Thursday, December 16, 2010

How can social media support learning alliances/multistakeholder processses?

Some time ago I was asked to facilitate a session on this topic. I didn't have time to blog it, but since I received a nice report (by CDI in Wageningen) so I thought it would be a nice opportunity to blog it and share the prezi I used.

The intro session made me reflect on the difference in learning in a community of like-minded professionals and multistakeholder processes (By CDI also referred to as learning alliances). In definition: "Learning alliances are characterized by diversity. The stakeholders have different backgrounds, different perspectives, values, interests and knowledge with regard to the issue at hand." Prof. Arjen Wals said all learning is social, but social learning emphasizes learning through different perspectives- from the differences in heterogenous groups. Social connections make it possible to learn from each other, because that is not obvious. I guess the difference with learning in communities of practice and learning alliances is that in communities you have a process of recognition of similar issues and domains, and in learning alliances you have a common concern, but the process of learning is not as 'endogenous' as in communities. Though I realize people also use the term communities for multistakeholder groups.. I can imagine it is clearer to talk about the degree of homogeneity/heterogeneity in the group.

The term 'emancipatory learning' was introduced, as opposed to instrumental learning. Emancipatory learning combats social exclusion and discrimination, and challenge economic and political inequalities - with a view to securing their own emancipation and promoting progressive social change. I liked the question raised: how can local practices become global without becoming prescriptive? A good practice is honest about what is happening. And here I believe it is easier for communities of like-minded practitioners caring about the same domain to be honest, with different perspective, you are not triggered to be very honest.... How honest can we be on Twitter for instance?

But I'm drifting too far away from the topic of social media maybe. My session was about social media for learning alliances, assuming that you are a facilitator of a learning alliance and that your alliance already exists. I'm convinced social media can help to make conversations more continuous and hence situate learning closer to practice. You don't have to wait till the next yearly gathering to hear about new initiatives. Furthermore, boundaries tend to be more open, unless you use only private tools, password protected environments with which you can control membership.

Some interesting examples of using social media in a learning alliance:
  • Rapid exchanges through a twitter hashtag (definitely opens up boundaries for people to jump in!)
  • Setting up an online space to exchange and inviting people to join (ning, facebook group, other)
  • Working together on an expanding knowledge base through a wiki
  • Blogging together to harvest stories and trigger explicitation of experiences
  • Webinars or teleconferences where you can easily invite someone with an opposing view or different perspective
The illusion people sometimes have is that online conversations are as spontaneous as during a party and sometimes they are, but you can do things to facilitate/influence the amount and type of conversation to avoid it leads nowhere. Here's a graph of what you can do:

But always start with assessing where people are.. have an eye and ear for what people are using and doing. It will save you the hassle of introducing new tools. We did some discussion and worked on three real cases by the participants. What we discussed:

How to avoid exclusion? To include groups without access to the internet or to the tools, additional means are needed, for instance through meetings, local radio, cell phones and brochures. “In Ghana we have a collaborative forest management forum. We aim to share information ‘from the ground’ to show how policies are working, as to generate information for evidence based policy advocacy. At the community level there is no internet available, but we use rural radio, videos or cell phones.” Concluding, face-to-face interaction
remains of central importance in learning processes, for instance to build trust among the
participants or to include groups without internet access. A participant "We also found it is useful to use just a few tools from social media. So, we don’t go for everything that’s available, but we choose the ones that suit the organisation best”.

Leaves me with thinking that you could also think through how social media stimulate or obstruct learning through diversity and different views... What do you think? On the one hand, you tend to flock with like-minded people, on the other hand I follow a lot of marketing people on Twitter and changed my prejudiced perspective on marketing as a result..

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Two inspiring stories by digital natives with a cause

I attended the HIVOS 'thinkaton' about digital natives with a cause and activism2.0. Everybody in the room already believed in the power of a click! But we need the stories.

There were two very inspiring stories. The first by Juliana Rotich, the Program Director of Ushahidi (Kenya). Ushahidi is a well-known success and well-known example, nice to hear the story behind it. Ushahidi is an open source platform that allows people to share information in times of crises or elections (and sometimes elections are also a crisis!). The information is then shown on a map (the online version which can be used without having to install anything: was reportedly deployed 3500 times already!). Juliana Rotich explained how it became a success because of the link between the people of globalvoicesonline and a voluntary group of coders and translators. They were able to use their already built online networks to spread the news about ushahidi in Kenya where it was first used during the election turmoil. Interesting to hear about the crucial success factors. In the discussion it was several times mentioned that social media have played the role of amplifier. The speed with which news, information or stories get amplified depends on the resonance and relevance of the issues.

Jasmin Patheja, was the other digital native. She is the initiator of the
Blank Noise project (in India), a collective movement that addresses the problem of sexual
harassment in public spaces. I learned a new word which is eve- teasing. It is the intimidation of women in public space before it is called sexual harassment (my interpretation). On their blog you find a long list of what they understand by eve-teasing. Jasmin started photographing men that were eve-teasing in her opinion and put that on her blog. She felt very empowered by having her blog to post these pictures. She got a lot of comments and started blogathons. It articulated the issues around eve-teasing. It made men and women aware and think about their behaviours. All kind of actions were started like the invitation to send (a picture) of the cloth you were wearing when you were 'eve-teased' (don't know whether it is a verb too) or the action-heros. Her challenge is to think through whether they want to constitute a non-profit organisation based upon this spontaneous movement.

Some things struck me:
  • They look like real digital natives. Nobody complained about access to the internet and low band-width
  • The issue/problem is central, but social media make amplification possible. Scaling and amplification depends on the relevance/urgency of the problem. If you touch upon a latent discomfort (like Jasmin with eve-teasing) social media can lead to a movement because you can reach many people quickly. But it has to strike a cord with them.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Flexibility, fluidity and chaos in organisations

I have a relaxed week- wonderful for catching up with articles and blogs. I read "organizing for fluidity" which had been on my pile for sometime. And I'm reading 'organisational dynamics' by Thijs Homan- in dutch. Both talk about change dynamics in organisations.

Let me start by a story from Kenya when I was studying a smallholder irrigation system. The engineers were surprised that farmers took so long to plough the fields. As soon as the water was on the fields, they would want the farmers to plough within a week or two, but what they would notice is that ploughing activities would continue for 6-8 weeks. When I lived there as researcher I discovered within no time that the polygamous households had a system whereby the husband or the sons plough all the fields. They would plough the husband's fields first, followed by the first, second, third wives' fields. With the same pair of oxen. So that makes it very logical. What surprised me is that the engineer were so caught up in their own way of thinking that they couldn't see the logic of the farmers. Which would have improved their work: the design of irrigation systems. See the need for feedback.

The article by Georg Shreyögg and Jörg Sydow brings across a few important points:
  • With rapidly changing environments organisational flexibility is a key pressing issue for organisations, in order to create new combinations of resources fitting the new context. This is often stated and recognised.
  • One common answer is towards fluidity in organisations and networked organisations, organisations in constant flux or 'chronically unfrozen', but this is ignoring the basics or organisational routines which allow for efficiency. This underestimates what is means to be organised.
  • Organisations can never fully understand their complex environment and therefore have to model uncertainty and complexity on a template on which members can act. Complexity reducing maps and routines. Organisations cannot escape their history (Schein explains this process very well in organisational cultures and leadership).
  • Organisational patterns are reproduced by agents who can and do introduce changes. However, the fluid, flexible organisation, always in flux, would have a high opportunity cost in terms of lost experience, low specialization, low economies of scale. Capabilities become fixed to those constellations that have proven to be succesful. And that allows for efficiency and specialization.
It is hence a dilemma for all organisations to balance fluidity and stability. Two solutions are described: organisational ambidexterity (designing subunits to be either efficient or innovative) and balancing countervailing processes. The latter consists of monitoring its stabilization mechanisms. If you want to know more about that, you may read the article, though it doesn't become very practical. I'm translating it by organising sufficient relevant feedback on how you are doing (like the engineers asking the farmers).

Thijs Homan describes change in organisations and distinguished 'planned change' from organic changes. In planned change situations management are often the eyes and ears for the organisation. But the questions is whether in a rapidly changing environment you don't need the eyes and ears of all people in the organisation? He describes different change patterns and local communities. Play is the situation whereby new sense-making is taking place, Game is when this is stabilized. A flexible organisation is in continuous state of Play and chaotic, it moves with every change in the environment. An organisation always in Game is stable.

Very interesting if we look at this from the perspective of a learning organisation. The chaotic organisation might be called a learning organisation because it is continously changing. However, you may not desire this as it is in-efficient.

So in a way both are saying that an organisation should be changing and responding to its environment but not all the time and not in all direction. Find the right balance. So that makes me think the concept of learning organisation is not very useful (and I don't hear it that often anymore anyhow)... Not sure what the practical implications are of this view, but I like it a lot.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Our book "en nu online" is born

My first book ever is out, written with Sibrenne Wagenaar (see picture). I even had a dream last night of a smooth delivery (of a baby). Probably because the publisher told us the book was born on November 29th at 15.00 pm. and we continued using this analogy. If you speak Dutch and you are interested you may order it here or here or buy the e-book Or follow En_nu_online on Twitter for your daily tip about learning through social media. For all others, it is a good reason to learn Dutch! You see how easy it is, you can probably guess what 'en nu online' means... The book is about using social media for learning as a professional (part 1), in an organisation (part 2) and as facilitator of learning processes (part 3).

I just received my additional 8 copies and read a sentence that I like myself (sometimes I am totally embarrassed too). "The way and speed with which social media will be embraced depends on the organisational culture and the common ideas about learning" Then somehow it is logical that the social-constructivists and people focussed on informal learning processes are the first to embrace it. Others probably don't as easily see the value of social media.

It is funny to go back to our original set up in 2008. We were aiming for 50 pages (has become 290!) and sharing our own enthousiasme about web2.0 tools with people we met and who would say things like:

“If I Google something and find a blog I skip the result" “Does everything have to go even faster than it already does?”

It took us 2 years to write, and several versions (3-4) of each chapter. It took me 280 hours in total. It was fun to write it together. As I heard Nancy White say somewhere: if you write a book together you either become friends or hate eachother in the end. (can't find where!). In our case, we really got to know each other and value the expertise and view of the other person. Hence we celebrated well...