Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blogging to raise funds for wildlife conservation

Via the Dutch blog Knowledgecafe I clicked through to the story on Wired about life, death and twitter on the African Savanah. I dislike the fact that they talk about the African Savanah, like Africa is one country, and the story is really about Kenya and Congo. It really happens a lot that people tell me they have travelled to Germany, Cambodja and Africa!! Do one country in Africa and you've seen them all.

Anyhow, this is the success story: William Deed, is an experienced and famous blogger from the UK who was recruited by Richard Leakey, the famous conversationist. He helped wildlife rangers of the Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to set up weblogs, see the Gorilla Protection blog. "The rangers' salaries are paid from park fees, but tourism has dropped 90 percent. To keep the conservancy running, the park's online outreach needs to raise $50,000 a month until the tourists return -- a job that's fallen into Deed's lap."
The park's online efforts are succesful! Kimojino is a Mara ranger who blogs here. He asked for donations on his blog: "100% of your donation, minus only a small bank fee, will go directly to the work of the Mara Conservancy.". The blog raised $40,000 from donations in March 2008, his facebook page drew about $2,000. Safari companies bought advertising on the blog too.
It's interesting example. If you peel down the elements of success, it is most likely the fact that people can read, see pictures and engage with the park stories directly. Donating directly may be nicer than donating through agencies like the World Wildlife Fund. Then they have used the expertise of an experienced blogger to set up the system and probably train and coach the rangers. And they have a well-targeted topic!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Blogging is good for you after all

Via Steve Bridger's link on Twitter I found proof that blogging is good for you. After the news about early deaths of paid bloggers - not the same thing as voluntary bloggers - this is quite a relief! If I'd talk as much in a meeting as I'd blog I'd feel like I'd be boring everyone to death - so that wouldn't be healthy for others. With my blog I feel everyone's free to read or not and I tend to blurt out. It's become really an enjoyable habit for me, I like the writing process and it feels like producing something tangible when you press publish and 'view your blog'. Talking about your life and issues is healthy but blogging too.

From the article: "Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits." There is research ongoing into the neurological underpinnings. “You know that drives are involved [in blogging] because a lot of people do it compulsively,” Flaherty notes. "Also, blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art."

At times I'm relating blogging and other web2.0 web hypes like twitter to the pyramid of Maslow. Maslow developed the pyramid as a hierarchy of needs. People search to fulfill higher needs when the lower needs, basic needs like shelter, food etc have been fulfilled. The highest need in the current pyramid is self realization. Blogging may be a form of self realization in our times or a new form of self expression to the world - a creativity need. Maybe a new top on the pyramid?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bridging and bonding in communities of practice

I read in the newspaper that ethnically mixed neighbourhoods have lower levels of trust in general. This was already proven by a research by Putnam in 2007. Dronkers and Lancee repeated the research in the Netherlands and reached the same conclusion. BUT the inter-ethnical level of trust in heterogeneous neighbourhoods is higher than in the others. Which is kind-of logical: when you meet people from other ethnic groups you are likely to see that they can be kind and friendly too. In the homogeneous neighbourhoods, the social trust is higher, but the image of different ethnic groups can be very negative.

It sounds like a description of my old and new neighbourhood! I moved last year from a homogeneous village to a mix area of the Hague.

What really triggered me to blog about it was the coining of two terms: bonding social capital and bridging social capital. I recently attended a ecollaboration meeting where the people with developer skills were in the lead because of the topic chosen for the meeting: open source. As non-developer I could see how interesting it was for them to connect. On the other hand, if you don't pay attention, you get a reinforcing loop towards the developers side of the domain of ecollaboration. It was suddenly very obvious to me that the role of a facilitator of a community of multidisciplinary practice includes balancing the bonding and bridging social capital. Try to make sure that there is enough space for bonding between the disciplines, but include sufficient bridging capital. That sounds quite abstract, but I think it means being aware of the member who play a bridging role and enabling them to continue to play the bridging role. At times this may not need any intervention, at times, this may need some attention.

Secondly, since we facilitated the community of practice with a group of four non-developers, it might have been easy to overlook the needs of developers to connect and discuss at their level of interest. So whenever possible, try to have a balanced core group too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Managing virtual teams

Together with Sibrenne Wagenaar I wrote a Dutch article of 15,000 characters on virtual teamwork. 15,000 is really short for all there is to say!

During the literature review one of the best articles we found is the article called Managing Virtual teams by Lisa Kimball. It is actually the text of a speech in 1997. As Lisa Kimball says:
"although the technology that supports these new teams gets most of the attention when we talk about virtual teams, it's really the change in the nature of the teams -not their use of technology- that creates new challenges for team managers and members. "
I think this an important observation, virtual teams require us to rethink the group dynamics of teams as we know them. This is the exciting part because why not try and create powerful virtual teams, leveraging a variety of tools to become more creative and productive than some of the 'normal' teams? However optimistic that may sound, I believe that with more tools and ways of communication, we should be able to do a better job than with only one tool and modality (face-to-face interaction). So that in the end 'normal teams' can learn from virtual teams how to use a variety of online tools to communicate and collaborate smarter. I can see the pitfall of increased miscommunication in virtual teams too, so we all need to become increasingly skilled in choosing the right tools for teamwork, and the right medium also depends not only on the work requirements but also on the preferences and experiences of you teammembers. This requires understanding of group dynamics PLUS how these dynamics work in a virtual team.

Lisa Kimball points out that there is a need for a new managers mind set- I agree and think this is true for the whole team that needs to shift mind sets. One of the needed shifts I believe is from "face-to-face is the best environment for interaction and anything else is less" to "different kinds of online interactions can be played with to draw out the best of all team members".
If you believe this, you can try and get an optimal mix of communications. As Lisa also observes, virtual teams may need more check-ins and short process checks. In a virtual team, you need regular feedback about the use of tools.

Our article purposely draws on the so-called web2.0 tools, in complement to the software packages offered by organisations. With web2.0 tools, a flexible toolset is within reach of the virtual team, and that may enhance the virtual teamwork. Rather than forcing a software package upon a virtual team, the team can then depart from individual online experiences and preferences and build upon those. Adjusting the toolset to the teammembers rather than adjusting the teammembers to the tools.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

10 common objections to social media

I found the excellent post by Marshall Kirkpatrick with the most common objections to social media and ideas how to respond. He got them by asking 1300 twitter connections. You can find the full blogpost here. It is very recognisable and I'm going to make a list for the Dutch situation on my Dutch weblog.

Here are the common objections:
  1. I suffer from information overload already.
  2. So much of what's discussed online is meaningless. These forms of communication are shallow and make us dumber. We have real work to do!
  3. I don't have the time to contribute and moderate, it looks like it takes a lot of time and energy.
  4. Our customers don't use this stuff, the learning curve limits its usefulness to geeks.
  5. Communicators [bloggers, tweeters] are so fickle, better to stay unengaged than risk random brand damage. We don't want hostile comments left about us on any forum we've legitimized.
  6. Traditional media and audiences are still bigger, we'll do new stuff when they do.
  7. Upper management won't support it/dedicate resources for it.
  8. These startups can't offer meaningful security, they may not even be around in a year - I'll wait until Google or our enterprise software vendor starts offering this kind of functionality.
  9. There are so many tools that are similar, I can't tell where to invest my time so I don't use any of it at all.
  10. That stuff's fine for sexy brands, but we sell [insert boring B2B brand] and are known for stability more than chasing the flavor-of-the-month. We're doing just fine with the tools we've got, thanks.

I recognise mainly number 1,2 and 9. I notice some are objections by marketeers, others by 'normal' users. The list might be stronger if that would be separated. Marshall provides possible answers too. I think it is important not to overestimate the power of social media and 'push' it onto people. Some objections are real. For instance, the time it takes, I've invested little time in Facebook, but feel like most of that time is wasted. So the advice to step in hand-in-hand with a more experienced social media users makes a lot of sense. A person guiding you will help you direct your energy into social media that make sense for your particular goals.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pro-ana as a community of practice

In the Dutch news there was an item about the so-called 'pro-ana sites'. Websites that connect girls with anorexia. The pro-ana movement believes their behaviour is not disease but a lifestyle. 25% of the anorexia girls/women under medical treatment visit the pro-ana sites, often weblogs. The three girls who were interviewed in the news explained that they were really attracted by the sites and the tips they can get on the sites eg. about 'how to avoid eating', 'how to cheat your parents'. One of them did not identify with the site during her first visit because the girls were too skinny. But later she was attracted to come back. Another girl could spend 3 hours per day on the websites. They feel the sites are dangerous because of the enormous appeal to the anorexia girls and the way the girls on the websites stimulate eachother with tips to give in to their obsession to avoid food, on a downward journey. You can still watch the interview with 3 girls in Dutch here.

Though I originally did not think of patient communities as communities of practice because they do not have a professional practice, I currently think you might think of them as one. Look at the way of living of the pro-ana members and they way they behave: a very strong practice. You can see that the websites give enormous power to the pro-ana communities. At the same time, it is an enormous reminder that communities of practice are not something good and to be promoted everywhere. It depends on the practices, the innovation etc. whether a communities can be labelled as good and should be encouraged or discouraged. The pro-ana community seems to do well in helping new entrants to get up to the task. However, the practice is horrible (no photos to match this blogpost...!)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Interview with facebook user

Here's a video from Beth Kanter interviewing a facebook user. Everytime I see a video of Beth I'm inspired to do another one myself. Probably next week might be a good opportunity with the ecollaboration meeting in Amsterdam. In this video she interviews a facebook user, using it more than email, to stay in touch with friends. He doesn't know what a blog or twitter is. I think the interesting point is that at times I assume that the younger generation is fluent with all online tools. It may be so that they will learn new tools faster. But they may have their own preferences which are hard to change too. (good news: there may be a need for people who know about a wide range of tools and can help teams and networks make appropriate choices).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


This beautiful picture is taken by Pandiyan. In Intermediair, a Dutch magazine, I read about the research of the University of Ohio with 18 different types of lizards. Lizards can hunt using one of the following ways:
(1) they wait quietly till a pray walks by and jump
(2) they walk around to search pray and creep over
The researchers found out that all lizards can run, but only the types of lizards that walk around to search pray can actually walk. The 'waiting' types simply lost their ability to walk in a few generations.

This made me seriously wonder what the human2.0 will loose in a couple of generations, or already during the next generation. Suppose we would all become web2.0 adepts, what are the capabilities and competences that will disappear? Will we completely loose the need for intimacy to discuss personal matters? Will we loose the embarrassment emotion? Loose our sense of hierarchy? We will definitely adjust our eyes to 'computer screen mode' and develop keyboard fingers!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Obsolete (learning) practices

Following on my last blogpost on Is Yours a Learning Organisation, I started thinking about change processes. Becoming (even) more of a learning organisation is basically guiding a change process and improving practices.

Yesterday I noticed that my arms are getting sun-tanned but that on the place of my watch there is an extremely white piece of my wrist. That's because I've taken on the habit of having my watch on all the time. Before I had children, I was quite reticent against watches. If I had one (and I regularly lost them) I kept it in my pocket. This all changed when I started breastfeeding. I was living so much by the clock that I kept my watch on day and night (yes, poor mothers even have to breastfeed in the middle of the night). Now my daughters are 6 and 8 years, so no need for breastfeeding - though I heard a story in Ethiopia that a man of 24 in Harar was still breastfeeding but that's another story altogether- and no need for a watch on my wrist day and night.

What does this have to do with changing practices? I'm really intrigued by practices and habits and entry points for changing them. I never liked the phrase 'resistant to change' because I think it lack understanding and respect for the person. Everyone wants to change, as long as you know what for, why and how, and you can see the point. So when you are talking about a learning organisation 'culture' try to find those obsolete practices and try to find out the history. If you can point out why they are obsolete, you have done half of the work. - time to get back to losing my watches!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Is Yours a Learning Organization?

Via Jay Cross I found this learning organisation scan under the title Is Yours a Learning Organisation? on the Harvard Business Review site, developed by David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson, and Francesca Gino. There is a short online survey with 12 questions, and a longer one, with more depth, can be found here. I'd recommend the longer one, with lots of relevant questions, most of them related to the culture in the organisation with regards to experimenting, networking, etc. A good tool to start talking about what a learning organisation is. To read the full article, you have to pay for it.

I think the term 'learning organisation' knows many different interpretations. A lot of development NGOs have used the Bruce Britton scan, as outlined in his paper the Learning NGO. You can find more information in the km4dev wiki here. Maarten Boers from ICCO started an interested discussion on the the email group of km4dev about the fact that ratings may go down when people become more aware of the complexity of a learning organisation. When discussions about being a learning organisation have just started, people may rate their organisation relatively high, because they are not so critical yet about their practices. Johannes Schunter linked this to a high relevant framework of the conscious competence learning framework. Hereby people move from the unconscious incompetence stage, through the conscious incompetence stage to the compentence stages. It is during the conscious competence stage that people become more critical about the practices in the organisation.

Personally, I shocked a manager once, by stating that his professionals were learning rapidly, but that his organisation wasn't. When the professionals left, the organisation was left at a loss. He was of the opinion that his professionals were not rapid learners. I made him look more carefully at the processes in the organization to leverage individual learning, to become organisational learning. For me, the crux of organisation learning is in making sure there are the processes that transform individual learning into innovation in the organisations practices are functioning. Secondly, it is important to see that the sources of learning, the feedback loops are the right ones. I have been in another organisation, where colleagues thought the organisation was learning, because it was changing all the time. However, the organisation was changing to the latest management whims rather than in response to feedback from its clients.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Working in virtual teams

I've been busy writing a Dutch article for Leren in Organisaties, with less time to write for my blog(s). So I suddenly thought I could share a small part of the article, hitting two birds with one stone (or two flies in one hit as we say in the Netherlands). The article is about the use of web2.0 tools to support the work of international virtual teams for a thematic issue about globalization. Since there is not much room (15.000 characters) we have a relative narrow focus on small teams dealing with a clear, time-delinated project. Shawn Callahan, Mark Schenk and Nancy White have written a white paper in English with the title: Building a collaborative workplace. It was good timing for us, and we enjoyed reading it. They write about teams, networks and communities and hence have taken a much wider focus. It helped us to choose a focus.

Towards the end of our article, we try to illustrate the possible advantages of the ways of working of virtual teams (only in the best teams that is!) and suggest that 'normal' teams could learn from it too. The advantages are:

  1. Access to a broader mix of expertise.

  2. Stimulation of creative thinking.

  3. Equality in communication and collaboration.

  4. Collaboration outside the beaten tracks.

  5. Easy 'harvesting' of knowledge products.

  6. Working efficiently.
We do explain it further in the article. Did we overlook an important advantage? The paper is not as superoptimistic as this list might suggest- we do talk about problemteams too. By the way, we know that virtual teams are real teams. Virtual team is a funny name, as it sounds like a science fiction team. It seems to make sense to adopt this name for teams that are not co-located as it is a widely known term.