Thursday, July 31, 2008

Iceberg metaphor for information and knowledge management

I've used the iceberg as a metaphor for group dynamics or group processes in teams versus content. The content and what's being said is the tip of the iceberg and the groups dynamics are all under water. Anecdote has published a white paper called: Our take on 'how to talk about Knowledge Management'.

They use the same metaphor of the iceberg to explain the difference between data, information and knowledge and it works very well too. The tip of the iceberg represents data and information. It is the domain of data and information management. It requires a certain skill set. The bulk of the iceberg below the waterline represents the knowledge in people's heads. The water the iceberg is floating in represents the organisational culture. In this domain below the waterline, a completely different language is used.

A great metaphor because it explains how professionals working above and below the waterline may clash and may find it hard to collaborate. However, if you understand the complementarity, it may help. It may look like advocating the underwater knowledge management, but both approaches are equally valuable and necessary. When a knowledge management initiatives focuses too much on data and information management, it may not have the expected effect on the (invisible) knowledge creation and innovation side.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Conversations in communities of practice

I had dinner with a friend and suddenly we were discussing how to do the laundry. It made us laugh because we never discuss how to do the laundry. Basically over dinner, we always cover our work (and what doesn't work in work), work/life balance, gossiping over other friends, children and sometimes a bit of politics. Did you ever notice that with certain friends or colleagues you always cover the same topics, though with variations on how you cover it? I once saw the play 'Painicilline' by Alex d'Electrique where 3 scientists are nominated for a price and waiting for the result. It takes long and you see a pattern of conversation between the 3 men that gets repeated and repeated. The same topics come up and get discussed in just a slightly different way.

In communities of practice, the same phenomenon occurs. The same topics are covered and others become 'undiscussables' or simple 'not discussed'. A facilitator can play a role in introducing new subjects of conversation, by changing the medium, inviting new participants or inviting new experts to interact with the community.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Clay Shirky on collaboration via the internet

I bought Clay Shirky's book 'Here comes everybody' to read during my holidays. I hesitated because not everyone was positive, it might not have so many new insights. But I decided I would read it after all.

Yesterday, I found this video from the tedtalks with Clay Shirky talking about collaboration via the internet versus institutions. Interesting to watch (20 minutes). He points to the fact that coordination costs have come down tremendously so that collaboration is possible on a scale and at a speed that can't be reached by institutions. Institutions are the slow ones with relatively high coordination costs. Smarter collaborations are coming up. Planning is no longer necessary as it used to be, like the mobile phone made us lazy in planning our meetings carefully. An example of this collaboration he mentions is the pro-ana movement. (which I also blogged about). The infrastructure offered by the internet is generic, accessible to anybody. I liked his statement that the question of whether bloggers are journalists is a wrong question. Journalist used to be a solution to the problem of public information. Now the whole field has changed. (like when the book- press was invented leading to 200 years of chaos). He predicts 50 years of chaos to come.

At times I think, like electrons, we start spinning at increasingly higher speeds.
I hope that his book will address some of the questions around power and leadership. Probably without some visionary Ana's there wouldn't be the pro-ana movement.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's easy to miss something you're not looking for

By coincidence I found Jayson's blog and this video. We all know the phenomenon that you see pregnant women when you are pregnant (or want to be pregnant), children with braces when you child need one etc. This clips illustrates what you might miss in the process. Have fun!

Bad teamwork can produce good results

(Cartoon via Jayson Joseph Chacko)

In Ghana I once did a casestudy of a multi-cultural team with difficulties. I discovered a lot of emotions underneath the surface of collaboration, working together and team meetings. Lots of misunderstandings. Lots of unspoken and untested ideas. I thought I could relate this team's functioning with the outcomes of the team's work, which weren't always impressive.

Recently I had two experiences of teams that were having similar difficulties. I was part of a Dutch team organising a conference. I was not part of the second team but was helping them in their work. For both teams, I felt the teams were not doing well in terms of teamwork, not leveraging the individual strengths of its members, and not able to work through the important differences in opinion about the work and the working modalities. In both cases individual team members held underlying assumptions that were not discussed, due to time constraints. (this ofcourse means not prioritising this).

To my surprise, however, (and contrary to my beliefs) both teams produced quite good results. The team I was part of did a learning history. The learning history showed me that I still had some strong frustrations about the team process, but because of the good result (the conference) I can live with it. The other team is going downwards in its performance. Combining both experiences, I now feel that it is possible to be opportunistic, focus on the end result and live with a suboptimal teamprocess. However, in the long run, you do need to address the emotions of the teammembers to be able to function well as a team over a longer period of time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How Can Nonprofits Use Online Video?

The Netsquared question time time is: 'How can nonprofits use online video to raise funds?' and I took the liberty to delete the last three words because I don't know much about fund raising. I'm not any professional moviemaker either, but that's exactly the clue about online video: you don't need any professional filmmakers anymore!. That makes it much cheaper and a tool that is within reach of ordinary nonprofit workers. If students can film their fellow students and put them on youtube, so can we. I even felt a little ashamed when I was once asked as an online video consultant, because I'm not a professional in video as a medium at all. But there was a need to learn things the simple, short, quick and dirty way.

So it is easy and everyone can learn it. But why should we engage with online video as a nonprofit?

1. Video can be a weapon for non-violent nonprofits. You shoot with images.
See the documentary by Netwerk (in Dutch) about the project 'shooting back'. The projects hand Palestinians cameras so that they can film irregularities and make this known. You can watch some of the videos here on the site of B'tselem.

2. Video brings across messages in a different way. Your message doesn't drown in the sea of text.
At times I get pointers to weird videos and watch them. People like to watch videos in complement to all the reading they do. Furthermore, for nonprofits working in more 'orally-oriented' cultures, with less habits of reading text, it can be good to use video. However, when I'm in a hurry I don't watch a lengthy video. So a combined strategy could be best. The time-span that people can watch videos in influenced by culture too. Some people like very short videos, for others, it doesn't bring the point back home. (probably should have videod this to prove, but I dislike filming myself :).

3. Online video by non-professional filmers has the 'beauty of imperfection' (quoting Mark Fonsceca here). This means it is more authentic and does not have technical perfection that professional videos have. Hence, people can believe in it more easily than in videos that are purposely made to 'sell' the message of a nonprofit.

4. Online videos can walk or run across the internet.
Some interesting videos go viral (as has happened with the commoncraft videos). But even if they don't go viral (sounds like something to avoid), you can host them on hosting sites like youtube or The sites now provide you with a code that allows you to embed the video in a weblog or in a website. In other words, your video can travel. You can read about a practical example from UNICEF (videos going viral).

5. With online video more people can enjoy the face-to-face events that you organise.
When you film a face-to-face presentation, or interview someone about the highlights of a meeting and put that online your event will have a wider outreach. It becomes more transparent what you are doing and organising. This is even more interesting for organisations working in far away places. In other words, you can bridge the gap between donors and your partner organisations in other countries without the donors travelling all the way down.

Some practical tips on how to use mobile phones to make videos can be found on my own blog here. Beth Kanter made a great wiki. And here's my 12 step vlogging process explaining how to vlog a meeting.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Collaboration at the design stage

I can't help but thinking about collaboration every time I take the train at Ypenburg, a relatively new station. The yellow line says "train does not stop along this line". The yellow line is an improvement that was painted only a month ago or so. The first time I took the train at this station, I didn't realize the train stops almost 100 meters further on, would have missed it if the conductor had not allowed me to sit in the 'cockpit' of the train, I was clearly not to first to almost miss the train.

Last week I asked a conductor why the train does not stop at the centre of the station (the obvious place). He replied it is because there is a stop sign for the train. Clearly two engineers (or an engineer and an architect) did not work together while designing this station! It shows that it is very simple to say that you have to collaborate with the relevant professionals, but in practice, finding out whom to collaborate with at the right moment is more messy.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Play with wordle and put a tagcloud on your tshirt

Here's a wordle tagcloud for this blog. (through Patti Anklam) You can find the words community, practice and domain as well as facilitator/facilitated/facilitatitive/facilitatorobot.... As well as some of my stopgaps like interesting, use, good, ... It seems to overrate the last content, my last blogpost was about LinkedIn and LinkedIn stands out as the main topic.

Anyhow, it is a fun tool because you can either enter a list of words, a delicious user, or a URL of a blog or website. You can choose the font, the colors etc. You can not create a .jpg file, but you can print it or turn it into a pdf.

Here's another one for my Dutch blog:

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Use LinkedIn to make your work easier

I've been using LinkedIn as a passive repository of my face-to-face network. Occasionally, people find out we have a common acquaintance and that's fun to know. Not a life changing application for me.

I've been wondering whether I should/could use LinkedIn in more ways. Friends told me that they find/receive CVs of interesting candidates through LinkedIn. Get in touch with conference organisors etc. A new teacher at the Masters was found through LinkedIn contacts.

Though I never have to find candidates for vacancies, we recently looked for a partner for a consultancy, using our good old face-to-face network. We found a great one, but it would have been a nice experiment to try and use LinkedIn.

Commoncraft has made a video about LinkedIn. (their videos hardly need to be spread as they are widely known by now). However, I liked this video about LinkedIn because it doesn't explain the basics of LinkedIn but explains how you can use LinkedIn to facilitate your work.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Exploring the language of facilitation

I bumped into a fascinating article about the 'language of facilitation'. By coincidence, one of the authors works for Anecdote, a company with a great weblog. The researchers wanted to find out what it means to speak 'facilitatively', from the premise that it is through the act of talking and speaking that sense is made and action enacted (Weick). They talk about face-to-face facilitation, not online facilitation.

To speak facilitatively means:
1. saying something that invites more thought
2. is behavioural and incorporates elements of body language
3. an attitude style emerging in language
4. using engaging and opening words like 'exploring', 'possibilities' rather than closing words like 'givens'.

A highlight to check out are the metaphors that facilitators use to describe their style of facilitation, most using movement with the elements, like 'flight of an autumn leaf' or 'sailing, going with the flow'. (too fluid for me by the way!)

A major conclusion of the article is that verbal and non-verbal communication of a facilitator should be in congruence, to ensure authenticity and show genuine curiosity and openness, otherwise the facilitation speech becomes a learned technique (my addition). There is an implicit understanding amongst facilitators of what it means to speak facilitatively, opening up discussions to become dialogues.

You can read through the lines, that the definition of a facilitator is someone who guides a discussion and is in front of the group or at least has a special, designated role. The definition of facilitator is a little shallow, but basic. What he/she does are things like providing a climate of trust, being neutral, ensuring clarity and encouraging inclusiveness. When you think of a facilitator of a community of practice the language of facilitation may be important too, but in my opinion you'd need to bring along a lot more like knowledge about communities of practice and the domain, and ability to read what's going on in terms of community, domain and practice development. Would be interesting to do a similar research what a facilitator of a community of practice 'does'. Similarly, in a group, I'd expect the facilitator to read group dynamics and try and intervene or feed back observations.

For the Dutch speaking people, there is an interesting article by Julien Hafmans in Dutch about 'vrijplaatsen'. She argues that it is interesting to share the facilitation role with all participants, since we all have the capacity to summarize, ask questions, listen, probe. So not one facilitator would speak 'facilitatively', we would all speak 'facilitately'.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Communities of practice and bulldozers

CPsquare invited Mark Bennett of Rio Tinto to talk in a teleconference about his experiences with fostering communities of practice within Rio Tinto, an international company. I missed the call because I thought GMT= London time, but I discovered that London is not the same as Greenwich. Fortunately, the call was recorded and I could listen to it while driving around. Since I was driving, I couldn't take any notes. However, I recall that Mark Bennett said that a good definition of the domain can be very compelling and attract new members to a community like a magnet. This is something I have observed too. The definition and formulation of the domain is an intervention that contributes (with lots of other factors) to the success of a community of practice. The definition should be such that people recognise it as one of their own interests. He further talked about the place of community builders and knowledge managers in the organisation. Research and development, human resource department or IT department? ?The last seems to be the worst option.

You can see a video he used to demonstrate the value of the community of practice here. It took quite an investment to make the video because he wanted to be absolutely sure that the innovation worked. The video tells the story of a coalmine in Australia with problems with bulldozer brakes. They used collaborative forums to ask for advice. They found out that two engineers in other parts of the world had experienced similar problems and had already solved them.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Join Be The Media

I was triggered by a blogpost by Beth Kanter on the web2.0 Kool Aid. Kool aid is a reference to the 1978 cult mass-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. It means acting non-sensical through (strong) peer pressure. Not seeing things in perspective! At times people become over optimistic about web2.0 and what it can do. After all, it will not change the basic nature of human beings. So it is good to be critical. I always say that I don't think everyone should use blogs, wikis or bookmark. However, you should know about the tools in order to decide whether you want to use it or not.

Through Beth's blogpost I learned about the Be The Media project of Nten, which she is leading. The Be the Media project is "a community of people from nonprofits who are interested in learning and teaching about how social media strategies and tools can enable nonprofit organizations to create, compile, and distribute their stories and change the world."

If this sounds interesting to you, you can join the google group. Or read about the other ways to participate in the wiki. You can use the tag bethemedia (initially I read it like Beth the media :). I wonder how it is overlapping with the nptech tag?