingredients and called them the various costs- personnel costs etc. Then he backed two cakes: one with balanced ingredients and one with unbalanced ingredients. He actually backed both cakes and showed it to the restaurant owner. Saying that she needs to balance the costs like you have to balance the cake ingredients. Though a simple metaphor- it actually made her cry because it was so true.

Lesson on metaphors: they can be very strong if used well and recognised by the problemowner.

I read another nice metaphor that I often use for myself in my head about social media. I read it in the guest blog by Hilde Gottlieb on Beth's blog. I'm quoting it here:

Imagine this conversation.Ericsson_bakelittelefon_1931

"I am thinking about getting a phone. Who should I call? What should I say to them? How long before the phone will help us reach our goals?"

Sounds silly, of course - but that is really what we are asking when we ask, “What should I talk about on Twitter or Facebook or MySpace?”

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Any strong metaphors you often use?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Overcoming objections to social media reblogged

I found a great post by called Using social media in your nonprofit: overcoming objections, written by Debra Askanase. She writes about the need to engage in social media as a nonprofit, because conversations are happening online anyway. Her angle is more an organisational identity building angle, whereas I investigate the potential of social media for professionalisation and learning. But the objections are very recognisable.

She lists 5 objections she heard while presenting about social media

1. It’s not safe! What about the BU Craigslist killer? (someone REALLY asked this question in the presentation)
2. What if our biggest rival pretends to be us online?
3. Social media means a lot of work and we don’t have the staff time to do that.
4. There is no place in our organization for social media
5. People will attack us online with negative critique.

For each objection, she gives some answers. I liked the practical example of two organisations that practise 'online listening' through social media:

Carie Lewis from the Humane Society of the US (she’s their Brand Ambassador) holds a 9-minute staff meeting every day to inform each and every one of the HSUS employees about “what’s going on that day - PR, what people are talking about on Twitter, etc.”

Wendy Harman, of the American Red Cross, writes that “We distribute a daily social media update email that contains a sampling of most relevant mentions.” Everyone must be involved. No more silos.

Other objections I often hear are fear for using software that is not within the organisation's firewall, fear for information overload (not seeing the trees through the forest). In development low bandwidth is also used as an excuse. Yet, taking into account how many people you work with are comfortable using social media is a necessary step. I think a lot of the objections boil down to fear for the unknown, something new.

One newspaper article was very sceptical about twitter in terms of social relations, fearing that the loose relationships are mistaken for real relationships. I think that is typically a view of a person who hasn't experienced twitter. If you do, you see it is a new communication means that people use, but it is complementary to all other means.

See also the 10 objections to social media I blogged earlier on.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Yes we can, but very slowly (and not always)

A modern British LED Traffic Light (Siemens He...Image via Wikipedia

In a newspaper magazine I read about volunteers who go to work in Uganda in "alsof je de trein naar Zandvoort neemt". I agree with the conclusion drawn in the very realistic and recognisable article: see volunteering in countries like Uganda as an investment in yourself, and don't expect to change anything in 1,2 or even 6 months. There was a great example:
Two Dutch teachers: we were going to form couples with the Ugandan teachers to guide the children. However, we noted that these teachers were already a bit tired of volunteers because they try to change everything. Someone introduced a method from Dalton, with a traffic light system. Red means by quiet, Orange- you can ask questions and Green - you can talk freely. Whenever we entered, they would quickly put up the traffic light, but they would never use it.
This sounds like a very real situation. What can we learn from it in terms of change management?

1. You need to have a constructive helper relationship before you can facilitate change. People need to trust you and your interventions. There is imported trust (or mistrust) too. The Ugandan teachers were already tired of the volunteers. So for any volunteer it would be harder to build a relationship with the teachers in which they trust their interventions.

2. Change within a short time period will only work if it fits within the main system and respects the change rhythm of the people involved. The Dutch teachers frame of mind is too different from the Ugandan situation. Only small changes (single loop) changes are possible. Deeper change processes affecting the way we work take much more time.
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Monday, June 15, 2009

Are your community's lurkers healthy lurkers?

I facilitated a teleconference with Mirjam Neelen for CPsquare. Mirjam is doing a thesis on this topic and shared her literature research with us. It struck me how much more you dive into a topic if you have to facilitate it, you suddenly feel more responsible and really invest in the topic. I've blogged about lurking before, investigating whether lurking in online forums is a sort of legitimate peripheral participation that leads to people learning about the practices of a community of practice. This time we tried to analyze whether lurking in online forums is a problem or a bliss for companies. The definition of lurking is as people who NEVER post, hence they don't share their questions, ideas or suggestions online.

What did I learn about lurking? First, most of all recognized that lurking can be very positive. Lurking into an online forum because you feel you are a novice can make you more expert. Or scanning a wide variety of online forum to know what's happening in other fields (helps boundary crossing). Something that really struck me in Mirjam's paper was the observation by Stegbauer that if participants remained inactive for the first four months, the likelihood for them to become active was minimized. I recognized this from my own behaviour. That means there is a crucial period to try and get participants active, to stimulate active participation. Mirjam outlined a wide variety of barriers that may lead to lurking behaviour and withold members from posting:
  • Interpersonal barriers- loss of face
  • Procedural barriers- people don't buy into the recommended ways of sharing (could be called preferential barriers?)
  • Technological barriers - lack of technological aptitude
  • Cultural barriers- crosscultural differences
'Healthy' lurking processes are probably situation where people are novices and learn by lurking or interdisciplinary lurking. It becomes unhealthy when important information and knowledge is missed out because of the above mentioned barriers. Suppose an online community is missing out all major experts because they continue to change offline, then some bridging needs to be done to ensure the online community doesn't become marginalized and mediocre. I guess an analyisis of inbound trajectories whereby people move from lurking to being active or core members are key to seeing whether lurking is healthy. What are the community's practice to stimulate sharing of ideas and perspectives?

What did I learn about online facilitation? I made it into a sort of exercise in online facilitation for myself, designing and online-teleconference-online sequence. The idea was to collect lurker stories online, discuss the research focussing on lurking behaviour in online corporate community forums, and go back online to brainstorm about research questions. The first part worked well, but there was no energy to go back online to discuss the research questions. I think I should have changed the initial plan into a topic that might have attracted more energy for the participants of the teleconference, like research methodologies. What really paid off was to prepare it all together beforehand in a skype session. That's an investment that really pays off in terms of quality.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

See me typing life..

This week I'm not too busy- great to read and write! Wrapping up a project. Feels like I have more room to think of new things to undertake. One of the really unnecessary things I discovered in livetyping. It shows exactly how you typed something, including the typos :).

LiveTyping.com (through Willem Karssenberg). I'm lucky I'm not working for a company- they'd probably think I'm wasting my time though it's really clearing my head and refreshing me.

Might be something I will never really use, but it's nice to know this is possible. Another nice thing to play with is 1001 fonts. I really like the handwriting fonts.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Follow the instructions or think for yourself?

I found this cartoon on the blog of Marnix Catteeuw. If you can't read the text, you can go to his blog. It was originally posted on the xkcd blog.

I fell into the same trap when I was trying to locate a physiotherapist with google maps. I thought it was handy that you can locate them on the map immediately. I discovered later that the good old fat yellow pages had many more referrals than google maps..

Great reminder that good professionals think for themselves and don't routinely follow the instructions..

Friday, June 05, 2009

Schein's ten step culture deciphering process for enterprise2.0

I've reread Schein's Organizational Culture and Leadership. I read it in 2001 with the organisational change processes of Ghanaian organisations in mind. Now I'm reading it with social media introduction glasses. It's been a joy to read it, such good understanding and so practically applicable.

About a learning culture in organisations Schein writes that we don't know tomorrow's world,but we know it will be different, more complex, more fast-paced and more culturally diverse. Hence the need for organisations and their leaders to become perpetual learners. So there is a need to speed up our learning processes and mechanisms. I think social media can contribute to that. But there is a paradox with culture in organisations, culture being a stabilizer, a way to make things predictable. Strong cultures are stable and hard to change. So does it mean that we need more flexibility to change assumptions? A rapidly learning organisation will change its assumptions too.

How and when to assess cultural dimensions? Schein is very strongly saying that it is not useful to assess culture as part of a desire to change the culture. Rather, there should be a clear goal, an organisational problem to be worked on. If that problem has cultural dimensions, it would be good to assess culture and how the shared assumptions support or get in the way of solving the problem of the organisation.

If that is the case, you can use a ten-step culture assessment process to decipher the assumptions at work within the organisation. The steps role from obtaining leadership commitment, via group interviews to identifying artifacts and espoused values. From there you go to the shared tacit assumptions and identify cultural aids and hindrances in relation to the stated problem.

How does this relate to social media introduction in organisations? I think it is very relevant because social media is not introduced out of the blue, but linked to a certain objective. (see the POST model from the Groundswell). If you take the additional step of doing a culture assessment, it would help to decipher assumptions at play which help or hinder the use of social media. Though you may generalize by stating that you need a 'open' or 'knowledge sharing' culture this is so general that it's not helpful. The culture deciphering process could help you to find cultural or subcultural elements that need to shift. And elements that are already in place that match the use of social media for a certain objective. It will definitely increase the chances for success I strongly believe.

I would be very interested in trying this process out in an organization!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Be aware of the fourth time assignment

I read somewhere about Sweden's 1967's shift in left-hand driving to right-hand driving. On the Monday following the shift, there were less traffic accidents, 125 reported traffic accidents, compared with a range of 130 to 198 for previous Mondays. Most had anticipated more traffic accidents. It is likely that the higher attention by drivers contributed to the lower number of accidents.

When my daughter learned how to cycle at the age of 4, I was very careful. When we cycled I cycled real close to her and held her neck near traffic. So she learned to cycle steadily. After roughly 6 months, I slowly started to pay less attention to her and got more confidence in her skills. Then, once when we were very near home she rode her bike behind me (normally in front of me), and a man came from the side and ran into her. It wasn't too bad, but she had some wounds because she fell with her face on the steer of the cycle.

I think knowledge workers may be at their best when they do a similar job for roughly for the third time. The first two times they gain experience. The third time is the best, small mistakes from the first times can be corrected. The fourth time assignment there is a risk that you loose attention and make unnecessary mistakes. Of course there may be individual difference and task differences. And you can argue that for knowledge workers, every assignment is unique, so it's hard to have a really similar job.

I started thinking about this when I thought about learning from mistakes. Somehow I don't believe in learning from mistakes. Most of the times, we know the mistakes but there are other reasons for underperformance like lack of attention.

What do you think? Do you recognise this? Or do real masters never loose their attention?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Joint decision-making about tool use in teams

Nancy White has a blogpost called Technology Stewardship and Unexpected Uses that resonates with what I'm working on. I'm consulting various people in organisations about the choice for online tools and how to introduce them for use by teams, groups or networks. What I noticed is that quite a lot of them would like to choose a tool, get up to speed with it themselves and then train others. However, in this networked world, it is my belief that we can be more participatory than that, with more chances of success.

Together with Sibrenne Wagenaar I wrote a Dutch article called "So you wanna be a virtual team?" - have to admit here that the Dutch are a little bit crazy giving an English title but the rest is really in Dutch- . In the article we try to explicitize our own way of working. We state that, amongst other things, it is good to:
  • Start with an exchange of experiences with tools for collaboration; start with familiarity
  • Choose a starting toolset together with the team
  • Stimulate an experimental culture within the team
  • You can introduce new tools but don't overdo it
  • Monitor individual feelings of ease and unease
It's hard to find the balance though between deciding for a group and trying to facilitate a participatory decision making process because for some tools may be new. It's a bit of an art to know when to lead and when to use knowledge and experiences within the group.

Nancy White has some useful additions on how to introduce technology:
It is about a dynamic evolution of practices and applications of the technology, not about the installation or the simple availability of the tool. So here are some practice hints.
  • Role model your experience and practices with tools, but don’t present them as the only options.
  • Watch for experimentation and amplify new, useful practices. Better yet, encourage community members to talk about and share their practices.
  • When members ask for tool adjustments based on their experimentation, work hard to accommodate rather than block innovation. This may mean going to bat with “higher-ups” to gain permission, or to allow the experimentation to fly “under the radar” until you can make a case for the value of the changes.
  • Encourage the fringies - the people who push the limits of a tool. Make them allies rather than enemies. Their pushing of your buttons may also create the innovation that you need to foster wider adoption.
In short develop shared leadership with regards to all these decisions. Though it may seem you know the best use of a tool, it's worthwhile to foster joint decision-making and let the routines within the team evolve organically within the team.

I'm curently reading Schein's organisational culture and leadership again, hope to draw some lessons from his insights too.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Any tool can do, culture matters

I'm writing blogging tips for a book we're writing and one of the tips is to create a rhythm of posting. I had a good blogging rhythm but now I seem to loose it! So I need tips how to keep your rhythm. All the holidays in the Netherlands starting from queen's day on 30 april are definitely fun, but don't help me to keep into any rhythm. But let's try to stick to a weekly rhythm and blogging about a past experience still lingering in my head.

In a teleconference Davee Evans, active participant in wikipedia organised by CPsquare I was very much struck by the complete unimportance of selecting the right tool for online interaction. What's really important is creating a culture of exchange. Since my consultancies started to include online methods for learning and collaboration a lot of the initial questions I get are about help to select the right tool. Or sometimes people have selected a tool and want to know how to tweek it. Though engagement in an intake conversation, all the other questions about introduction, designing the change process, the facilitation of the online interaction surface rapidly. Nevertheless, most of the time I also do some tool advice because I have the feeling that's part of the expertise asked of me. So both clients and myself seem to be drawn to tool selection.

What was the example? Davee talked about a voting process taking place in wikipedia about combatting vandalism. From the teleconference minutes:
The "flagged revisions project" is an attempt to deal with the enduring problem of vandalism. It's a very slow community process held in a very peculiar local style of discussion. Voting, with the pro's and con's about voting, happens in a free text space that is unique.
You can see the polling process in the picture displayed or by clicking on this link. What's interesting is that the tools used are in my opinion not the most appropriate for the job. The poll is done in the form of an online discussion in a wiki. I'd say you need an online survey tool to conduct a poll. And if you want to discuss an issue, you need a discussion thread function. What the wikipedians do, is use the wiki they are so familiar to and write in a threaded fashion in the wiki page that seems to work for them.

A strong example of the fact that when culture of working together online is very strong, the tool doesn't really matter. (it definitely put my idea about the best tools upside down!).