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...

Monday, November 29, 2010

In which ways do you use social media for your own learning?

I met Niel van Meeuwen some time ago when we talked about using social media in learning trajectories. He already mentioned his talk in Lissabon during the Eapril conference. His presentation was last Friday and he experimented with a Twitter backchannel. Unfortunately because people there might not have been on Twitter, it worked mainly to get input from outside the conference into the conference. Very curious to hear his reflection on how it went. I'm going to summarize the outsiders input.

Question Niel put on Twitter is: in which way do you use social media in your own learning or the learning of others?

Answers on twitter:

  • It mostly helps me to link to new, unexpected thoughts, people, websites.
  • Personally I use social media all the time for personal learning- blog, twitter, social bookmarking key
  • Learning takes place at the edges social media help me to stretch these
  • I'm using twitter to learn practical things for the company I started this yr (zzp). E.g. I ask: do I have to 1/2
  • Learning sometimes happens at moments I least expect it
  • Those unexpected learning moments appears to be the most valuable ones.
  • I use socialmedia to find relevant info and knowledge on my profession and to brand myself in my network
  • Insure my business. And if yes: how? Or: how do I do taxes? I have à lot of followers and I ask them to RT
  • Social media keep my son away from learning math and grammar. But he learns a lot there (although I'm not allowed to witness that!
  • I also use twitter and linkedin to collect and store insights and ideas I have. It is a way of collecting thoughts and ideas
  • Usually get good answers. The more practical the question is, the more answers you get frm people. Twitter=HandsOn
  • Social media is a way of sharing what my passion and interest is. I get invited for cool projects based on what I share on linkedin
  • I learn a lot in groups; not only real life groups but virtual groups as well
  • Wonderful things happen on #LinkedIn and #Twitter; people send me wonderful, interesting and valuable info, ideas and so on
  • SocialMedia make me learn about things I didn't even know I could learn about
  • Social media make learning really fast and individual
  • I share knowledge and get a lot of serieus response. Makes we wiser!
  • A tweet a day keeps the email away?
  • Use social media to find all kinds of blog posts, articles, video's to inspire my learning via friends and colleagues
  • We use social media to connect with and get inspired by people who are also into #Talent in #Education
When reading through the list it strikes me that people are very enthousiastic and recognise participation in social media as a learning path, not as a side-something. I also meet people who don't see it as learning but as distracting. This definitely informs whether you want to devote time to it. If you see it as something distracting you from your work, it is costing time. If you see it as part of your own learning trajectory and you value it, it comes naturally to invest time.

Another thing that strikes me is the unexpected learning, the inspiration, the learning about things I didn't know I could learn about. Serendipity?

Looking forward to reading Niel's blogpost about the discussion there!

Update: here's a blogpost about a session on exactly the same topic!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Some things never change

Old readers of this blog know that by the end of November/beginning of December I have to post something about Sinterklaas... since I'm a huge fan of Sinterklaas (see here, here and here for instance). Unfortunately both daughters are now too old to 'believe in Sinterklaas' (Dutch expression: 'in Sinterklaas geloven') and that changes the way we celebrate. They even don't allow me to watch the Sinterklaas news on television!

Watch these two movies. The first is Sinterklaas arriving in Amsterdam in 1952, the second one is Sinterklaas arriving in Harderwijk in 2010.

Search for the 10 differences. What struck me is that besides the fact that the first is black and white and the second colour film, the celebration is still so much alike! After 58 YEARs. In the meantime church visits have completely deflated and St Maarten has been replaced by Halloween. It reminds me of when I visited my old organisation and despite all the new staff, the issues and ways of working were still so similar.

What makes Sinterklaas survive?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Make your own slidecast; it is easy enough

I've made my own slidecast (my third actually!). What is a slidecast? It is a powerpoint presentation with a voice explaining the slides. On the one hand it may take more take to listen to it, on the other hand, it gives so much more context to the slides. It is really not difficult to make one but it may look difficult for outsiders. That's why I thought of blogging the process. But first of all: here's my second slidecast baby with Herman Brouwer of CDI talking about the facilitation of multi-stakeholder processes which he presented during a teleconference of the Forest Landscape Restoration network. The questions by the participants of the teleconference were also very interesting but I decided to leave them out because it make the slidecast really long. It is a little embarrassing that you hear me type very loudly towards the end. Next time I'll mute myself too!
How to do it?

  1. First of all you have to make sure you record the presentation. We used the hidefconferencing. phonebridge which allows you to record. If you use Skype, I'm not sure you can record directly with skype, but you may use a recorder like hotrecorder. It will produce an mp3 file.
  2. Use an audio editing program to edit. Or even better, make sure you have a good beginning and ending so that you don't have to edit. I edited the end, by cutting out the questions and answers. I used Audacity, a free program that works great and is user-friendly.
  3. Upload your presentation to slideshare. When you are done, in audacity you have to export rather than save your project because exporting allows you to choose the mp3 format which is required for slidecasts.
  4. Click on 'edit presentation and 'create slidecast. Then on 'upload mp3'.
  5. You will then get to the tool that allows your to synchronize the slides with the talking, very appropriately called the 'synchronization workspace'. You may choose for an equal slicing of the voice over the slides, but then you are freakingly structured. Most of the time some slides will have a long explanation, others a short one. This is how you can use the synchronization workspace (see picture)
    There are 3 parts; from top to bottom, the slides, the audio divider and the overview part. So what you do is simply play the whole audio thing. Listen to it carefully and drag the appropriate slide changes using the middle part. When you hear that the presentor is moving to the next slide, you position your ending of the first slide. You will find your way after a bit of testing. Some tips from mistakes I made in the beginning: You can only move the beginning and end of the selected slide (which is grey-ish). So you have to select a next slide by clicking on it if you want to change the beginning or ending of another slide. And you have to move the venster at the bottom in the overview space when you continue further. The line is long, therefore the audio divider shows only part of the audio. Which part is shown can be seen by looking at the venster in the overview. You can drag it to change it. So it helps not to get lost.
Ofcourse there is also the slidecasting demo from slideshare if you get stuck with my explanations.... And don't forget the frequently asked questions.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book review: Social media for trainers

I'm developing a 3 months course for trainers and coaches to become bilangual in the sense that they may facilitate online and face-to-face; we call it 'E-vaardig trainen and coachen'. Hence I was thrilled to find Jane Bozarth's book: Social media for Trainers. I'm following a lot of social media buzz, a lot is by marketeers. And I can't really find my way in some of the e-learning content, when it is discussing LMS/CMS issues for instance. Hence I'm really happy that there is a book specifically written for trainers- and about use of social media, a very clear focus (our upcoming Dutch book about social media for professionals, organisations and facilitators might have benefitted from a clearer focus in hindsight?).

Anyhow, the book is very practical and has lots of good tips. It explains the tools like Facebook and Twitter to the level where trainers with little social media experience may be able to apply the suggestions and may start experimenting. Unfortunately, Jane Bozarth has chosen to discuss the options tool by tool (Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Wikis and other tools) which leads to some repetition in how it can be used in an online course or in addition to a traditional face-to-face course (hate the word traditional because it makes you feel like it is something outdated!). The techniques are very inspiring like setting up a twitter debate or role play, or assigning each learner a different model to research, discuss and share via twitter. I learned picked up some new interesting tools like SocialOomph, Twaitter and Brizzly that allow you to create tweets ahead of time. This may be counter to the idea of real time conversation but may come in handy for the context of a more structured course.

The most interesting chapter for me was chapter 7 on 'the bigger picture'. Here, she defines learning and social learning and links social learning to personal learning networks and communities of practice. The opportunities to expand community conversations and personal learning networks are huge with social media.

So it is definitely a great book for trainers new to using social media!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Mix and Match: integration of social media

When you use social media, it may seem very chaotic and dispersed. You have a blog and a website. But you also have a twitter account and you have set up a facebook page. Maybe you have thematic wikis too. How do all these different media link together and complement each other? How do you prevent that it becomes chaotic for your partners, stakeholders and network members? And that you post the same information on various media? Social media may seem chaotic, but the advantage of this chaos is that it allows people to have their own personalized experiences. A person may read all your tweets, another person may add your website to their RSS reader. Using various media makes it easier for people to connect in their preferred ways. Therefore you cannot do away with email and personal, face-to-face contacts.

1. Choose a starting page

Make sure that you have a clear starting page, where you may guide new people to, who are interested to know more about the work of your organisation. This may be your website, but it may also be your weblog. If you have made this choice, you can make sure all the other spaces are clearly linked to this starting page. .

2. Show people on your starting page the other media where you have a presence

You may use the icons as shown above. This means there is an RSS feed, Creative Commons license, and you can be found on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Youtube. In this way people can choose to follow you on the media of their preference. You can find the icons by searching on Google for “free social media icon set”.

3. Learn what to communicate where

Try to keep in mind and find out the strengths and weaknesses of various channels. Facebook may be better for playful content and quizzes, Twitter for short messages and pulling people to your blog, your weblog may be best to post a long interview. Make sure you don’t copy paste the same information in all places. People may follow you through various media and don’t want to receive the same information 5 times. Try to find out what works. If you announce new blogposts via Twitter but never get any click throughs (this is visible in most used site statistics) you may stop posting your blog links. Tip: If you shorten your links with you can analyse the number of clicks through their website.

4. Display information from one media in the other through feeds

You can use RSS feeds to display information from one medium directly in another. For instance, you can show your tweets in the sidebar of your blog (like I'm doing at this page). Or you can show your blog on your Facebook page. You can integrate your Wikipage as a page in your social network (this is possible in the example of Ning). A Youtube video can be shown directly in a blogpost. The way to do it is different in various media. In most cases, you will copy a certain code and paste in the ‘html’ section of your weblog or website.

Three examples:
  • To display your tweets on your Wordpress blog go to Appearance and choose Widgets. You can then add RSS to your Sidebar (click and drag). Then copy the RSS feed on the lower end of your right Sidebar on your own Twitter page and Save.
  • To display Twitter on your website you can grab the code here after making some choices on what to display.
  • To display a Youtube video on your blog or website you click on Embed under the video you want to display. You copy the code and paste it in the HTML section of your weblog. (the code looks like this:

5. Help users to find their way

When a lot of partners may not know what an RSS feed is, you may offer an explanation of what it is. Here you will find an example of the BBC. They offer RSS feeds, but also explain what a news feed is and how people may use it.

Want to read more?
Check out:
Knitting together your Website, Email and Social Media Content. (by Beth Kanter)
Social media integration: examples and tips.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Mister Strubbe and his ipad

Here's a Dutch movie about Mister Strubbe. He is an elder person and is still using his computer with wordperfect 5.1. He is very happy with it, and says 'this computer probably leaves this house after my death'. At the same time he is very happy with his ipad, to read the news. Whenever there is a 'www' on the news he can check is out with his ipad.

There is an on-going discussion about digital natives, do they exist and will digital immigrants always stay behind? Mister Strubbe is a nice illustration of the fact that people look carefully at what there is to win. He is not interested in all the new Word versions- why change all the time? But an ipad is a great new tool for him.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A good working or training method is invisible

Yesterday Sibrenne Wagenaar and I finished an evaluation process of a knowledge sharing/linking and learning programme. One of the questions was what methods worked best for knowledge sharing.

We had only one hour and didn't want to do a presentation (we had presented our rough findings earlier on). We thought carefully what we wanted to achieve in this one hour: that people started playing with the recommendations and think what the most important improvements to work on are. So we decided to print and cut the recommendations and asked them to make three piles:

1. You agree and you understand how to do it
2. You may agree but you have questions how to do it
3. You have serious doubts

In groups of two people made their piles, discussing the recommendations. And fortunately pile number one was the largest in all groups. This is not spectacular in terms of method, but we got a lot of compliments. The regular way of doing such a session is presenting the conclusions and recommendations in the form of a powerpoint. People enjoyed engaging in this way with the ideas behind the recommendation and felt it helps to learn collectively.

It made me think even more about what a good method is. It has always puzzled me that there are so many toolkits and toolguides in the development sector. As we wrote in our report: "There is no universal answer to the question what the best methods are for a training or working session. The key question is what method works best in a certain setting and matches the needs and purpose." As a participant I always get annoyed when the method is very 'visible' and you are clearly part of a trainers or facilitator's plan rather then participating in a natural exchange. And I've definitely been guilty of it myself in some organisational assessments where I had thought of so many tools and we had to go through all of them.. It became an exercise that you have to finish rather than a meaningfull exchange. So I guess it is also a matter of a method seamlessly supporting the conversations and the purpose of being and working together. Such a method is almost invisible, suits the situation and the facilitator.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Switch for social media

I read the book Switch some time ago. Change management is definitely one of my favorite fields! Even though I am now not using the field as consciously as when I was guiding organisational change trajectories, I feel when I work on introducing social media I may apply it too and could improve. But maybe I already do it unconsciously based on my experiences.... Anyhow I also bought 'organisatiedynamica' by Thijs Homan and it's competing with social media for trainers by Jane Bozarth for my attention...

I want to use my blog to see if I can apply the lessons from Switch to the introduction of social media, whether for groups, organisations or networks. First a short intro of the ideas put forward in Switch. The book starts with a short story about moviegoers. Moviegoers were given wretched popcorn (I actually didn't know the word wretched but I assume it means that it is not nice to eat!). Some of them got a medium sized bucket popcorn, others a large one. The question was: will people with a large bucket eat more? And Yes! The people with a large bucket ate 53% more popcorn (21 extra hand-dips). Now suppose you want to stimulate people to eat healthier and less popcorn. Rather than changing the mindset, you could also give them smaller bowls. That's an easy solution to a difficult behaviour change. This was quite a revelation for me, doing a lot of work in the international development sector. Everything always end up complex, and I often think it could be more fun with a lighter approach. And here it is! The authors call it: shape the path, tweek the situation so that change is easier. But that's not the only thing to do.

The full three-part framework to follow is:
  1. Direct the rider. Provide crystal-clear direction about where to go (and where not to go)
  2. Motivate the elephant. Engage the emotional side
  3. Shape the path. Shape the situation to make change easy.
(The metaphor of the elephant, rider and path is explained in the book but very shortly our emotional side is an elephant and our rational side is the rider).

So what happens if we apply these ideas about change to introducing social media in organisations?

1. Direct the rider. Make it clear that you want (some) people to use social media and why.. What is your vision about using social media? Is it to increase internal communication and how will that help the organisation to achieve its mission? It is to connect to customers/stakeholders? Ofcourse it takes some time to know this yourself. So don't introduce it widely unless you have a vision yourself. Don't introduce a technology and insist on people using it without giving a clear rationale. And make sure you have some ways of measuring that your rationale is true. For instance, if you are hoping to get more donors through social media presence, keep track of the number of donors referred to you via social media.

2. Motivate the elephant. Try and find out what makes people interested. You may allow them to use the new technology for private purposes first. I have seen people learn about social networks and putting up a social network space for their family reunions and sports clubs. That's a great way to learn and become enthusiastic. So allow people to learn new technologies in connection to things that excite them. Invite people to experiment and allow them space to experiment. Experimenting is fun, having to use new tool because you have to is boring. Furthermore the fun of social media is in the social, so work with groups who can link up together.

3. Shape the path. Make it easy for people to use the media. Offer them a set of tools and shortcuts, work on their own computers. It is discouraging if you are starting a wiki not knowing what type of wiki to use. Make sure there is an accessible helpdesk. Help them for instance to set up an RSS dashboard. But also work on integrating social media in their routines (says the person who is now struggling with finding time to blog and to read blogs :). We are doing a 40-days coaching experiment whereby you have daily contact with one coach. That seems to work well! The idea behind the 40 days is that people can build up new routines in 40 days if they practice every day.

So you have other tips? Does this make sense?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

From virtual classroom to workshop and back

I'm getting so busy that blogging gets harder (if I want to have some off computer time too!). I guess the good thing is that I can imagine it is the last thing on your list in a hectic job. Since I blogged in Dutch about our most recent trajectory about social media that started online (on the NVO2 blog- interesting new initiative for Dutch people interested in HRD) I thought it would be an easy quick win to translate it in English.
Evert Pruis had blogged about the fact that only 20% of the training efforts lead to results.
This ressonates with my personal experiences, the reason why I follow very little training and formal education, as I learn more from experience. I like doing new things and working together with people from a different background. But I strongly believe that the effect of a training can increased by starting online.

Together with two other trainers I'm in the middle of a half year trajectory for organizations to learn to use social media to achieve their missions. We train and support an international group of organisations from countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and South America. We have chosen to start with a skype talk, then first three weeks online training followed by a week in the Netherlands. Currently we are in the coaching phase. I am very excited about our approach to start online and was very proud when a participant talked about 'our four weeks training'. That's really how people should perceive it, not as one week with some online fuzz beforehand. Some advantages I see:

- Because we started online, people could easily invite colleagues to join us. Hence, we had 65 people online, compared with 15 in the face-to-face week. What we see is that those who attended the face-to-face training are more active online now than the others. Nevertheless there is an enthusiastic fellow who is very interested and doing the face-to-face exercises too.

- Practicing a number of tools (like Skype) is easier at a distance. At a distance you can really exercise. This would also apply to exercises with different behavior in the workplace, that would be easier to guide online than in a training. On the other hand the twitter exercise did not seem to make a lot of sense from a distance. Seeing twitter at work and being able to ask all kind of questions made it much easier to grasp.

- The first day was very funny, you know each other already quite well! The group dynamic is very different as a result; people are far less occupied with group dynamics and with their place in the group. The atmosphere was immediately

- Online there is plenty of room for everyone to talk. If you ask a question, anyone can respond. Face-to-face, there are many people and airtime is limited. Online offers the potential to make knowledge and experience of the various participants much more visible. One participant had many interesting experiences to share, which was highly visible online. Face-to-face this was much less visible.DSC05197

- And last but not least, the learner is three weeks long in the "driver's seat. Online you can click away and skip anything, face-to-face it is rude not to listen. This culture also entered the training room. When people were interested in a presentation, they would even stand up and come close, in the opposite case, people would start multitasking (hard to avoid when you have your computer in front of you..). The online training made participants start their thought process.

This sure sounds like there are nothing but benefits. Yet I would not start with online exchange in every training. It takes a lot of time and attention from the trainers, it was wonderful to do this with three trainers but would be exhausting for a single trainer. The added value is difficult to visualize. Thus, I am convinced that people are better capable of linking what they learn to their own situation, because the thought process started online. However, this could also be achieved by an early intake conversation.

Do you know of any proper studies done to compare training with and without online components?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Flipchart or Twitter the best tool for trainers?

Flipchart- the most important tool for trainers? photo by hockadilly flipchart and chair

I'm a big fan of Clay Shirky's book Here Come's Everybody . I even had two copies, because I have won a copy, but I organised a photo search competition in the social media training of this week. This was fun by the way, I had selected a picture from flickr under the tag web2.0. It was harder for the participants to find that picture online than I had expected. First of all everybody was searching in google images, not in flickr. Secondly people started searching using the words in the picture, not on tags. Clay Shirky says that "social media do not get socially interesting till they get technologically boring ". In other words, the major revolution in the way we work together and share information and learning will only occur if everyone is handy with the technology, so everybody is at ease twittering, blogging, around. I am very curious to know how the world of coaches and trainers will change.

It always strikes me that the marketing and media people seem to be more at the forefront of embracing and experimenting with social media. But why not trainers and facilitators? This continues to be fascinated me. On the one hand it could be that trainers (like teachers) like to be seen as the authority on a particular discipline and it is easier to shine in a face-to-face training situation than online, where you are more equal. On twitter you are one of the group, in a room you are in front as trainer. It is also possible that trainers and coaches enjoy the face-to-face dynamics in a group and are good in handling that dynamics. They may be convinced that this would not work online. Or that trainers are more often socially-oriented, less interested in technology. They may perceive social media as something technical. (you don't have to be technical, but they may think so ..). Any ideas?

Are you a trainer and want some inspiration? This wiki Beth Kanter are already some ideas such as using Google Forms for evaluations, Delicious for an online small library, Wiki as a central place for a training group, and Twitter integration as a back channel .. I have received the book by Jane Bozarth for social media trainers today, so I will promise you a bookreview soon!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Online professionalization (by professionals ofcourse)

DSC05184Last week I gave two workshops 'online professionlisation' for the learninglane, a yearly three days event in the Netherlands. (together with Josien who replaced Sibrenne). It was a good opportunity to test a new theory. We have done a lot of webwork workshops where we teach professionals social media tools. The focus is thus on the tools even though having a goal to work with the tools helps to see the link and persevere. Therefore this workshop was organized around five strategies:

* Cooperation/collaboration
* Personal Branding
* Online conversations with peer professionals
* Networking
* Information processing and scanning

Although the strategies are intertwined (if you're blogging with colleagues to get input and exchange ideas, it can also work as personal branding), they can help you to gain focus. They can help to find a good entry point and may help you decide where to insert your/more energy.

I started linking professionalisation to informal learning and autonomous knowledge workers in my presentation with prezi.
Here is the video I showed about motivation of professionals (Autonomy, drive, purpose). This is the real basis which explains why social media are important for professionals who are autonomous learner and eager to master an area or craft.

Reflecting on how it went: what struck me is that for quite some participants the thinking in strategies seemed to work out well, yet others are still in need of getting to know a number of tools, were very simple questions like 'how can I send a message to someone on twitter and others see it too?. Without this basic idea of the tools, talking about strategy seemed difficult for them. Probably there are differences in the entry points which help people to develop an online professionalisation practice, depending on preferred styles. Apart from focus and skills, participants suggested that you need enough guts to try out a new medium like for instance twitter.

I'd like to share a very nice example was shared in the group: In an organization the Director thought that employee participation should not only be shaped through the official organs like the 'medezeggenschapsraad', a sort of workers council. He has set Friday as the twitter day for his organisation. Staff from all levels of the organisation are invited to share direct questions and opinions via twitter. He is really available to respond. A good example of how social media can be deployed within your organization to stimulate new types of interactions and collaborations (I wonder now whether these tweets are public or private but forgot to ask..).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Voting and live-blogging to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners

I started my first social reporting experiences with Euforic, back in 2007 through a blog, trying to cover an event online through social media. With a team of reporters we covered the sessions and captured participants and presenters' stories through videos. It was an awful lot of work and I kept wondering whether it was worth the effort. Sure, there were people who would watch the videos afterwards, but it was also a lot of work. If you are interested to learn more about social reporting David Wilcox and Beverly Trayner made a great social reporting toolbox with lots of tips to get you started.

What makes me feel uneasy at times about social reporting processes is not knowing whether there is an interested audience that is going to read and engage with the event through social media, beyond the people who are present at the event. Then it becomes a process of reification without participation, or in more popular term, collecting without connecting. In term of knowledge processes, it becomes a flawed process, the creation stops. Personally, I enjoy seeing tweets or blogposts from events I haven't been too flying by, but I hardly read them with a lot of attention. It's like overhearing a conversation that you are not part of and hence don't pay attention to. Futhermore, there maybe a potential audience, but not conversant enough with social media to make sense of all the reporting. Or there is a group of practitioners that may be potentially interested but can't relate to the seemingly theoretical language.

I would like to share an experiment we conducted recently to link a group of practitioners to a conference through social media. We had a group of 200 people online interested in a social network on forest landscape restoration, some researchers, but many of them practitioners working in projects on the ground. We started our process by telling them about the conference and sending out a series of polls, asking them which parallel sessions they wanted to be covered by their flying reporter (see the image for an example of a poll using Vizu). Quite a number of people (between 30 and 35) responded and even provided their reasoning for choosing a certain session. The reporter then simply followed the instructions of the majority, attended the sessions and covered them on a blog (click here for an example). The link to the blogsessions was also posted back to the online social network. Vice versa, there was also a face-to-face session in the conference discussing the issues that were raised online by the members of the social network.

I think this is a nice way of ensuring a process of participation and reification that makes sense. We managed to get practitioners interested in the conference. Unfortunately I don't have feedback yet to share with you but we are going to conduct an evaluation which includes this topic. It might be that the content of the conference is still too abstract or theoretical, but it might also be a nice way of bridging the gap between closed conferences and the outside world.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Start your online community or network the Tiësto way

Thanks to a column by Dutch management writer Ben Tiggelaar I learned about the working style of DJ Tiësto. He explains: "I start the evening with some different kind of music and various styles to see what is right for the audience. The styles that get the best response, is the way I continue."

I was struck by the similarities in the practices we've developed over the years in starting learning networks, especially online. Typically I propose to start a shorter experimental cycle (maybe 4 weeks, maybe 3 months in the most recent forest landscape restoration trajectory) and at the end discuss whether and how to continue. This is much easier than asking people upfront what activities they would like, since what they state in an interview or survey may work out differently in practice.

We start with a wide range of online activities, like open questions, expert inputs, watching videos, teleconferences, virtual field visits, etc. From the interactions, you can see what kind of topics and what kind of activities are attractive for people. You can observe what triggers the most interest (though you may need statistics too). In every trajectory you see that the balance of interest towards discussing own practices or outside research/expert opinions is different. In some groups, people like to be personal and have a need to discuss their own work. In other groups, they relate more to experts bringing in new perspectives. Long stories may work in one case, but do not resonate in another.

So the key is: experiment and don't be scared to abandon a certain approach!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Online tools for internal communication

Too Many HammersImage by Velo Steve via Flickr

Netsquared's question this month is: Tactics for using online tools for internal communication. Though the deadline has passed, I am now typing hard to make sure I can make a contribution.

My take is that there are so many tools, for lists of tools see for instance the web2.0 awards. The tools are like the hammer. It is not so hard to buy a hammer. What matters though is the way we use the hammer: to build a house or to nail a painting on the wall. Ofcourse the tool choice is important too, after all you may need a screwdriver instead of a hammer when your wall is so hard you need to drill a hole. But what is more important is the art of using the tools; the art of the carpenter. Here come's the difficulty in organisations: more and more we will work in organisations where preferences differ. There will be a huge diversity in communication habits. Some may enjoy twittering (and their pitfall may be to forget to have real face-to-face dialogues), others prefer to use the phone and may not like an email overload. Some will be perfect carpenters, while others haven't even heard about hammers and fear their impact. This makes using online tools for internal communication so complex.

How to avoid mis-communication and tools that make collaboration worse? Together with Sibrenne Wagenaar I wrote a Dutch article called "So you wanna be a virtual team?" In the article we give our tips to pay sufficient attention to the choice of tools and the effect of the tools on the communication within the team (that may be an organisation too):
  • Start with an exchange of experiences with tools for collaboration; start with familiarity Every tool has a learning curve (though the curve may be lower for people who have worked with many different tools). If you start with familiar tools you can leap forward.
  • Choose a starting toolset together with the team and discuss the particular way it is going to be used. Discuss whether the toolset is simply email, or includes a yammer group, skype, chat etc. How often are we going to mail? Discussing this allows the team to understand the preferences of its members.
  • Stimulate an experimental culture within the team. Though it is good to start with a familiar toolset, there may be other ways to support communication. If nobody twitters, nobody may think of creating a yammer group. It therefore helps to identify the people who know quite some tools or to simply experiment.
  • You can introduce new tools but don't overdo it. If the experimental culture is there already within a team, the pitfall may be to try and test a lot of tools or to devote a lot of attention to the tools. Be aware of this too. After all, it's the communication that matters. If a team is happy to mail to and fro, and doesn't need a discussion forum, this is fine.
  • Monitor individual feelings of ease and unease. Various tools may put people at an advantageous or disadvantageous position. Monitor this and use it to support so that everybody contribute his/her ideas and talents to the best of the task at hand.
In the end, it is all about putting the use of online tools on the overall agenda for monitoring the team effectiveness...
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Monday, June 14, 2010

7 lessons how to use social media in an event with social media beginners

Last year we've experimented with various social media to improve a sharing event for about 100 participants (for more details see my older blogpost). This is not too difficult when all your participants are social media adepts, you announce your hashtags and off they go. However, in this case the majority wasn't actively using social media. So how can you still use social media?

Our main goal of using social media was to improve networking and aim for real collaboration between participants to take off. We found out the goal was set too high. People don't start new projects after meeting each other for the first time, ideas need greenhousing. But we had some impact: 86% of the participants said they got new ideas in their session that they had used or were planning to apply. We managed to let people connect beforehand through a platform (ning) and afterwards link participants to other networks or initiatives (like the outcome mapping community). The evaluation was quite positive about the effect of using social media. People were especially happy to connect and read before the event. (the exception was the twitter wall- people not on twitter didn't really get it and I can't help sympathizing with them)

From the experience and various sources I've collected I can distill seven important lessons:
  1. Use social media to find and connect your event to existing (online) communities. An one-off event is not going to create communities, but can give a space to communities to connect with new people. Through your event people may also get to know new communities that they may join. Because of social media - it is much easier to join, lurk and decide whether you want to leave or stay in communities and networks (and become active). Use tools like or through know spaces to search for relevant groups and communities. Or you may know offline networks working on related themes. Connect to those groups. Beginners may be familiar with forums, or may get to know online community life through your event.
  2. Co-create your event and program with a wider group of participants Traditionally a small group of people/volunteers design the event and make decisions about the program, themes and speakers. The exciting thing about social media is makes it easy to call for wider participation in program design. You can ask participants to come up with ideas and may use tools like uservoice or crowdcampaign. See for instance how KM2010 is using social media to get proposals from potential speakers and they've asked the audience to decide on the most interesting ones. However, we experienced that participants may be quite consumptive. In our case suggestions were few (but useful!) and the organizers still had a large part in designing the program. This brings me to the next point of building new habits of co-creation.
  3. Build new habits in using social media event after event It pays to invest in the persistent use of social media. Last year we experimented with a ning platform, a twitter account and a few videos. There were 90 people at the event, but the platform has currently 117 members, the twitter account 91 followers and the videos have been watched by 200-300 people. This year, we can start with an platform that has already assembled 117 members interested in the event. It will be easier to engage them then last year when everything was new. The first tweet to ask for input has already been sent.
  4. Enhance networking between participants and the quality of connections by using social network media. The members profile feature was one of the best used features of our social network platform. Offering a space where people can view the other participants before the event and connect on themes can help to make sure the right people connect and connections are meaningful. The profile questions (or other ways to allow people to present themselves) are hence important. Personally I've experienced this by connecting with two members who working on intercultural communication. Since I'd known them online, I wanted to meet them and had nice conversations. Without the social network platform, I could have missed them. Be creative in how you do this. In ning, there is a new application which is called member-mix. It allows member to connect randomly with a buddy before an event. This can also be a great way of connecting people (though not on interests). Another possibility is to create network walls or offer LinkedIn Live corners where people can connect directly on LinkedIn (without having to exchange business card which you loose anyhow). Or use advanced search to find people with common interests. Make sure there is enough time for networking live during the event.
  5. Connect to the participants' reality by using polls. Polls are very powerful (and popular) to tap into the ideas and reality of the audience. It's a method to get everybody's ideas and opinions out and make people think about their situation. It may be a good step up to interaction. The kind of question matter a lot. Doing a short poll at the beginning of a session or before the event can help to know what level the participants are at, or can trigger interesting discussions. Polls can be done in many different ways. I always like the line ups- or how do you call them? (people who don't use social media line up at this side of the room, people who are active users line up there, others in between). Twitterpolls are popular, but the downside may be that you exclude the people who are not on twitter. So you may use a web-based poll before the event, an SMS wall or polleverywhere which can use both. Or simply raise hands or coloured papers. That brings me to the next point
  6. Make sure you are not sidelining people through your choice of social media Don't use media because they are cool to use. Last week I was part of a polling exercise which used small devices and a laser reader. Everyone had a polling device, I thought it was brilliant. Someone wondered, however, why they didn't use Twitter. I thought using twitter would have sidelined half of the audience, unfamiliar with twitter. A twitterwall is fun and looks nice, but may not add value. Hence, you may choose not to project a backchannel. Simply because the presentors are not comfortable with it or the majority of the audience may feel excluded. Making use of an existing, spontaneous backchannel by having someone scan and read it is fine ofcourse.
  7. Make information from sessions available in attractive, short formats for people who can't make it. People may be interested in your event but can't make it on that day or have to choose between two interesting parallel session. We tried to stimulate session organisers to report and upload information to the platform. This was hard en not very energizing. On the other hand, the videos had a good number of views. This time, I think it is best to try and use short videos to gain some insight into a session and make sure the presentation are available (eg. on slideshare). Stimulate live blogging and live tweeting to get additional coverage of what's happening and attract wider attention. Last year we did not have wireless internet connections. But audiences are mixed, so this year we will have wireless and stimulate blogging and tweeting for the people who might enjoy this.
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Do you fear technical things?

Figure 20 from Charles Darwin's The Expression...Image via Wikipedia

One time I got a call whether I know what to look for when you buy a laptop. Or people ask if I know how you can make Outlook address list. Or what a great mobile provider is in the Netherlands. Things I do not know but apparently I have given them the impression that I might know. People are surprised to discover that I do not know how turn up the volume of my phone too (secretly they are glad too:). Somehow my ICT knowledge is overrated because I work a lot with social media and facilitate online.

On my blog I recently wrote about various responsibilities of an online facilitator. You can organize tasks in different ways, of course, but I have used the following main categories:

* Managing / promoting social networking and connections
* Guiding the process of online learning and communication
* Technical tasks
* Monitor progress (this may sound like a logical task, but online is important because you have less visual feedback loops..).

The funny thing is that the technical tasks are hence only one aspect of online facilitation, while it receives a lot more attention. At times solutions to difficulties are sometimes sought in the technology, while the problem lies in the social process; for example when the right people are not hooked up. In our online course facilitation, we asked participants what they dread to see, and most of the responses was about failing technology! A skype connection fails, a bad sound etc.

I think this fear of technology deters some face-to-face process facilitators to move online towards 'boundaryless facilitation' as coined by Lisa Kimball. Too bad, because I think these people would be great online facilitators! Do you recognize this fear of technology? How do you deal with it?
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Thursday, June 03, 2010

The dynamics of managing/nurturing networks of practice

Map of Online CommunitiesImage by D'Arcy Norman via Flickr

I received a beautiful article (thanks to Julie Ferguson!). Just got a tip through the comments that it's also online. This is the full reference to the article:

Agterberg, M., Van den Hooff, B., Huysman, M., & Soekijad, M. (2010). Keeping the Wheels Turning: The Dynamics of Managing Networks of Practice. Journal of Management Studies, 47(1), 85-108

The authors make a distinction between NoPs and CoPs; networks of practice and communities of practice. In their definition CoPs are co-located and NoPs are dispersed. I would not make that distinction, because the closeness between members does not depend on distance, people can really feel part of and identify with a community of practitioners who are based in different location all over the globe.

CoP or NoP doesn't matter, there are important insights into the management interventions to support NoPs (or CoPs I'd say...). The research question was: how can intra-organizational NoPs be managed without being 'killed'? Research has been done in a development organization founded in 1965 and headquartered in the Netherlands (Dutch people can easily guess :). Twenty-two NoPs were formalized with the goal of integrating existing, dispersed knowledge. Management created the formal position of a manager or functional line manager responsible for the NoP. This brings a central dilemma: how to balance emergent self-organization and autonomy on the one hand and some degree of formal management influence on the other hand?

I've never held the belief that communities are fully self-emergent and that you can not intervene/facilitate in communities of practice. Wenger has also written a lot about this management paradox and prefers to call it nurturing rather than managing. Managers should support and energize communities, not neglect and ignore them. (see also my previous post which includes an interview with Wenger).

What are the findings from the study of 22 NoPs in one organisation? Data reveal four sets of dynamics that influence the way NoPs function to integrate dispersed knowledge:

1. Organizational embeddedness
- the extent to which the knowledge shared is relevant for the organisation. It includes institutionalization, the extent to which outcomes of the network can be applied in the formal organization as rules, routines, strategies, trainings etc and relevance for the organisation- the extent to which knowledge in the network is considered valuable for the organization.

2. Embeddedness in practice-
the extent to which the knowledge being shared and created s relevant to and integrated in members local practices. It includes relevance to practice, as connection to daily local practices and common practices, extent to which the network members use the same practices.

3. Relational embeddedness-
the presence of strong social ties. It includes the group feeling, trust, reciprocity as willingness to help each other and face-to-face contact.

4. Structural embeddedness- The structure of connections among people. It includes connectedness and Know who is where and knows what (and how to reach them).

Personally I feel relational and structural embeddedness are very connected to each other and both relate to the level of social capital.

But what did the study find out about management interventions in all these types of embeddedness? Management can enforce the dynamics or degrade the dynamics (which Wenger call 'energize' or 'de-energize'). A few examples of enforcing/energizing interventions:
  • Translating experiences into formal publications and training
  • Informing members about relevant developments in the domain
  • Kick off meetings (to support relational embeddedness)
  • Formalizing networks
  • Providing tools like the E-group (online tool) and travel money to meet face-to-face
A few example of degrading interventions (de-energizing):
  • Asking the networks fo formulate strategies (lowers embeddedness in practice)
  • Setting the agenda (topics introduced by management were not the topics advisors perceived as relevant)
  • Requiring specific outputs from the network (lowers embeddedness in practice)
  • Making top-down decisions which counter the principles of commitment and organisational learning (lowers trust)
  • Giving assignments without focusing on social issues
  • Instruct people to attend a network meeting without the interest of advisors to be connected
  • Install a network without encouraging advisors to participate
In the end, management interventions can have both a reinforcing and degrading effect and it sometimes depends on the context what the effect is. A strong focus on organizational embeddedness denies the practice based and socially embedded nature of learning and turns NoPs into teams.

Another conclusion is that managers "who play the role of primus inter pares seem better able to intervene successfully, but it is no easy task to identify such people." This relates directly to CoP literature indicating that the role of coordinator should be taken up by a practitioner in order to be effective. CoP literature makes a better distinction between the role of the practitioner- coordinator as member of the CoP versus management who are outsiders/sponsors. Nevertheless, I find the list of management interventions very useful, concrete (and even recognisable from experience!).
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