Saturday, December 30, 2006

Technology: You is fat and xenophobic

Via an interesting blogpost by Ethan Zuckerman I found this cartoon by Rob Rogers It refers to the fact that 'You' were selected as the person of the year 2006 by Time.

Besides the fact that the cartoon is very funny, it points to an important fact which is that the new technologies enable communication in new ways and changes access to information, but it depends on what you do with that possibilities whether it has a positive or negative change effect on the world. So it would probably have been more interesting if they had pointed to some people (or groups of people) who have been able to contribute to important changes through the use of new internet technologies. (like ME :))...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Virtual and real stereotypes

Via the Internet Time Blog I found where you can play with your pictures. I decided to turn myself into a man (wasn't very hard) because some people who meet me online without seeing my picture, think I'm a man (the name Joitske is a strange name anyhow even in the Netherlands, could go for a man and woman). Somehow it feels like a compliment :).

Since I meet people online without knowing them face-to-face (or even without seeing their pictures) I am intrigued by how the experience changes when you do meet them. I had online exchanges without picture, where the picture is almost shockingly weird. Unconsciously, you do seem to create some sort of image (never really consciously). In some cases, I had online exchanges and when meeting the person, the person was different from my expectations. Either taking up more space (more dominant?) or on the contrary less space (softer?) than in my online experiences. Discovering that a person was from Jamaica with rasta hair seemed less distracting than finding out that her appearance was very gentle and easy-going (unlike the picture I had formed in my mind based upon the online communication).

Working online with pictures helps in my opinion, to form a completer idea of a person, but even when you are used to the pictures the face-to-face experience may be different. It takes some time to adjust to this 'new picture'. In one case, it was as simple as assuming that the person was very young since she was studying, whereas she was much older.

So it seems I have stereotypes at work in both cases. Sometimes it is argued that online communication is more straightforward because we are not distracted by physical clues, I wonder actually whether this is true. I think even online we do bring our own prejudices and do judge people from their communication, based on our previous experiences. A face-to-face experience may actually help to understand a person and his/her way of communicating better. What I do really appreciate online is that there is almost unlimited space. Face-to-face meeting are so time-limited that a lot of things people could say remain unspoken.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Patience as a new cultural dimension?

I went to Ghana just before Christmas like last year (see picture). Unfortunately it didn't work out as smooth as last year... (so bad that I don't even have pictures of this trip)

During the flight from Amsterdam to Accra I noticed I had an infection in my left foot, which became more and more red and swollen. So when I landed, my friend Mary came to pick me from the airport and we decided to drop my suitcase in the hotel and go straight to see a doctor. While waiting for the doctor in the clinic, Mary received a phone call from the airport that I took the wrong suitcase. First I couldn't believe it (it was my own green suitcase!) but then I realized that he could only have her number because it is written on my suitcase. They asked us to come as soon as possible and bring the suitcase back because its owner still had to travel to Kumasi. Since we were at the doctor's, we couldn't make it till 22.00 in the evening (the plane had landed at 19.00). When we arrived at the airport, the owner (a Ghanaian) was very friendly, laughing that the suitcases were indeed very similar. When I apologized, he said it was understandable because of the problem with my foot... I couldn't believe his reaction, as I had expected an angry person, or at least someone who is very annoyed for having to wait 3 hours!

So even though I can hardly generalize that all Ghanaians score high on patience I'm wondering if Geert Hofstede has captured this as one of his cultural dimensions. I see it as a varying degree of let go of control of a situation and accepting things the way they are. Does it fall under one of the five cultural dimensions like long-term orientation (see below; copied from his site)?:

Power Distance Index (PDI) that is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society's level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality, of course, are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some international experience will be aware that 'all societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others'.

Individualism (IDV) on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, that is the degree to which individuals are inte-grated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The word 'collectivism' in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state. Again, the issue addressed by this dimension is an extremely fundamental one, regarding all societies in the world.

Masculinity (MAS) versus its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The IBM studies revealed that (a) women's values differ less among societies than men's values; (b) men's values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women's values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women's values on the other. The assertive pole has been called 'masculine' and the modest, caring pole 'feminine'. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men's values and women's values.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man's search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth; 'there can only be one Truth and we have it'. People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions.

Long-Term Orientation (LTO) versus short-term orientation: this fifth dimension was found in a study among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars It can be said to deal with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one's 'face'. Both the positively and the negatively rated values of this dimension are found in the teachings of Confucius, the most influential Chinese philosopher who lived around 500 B.C.; however, the dimension also applies to countries without a Confucian heritage.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Communities of practice during the Global Development Learning Forum

Erik Johnson facilitated a session on communities of practice during the Global Development Learning Forum in Washington. Even though I was invited, I couldn't make it.

So I decided to interview Erik:

1. What was the objective of your session on CoPs, facilitated with Paul Starkey, during the GDLN World Forum?
Paul and I were aiming to stimulate some thinking as to how GDLN-affiliated Distance Learning Centers (DLCs) could use CoPs as a part of their work. The idea was that they could either support them as a part of their learning activities, or perhaps even provide technical assistance in supporting CoP work. So, we presented the participants with some of the concepts behind CoPs and networks, lessons from previous experience and some examples.

2. How many people attended it, and what was their background?
We had two separate sessions, but with pretty modest participation. There were several parallel sessions with tough competition. But as a result of the small group size, we had very lively discussions. I believe we had maybe 12 people in all. They were mostly the staff of DLCs from places such as Afghanistan, Japan and Peru, as well as a couple of World Bank staff and representatives of the British Council.

3. What were the most compelling questions by the participants?
As expected, many of the questions focused on ways in which CoPs could help distance learning centers to be sustainable. The whole Forum was aimed at providing GDLN affiliates with ideas on how to run successful distance learning centers. So, it was interesting to discuss the "communities" of people that some of the centers were serving such as small business entrepreneurs (in Peru) and development partners in Afghanistan. Instead of thinking of clients as "target audiences", we discussed them as "communities". In this way, we focused on how to motivate learning in these groups. Since the term "audience" implies one-way communication, the multidimensional interaction which takes place in communities/networks is something very different to support. The participants seemed quite interested in exploring this.

4. Why do you think CoPs are important for development?
Human capacity is the one essential ingredient to development. I don't think that we would talk about something called development unless we were interested in developing ourselves, in living healthier, more prosperous lives. CoPs are a potent tool for us to develop our skills and competencies, to feel better about our jobs. They are entities that we have been making use of all of our professional lives, but now that we have begun to examine them and try to enhance their effectiveness, they will increasingly become important development tools. It's easy to get hung up on terminology like the difference between a CoP and a network, but in the end, these are structures which allow us to learn from each other. And with this learning comes better development programs, policies and... yes, practices.

Thank you, Erik!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sinterklaas culture

Today is Sinterklaas! I went to see him at the school of my children and we'll celebrate it with presents and poems this afternoon. Last year I have been

Originally uploaded by joitske.

boring you with several blogposts, this year only once!

In the newspaper, people wrote about Sinterklaas as the ultimate expression of fantasy and play: a whole country doing its best to make children believe Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain... There is also a nice turn-around of hierarchy, the mayor of the city where he arrives, has to receive Sinterklaas with regards. Maybe that's the part I like, that everyone for 2-3 weeks is busy with a person that doesn't even exist.. (Sttt!) There is a special daily news edition of sinterklaas on television and internet for instance.

Last year I talked to people who had not been born in the Netherlands and felt discriminated because Zwarte Piet is the helper of the White Sinterklaas. It seems to me that it is hard for an outsider to really feel and grasp what Sinterklaas is about, if you haven't experienced it as a child. From the outside it may definitely look discriminating or even slightly racist. I don't experience that at all, my children are convinced zwarte piet are white people, but black because of going through the chimneys.

I will upload a Sinterklaas song on my playlist (you can find it on the right side), if anyone want to hear a sinterklaas song in Dutch. Still can't upload pictures to my blogposts but I found a workaround by blogging the pictures straight from flickr.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Technology frustrations

My first frustration was with skype: suddenly my volume was very low. For 2-3 weeks, I tried hard to follow all kind of conversations, but it sounded like very far away, extremely frustrating. I realised how dependent and accustomed I have become on skype. We even cancelled one meeting, though I proposed to continue with text-only, others were not comfortable with that. For groups of people at least, setting up phone teleconferences is not as easy, and I missed the collaborative note-taking that's easy in skype. When I had the same problem with an Interwise supported teleconference, I decided that I had to solve this. After a long search (I thought it was a software problem, but my husband found out it had to be my headset) I was happy that this was solved.

Then I had a serious problem with microsoft Word, at times Word gave an error while saving the file, and at times the whole file was lost. I kind of tried to ignore this problem again, using a google document to avoid loosing my work, or even seeking refuge at other computers. After trying to reduce space, reloading the program, etc. through google we found out that it was probably caused by the anti-virus program Windows Live Onecare, which I had downloaded as trial version. And surprise, surprise, when I turned off the anti-virus, the problem was gone!!

I feel a little stupid about these frustrations, as I lived for 3 years in Ke-Macina in Mali and did not even have telephone, but wasn't frustrated. The thing seems to be that you grow used to a certain use of technology and get frustrated when it fails. Typing Ke-Macina, I remember someone who lived in a town with electricity tell me how frustrating it was to have a fridge and then experience the electricity failures. Whereas we did not have electricity and hence had an oil-fridge. So the more we get used to technologies and certain uses of technologies, the more we can also be frustrated when it doesn't work. So far so good I removed windows live onecare.

And now I can't add an image to this blogpost. Grre&$st.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Technology: the power of web2.0 for African Civil Society

Kabissa has written about the power of the social web or African Civil Society. "The social web, also called Web 2.0 by trendsetters, represents a new era of the Internet in which people no longer go on the web expecting to merely access information provided by others. Everyone can now comment on what they read, change it, rate it, and put up information of their own - all using new user-friendly web interfaces. As a result, many now approach the Internet as a place to make and develop relationships with friends, network professionally and socially, and to create an image for themselves."

They mention some of the revolutionary promises like sharing information freely under the creative commons license, the easiness of sharing text, photos, video and audio materials via the web, communicating in real time through Voice over IP and teleconference-like tools, and the combination of mobile phone and the web (like I could blog by SMS from Ghana).

But maybe I like the pitfalls even better: (copied and shortened from their site):
  1. What to do when you’re away from the Internet? People that spend alot of time online begin to take it for granted - this was already the case before Web 2.0, but now new Web 2.0 services are encouraging you to do more online than ever. What do you do when you’re not near your Yahoo mailbox, your blog, your flickr account?
  2. Choose online services carefully. There are now a great many online communities, news portals, support forums, instant messaging providers, and advocacy sites that are serving every conceivable interest and perceived business need.
  3. A "stale" blog makes you look incompetent. Setting up a blog is quick and easy to do - but keeping it going takes perserverence, nurturing and planning. Many make the mistake of creating a blog, adding an optimistic launch post and then abandoning it forever.
  4. The web is forever. This may be hard to imagine, but thanks to sites like Google and the Wayback Machine, anything you add to blog websites or post to an e-mail mailing list might be retrievable even years later.
  5. Bad information is worse than no information. With a read-write web, any nutcase can set up a beautiful, legitimate-looking blog website and start posting falsehoods to the world.

I'd probably like to add that you still have to find people to whom it is useful to communicate and with whom you want to collaborate. You can easily waste your time writing a blog that nobody reads. And then I'd say the potential of the web is mostly in finding people who have dealt with likeminded problems as you, found innovative solutions, or finding people who are willing to think with you. So it needs a whole new skillset not to drown.

And with all this collaboration over the web- fighting over scarce resources will not diminuish. But maybe we can become smarter in using the resources? Yesterday I read about the Free studying through the internet (in Dutch) which is becoming a world wide trend. So people who are curious and want to learn (and are connected) can now really start self-learning. This is a huge shift.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

knowledge management and the exploding whale

Exploding Whale

I told someone about the video with the exploding whale, that I got to know through a message on the knowledge management for development listserv. I was curious whether the whale had already made it to youtube. And there it was... ready to be blogged.

The advice by the knowledge managers was that the exploding whale video can be used to illustrate the usefulness of doing an After Action Review. It does make this point quite clear indeed.

Challenges for facilitation in communities of practice

Recently I blogged about a facilitation taxonomy developed by Halbana Tarmizi en Gert-Jan de Vreede, you can find the article here.

Through a comment on a blogpost somewhere I found a follow-up on that article called challenges for facilitation in communities of practice written by the same authors, in collaboration with Ilze Zigurs. For this study they formulated two research questions:
  1. What are the most difficult tasks in CoP facilitation?
  2. What are the most important tasks in CoP facilitation?

Knowing the most difficult tasks would help facilitators and organizations to work harder on them, while knowing the most important ones might help facilitators to allocate sufficient attention to those tasks. The results are based on 45 people who took an online survey (I'm thinking I may be one of them, if it was announced at the com-prac yahoo group :).

The most difficult tasks were (according to facilitators with more than 5 years experience):

  1. Encouraging new members to participate in the community's activities
  2. Creating and maintaining an open, positive and participative environment
  3. Creating comfort with and promoting understanding of the tools and tool outputs

The most important tasks (facilitator with >5 years experience):

  1. Building cooperative relationships among members
  2. Keeping community focus on its purpose; creating and maintaining an open, positive and participative environment; mediating conflicts and managing community through guidelines and rules (all equally important)

Encouraging participation is still the most difficult task, and is recognized as important too.

The results look a little biased by online facilitators (see the third most difficult task), and that may be the focus of the article, but that could be made more explicit (if so). What are my own experiences and do I recognize this? I think encouraging participation is important, but participation in a community of practice flows from having a solid base in practice a domain that's interesting enough to a number of people. I get the feeling that it might be different whether you talk about online facilitation, face-to-face or hybrid communities of practice. Next year, Sibrenne Wagenaar and myself will write down our experiences with facilitation of the e-collaboration group. This article claims the facilitator role in communities of practice is still under-researched. So we can contribute a practical case. We are already documenting our reflection in a wiki (which reminds me I should add something to that wiki).

Friday, November 24, 2006

Knowledge management: how to know what you need to know

Time for a story of about 500 years ago.... It came back to my mind yesterday in relation to my last blogpost on Claus and culture. When I studied at the Agricultural University in Wageningen, I had the chance to go to Gem Rae, in Kenya to work for the Provincial Irrigation Unit in Kisumu. I studied smallholder irrigated rice schemes and lived with the farmers there.

One of expatriate engineers worked in Gem Rae but lived in Kisumu. One of his remarks was that he never understood why the farmers did not plant their rice fields on time, at the same time. This was one of the assumption for the design of the waterflow. Because I lived within the scheme area, interacted a lot with the farmers and did interviews, I quickly learned that their system was as follows: there are different plots, of the husband, and of the various wives (there were many polygamous households). The men, often the sons, are responsible for ploughing. They plough in the morning and have a high number of plots to plough. There is a certain hierarchy in the plots that are ploughed, the male household head first, then the first wive, the second wive, etc. Women of migrated husband often have to hire a plough team and have to wait till the team has finished all their family plots. Not hard to see that all farmers can not plant at the same time, because they have to wait for their fies to be ploughed!

I was flabbergasted that it needed my study to highlight this (amongst other things). In a way I felt that the answer to the engineer's question was lying in front of him. The engineer knowledge (design of the waterflow) did link automatically to the relevant knowledge of the farmers (rotational system of ploughing) even though they did interact. And mind you, the problem was not that the engineer were designing from the drawing boards and did not go for field visits. Yet, it wasn't easy to link the relevant sections of the two knowledge systems.

This is something I often see, though people are interacting, have meetings, the relevant links don't surface easily. This is where I see a role for learning facilitator, knowledge managers, brokers, etc.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Claus on culture

Prince Claus was a German married to the Dutch queen Beatrix and as such was able to see the Dutch with German eyes and vice versa. He had a personal intercultural experience which influenced his thinking about development cooperation. Jan Pronk in his book Willens en wetens bring this again to our attention. Claus often said: 'on ne developpe pas, on se developpe', refering to the fact that people take their own learning and developement processes at hand, which you can stimulate but not orchestre or control.

He also felt that there needs to be more attention for the cultural side of the development cooperation (or international cooperation). "Rethinking development means first and foremost curbing ethnocentrism". "The poly-cultural nature of the world we live in is indeed something to be treasured and kept alive."

He thinks that "it is recognised that there is a cultural dimension to development, but it is at the same time regarded as a nuisance and solutions are ought by just adding a dash of culture to our development efforts which otherwise remain valid as before. Such a conception is rooted in the economically minded cultures. Economic achievements are still at the top of their scale of values."

Though it is written 10 years ago, I wonder how much things have really changed in this regard and how much the development sector has learned about the cultural elements at play in development cooperation.

PS. somehow it feels weird not to write about the elections in the Netherlands, you see how much blogging is somehow associated with citizens journalism.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Knowledge management and snow

It is by now famous that Eskimos have many different words for snow from 'crust on fallen snow' to 'soft, deep fallen snow on the ground'. And this is logical because they can and need to distinguish many different conditions of snow. (for snowboarding :))

But we live in a 'knowledge' society, I'm an 'officer knowledge sharing' and yet we have only one word for knowledge. And sometimes I go crazy because of the different meanings people attach to this word (same goes for learning by the way). So if knowledge is so important, can't we develop a bunch of different words to distinguish the different types of knowledge and learning processes?

Patrick Lambe just posted a taxomomy of ignorance here. With many attitudinal differences to the type of ignorance someone may display. Denham Grey distinguishes 3 types of knowledge in one of his blogposts of september and sees them as a continuum:

1. Tacit knowledge is closely related to intuition, gut feelings, compiled experiences and skills. This tacit stuff is very hard to explain, it comes from exposure, arises out of repeated learnings, consists of deeply held feelings and beliefs. Tacit knowledge allows us to reason without logic, to act without reflection and to make sense of new situations.

2. Implicit knowledge sits in the middle. Here we are able to model, explain, draw, surface, share insights and explicate beliefs. This often requires time, deep reflection, dialog, introspection and mulling around.

3. Explicit knowledge is documented, illustrated, captured, stored and retrievable. It takes many forms from transcripts, to business rules, from detailed definitions to evolving scripts e.g. such as we see in wikipedia or video sequences.

This is more refined than the common two-fold distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge, but does it help sufficiently to talk about knowledge and learning in practical cases?

Let's take two extremes of things I feel I have recently learned but which are very different.

A. In the office, I used to take a large cup of coffee from the machine, which overflows easily while climbing the stairs to my office. My colleague told me she takes a large coffee cup but draws a small coffee from the machine, plus an espresso. The cup doesn't overflow and the coffee is stronger and better. So this is what I do now. It doesn't cost me anything to change my habits.

B. On the other hand I have read about, observed and practiced acquisition of consultancies. It seemed very scary, but it's slowly demystifying a little. I feel I'm gradually learning how to do it and how it works (and realized this when someone told me that I talk about it differently) but it is still difficult. Sometimes I have to force myself into unnatural behaviour. (and sometimes I feel I'm doing the wrong things).

Here the model of explicit, tacit and implicit is not very helpful. The coffee case is not explicit knowledge (it is not documented), but a very superficial type of knowledge. The acquisition case involves tacit, implicit and explicit knowledge.

I'm tempted in this case to go back to Argyris model of single and double loop learning. I'd think in this case as well, we should rather see it as continuum from single to double loop learning where you can place a certain learning process at the appropriate level of learning. The two extremes determined by how deep your belief systems or assumptions have to change/will change. Knowing where to place a learning process will help to know how hard it will be to acquire the knowledge, how long it will take and what will be needed to guide the processes. Any pointers to interesting articles which delve into this?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Technology: One liners that stick in your head

Jack Vinson writes about blogs again and shares a quote from Martin Roell in his blogpost : "Blogs are like emails to someone you don't know yet". This reminds me of two quotes that have stayed with me lately:

One via my colleague who overheard two small boys in Burkina Faso. The first boy asked the second boy what a computer was ('qu'est-ce que c'est un ordinateur?'). The answer was: 'C'est une machine pour parler aux blancs.' (it's a machine to talk to the white people).

Angelica Senders from ICCO shared the other quote (don't know where she got it): "if you don't know how to cycle, walking is always faster": in the context of using new technologies or new tools to communicate. This ressembles the quote about talking about tagging to people who have never tagged like 'talking about sex to virgins'. (read this in a blog somewhere too).

Though I'm not such slogan person, a good one liner or slogan which captures an important notion can have its value, because it really sticks in your head. I think it sticks because you recognise it's a good compressed representation of reality.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Advising: Statements to facilitate discussions

Yesterday we had a CPsquare session with Robert Tollen who facilitates an online discussion group about Myeloproliferative diseases. He talked about the deep differences in beliefs between members (eg. believing in scientific treatment versus alternative treatment), and how you can deal with this as a facilitator. The lesson that I took from the discussions, is that as a facilitator you have your own beliefs too, and you have to be aware of your own biases, so that it doesn't limit the conversations. So working as a team you may be much more complementary (but you have to analyze that as well).

It reminded me of two practical sessions I facilitated at work where I tried to make use of statements to surface and bridge diverging group opinions, and which worked very well in my opinion. We are working towards a common strategy for network strengthening, based upon practical experiences in various countries. There seem to be very different ideas and beliefs amongst the group so the challenge is to work with this wide variation and arrive at a common strategy. So I tried to formulate roughly 10 statements (ended up with 11), which capture the main controversial issues. Everyone was then asked to look at the statements on paper, write down whether they agree or disagree, after which they transfer their opinions on a flipchart. The results were in our case very revealing in itself. Issues which seemed controversial ended up with a majority of the votes on the same side, showing that we'd agreed more than expected. The second step was to ask a person who agrees to voice his/her ideas and the same for a person who disagrees, after which a discussion follows. This discussion may lead to a complete rephasing of the statement, as the statements are to open the floor. In our case, it has helped us to improve understanding and get to a next level of the bottlenecks.

I guess it's important for the success of this method that the statements are phrased by someone who is familiar with the informal discussions so that he/she can get to the core dilemmas. The great beauty of the method (as compared to an open discussion) is that it highlights individual opinions. Without the counting of the individual opinions, it may look like there is a lot of divergence because two vocal persons disagree.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Technology: Great Britain's classification of ICT users

On the spatial literacy site you can find a classification of "neighbourhoods using data about our levels of awareness of different information communication technologies, how we use them, and how we think they might improve our quality of life." (in Great Britain).

The 8 main categories are:
1. E-unengaged
2. E-marginalised
3. Becoming engaged
4. E-for entertainment and shopping
5. E-independents
6. Instrumental E-users
7. E-business users
8. E-experts

It's not really linked to age-differences, though from the group of e-professionals it is said these are mostly young people. It demonstrates the wide range of comfort levels and uses of technology. Again, it's not really linked to type of access, yet I remember seeing a graph indicating how internet use changes with the change from dial-up to broadband. (and ofcourse this is different from use from cybercafes or other joint facilitaties).

Friday, November 10, 2006

Technology: how to backup your blogger blog

Quite some time ago, I did a presentation about blogging, and someone asked whether I had made a backup of my blog. Well, I hadn't, but he made me think about it. Now I'm a little lazy with these kind of things (as figuring this out takes some time investment) but they usually stay in my head. Today I managed to find out and back up my blog in less than 30 minutes (for free).

Though google I found the blogpost how to back up your blogger blog. I chose and downloaded htrack (for free!). You can indicate where you want to have the back up and the URL of the website you want to back up and there you go... Still amazing what's possible for free...

Technology: blogs and inequality on the web

Via a blogpost by Nancy White I found a piece written by Jakob Nielsen about Participation inequality: encouraging more users to contribute .

Jakob Nielsen refers to the famous 90-9-1 rule for large-scale, multi-user online communities that 90% of users are lurkers, 9% contributes and 1% accounts for most contributions. I think that you have to be specific: this rule may apply to public large-scale online interaction. I think the danger of the rule is the people working with smaller (sometimes pass-word) protected online community spaces take the same rule as a guideline and accept this high level of inequality. (which I would not)

The writer talks about 1.1 billion internet users, with only 55 million users (5%) having weblogs according to Technorati. Though I think that's enormous, and produces an overwhelming amount of information, he sees it from the side that blogs participation is very inequal on a world wide scale, with only 0.1% of the blogger posting daily. The problem is that the overall blogposts are not representative of web users. (giving more influence= power to the bloggers). He continues with some tips to enhance participation equality (like making it easier to contribute).

I'd rather look at the use of blogs within a single community of practice. For instance, for our e-collaboration community of practice with about 60 people, I think there are about 8-9 bloggers (plus a group blog) and some people want to start a blog. So the CoP may actually encourage others to start blogging. Unfortunately, it is hard to say how much the blogs influence knowledge sharing and relationship building. I know that it has helped me to know what blogging members are doing and thinking (I subscribed to their blogs). It could be interesting at some point to ask more explicitly how many people in the community of practice read the blogs. And of course it is not imperative that everyone should be blogging. (it sounds a little bit like that's the ideal situation for Jacob Nielsen). To be honest I'm happy that not all 60 have a blog because I wouldn't be able to keep up reading all.

In CPsquare (with about 200 members) roughly 12 (didn't count) people are bloggers and a feed combines all blogposts into a community of practice feed. My concern for this intiative was that people may blog about a wide variety of topics, but I guess in daily life you also talk about a wide range of topics. Again, it would be interesting to know whether it's mainly the bloggers using the feed, the other members, or whether it also works as a boundary tool (open for people outside CPsquare).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Managing communities of practice in organizations

Of late, I have printed more articles than I can read, so maybe I should stop printing them... But I have read one article written by Joeri an Laere called Managing communities of practice in organizations. I don't know how I found it, but had a hard time finding it back on the internet (googling didn't work).

He writes about the management dilemma: should a manager interfere with communities of practice (rule them or support them) or would it be wiser to leave them in peace? His paper based on research within the Amsterdam Police Force suggests that 'managers should not make a choice, but rather manage the competing values of different strategies'. The manager could both guide and facilitate the community from time to time rather than only support it.

He did 3 years of action-research including a simulation game. He noted down 4 coordination problems with the CoPs of the Amsterdam Police Force:

  1. Work for the CoP (called regional projects) has low priority, participation is hence unreliable.
  2. Intranet only supports formal, static information (eg. on laws) but there is a need for technologies that support informal coordination mechanisms.
  3. Police culture; policemen are selected for their self-conceit, but don't often show their weaknesses and thus do not consult others very often.
  4. The central coordinator is the only reliable source of information.

At the same time he does report that part of the members is very enthusiastic and they often work for the CoP in their free time.

He recommends that management can make a big difference by rewarding the preferred behaviour (consulting, reflecting, spending time with communities, focus on quality instead of quantity). CoP Coordinators have a lot of freedom, and might benefit from stronger monitoring.

A great explanation is given on the possible strategies of managers, from defensive blocking strategies, via neutral nurturing strategies to active interference strategies. (check that out if that is an area of interest to you).

I really liked the explanation of the possible strategies of managers, I think I will use it to analyze the behaviour of managers vis-a-vis a community of practice.

I think in this case of the Amsterdam Police Force, the CoPs work within the setting of a general organizational culture which is not favourable to the kind of knowledge sharing within CoPs. So I agree that managers can (and should) play a strong role there to turn the organisational culture around. On the other hand, I have a question about the role of CoPs themselves in turning the organizational culture around. In my own experience in West Africa the CoP created a completely different culture (much more positive) than the organisational culture.

Lastly, I would recommend coaching the coordinators, in addition to monitoring the results. Also, I would recommend to pay attention to the group of members who invest free time in their community of practice. Those are the people who are probably very passionate about the domain of the CoP because they experience it in their daily practice.

Communities of practice: two disastrous approaches

Dave Snowden wrote on his own blog about communities of practice. He writes about the dilemma that communities of practice are self-organising versus whether you can direct communities of practice.

The two disastrous approaches he sees are:

"1 - Creating an organisational template for communities of practice, with a full roll out plan, dedicated staff etc. etc. This is the classic engineering approach which assumes that there must be a top down, designable RIGHT answer.
In practice different communities work in different ways and in different ways at different times. A list serve may be good enough, maybe Grove or similar to get started. A point may arise where you need a taxonomy, formal roles, start up
processes etc. but that is expensive and requires a lot of energy to give it any chance of working. Better to create the right ecology in which different types of collaboration can take place, and then consolidate successful experiments when (and only if) they or the organisation can benefit from formalism.

2 - Taking a paternalistic (or maternalistic approach) in which people are held to be children or kids needing help or assistance. This to my mind often goes with consultants to take up therapeutic techniches (in narrative Appreciative Inquiry is one) and move them sideways into organisations. Such approaches were designed for situations where the Therapist takes a dominant role (which is why some consultants like them) and assumes that the recipients are in need of therapy. Most of the time they are not - its the management and consultants who need it not their subjects/victims."

I agree that both approaches are disastrous. There is definitely a balance you have to find between designing events and linking people and trying to find initiatives that emerge 'naturally'. So you have to build in flexibility in how you are going to proceed. The paternalistic approach probably works nowhere working with adults on the long run (at least not in international development settings). In the short run though, it may seem to work well.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Culture: diversity and inclusion

Via Gurteen I found 3 conversations about diversity and inclusion talking about the UK and France. The audio quality was bad, but there is a transcript as well. Interestingly, there are questions that go with the interview (see the blue slide here).

In one of the three conversations, Hamid Senni interviews Daniele Joly, Director of the Centre of Research in Ethnic Relations, who grew up in Africa. She states that a society has to look into diversity issues because of the need to create a well-balanced society.

She talks about the business case for diversity; you should not think about diversity as part of charity, but for equal opportunities and enhancing business capacity. On top of that, there is the legislation in Europe.

On direct and indirect benefits of a diversity policy:
* The babyboom generation will retire, there will be workforce scarcity and we need migrants (Europe is now not welcoming migrants like the US/Canada)
* You develop more harmonious relations with open attitudes leading to better productivity
* It appeals to the clientele
* It introduces novel ideas

A roadmap could be to do an audit, develop a public policy, implement it and monitor this. The other interview on the UK touches very similar issues.

I first thought that diversity is approached from the positive side, rather than as a problem. But on second thoughts, it still sounds quite defensive, to fill the labour gap when babyboomer retire? Also, unfortunately she does not go deeply into what organisations should do to deal with diversity constructively. Because it sets organisations up for confict situations too. I read the book the inclusion breakthrough by Miller and Katz which deals with that in much more detail. (I read it before I blogged, maybe I should still blog it)

Culture: prisoners and inhabitants of Amsterdam

Last week I heard on the news that in Amsterdam 15% of the inhabitants don't live on the address where they live according to municipality's administration. That was followed this week by the news about our 17.000 prisoners. From a sample it was deducted that in about 7% of the cases the person in prison is not the person he/she should be. In other words, people send their representatives to sit in jail for them.

When I read these kind of stories I'm always impressed with how ways people act are stronger than the system. That's why I think it is strong that people working with a communities of practice perspective try to leverage what happens organically between people. Not to say that they should not try to get the right people in prison though...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Technology: 10 ways and 5 quick tips into blogging

cartoon by gapingvoid

I found two great blog resources if you are looking for 'how to's'. The first one uses the cartoons of gapingvoid to point out the 10 ways to a killer blog. The cartoon doesn't always match the advice but never mind.

If you want to focus on 5 tips there are the Five Quick Tips to Building a Great Blog by Meryl K. Evans. Thanks to Cincy for the link. Meryl Evans' tips are not very special in my opinion (a little obvious like make them silent, don't let them start with music), but I really liked her personal way of talking about her blogs. And to be honest, thanks to her I have editing my blogging profile (and found out it had been viewed over 1000 times, just to find out there was nothing!!). An excerpt:
' Entering a blog compares to stepping into one's home where the owner feels at his or her most comfortable. In other words, we are more apt to be ourselves when blogging, and that's a good thing.'

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Practical examples: Rede Nos in Brasil and PEM-Pal in Eastern Europe

(in the picture you see Monica Amorim from Brasil)
Erik Johnson from the World Bank sent me the link to the World Bank video of a brown-bag lunch about client communities of practice on October 23 at the World Bank. Since I'm always on the outlook for practical examples, I am very grateful to be able to sit in on a brown bag lunch in the US! I do wonder if it affects the level of exchange, knowing that you will be visible in public on the internet. The participants do not seem to bother much...

The whole exchange is 81 minutes but you can watch separate parts: either the presentation on the Rede Nos project in Brasil (Monica Amorim; 18 minutes) or the presentation by Elena Nikulina on the PEM-PAL program for learning on public expenditure in Eastern Europe that covers 13 countries (10 minutes). Personally, I found the comments by Phil Karp and Erik Johnson more interesting if you want to learn about the process of cultivating the communities.

The community of practice in Brasil focuses on poverty alleviation and social inlusion in Northern Regions in Brasil, and started as a World Bank initiative in 2004 out of a need to develop more practical, low-cost solutions to local economic development. To create a space for people to interact, often working on projects in an isolated way. It uses online discussions (Dgroups), a website, tours, seminars and storytelling as its main learning tools. Phil adds that the value of this community of practice is really on connecting rather than collecting. There seems to be a large demand as people keep on showing up. It has also helped the World Bank to be closer to client needs, small and medium scale enterprise came on the Bank's radar through this community of practice. The mutual learning is very valuable, rather than asking another consultant to do a study.

The community of practice PEM-PAL on public expenditure management regrouping practitioners from 13 countries in Eastern Europe started only this year, and will rather be a constellation of communities of practitioners like treasurers, auditors, etc. The community of treasurers has been launched, and other communities may come up through a rather organic process. The main challenge is that the launch started donor-driven and hence the World Bank will need to make sure that their is sufficient ownership with the community itself. Some of the lessons shared are:

* Working across 13 countries is challenging due to timezones and language variations.

* A good preparation for the launch is key, you have
to get in touch with interested parties and get a sense of their interests.

* For sustainability sake, it's important to show that something happens
after the launch, to show that it's not an one-off event, for instance in
this case the topic of 'single treasury account' seemed a 'hot topic' during the launch and hence
a new event will be organised on this topic.

* Evaluation will need to be different from project evaluation as the results will be harder to define. Stories which understand the impact of the community of practice on inidividual participant's level may be important.

During the question and answer session a participant asked about the cultural sensitivity to the target groups. In the given responses, I found it interesting to hear that there was very little hierarchy in the e-discussion in Brasil. The virtual medium for discussion seemed to work as a leveling mechanism for this group.

Another remark I found highly interesting was about the nature of the community of treasurers. As a 'technocratic' community it gets harder to find their energy. From this response you would guess that the 'culture' of the field of treasurers is more determining for the way knowledge is exchanged and the community will function than the various national cultures involved. (which links back to my earlier post on dealing with differences)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Technology: Helpalot

I met Julius Huijnk of Helpalot online and we decided to meet and exchange in Utrecht. Since we had both done our online homework, I could explain him the concepts, and he knew where I worked, so we could get to the point very rapidly. (which was useful since I had missed my train..)

When we did a scenario planning with IICD on the changing future of development cooperation, the influence on the internet on establishing direct linkages north-north, north-south and south-south surfaced as one topic. We also thought humanitarian aid will play a bigger role in future and saw rapidly changing alliances as well as changing power blocks.

Helpalot is a nice example of a new initiative to create a site which aims to linking people around their interest in charity through the internet. The idea is to leverage the power of social networking tools like hyves for 'charities' (goede doelen in Dutch). Its mission is to "Help individuals and organisations to find a charity that fits them, by making objective and subjective information on charities accessible and transparent. By strengthening social contacts and stimulate feedback, Helpalot aims to increase the trust people have in charities and stimulate charitable activities. "

You can see a one minutes introduction of the concept by clicking on the video:

There are existing sites with information on Dutch charities like goede doelen, alle goede doelen, helphelpen and geef gratis. On an international level there is for instance the charitynavigator. There is the initiative of Nabuur, linking villages to expertise and assistance. None of them works from the principle of leveraging online social networking though. It does make opinions very visible in a rapid way, and has the potential to change power relations and give the individual donors more influence. So I'm curious to see how this is going to work. It seems most beneficial for small organisations and volunteers. Given the number of times I'm asked if I know a place where a volunteer can work I'd definitely say this has potential, but provided it attracks a sufficient number of organisations and people... If you are interested you can sign up at the site of helpalot

On the way back I thought about the fact that this is new for me, to think from the 'charity' or 'donor' side. As I've mostly been a direct advisor in the south working with local organisations. I started thinking: Suppose we would use this idea to link civil society organisations in the south to talk about donor agencies and partners in the north? Wouldn't that have the potential for a real power shift?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Culture and stereotypes

Cartoon via handvest van de aarde
At the site of project implicit you can do tests about your prejudices conderining fat people, gender stereotypes or ethnicity ( in Dutch, the english version is here). I did the alcohol test and have a slight preference for alcohol over non-alcoholic drinks. I also did the Martha Stewart versus Oprah Winfrey test and have a slight preference for Martha too. (I do dislike Oprah Winfrey even explicitly).

It is tested by your reactions to combining alcoholic drinks (or Oprah Winfrey) with either positive or negative terms. When you associate terms, your reaction is faster. I was quite convinced that it was easier to combine alcohol with negative terms, but apparently I was faster with positive terms. I'm just reading though that heavy drinkers have negative associations (phew!)

From the site: 'A stereotype is a belief that members of a group generally possess some characteristic (for example, the belief that women are typically nurturing). An implicit stereotype is a stereotype that is powerful enough to operate without conscious control. Example: Try answering this question: Is John Walters the name of a famous person? If you suspect yes, and especially if you were more likely to think yes than if the question had been about Jane Walters, you might be indirectly expressing a stereotype that associates the category of male (more than that of female) with fame-deserving achievement. And this may be the case even if there is famous female with a similar sounding last name (e.g., Barbara Walters). This type of judgment was used in one of the first experimental studies of implicit stereotypes (Banaji and Greenwald, 1995; Banaji, Hardin, & Rothman, 1994).

Technology: gathering on 'online kennisdelen' organised by oneworld

Last week, I was invited by One world the Netherlands to do a presentation about online knowledge sharing jointly with Julie Ferguson from HIVOS. We were asked to look at tools, experiences within development cooperation and some do's and don'ts.

You can find our slides in Dutch here. I did not manage to embed them in my blog. As you can see in the second picture, only few people raised their hands when asked whether they could explain terms like 'web2.0' or 'blogs' or 'podcasting'. I was surprised about the low numbers, and almost suspect they did know about them, but were scared to be asked to explain it.

At the end I realized that most of the people were communications people with a task related to their organisation's website, looking for tools to integrate in their websites. Which is different from the way I mostly look at some of these tools, as supporting (small) groups in their communication and learning efforts.

One world will make a report available here where you can also find reports of previous gatherings. Of course in such a meeting, you only cratch the surface of a lot of topics and experiences.

In the end, I realized the value of the e-collaboration community of practice, which brings a wide range of people interested in this topic together for a longer period of time. Because of the longer attachment to one domain and with a (growing) group, we are able create more exchanges which build on each other.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The blog birthday

Photo by Thom Watson

One year (and four days) ago I started this blog with this blogpost... A nice moment to list all my previous blogposts about blogging:

  1. How to read blogs
  2. What is a blog?
  3. Blogging communities
  4. blogging ripples
  5. Knowing the number of subscribers to your blog
  6. Blogging popular amongst Arab women
  7. David Maister on blogging
  8. Using mobile phone and SMS to blog
  9. Some blogging reflections
  10. Blog mentoring projects
  11. Blogging and development
  12. My pathway into blogging
  13. How to start blogging
  14. Iraqi bloggers

Britt Bravo started a nice, practical blog Basic blogging for women (with lots of tips for men as well :)

Now, one year, 4 days, 240 posts, 57 blogs on my blogroll and over 90 subscribers and 6,600 views later, I'm very happy that I started blogging and don't think it will be easy to stop. It has focused my readings and stimulated me to interview people, plus it's a place to write down my own experiences. I guess I imagined the blog to be more factual than it is now. Gruadually I've include some of my personal experiences which make me think of aspects related to communities of practice. It's become a great archive for myself. If I had blogged since I learned how to write, it would be a documentation of my thinking too. On the other hand, there are many interesting experiences and discussions which I don't blog, mostly for privacy reasons.

Thursday someone asked me whether I have children, so I responded, yes and a job and we were joking about the rest of the list (a car? a dog?). Next time, I should probably summarize my life by saying I have a job, two children and a blog.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Communities of practice: comm.unities.of.prac.tice 2.0

Martin Kloos wrote his thesis for the University of Amsterdam on communities of practice 2.0. It's written in English, so if you are interested, you can download it and read it too. I think it's brilliant that I can be in touch with research results through blogs! Martin studied the effects of weblogs, wikis and social bookmarking on communities of practice, as part of his thesis for Business Informations Studies. Students were experimenting with blogs, wikis and social bookmarking and he interviewed them individually and did focus group interviews. The setting in which the tools were used were small familiar groups and all were master students, using the tools in an educational setting. He analysed what the tools influence is on mutuality, competence and continuity in the community of practice. And secondly, at orientation, reflection and exploration. There is a table at page 108 which summarizes these results.

It is interesting that though the tools are 'public' tools, and have potentially boundary crossing potential (to draw in other people with different ideas) no outsider jointed the conversations on the blog during the course. The blog was very successful in influencing the face-to-face discussions. People who were less assertive in class felt they got a voice on the blog, leading to an increased willingness to join the conversation. It was also seen as a source of inspiration. It was experiences that knowing what other colleagues read, what they share through their bookmarks can enhance the feeling of engagement. Finally wikis created a form of accountability for both process and product, whereas the meta content of a wiki provides insights into the composition, objectives and development of a community.

Very interesting are the conclusions, one interviewee wonders what triggers the enthusiasm of users when it comes to web2.0 software. He/or she believes: " it has to do with personal values. The essence is that we are all trapped in a system of top-down corporations and so forth. I believe that we are slowly crossing a line where larger groups of people want different things." They talked about at length about the acceptance of open source values and principles, as openly sharing information and collaboration as the key to success.

Participants classified the main functions and feel of the tools and what kind of processes within a community of practice they can support. Blogs are characterized in terms of reflection. Social bookmarking more in terms of exploration, and wikis support varying levels of participation. Blogs and wikis support engagement more than social bookmarking and stimulate orientation and reflection. Wikis and social bookmarking offer facilitaties that better support the work of alignment than blogs.

This research again highlights that people determine the use of the tools. Example is the fact that the blog did not have any boundary function, as a result of barriers created by the group. A blog can work as a boundary crossing tool, but probably only works when the blogger is a broker him/herself (and has people from various communities of practice reading the blog). It is not an 'embedded' feature of the blog.

In this case master students were testing all these tools in a course setting. Ofcourse you may look at the class as a community of practice, but it is a very specific situation with members in the same age group, not resembling other (corporate, inter-organisational) CoPs with members of a wide range of ages.

The tools did energize and stimulate different conversations and engagement. I think it is important to know the ins- and outs of the various tools as a facilitator, plus the group process, so that you know how to stimulate certain processes by introducing tools that energize the group.

One common feature of all web2.0 tools is that they leave visible traces, and hence make it easier to document or analyse what's been happening, as compared to informal, face-to-face interactions. So it could make result measurement of communities of practice much easier!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Technology: slide show by Nancy White

After reading a post from Tony Karrer talking about the fact that powerpoint slides without the presentation will not easily make sense to anyone. He confesses he is too impatient to sit through an audio presentation. I can watch vodcasts, but have problems with audio too. My thoughts just wander off. I'll do a test by downloading and listening in the train tomorrow.

Then I found this slide setfrom Nancy White which she shared on her Australian blog. I really liked the visual and condensed presentation. I especially liked slide 7 which talks about the different uses of communication technologies by different age groups, distinguishing it groups by 10 years age difference. Probably because that links very closely with my recent discovery that people of 18 have again a different use from people who are 28. (I assumed they were all the same user type). I was also inspired because I just made a slide presentation, not half as nice as this one. Next time, I'll try and use more pictures too. So slides can make sense I guess, but maybe only if they link very closely with your own line of thoughts or questions and when they are very visual and clear. By the way, Nancy used slideshare a place where you can find millions of slides.

Practical examples: the ICT4D trainers meeting in pictures

The ICT4D trainers community meeting in Zambia that I blogged about in my previous post, this time some impression by means of pictures (provided by Saskia Harmsen).

Monday, October 23, 2006

Practical examples: the community of practice of ICT4D trainers

IICD in collaboration with its Itrainonline partners did a community readiness assessment for ICT4D trainers. In July, a first meeting was organized for a group of interested trainers in Zambia. My colleague, Saskia Harmsen, was one of the organisers. She answered the question:
What advice would you give to someone who was going to organise a first community of practice meeting?

Her response is, organise for getting to know eachother by means of storytelling exercises and facilitate peer assists in small groups. This can set the scene for what can be done with the community of practice in terms of knowledge sharing. The trainers really appreciated this 'facilitated' approach rather than a train-the-trainer approach.

A challenge is how to translate the practice-based experiences and make it available to others who were not present at the event. In this case, people were asked to write summaries in a wiki, but felt that limited the free-flowing knowledge sharing process.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Technology...never fails

This week was 'herfstvakantie' (autumn holidays) at school, and I took my kids swimming. The pool has access gates which you can only enter by scanning with a bracelet (that you get instead of a ticket).

Unfortunately the access gate reported that I had no access (whereas I had already scanned my children, so they were already in). When I asked at the ticketing office (upstairs) they said that I had scanned it twice. That would be surprising as I have used the bracelets for years going for swimming lessons. But I said 'sorry!' and they reloaded the bracelet for me and it worked!

I had forgotten about it, when I exited my children after swimming and I got stuck myself in the swimming pool area because the same thing happened at the gate. This time it said, 'error, please contact staff'. No staff around and staff in the pool did not want to help. So I squeezed myself with another person through the gate. I could have thrown the useless bracelet, but thought I'd be helpful and notify the people at the ticketing office, explaining that there was a problem with this bracelet. But they said that I made a mistake, I had not scanned the bracelet well enough while entering.... And after my response that there is no reason to get angry.... :).

But why do I blog this story while talking about technology in relation to communities of practice? I think what we can learn from this is that as a technologist or online facilitator you should never assume that technology works and that people are making a mistake. So you have to be patient and prepared to find out what doesn't work and why it doesn't work. This can be dull and time-consuming, but is a necessary part of the job. Secondly, if you have support systems ('call staff'), you have to make sure they work ('there is staff around').

Technology: Sil and continuous partial attention

Photo by John Smith

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Culture: Dealing with differences

I read Dealing with differences by Nico Vink, who looks at communication as scanning of social spaces and positions, rather than exchange of information.

One of the questions of the book is: Does globalization lead to homogenisation of cultures? Nico Vink challenges the existing crucial role of national cultures against the context of globalization. Cultural fields are introduced as a new context for intercultural communications. "Fields are distinct, smaller social spaces, When a person wants to participate in a field, he/she should learn the values and practices, the rules and the language of the field." Fields may become trans-cultural bypassing national borders and cultures. Globalizations is not leading to homogenization of cultures but to exchange and hybridisation. So where do we currently find the cultural differences? Between rich and poor, differences remain large, as well as between believers and secular people. Miscommunication ocurs also in our own society.

He provides some vivid examples of cultural fields, like rock music. Rock music knows many forms, it is a mix of local styles with international musical idioms, originating in the Anglo-Saxon world. Rock music is an important way to emphasize local identity, and in many places local varieties of the international rock-idiom can be found. There is some influence of local music on the global field too, the question is how and how much? The chinese rock musician Cui Jian is quoted when he says: 'Rock is worldwide. During the festival of Roskilde in Denmark I was the only Chinese, but I felt like at home. Yet there is a difference. I think in Chinese, I feel Chinese, I use Chinese images.

Intercultural communication competences listed by Vink:
* Insights into the general communication process and awareness of our own strong and weak points
* Basic attitude of curiosity in people who are different
* Social skills; social poistions in cultures are very different
* Patience; changing habits is a long process

The book did not have real eye-openers for me. By reading this book, I start to think more strongly about the importance of organisational cultures, and communities of practice as places where a certain 'culture' is cultivated. Will organisations become more important than nations in shaping ways people interact? And what will be the role of communities of practice? And how 'deep' does organizational culture impact on individuals? I have the impression I act slightly differently in different organisations because you are stimulated by your colleagues and managers to act in a certain manner. But I have my own core values and interests I take with me. When people start to identify with inter-organisational communities of practice, how does that influence the way they act within their own organisations, and will they start to influence the culture in their own organisation? (that influence will probably be much larger when managers are part of communities of practice).

I also wonder whether the way Vink uses field is similar to the use of domain with the communities of practice theory?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Technology: how to read blogs?

At the launch of the group blog on e-collaboration we got the request for a basic introduction to blog reading for people new to blogs. Together with Dorine Ruter, we worked on a writely document and I was able to post the document directly to my blog. This is a more technical introduction, the 'why to read blogs' should probably follow later! So here we go:

How to read blogs?

There are various ways to read a webblog ('blog') that you think is of interest to you. The main choice you have to make is whether you want to visit the blog every now and then, or that you want to be up to date with every new post on that blog.

1. You want to read the blog every now and then

The following are ways to remember the blogsite online; (of course another option is to write down the link in your agenda or wherever is handy for you...):

  • * You can add the link to your Favorites / Bookmarks in your internet browser;
  • * You can use the History of your internet browser. This will only work if you are visiting the blog regularly. In that case the blog address will appear in your recently visited web addresses. If you don't visit it for a long period, the history of your browser may no longer remember the URL (=the weblink)
  • * You can tag it with an online social bookmarking tool, like e.g. ( To find the blog, you have to make sure that you use a tag that helps you to find the blog whenever you want to read it. This has the advantage that you can find it on any computer with an internet connection. The other advantage of using a social bookmarking tool is that others may find the blog of your interest through the tags you use. A more elaborate explanation of can be found at:
    • - Some basic information;
    • ottergroup - A screencast on how to use to store and share weblinks.
      * If you have a blog yourself, you can add blogs to your blogroll on the sidebar. Then you may click on them every now and then.

2. You want to read the blog systematically and you want to track any new post

There are various options again if you don't want to miss any new post on the blog. Almost all blogs have an RSS feed system and if you 'catch' those feeds with a RSS feed reader you will know whenever something new has been written. A lot of blogs have a 'subcribe by email' function. You may have to find out what works for you.


You can use the subscribe by e-mail function which looks like the following and can be found at the right side of the blog (sometimes on the left-hand side). The only thing you have to do is enter your e-mail address and hit the 'subscribe me!' button. You will receive every new post in your e-mail inbox.

Powered by FeedBlitz
If your favorite blog does not have this option, you may ask the owner(s) to add this function! Alternatively you can create an account at e.g. Feedblitz and add a new feed yourself by entering the blog address.


A program known as a RSS feed reader or aggregator (the names RSS reader and RSS aggregator are both used) can check a blog on behalf of a user and will display any new blogposts that it finds. You can use any RSS reader. An RSS reader can be used not only to stay up-to-date with blogs, but with any other website that has an RSS feed. You can recognise the RSS feed on a blog for example by these signs:

There are lots of RSS readers; some allow you to read whole news items through the reader, others show the first lines and you can click on the item to read the full article online:

More on RSS reader, what it is and how to use it for non-profits can be found here:

Learning 2.0 tip of the week has a series of very clear podcasts on aggregators

Or you can use an aggregator specialized in blogs. Here you can subscribe to the blogs you like to read and it will indicate which blogs have new blogposts. You will also be able to read them without going to the actual blog itself.

Personalised home pages

Personalised home pages are a special type of RSS reader which offer RSS aggregating functions too. The home page will open every time when you start your internet browser (eg. Firefox or Internet Explorer). In one glance you can see the new headlines of services you are subscribed to (see picture). You can add blogs to your personalised home pages too, discussion groups with RSS feeds or the weather forecast. You will see the headlines of new blogposts and can click on them if you want to read them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Technology: what is a blog?

( Cartoon from

I've had to explain various times what a blog is. So I liked the blogpost by Jack Vinson on how to explain blogs and RSS. Jack writes: 'Blogs are places where you can read the regular writings of friends, colleagues, clients or industry experts. You'll find a variety of writing styles, from journalistic to informal. The articles tend to be less formal than journalistic or academic writing, and you will find writers who post things every day and those who post weekly. The ideas for articles frequently come from articles that have been posted elsewhere on blogs (such as this one), or in the newspaper or in current events. Articles range from a few sentences to lengthy discussions, though most tend to be shorter.

I used to explain that a blog is an online diary format, with archives, resorting to explaining the technical features, and I do forget to mention the RSS aspect, which goes with blogs. But of course what would be much more interesting to explain is the blogging culture and subcultures (blogosphere), which consists of the habits of people blogging. Bloggers have gotten used to using the technical format for certain purposes like emphasizing links (blogs function often as infomediary places), making their thoughts explicit, commenting on blogposts etc. This allows people to stay in touch with each other's ideas and occupations and enables a wider group of people to stay in touch with ideas, activities, readings, etc.. It's like the informal talk to your colleagues in the corridor, but made accessible to a much larger group. The blog rhythm (daily, weekly) makes for very dynamic, easy to read and 'here and now' content, personally I hardly go through the archives of blogs I know.

A little later Jack pointed to a blog which consists of only pdf files. I think that's just a different means of using a blog, but may be an odd one out in terms of the predominant 'blogosphere' culture. I think travel or baby blogs written for friends maybe another means of using the format, and may have its own subculture.

Anecdote then started to collect stories about the most significant change that blogging made:

  1. Describe a story that epitomises the most significant change that has resulted from your blogging .
  2. Why was this story significant for you?

The now 17 responses are interesting and show a wide variety, from reading and writing more consciously, via power over your own virtual identity, providing an uncensored platform and seeing intimate opinions, to invitation to speak at conferences and making friends or deepening friendships. So next time when I'll explain what a blog is, I'll be much more careful in stressing these kinds of aspects of blogging!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Technology: gaming communities

I had a very rich conversation in Utrecht with Marinka Copier who works at the University there as a game-researcher. She has a keen interest in communities of practice too. Her interest in games has grown from entertainment role-playing (and the effect on learning). Her Phd research follows an ethnographic approach so she is doing lots of gaming and observes how the gaming communities function and develop. She has also done research for the University of Maastrict on games that olders gamers play. Marinka shared some interesting observations, like the observation that there is a gap in the age group of 40-50, but that there exists a group of people above the age of 60 who is really involved in gaming. And that this somehow a taboo; illustrated by the story that she went with an elder gamer to a shop to buy a game and the salesperson said: "I assume this is for your grandchild?" Another observation was that a lot of the younger gamers don't use e-mail but rely fully on MSN, so she had to change her habits too. (interestingly I assumed there is somehow an online generation 'younger than me= younger than 40', but apparently you may be able to distinguish important sub-groups with different habits, like the 30s and 20s and younger.)

One of the topics we discussed in-depth is what is it that online interaction can add to learning repertoires?. We both agreed that learning processes are central, and online tools should help to support learning processes rather than using tools because it is 'cheap' or 'time saving' (as for newcomers it is often not time-saving!). I think online interactions have the potential to stimulate creativity, to push people outside their confort zones; to add a new layer of learning possibilities. It pushes you out of your routines, which in itself is an experiences. But ofcourse the type of online experience matters. I was quite intrigued by the gaming stories and how people learn intercultural skills amongst others. Some gamers do not realize that they learn, but say that they learned English, made friends in other countries and may even visit them in those countries too. In some games, it is a chance to experiment with different behaviours, it can hence stimulate phantasy and imagination and open up new ways of acting for people. But not all games have that automatically. She had the impression for instance that second life stimulates more a replication of real face-to-face life.

Another central question was also: how do people learn and get excited about new online technologies (eg. how are you introduced into gaming?); often this works via a strong interest, or via a peer group or network you belong to. You might learn how to use skype because your aunt has migrated to New Zealand.... And how does this translate in use of technologies within organisations? What determines how organisations use technologies and how does this support (or frustrate) their work processes? It does not seem there is abundant literature and research on this topic. My hypothesis would be that it depends a lot on the management team's capacities to see and stimulate the potential use of new technologies. We came back to one of the things we also discussed last week, that use of technologies is not something which is easily discussed at the workplace, so that colleague learn across generations. Developments like the energy put into blogs, wikis, social networking tools, videos, show that people do like to express themselves and their ideas via the web. A lot of energy which has in many cases no directly relation to the work people do in organisations.

Again, we agreed though, that it is not about using the latest tools, but about being able to communicate and work effectively. How can organisations leverage the energy displayed by individual bloggers or vodcasters? I'm so curious how the generational gap work out in the workplace in terms of use of technology, so any articles or pointers to resources welcome!