Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Culture: carnaval

See here the picture of Knillis (unfortunately behind the lantern) who will go down tonight at 24.00... On monday I travelled from the Hague back to the south and it was like traversing a border, north of the 'rivers' nothing changed and in the south.. see picture. This reminded me of someone who said there is a 'north' and 'south' at every level (the world, europe, country, towns?) whereby the south is more easy going, relaxed, less inclined towards long-term thinking, etc... (more fun?)

Practical example: Aquasan the story of a remarkable community of practice addressing water supply and sanitation in developing countries

An example! Marc Steinlin from Helvetas mentioned in the km4dev list that Urs Egger has written down the story of Aquasan. Though I often visit the km4dev website, I had never traced it, so there are probably many more examples out there. It is so easy to overlook something on the web! When I started reading I was first disappointed that the story is about a community of practice amongst northern (Swiss) development workers, but it is a good story because it highlights a lot of critical success factors. (and I printed another one by Etienne Wenger, which I will blog later.)

The Aquasan CoP was started in 1983 by a small group of Swiss experts working on water supply and sanitation issues. They continued to meet four times per year for one day for knowledge sharing- up to the present date (23 years!) and organise a yearly annual workshop of five days in one of the developing countries. The founding members still form the core group, strongly commited to Aquasan. The passion of the professionals- for their work and the theme water and sanitation in developing countries- keeps the group together, members are always looking forward to meeting their colleagues and some consider each other as friends. The circle seems quite closed and has even been refered to as "water maffia", but there is an outer circle of participants that attend meetings only irregularly, and guests are invited for presentations and topical discussions. The organisations making up Aquasan more or less took their hands off and gave their representatives free rein to exercise their creativity. Private consultants were not invited because the group was afraid of competition. The group's constituents are financially supported so that the community does not have to show a direct impact resulting from their participation, whereas SDC has always funded the workshops.

At the regular meetings, there are recurrent issues like the mission reports, presentation by researchers, the annual workshop, SDC policy and some long-running topics like the development of a household water disinfection system.

So what is the impact? If there had not been a benefit to its members, they wouldn't have continued to participate. But more specifically, the community of practice has provided a place to solicit informal feedback, has acted as a multiplier, and has helped with coordination in the sector. There are hardly any identifiable outputs (like publications, website, etc) as the output constitutes of learning for the individual members.

Questions I still have at the end are about the growth of the community (numbers), how new members are recruited, introduced etc. and whether the employers of the members never asked for any outputs (what a luxuoury, or what a vision to allow for this space for the practitioners!). It would also have been nice to hear more about the actual domain innovations stimulated by the community of practice, and the homogenous/heterogenousness of the professionals.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Culture: carnaval in the south of the Netherlands

I live in the south of the Netherlands, so in the carnaval (catholic) area. Since I was born and raised in Amersfoort (middle of the country) I have not been brought up with carnaval at all. On the picture you will see Prins Harry I with adjudant Wim who will rule our village renamed zandhazendurp for the carnaval period. Den Bosch is now called Oeteldonk and on their site you can see how many more minutes till the official start of carnaval. Today we celebrated carnaval at school, tomorrow in Zandhazendurp and sunday we will go to welcome the prince in Oeteldonk. It really goes on till Wednesday, but I'll go to work (remember: I'm not from here!!). One year (more than 10 years ago) I fully celebrated carnaval, and it was a great eye-opener. From the outside (for Northerners like me) it looks somewhat childish and a drinking party. When you celebrate and fully emerge yourself in the whole process, it is also about talking and joking to anybody you meet, people interacting in a very different way then they do in 'normal' life. And there is a whole flowing ceremony till wednesday. (needless to say that the fasting part of the ceremony which should start after carnaval got lost somewhere in the process). Still I feel I will never get the real carnaval feeling as people do who were born and bred with it. And people here immediately recognise northerners in the crowd by their behaviour, which doesn't match local habits.

I love the carnaval stories; I asked someone whether he was going to celebrate this year and he answered: "well, I don't think so. But I'll probably end up going to the local pub, will start to drink and like it, and then in the evening someone will propose to eat soup together somewhere, but before the soup arrives I will have fallen asleep..."

Technology: blogging projects

I came across the African mentoring project set up by Ore Somolu from Nigeria. She is inspired by the Young Caucasus Women project in which I was the first mentor, and which seems to move quite well at a good pace. Each week another mentor is invited to blog about a specific topic, and the Caucasus students participating are invited to blog about the same topic, and comment to and fro on each other's blogs. Ore has asked Katy Pearce, the project initiator how she got the project started. Interestingly, the project cost is nothing.

I remembered Beth Kanter had pointed to a wiki from global voices on what makes a successful local blogosphere?, reflecting on the fact that countries like Cambodja, Iran and Jordan have a dynamic blogosphere, while others don't.

Ory from Kenya suggests for instance:
- support new bloggers by linking to them, commenting on new blogs. this is important to helping to build a blogosphere
- create a home like a weblog ring, create a space for the community to be gathered
- set up guides and instructions on how to blog
- virtual communication amongst the bloggers (IM, chat, email, etc) helps to create community and forge relationships)

The wiki seemed totally ruined, but I could refer to an older version to get the information still. Mmm. That could be the downside for doing such things in (public) wikis.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Technology: Dutch most computer literate and Ghana's rapidly changing telecommunications market

The picture shows the webroom of the Ghana dot gov project, a portal into Ghana. I was reading about Ghana's telecommunications market, when I came across the fact that the Dutch are the most computer literate in the world. A nice combination for a blog post on technology?

'Residents of the Netherlands, armed with a tax break for computer purchases and some of Europe's lowest broadband fees, lead the world in the use of personal computers and the Internet, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts released Tuesday.
In a survey of habits in 17 nations, 82 percent of Dutch residents said they used a computer at least occasionally at home or at work, and 72 percent used the Internet.'

In Ghana, the number of prepaid and postpaid subscribers has increased from 28,900 in 1997 to 1,2 million in 2005 and predicted to increase to 2,1 million in 2008. The number of new fixed lines per year has decreased from 42,523 in 2000 to 19,471 in 2003. Internet subscription has grown from 505 in 1996 to 33,000 in 2005 (still only 0.152 subscribers per 100 people) But internet users rose from 600 in 1996 to 700,000 in 2005. (source: Telecommunications Market in Ghana, status and outlook, 2005 edition). So lots of areas skip the stage of fixed landlines straight to mobile telephony. And when I phoned from Accra to Tamale with a fixed line, it was extremely expensive, but with a mobile phone it doesn't matter where you are. Unfortunately, broadband is still very expensive, monthly rates dropped from 150 dollars per month to 95 dollars per month in 2003. Which is even high in absolute terms compared to the Netherlands (roughly 17 euros per month), let alone in relative terms. (and hence there were just 1,500 broadband subscribers for the whole of Ghana in 2005).

A study in the UK in 2001 looked into the different uses of the net by broadband and other users. "The analysis suggests that, while there are few socio-economic and demographic differences, broadband users tend to use a wider range of applications, access them more frequently and for longer. However, because most broadband users have been, on average, users of the Internet for longer than PSTN users, these effects may be to do with their Internet competencies rather than the nature of broadband Internet itself. The paper also suggests that the interaction of speed, flat rate and always-on'' is a key feature of broadband and a key value model to the user. "

A community of practice use's of technology is influenced not only by the access of members, but also their internet competencies. Looks like broadband may bring along a different use (at least it did for me, you even forget, but in Ghana with our dial-up of 19 kbps people who would send a large attachment would turn into your instant enemy because it could take ages to download and I used to put off the automatic repetition of the mail in the reply to shorten the mails)...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Technology: Snow White and the seven competences of online interaction

Last year I did Nancy White's online course on facilitating online interaction, which also touched upon the competences of online facilitators. She did a presentation of which an audio file is available here. I listened to the file and came away with the conclusion that she distributed chocolates and there was a loud applause at the end (don't know if the two events were related :)). Then I found a remix (audio with slides and photos) by Nick Noakes but downloading was going to take one hour, so I didn't. Then finally I found the slides

The seven competences are:
1. Self-awareness
2. Online communcations
3. Learning with others (skills like reciprocate)
4. Facilitation for relationship, identity, presence and flow
5. Intercultural antennae
6. Tolerance for ambiguity
7. Ability to switch context

In terms of self-awareness, I know audio alone apparently doesn't work for me, but I persevere in getting what I want to know (and working through the slides to find out the seven works better than having the full list reading at hand). I have a dislike for telephone conversations too. Knowing my dislike, sometimes I force myself into chosing a phone conversation over a mail or whatever, but I know I don't do this often enough. But by practicing online communication, I slowly get a better feel for what might work and what not. And the tolerance for ambiguity is much stronger needed skill online than face-to-face, because often reactions and feedback are delayed of even invisible/absent.

It's so great that all this is available on the web; if you are focussed you can get a lot of infomation matching your interests online!!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Technology: social bookmarking with del.icio.us

Kathleen Gilroy has posted a good and easy to follow webcast how to use the social bookmarking service, Del.icio.us, for learning. It's a very clear explanation of the basics and stresses the function of social bookmarking as an intermediairy to find your way in the millions of blogs (and other sites) on the web. At the end she talks about the function of technorati to find out how many blogs link to your own blog- and doing this for my blog I found out some interesting links to my own blog (I guess the lack of trackback makes me unaware of some of the links- but I when I tried this haloscan a post disappeared so I'm scared of trying again).

With a small group of people we'll be experimenting with the concept of using a unique tag to produce an RSS feed (when it's up, I'll post the RSS feed on my blog). My own question is around quality versus quantity, it seems so easy to come up with lots of links- so maybe a condition should be that you have read it and find it is of a certain quality. If not- it becomes pumping around of information.

The Slackermanager blog posted the several habits of wildly successful del.icio.us users a great help, with 8 habits:

1. Make many marks
2. Sir Tag-a-lot
3. Use the inbox
4. Mix 'n match
5. Stalk other users
6. Get it to go
7. Move it around
8. Explore more

Here's the recommendation to tag a lot. I haven't tried the inbox and stalking but that sounds like useful tips. I started tagging but still feel like I'm dumping the links into a borehole so I don't consider myself wildly successful (yet).

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Technology: the online Johari window -part 3

The Online Johari window is becoming a kind of Die Hard series (don't know why Die Hard comes to my mind as I'm preparing to go and see Bambi 2), but this morning it suddenly struck me that through the small test of the online tool adaptable and sensible are shown in bold. Three people whom I never met face-to-face have come up with adaptable (responsive) for me. The stricking thing is that we did a similar exercise with the team of people with whom I had worked on a daily basis for over a year (all face-to-face) and they came up with accomodating- very similar to adaptable. So that's 1-0 for these people's capacity to 'read' people through disembodied (computer mediated) interactions. - the face-to-face team never called me sensible though :)-

Forgot this: how does the Johari window as a tool link to communities of practice? I've never read much about interventions for communities of practice, wonder about experiences in using these kind of exercises to improve collaboration in CoPs?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Technology: use of the Johari window

Nancy White thought about the Johari window online tool (and so did I). She said:" Wouldn't it be interesting if someone built a utility that allowed us to "tag" ourselves, then allow others to tag us as well. more open, but use the same intent behind this Johari window we both played with."

I don't know how that would work: tagging with what kind of labels, similar labels as used in this tabel? How open and honest would that be? And is that not literally 'labelling' people rather than giving critical feedback that will help people? And how does it sit with invited feedback versus uninvited?

Looking at our tests with this online Johari window, I don't think it is very subtle in giving feedback, as we all seem to end up with a long list of positive attributes. The only surprise for me was the label 'extrovert' as I'm more usually more halfway between intro- and extrovert. I recognise that I may be more extrovert online.

A nice way of using the online Johari window though, maybe to prepare for a face-to-face event. People can be invited to prepare a window, send it to their teammates, and compile the results. This would be more of a light introduction to some conversations on how you are and how people perceive you (and find out how this stimulates/inhibits collaboration in the team). Just great that there are so many nice training aids (like learning styles test, etc.) online, just thinking if I can blend it into my next face-to-face event!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Culture: feedback on online identity

I got some enormous flowery compliments about my blog today, very stimulating to keep on blogging, but makes me feel shy. It's actually very interesting that people may appear differently online than in person, because you don't see the non-verbal expressions. Nancy White posted an online Johari window, which I filled in for her (I saw only women responded). I prepared my own, but noticed most of the characteristics you can choose from are rather positive (and so might hence be the outcome?). To give me more feedback about the impressions I create online you are kindly requested to fill in Joitske's Johari window by selecting 5 to 6 words you associate with me, or at least the impression created by my blog (1 minute). Warning: it is not anonymous (but you can chose a nickname :)).

The idea of working with the Johari window is to increase the part which is known to self and others by getting feedback. What I always found interesting in working with the window as a framework is that things which people feel are hidden are often 'leaking' through non-verbal expressions. I wonder if there is less 'leakages' online, or are people who are very conversant online also able to see through, even without non-verbal clues?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Culture: Valentine's day in Ghana

Another story about blending cultures: "Me Do Wu," My Val: The Creation of Valentine's Day in Accra, Ghana by Jo Ellen Fair who explains that:

"Far from a story of cultural imperialism, the rise of Valentine's Day in present-day Accra shows that local adoption of global consumerist preferences is best understood as a local process imbued with local meanings and values, deliberately and rationally pursued."

She did open-ended interviews with customers and shop-owners in Accra in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and concludes:

"Borrowed from abroad, altered to fit local circumstances, Valentine's Day is part of a complex set of imported and indigenous lifestyle markers that are used increasingly in urban Africa by individuals and social groups to construct identities as older and more traditional cultural norms and forms loosen their hold. "

She explains the important role of the media in the introduction of Valentine's Day: "Of course, Val Day in Accra would be a far lesser holiday if it were not for radio and television promotion. Picked up from media promotion handbooks produced in the United States, Valentine's Day came to Accra prepackaged in a rarefied state of hype. Its packaging did not exactly fit the Ghanaian cultural environment. Broadcasters say they knew they had to figure out how to promote Valentine's Day in a way that would draw in audiences and potential advertisers. Though romance had long been a part of Valentine's celebrations worldwide, Ghanaian broadcasters took the theme of romance and created promotions that played upon Ghanaian idealizations of courtship and marriage."

She furthermore explains and acknowledges that Valentine's day is foremost for the middle-income urban Ghanaians: "Valentine's Day offers upwardly mobile, urban Ghanaians a sense of connection to global modernity. It helps Ghana's newly privatized media, as well as its merchants, create the commercial culture necessary for their advancement."

And explains why this is likely to be so: "Modernity and Val Day intersect in another important way. Upwardly mobile Ghanaians increasingly are enticed by conceptions of love, courtship, and nuclear family life that are at odds with older kin-based marital systems, obligations, and sexual mores. When a young Ghanaian says that Val Day gives her boyfriend the chance to express his devotion to her, and that this courting behavior makes them both feel "modern," she is invoking love, monogamy, and individual rather than kin-based selection of marital partners. Thus Valentine's Day is a good fit with the challenge to customary patterns of marriage and social organization increasingly mounted by upwardly mobile urbanites. Personal selection of a marriage partner, monogamy, and the nuclear family as a social and economic unit are seen by many educated urbanites as a wave of the future. Val Day, for them, has a progressive gloss (which in the West it certainly lacks). When a preacher says that Val Day is for couples, he too is arguing for monogamy. He is using Val Day to support the insurgent position that even in Ghana the relationship between husband and wife is the central fact of marriage. Thus the interests of educated urbanites and advocates of a conventional Christian morality converge on Val Day. Both use the holiday to advance their seemingly parallel causes."

"Although much has been said about the Western media's impact worldwide, not enough work has been done to explore empirically why certain new images and ideas promoted by media strike a chord in this or that society, with this or that population. We need to know how imported cultural products meet local trends and are repelled or absorbed by them. This work points to the importance in this process of local contingencies and choices, and to the value of close work on the relationship between local media campaigns and highly visible or highly volatile elements of popular culture. One Ghanaian marketer said of Valentine's Day what might be said of most imported cultural products: "Saint Valentine's Day is like palm nut soup. You cannot just look at the soup and say whether it's good or bad. You have to taste the soup, savor it, and then decide" (Pauline Badu, interview, Feb. 6, 2002)."

Culture: Ethiopian Idols

Ethiopian Idols is causing a sensation on television. And I can imagine if I remember the usual TV-programs!! One world is reporting that jury member Feleke Hailu is as harsh as the Dutch jury. His sentence: 'Alta Fakedem' (translation: you did not make it) has apparently become a popular phrase in Ethiopia. People were reportedly shocked in the beginning as it is unusual in Ethiopia to criticize in public, but the program has the highest ratings. Critics say it is a cultural invasion, but the organisers think it gives room for local cultures, as candidates are allowed to sing in any of the 80 languages of Ethiopia.

If only the editions were webcasted... so that we could see the iskista...(moving shoulders dance).

Technology: blogging is contagious?

Last sunday, I sent the link to my blog to Gerritjan van Luin. The same day, he started his own blog (in Dutch) on communities of practice or 'leernetwerken'. And with great pictures for those who do not understand Dutch!

Technology: wikis, organisations and efficiency

John Barben posted this excerpt from Business Week on wikis. I thought it's a nice follow-up on our web2.0 discussion in IICD. People questioned the use of some of the web2.0 tools because it is seen at time consuming. Probably in the short run it is (and changing habits is energy-consuming as well). But in the long run it may be about more efficient workprocesses. I'm sure mails and meeting time will go down if people write and read about what's core to share with others, and I think the content of meetings may be more relevant to cater for faster organisational learning. At a small scale we are experimenting with wikis and social bookmarking. Now if I mention that we use pbwiki I get my space doubled (now I'm not sure if I need that but here we go..)

Let's see who reads my blog in IICD...

Communities of practice: a facilitation task taxonomy for communities of practice

I had unsubscribed from the yahoo group on communities of practice as I was ploughing through my mails rather than happy to read them (not the best mode for learning). But now I have worked out an aggregating system that works for me with google personalised pages as my RSS reader. An interesting alternative for personalised pages (thanks to Chris Addison) is netvibes where you can add more options like flickr photo streams. I have added the yahoo group to my personalised pages, so it pops up and I found Rosanna Tarsiero posting a link to an article on A facilitation task taxonomy for communities of practice by Halbana Tarmizi and Gert-Jan de Vreede (sounds Dutch).

It talks about the role of the facilitator of a CoP which is key to the effective establishment and sustainment of communities of practice. The facilitator role is crucial in making a case for the CoP, finding common topics for members, securing trust of shared information and lowering barriers among members to involve in knowledge sharing activities. Inspired by the facilitator role description work by Group Support Systems (GSS) (is this the same as Group Decision-making Support Systems?) they come up with 33 CoP facilitation tasks. They can be subdivided into two main categories: internal and external.

* Information source, providing information to CoP's members
* Inspirator, encouraging members to be active
* Guide, including all tasks that focus on assisting and advising the CoP and its members

* Information source, providing information about the CoP to the outside world
* Public Relations manager, representing the interests of the CoP to the outside world
* Investigator, all tasks concerning searching for and collecting useful information for the CoP and its members.

I think it's good to focus on the facilitator tasks, as it may be underestimated. As a facilitator you may use it as a quick guide to see where you could shift some of the emphasis. Unfortunately the paper does not talk about distributed leadership.

For the first time, I'm now gaining experiences as a facilitator for a CoP on e-collaboration, co-facilitating. I have been a member of a corporate CoP, and external consultant, so it's great to gain practical experiences with this role.

Our recent experience is that we are making a 'phone round' to all participants to find out what occupies them in e-collaboration, what interests them and how they want to continue with the group. It is extremely energizing for us and people we talk to. It's revealing to see some people are gaining valuable experiences and are eager to share/learn together. Some people don't want to participate actively but want to watch to see what's developing so that at some point they may link back to the process. I think it helps to be a practitioner yourself, so that you recognise the issues and are able to relate it to some of your own experiences. I'm convinced that without this facilitator role and the vision to facilitate a more continuous learning process, the process would have stopped at some point in time. So you can't talk about a completely 'organic process', yet you can be conscious about not 'pushing' things too hard. For instance, it was an important indication for us that conversations continued online after the November event, without facilitation. So the art of the facilitator is somehow finding the balance between proposing actions in a inspiring way and providing space to see what emerges (and have an ear/eye for what's happening between members invisible to the online space as there are lots of other links!)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Communities of practice: domain definition in corporate and inter-organizational communities

Anecdote blogged about Will the community of practice get started? A test and the effect of titles talking about the definition of the knowledge domain of a community of practice.

One pragraphe: I now have a simple test to gauge whether a community of practice might form. When someone says, “I would like to start a community of practice.” I ask, “Can you describe the potential members by completing the following sentence? I am a …..” If they can fill in the blank in a way that people can passionately identify with the descriptor then there is a chance a community might emerge.

I commented that it seems there is a difference between a corporate CoP and large, public, inter-organisational CoP in the sense that their domain definition seems wider.

I would like to share Shawn's answer on my own blog: I think you are right Joitske. The ActKM (a public CoP) was named with a scope covering all of knowledge management. There have been a number of times when we think that the scope should be narrower but such a move would significantly fracture the group. In ActKM's case the scope has emerged from the conversations. For example, you are unlikely to see a deeply technical discussion on ActKM but you will find many theoretical discussions on ways to view the discipline. The discussion act as an attractor for certain people and a repellent for others. It's for this reason why I think you can't be too rigid with defining the scope. It will adapt with the needs and interests of the members.
Another way to look at the scope is to think about the level of abstraction occuring in the discussion. If the discussion is too detailed for the audience the audience will get bored and leave. If the discussion is too high-level and assumes everyone knows the jargon and acroymns the audience is unable to understand and will leave. Like the three bears the level of abstraction in the discussion has to be just right.

Though the knowledge domain of a community may change over time, it seems that the initial name is important for including/excluding people. For instance, the name e-collaboration for the development sector is vast enough to cover a wide range of experiment with collaboration at a distance, but specific enough for certain practitioners to identify with the domain.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Practical examples: Km4dev

Talking to people from MDF, a training and consultancy firm, we had to conclude that there are few practical examples of communities of practice in a development context, so I'll try and search harder (haven't even started the whole km4dev journal for instance). I'm not sure if there are no examples, but there may not be many well-described cases of how communities of practice were intentionally nurtured and leveraged for enhanced knowledge sharing and innovation for development.

One example of a community of practice is the KM4dev community and I had the honour to to talk to Lucy Lamoureux, the coordinator, somewhere last year, about the same time of the publishment of an official interview with her in the km4dev journal She describes the Km4dev community as a group of development practitioners working in knowledge management and knowledge sharing who ask for advice and receive quick responses from peers. The community grew quite organically after two workshops organised in the year 2000. Now, after 5 years, it has about 385 members, with about 35% of members based in the south. There is a core group of about 60 people who know each other well and have met face-to-face. The process confirms the literature which states that networks need at least 5-7 years before they mature. From the beginning, some gurus in the knowledge domain were involved, as well as the World Bank, an important player in the field of Km4dev. In the beginning there was more sharing of information and resources, lateron people engaged more in asking questions and theories.

The main communication tools are the discussion list, km4dev site (where you can also subscribe to the list), which acts as a repository where members can post profiles, document, etc, and last but not least annual face-to-face workshops. From 2000-2004 Lucy was the sole coordinator for the community, but then a group of 7-8 volunteers was formed who are helping to facilitate, write, interview, etc. A big challenge is to engage the people who can only participate online, versus the group who meets face-to-face. When I asked Lucy about her role, she called it a kind of 'watering', facilitation behind the scene. The watering consisted of asking people to contribute; when hearing a story convincing people to share it and phoning people to find out what's happening.

Communities of practice: the organizational frontier

I think the article by Etienne Wenger and William Snyder called Communities of Practice: the organizational frontier is still a very good basic article, talking about corporate communities of practice. Since it's a Harvard Business Review article I didn't think it would be available on the web, but it is!

It is this article which inspired me and other members of a community of practice of advisor from SNV in West Africa some 5 years ago because it explains the differences between a community of practice and a work group/ project team and informal network so clearly. And it helped us see we wanted a community of practice whereas the management had more a sort work group or task force in mind, so it supported us in clarifying our ideas and understanding the differences. It supported a shift in the membership to include more of the advisory practitioners with similar practices in different countries.

A community of practice is held together by passion, commitment and identification with the group's expertise, and hence membership should be voluntary (at least not appointed). Whereas a work group may be appointed and the task and deadline clearly identified and monitored by a management. This leads to the management paradox: management has less control over a community of practice. A community of practice has to develop measures to show the (often intangible) benefits as compared to the preconceived tangible outputs of a project team ('set up a training and prepare a module' type of instruction). And although communities of practice are informal and self-organizing, they benefit from cultivation by management which can identify them, provide the infrastructure and use nontraditional methods to measure value. This doesn't mean that management can not give any instructions, ideas, or tasks but managers have to be skilled in energizing the community rather de-energizing it.

More and more I'm seeing the parallel of this management paradox for inter-organisational communities of practice: the agency or organisation(s) funding/advising the community of practice will also have to struggle with a similar management paradox.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Technology: gender and politeness in Computer Mediated Communication

Prof Asha Kaul and Vaibhavi Kulkarni wrote a paper with the name of Coffee, Tea or...? Gender and politeness in Computer Mediated Communication. They studied computer mediated communication (CMC), specifically work related emails in the Indian context (494 mails written by men and women were analysed). By the way: google images on politeness show up as scenes from previous centuries ...

They notice that "CMC provides a link between oral and written communication, producing a categorical change which affects not only the notion of what the conversation is but the speaking-writing dichotomy as well. CMC is not restricted to formal, organizational emails but is also widely used for informal communication. Gramatical markers are used and exclamation point and question marks added as well as emoticons." " CMC can facilitate emotional content and inequalities of status and expertise are reduced in task oriented CMCs."

Though not all researches share a similar view, one research cited in the paper states that rule of politeness governing face-to-face conversations seems to be less binding when there is no physical presence. And in mails there seems to be a sense of anonymity which could encourage people to be impolite and express their hostility or resentment explicitly. One cited research observes that employees communicating with their supervisors through email might lose their supervisor's sense of status and could end up in miscommunication.

Looking at gender, the study cites a lot of researches which found differences in language, with for instance, women using more 'graphical accents' than men. On the other hand more recent research suggests that men and women use interaction patterns which are organizationally fit rather than gender specific. In this study, the examples of adherence of politeness maxim was higher in women than in men. Mails written by women showed hesitancy to openly contradict or disagree. Mails were more appeasing and tentative rather than firm and clear. But looking at 'clusters' of answers, they use of language was more contingent on the needs of the situation or the organization.

They conclude amongst others with the statement that disparity between the intent of the sender and the message transmitted would need further research. I think that this is somehow the point. (and now completely non-supported by any research): The way people write (on similar tasks) is probably influenced by their gender, cultural background but also ease and experience in writing. For instance as an example of the cultural background: in the paper men for instance used flattery more than women in their emails, with contradicts other literature. A possible explaination can be found in the cultural background of India.

So realizing that messages may be misunderstood, you become more conscious about the way you write. That's actually why I try to write my mails always just slightly more positive than I would in talking. And it is of course an important point for online communication in international communities of practice which demands from the facilitators and participants alike not only the skill to write clearly, in a way which will be easily understood by people reading it with different mental models, but also the ability to read between the lines.

The other interesting thing here is the reduction of inequalities of status, because that would mean that people who feel inhibited to express themselves in a certain group due to this factor might find it easier to do so online (in computer mediated communication), which opens up the opportunity to hear voices which may not be heard in a similar face-to-face group.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Technology: my pathway into blogging

Tomorrow we have a seminar in IICD with Chris Addison on blogs and RSS and I'm asked to present my 'pathway into blogging' . So I thought of preparing it in my blog (to get away from powerpoint). A lot of 'how tos' already deal with the technical part- but that's the easiest.

I think there are 4 elements which contributed to the start of my blog
1. When working as an advisor in Ghana I got into the habit of documenting my experiences and I started liking the process of documenting systematically and formulating explicit lessons.
2. I saw a few topical and professional blogs that I liked and inspired me as an example.
3. I read a lot about communities of practice for development and thought there were not many good cases and materials available, so I had a clear topic I was eager to dig into.
4. I discussed with various bloggers who encouraged me to start.

After starting, it is kind of scary and you have to find your own voice, topics and blogging rhythm for instance you have to consider:
- Do I write about myself (lifeblogger) or I refer to materials (linkblogger)?
- Do I blog daily, weekly, monthly or whenever I feel like it?
- Do I only write for myself or do I focus on some kind of audience?
- How do you write about people you met, the job you have (after all it's very public).
- Do I focus on the lay-out and features, add audio, pictures or videos or not?
- Do I stick to my topic or wander off?

In my case, I felt very encouraged (and sometimes embarrassed) when I started to connect to other people by eg.:
1. receiving a comment from people I know on MY blog.
2. getting positive feedback by e-mail.
3. receiving comments from a stranger.
4. sending a link to a book author I blogged and receiving a positive reply.
5. meeting someone who knows your blog but doesn't know you.
6. installing a sitemeter and seeing people from Japan, India, Russian Federation are visiting my blog.
7. being announced/pointed to/quoted in a virtual place.
8. meeting a friend f2f and having a conversation on something you wrote on your blog.

Blogging works for me because:
* I installed a blogreader (bloglines) and starting to read other blogs systematically. Having my own blog made it more sensible to read other's blogs. It is a different way of building a network and learning from others, especially about good resources on the web but also about their lives and thoughts.
* It encourages and supports my own learning process, eg. blogging an article forces me to think through the main points, and I have a good and solid archive of what I read.
* It is a personal, dynamic and easily accessible way of writing/reading. Faster, easier to read and less polished than articles in journals and more personal/deeper than discussion boards or e-mails.

Practical examples: identifying communities of practice throught storytelling

Seth Kahan and Madelyn Blair wrote a short paper on the identification of communities of practice in the World Bank. I blogged it already, but it mysteriously disappeared (I tried haloscan maybe that's the problem). So again:
Kahan worked in information systems in the Bank for 11 years, so he was a real practitioner, when he tried to breath life into a community of practice on Information Solutions. His first step was to identify the existing informal networks and focus efforts on nurturing them. He brought in a consultant, Madelyn Blair, who could speak their 'language' too. They handpicked 20-30 movers and shakers, all inspired veterans.

The veterans were each asked to share a story about a work assignment that was especially exciting. The stories changed to energy in the room noticeable. People were leaning in and listening closely to each other. Over the next days, they worked to identify common themes and began to identify 9 groups.

The paper gives a sample story as well as 7 guidelines on how to use storytelling to identify communities of practice.

Technology: the potential role of blogs in changing development

ODI has started a blog with commentary from leading development experts.
Enrique Mendizabal blogged about blog development, blogs. He sees the value of blogs and other social technologies to bridge the IT gap between resource rich civil society organisations (CSOs) in developed countries and those in developing countries. It awards small CSOs in developing countries access to information and participatory spaces otherwise closed to them. He mentioned www.civiblogs.org as a platform specifically designed for CSOs, but when I clicked on it, it was not available.

Blogs may well he on track to overthrow the traditional 'thinking spaces' of the development sector, he continues. Blog links can foster debates and aggregate scattered knowledge. Blogs can be monitoring and evaluation tools that when used systematically can replace tedious, long and expensive traditional methods. (mmm, a lot of expectations for blogs!)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Technology: mashups

I summarized the discussion on mashups in CPsquare (see picture, if you want to read it you may have to save it and enlarge it). I feel like I summarised something I don't fully understand, but maybe that's also a function of a CoP to learn about completely unknown waters. When I feel I just start to grasp blogging, talks move to mashups.

It's hard to decide if this is important when talking about communities of practice for development. But I guess the concept in itself is useful: making a hybrid of two applications, and that it's within the reach of non-developers. So ample scope for more appropriate and tailor-made applications I would say. Since a lot of mashups do a combination with maps, this leads to more visual representations and that may be very useful in development (eg. in PRA drawing and negotiating maps with farmers is such a powerful communication tool). Just don't know if you can do what is done in the US for countries in Africa. I have found the place in Mali where we lived in google earth, but it is quite at a distance .

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Technology: blogging game 4x4

I was tagged by Beverly Trayner for a 4x4 game. (My association with 4x4 is a four-wheel drive but this is about answering 4x6 questions). Usually I'm not really a fan of chain-letters (kettingbrieven), but when I clicked on the tagged by.. tagged by.. tagged by.. tagged by..I got to the source and I liked the way you can trace the chain. It wasn't really explained that being tagged means that you have to answer all the questions, but that's what everyone did, so I will answer the same questions (I noticed some questions changed along the line):

4 jobs I had:
- Secretary at the gender department in Wageningen (fired after 1 day)
- Researcher on 'vasijas de ardecilla' for El canelo de Nos in Chile
- Organisational advisor for CRDA, an NGO umbrella in Ethiopia, based in the containers before they moved to the new building
- Knowledge sharing program officer at IICD (started in November recently, but so far a great job)
(I this way I skipped the Johnson and Johnson factory where I had to count the number of hygienic pads in each package and which did not really contribute to my career :))

4 places I lived:
I my case that's almost the same question as the first, during a job interview someone said my CV looks like a countries CV:
- Heteren (lived in the 'woonwagen', a house on wheels, road flooded by the river in winter, so that we had to go to the main road by boat, no gas connection, was where my ear got frozen)
- San Bernardo, Chile
- Addis Abeba, Ethiopia
- Takoradi, Ghana
(you see, my toughest environment by far was in the Netherlands)

4 places I've liked (amongst many more):
- Djenne in Mali (gets more beautiful when you arrive by bicycle from Macina with the Harmatan winds blowing in the opposite direction)
- Gem Rae in Kenya
- Lalibela in Ethiopia
- Bolgatanga in Ghana
(Beverly mentioned the Seychelles- the Seychelles couldn't make it to this list because I still get nausea when I see the pictures- was there when I was pregnant)

4 sites I visit daily (well, not really daily, but more often than other sites):
- my bloglines (I have gone beyond my 25 deadline to 36 feeds)
- CPsquare (like Beverly, when there are online discussions)
- IICD's Intranet (my blogs was announced there, so I can't gossip about colleagues anymore)
- Dgroups (my Dgroups have grown to the number of 7)

4 favorite movies:
- Lars von Trier's movies
- Festen
- The mysterie of the sardines
- Pluk van de Petteflet

4 people I tag (which means I invite them to answer the same questions, trying to reach some other continents):
Beth Kanter (my blog inspiration, hope she has not done the 4x4 already 5 times)
Guido Sohne (as punishment)
Sarah Cummings (because we just discovered eachother's blogs)
Nick Noakes (to try and invade Asia with 4x4 from Hongkong)