Thursday, March 30, 2006

Technology and the eclipse in Ghana

As part of the tech forum- a meeting to bring some technical ICT4 development practitioners together to talk about their practice- we watched the eclipse in Ghana. It was amazing to see how cold it became and how weird the light was. More reflections about the forum later- but the biggest hits were the tech stories and the tech demos.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

SMS To Email

this is a test to blog by mobile phone from tamale. No more technical bandwith excuses not to blog in ghana... )

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Technology: the relevance of web2.0 in Ghana

I did a presentation on web2.0 today in Ghana and thought it would be quite web2.0 to blog some parts of the discussion before sharing it with my colleagues... :)

Web2.0 was seen as very interesting, new and mindboggling. It comes with some preconditions: having the equipment, being connected and willing to communicate in an open, transparent way. Lots of ghanaians miss the skills to convert their thought into prose, which is needed to be an active contributor to the conversations on the web. Blogging could be a nice way of practising and nurturing that skill in my opinion or you may think of podcasting/webcasting.

The discussion about the relevance of web2.0 quickly shifted to a discussion about learning how to use technologies. Mostly people learn it via their peers, relatives and other groups they belong to. It was said that men might have an advantage when they tell eachother the new tricks over a beer. Learning has to be linked to a purpose and a personal interest, and then you may be able to be a self-learner via the web; yet most people are not able to do this. Experimenting with the web2.0 tools is most useful if linked to a real, useful purpose (but to know the usefulness of a tool you have to experiment with it, so it's also chicken and egg).

Talking about mobile phones, we ended up learning something very practical about the possibility of sending an email using Areeba's SMS service...(sms the email address space and the message and dial 1313!)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Technology: embeddedness and escape in Ghana

Don Slater and Janet Kwami wrote a very interesting paper talking about social use of technology in Ghana: Embeddedness and escape: internet and mobile phone as poverty reduction strategies in Ghana

From the abstract: " The paper argues that Internet and mobile phone use represent two opposed configurations of ICT use, rather than a single movement into an ‘information society’. Moreover each configuration exemplifies quite different poverty reduction strategies deployed by poor urban Ghanaians. Internet use is widespread and is predominantly used to chat with or email foreigners, generally in the North, as part of a strategy of accumulating foreign social, economic and cultural capital; it is part of a poverty reduction strategy of ‘escape’ that is generally conducted in a fantasy modality. Mobile phones, by contrast, are used to manage existing and embedded social networks, the complex family, business or
social connections that constitute both resources and obligations."

The story about the use of internet is amazing, the internet is a chat connection for brief encounters with foreigners. They interviewed a 14 years-old called Asma and describe her use of internet as an example. She uses the internet to get into contact with foreigners like she used to do with penpals. She has 15 MSN windows open at the same time, getting into contact with people abroad and adding them to her contacts list. She feels her experiences are broadened by these connections. By contrast, mobile phone is use very pragmatically. Michael, for instance, flashes the same five people every morning (flashing is phoning without talking). Two of the flashes are to young female relatives boarding at a school in Accra, over whom he has a familial watching brief. The flashing discharges these obligations which would otherwise involve considerable inconvenience and worry. His other flashes are to friends he went to school with and now live in another city.

The conclusion is: if we want to get anywhere, we better start from where we are. An understanding of the use of these media can lead to better strategies for NGOs and government. For instance, internet use now takes place in a vacuum, and is solely used for communication rather than informational use. There are some very practical and small scale suggestions made:

. public information posters listing useful websites and how to access them,
to be displayed in cafes, schools, churches and clinics;
· the enrolment of information intermediaries such as local teachers, religious
figures, health workers, café owners and operators, through local meetings
and training. This will inevitably involve public-private partnerships and
new organizational structures to involve ICT stakeholders;
· connecting informational resources to the actual communicative uses of
Internet and mobile phone, by focusing on chat rooms, listserves and email
rather than websites, or by distributing information through SMS;
· focusing on mediating information through a range of media, rather than
attempting to shift Internet and mobile use: egg, enrolling information
intermediaries (such as local youth groups) to source information online
which can be disseminated through posters, leaflets, loudspeakers, local
meetings and local radio.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Culture: inburgeringstest

Ousseini Zongo sent me the link to the nationale inburgeringstest:

In de test komen vragen aan de orde die te maken hebben met kennis van Nederland: de Nederlandse samenleving, geschiedenis, gewoonten, normen en waarden. De vragen zijn opgesteld door dezelfde deskundigen die de echte inburgeringexamens samenstellen. Zo is De Nationale Inburgering Test een realistische afspiegeling van het examen dat nieuwe Nederlanders afleggen, voordat zij echt Nederlander kunnen worden. Er worden ruim 36 vragen gesteld. Wie minder dan 80% van de vragen goed heeft beantwoord, is in feite niet voldoende ‘ingeburgerd’ als Nederlander.

In short: the test contains questions dealing with knowledge about the Netherlands, society, history, habits, norms, values. It is a realistic example of the exam that new Dutch citizens have to pass. There are 36 questions and if you have less than 80% (29 questions out of 36) you are not sufficiently 'ingeburgerd'.

Ousseini scored 6.5 (you need a minimum of 5.5). I tried and got only 4.7 ! So I'm not really 'ingeburgerd'! I had 25 questions right, which is quite something. I correctly said that if your colleague gets married and you are not invited, yet you want to do something, you send a card, instead of giving a present or money. And I knew that you have to collect your driving license at the municipality. I knew travelling from Amsterdam to Enschede by train will take you two hours, not one or three. But if you smell gass in your house I shouldn't close the gass tap but rather open the windows and call the energy company.

The inburgeringstest clearly doesn't do justice to the diversity within the country (otherwise I would have passed :)). It would be an interesting means of making habits discussable, but as an exam with right and wrong answers??

Technology: does 40+ hamper innovation?

On Saturday the newspaper had a great interview about the gap between the internetgeneration (screenagers) and the rest (40+): I didn't want to blog it because it's in Dutch and only for subscribers, but I'm still thinking about so here we go after all: Does 40+ hamper innovation?

It's a double interview with two workers, 44 and 24 years old, Ruud and Liza, working together in an advisory job. It's amazing to read how different their working approaches are: Liza does a lot of multi-tasking, phoning and searching the net for instance, whereas Ruud can only do one thing at the time. Otherwise he feels stressed. He can also be disturbed seeing how other people do many things at the same time, wondering if they are paying sufficient attention. In the client organisation, Liza ran arround fast. After a few weeks, Ruud asked her if she had seen a key contact in the organisation- she hadn't but she had built a good trust relationship by e-mail with him. Ruud was amazed and assumed you have to see each other in the eyes to build a trust relationship. He is often amazed by her speed of thinking and the amount of information she can process. Liza feels her talents are not sufficiently exploited because the older managers don't understand the different way of working of younger people. She has the impression they often see her way of working as a threat. At the same time, she did see value in Ruud's approach because it yielded a lot of quality information -even though she feels it's time inefficient to invest so much time in travel and talk.

I'm currently experiencing linking by internet as a whole new way of building relationships, though I'm sure I'm not as fast as Liza. Last november, I met a group of new people, and with one of them, Dorine, I hardly talking during the day, but we found each other's blogs- mailed- and exchanged intensively on overlapping interests via the web- in a fluid and easy way. I easily know what she's working on and can find linkages and synergy between our work without much time investment.

So it's an additional layer of building relationships- which I've even experienced with people online in Ghana. Therefore, in my opinion the 'digital divide' is much more about people with and without online skills than a north-south divide. Netsquared is collecting cases of NGOs who are early adopters of web2.0 tools and have more cases in Africa than in Europe; see their map with NGO cases....

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Technology: some blogging reflections

I got two comments on my last post: my husband commented verbally that my English is deteriorating and Cindy Hoong said the following:

"Blogging generally speaking is a voluntary job. Most bloggers use blog to achieve whatever they set out to achieve. I have read blogs from PhD students looking for feedback, or blogs looking to promote thier knowledge and eventually hope to get a dream job in the area of their expertise, and other bloggers looking for other goals etc.

I happened to know two persons that fit in these two examples respectively, PhD student and Dream job. AND NOW they both still blog, but occassionally. Recently I learned about two bloggers, I would say well known, decided to give up blogging. One already stopped (some hit I read somewhere that might have conflict-of-interest with his 'real' paying job), the other is slowly phasing out. SO, what are all these tell us? Blogging as a volunteer, generally will not last. Most bloggers drop out like flies in the very beginning, and those that persist generally would still drop out ONCE they achieved their goals. Goal is what keep blogger blogging. Take away their 'goal', there is not much to blog. Simple human behaviour. "

That makes me think about my blogging habit: will I stop when my goal is finished and what's my goal really?

In my six month of blogging, it's really become a habit to process what I read or hear by blogging about it. And so far I like taking that extra step to get my thoughts together because it supports my own learning process, like talking to people helps you to articulate your thoughts. I have never read the full blog since I started, but plan to do that soon. Since I started to tag my posts (a next project would be to get a search button), I also like using my own blog as an archive. For instance: we will have a meeting for the technical champions in ICT4D in Ghana on March 28/29 (during the eclipse!) with the objective of stimulating knowledge sharing between this particular group of practitioners and link the urban and rural expertise. While preparing that meeting, with the help of my delicious I could easily track down practical examples to get some inspiration (for instance this post about CARE's practical experiences), so my blog is first and foremost suiting my own information management. On the other hand, there are many interesting conversation and observations I have which I don't blog because of privacy reasons, which limits the depth of reflections as compared to an offline learning journal (but this is balanced by the positive feedback I get on my blog).

To improve my English, I will try to reread my posts before hitting my 'publish post' :)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Technology: Dutch bloggies

The Dutchbloggies award (honestly: this is NOT translated) is won by sargasso a Dutch group blog. Radio online has an interview with them, as well as with Wim de Bie who won his second Dutchbloggy. Sargasso has won the award amongst other reasons because during the time of the referendum on Europe, they read the whole constitution bit by bit and blogged about it. After winning, their whole site was down because of the high number of visitors. In their experience blogging about your own field of expertise works best.

Wim de Bie (famous Dutch television comedian) is one of the pioneers in experimenting with weblogs in the Netherlands, and now paid by the public broadcasting (publieke omroep) company VPRO and has at times upto 200.000 visitors per day; easily competing in audience with television programs. He is working fulltime on his blog/vlog and what works in his experience is blogging on a daily basis and incorporating personal items.

Soon coming up there will be a weekly newspaper, filled with blogposts.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Communities of practice: the cock and the jewel

I have added CoP to my delicious inbox and get some new resources through that channel. Like a page with CoP documents including a NAVSEA CoP guide
In the guide I found the following story which is illustrative of the way information has to suit needs of individuals and does not have universal value:

The Cock and the Jewel
A Cock, scratching for food for himself and his hens,
found a precious stone and exclaimed: "If your owner had found thee, and not I,
he would have taken thee up, and have set thee in thy first estate; but I have
found thee for no purpose. I would rather have one barleycorn than all the
jewels in the world."

(Organisational) culture and conversations

David Gurteen has started a series of 50 webcasts under the title 50 lessons, this month with Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice who talks about the power of good conversation.

She argues that it is possible to know, just by witnessing how easily people engage with each other in meaningful conversation, whether or not a company has potential and was energized. Companies which recognise the power of good conversation and communication realise that conversations are not just about facts – they involve people’s emotions too, in some conversations people bring their whole self to the conversation. At the same time we are busy running around and bewitched by our agendas, so we don't give ourselves time to talk about things which are important for the work. The way that senior executives behave sends very strong messages to the people around them about what’s important and valued in that organisation, if senior people engage in good conversations they give others permission to have them too.

We just had a workshop in my organisation and discovered that the women are seen (by both men and women) as bringing a process orientation to the organisation, whereas the men were seen as bringing, among others, output and a results orientation. I'm always worried about over- generalising these differences, but those were the associations people had. Interestingly women's orientation was associated with 'social talk' 'talk' and sometimes even 'gossip'. Having powerful, authentic conversations suddenly sounds much more like work than social talk or gossip!

The webcast is accompanied by a lesson summary, ideas for actions and questions to ask. Two of the lessons which accompany the webcasts ring a bell:
- Do not reprimand people for talking about work. Encourage your staff to have conversations at work, about work, by prompting discussions yourself. Conversations are not idle chatter; they are an essential way for your people to communicate properly.
- Consider banning email for minor internal communications – encouraging people to talk will foster good conversation, as well as get people moving around the office.

Trying to link it to communities of practice: CoPs have the potential to offer the protected space for practitioners to engage in these conversations. Yet- it can be easily be perceived as 'too much talk' and possibly there's a danger that these conversations don't transpire into the rest of the organisation?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Practical examples: The community empowerment network in Central Asia

Erik Caldwell Johnson wrote a Capacity Development Brief on the Community Empowerment Network, a community of practice for local capacity in Central Asia. The World Bank and Europe and Central Asia Region (ECA) launched this network in 2002 as four national networks linked through regional activities that would build the capacity of communities and development partners to implement community-driven development (CDD) projects. CDD describes projects that encourage local communities to control the direction of their own development from project conception through implementation and evaluation. The Network works for Azerbaijan, Kyrgyz, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Note that we get the word community at two level: community-driven development and community of practice- this is sometimes confusing in CoPs for development. And I was actually surprised because about a CoP for community-driven development, as it seems a common development paradigm in the south since the 80s already, maybe not so in Central Asia?

The modalities used are for national-regional interaction: a local NGO from each country manages each national network by facilitating annual action plans, managing funds, reporting, chairing meetings, etc. A steering group, a multistakeholder group designs and approved the action plan and budget at country level. In the first year, national partners undertook a mapping exercise to identify all international and national groups working on CDD activities. To complement the national capacity development with regional networking the World Bank brough national networks together by means of monthly videoconferences, annual conferences, regional websites and e-newsletters.

Under principles it is important to note that apart from the 'regular' principles like multistakeholder participation and partnership there is the principle of informal structure. It means there are no membership criteria, no special bank accounts, nor by-laws for its operation.
(this is different from IICD's experiences where the fact that a network is established which will handle funds, in most countries leads to legal requirements to register the network and draft by-laws etc.)

After 18 months, external consultants performed an evaluation: Community-to-community knowledge sharing, public awareness building, local partnership and CDD institutional capacity building had worked well. Moderately well worked the government involvement, regional exchanges and linkages to the World Bank operations. Face-to-face interaction was most successful in facilitating interactions at a national level, the videoconferencing inspired less exchange and the e-mail list saw only modest use.

Activities that did not work well were the donor coordination, measurement of progress and regular interaction amongst practitioners: most international agencies were not as involved in the network activities as the local community members. (= local NGOs?)

The lessons they want to share are:

* Peer review among countries has great value

* Focus on national or community organisations as international agencies are too busy

* Establish clear indicators of progress (World Bank toolkit offers some ingredients of success as a starting point)

* Promote flexibility in contracts or agreements

* Take a long-term approach to evaluate 'social capital' - impact cannot be measured by the number of people who participate

* Strike a balance between community of practice priority setting and World Bank country strategy (too much involvement of World Bank staff is essential- too much may diminish ownership by community members

Comparing this to my personal experiences in Ghana, I can relate to the flexibility in contract- supporting a network in ICT4D in Ghana, we have just created a 'responsive' budget line with non-earmarked funds so that GINKS can be more flexible in organising activities in reaction to what emerges spontaneously amongst the members or in reaction to policy developments. The last point of striking a balance between the community of practice priority setting and the donor's is very important too- but easier said than done. My yardstick is whether my input is energizing or de-energizing the network- and I'm trying to measure this informally. Something else I try to do is purposely create various options while advising - not just one, which gives room to see in which direction people choose. The lesson to focus on national organisations as international are busy puzzles me- it could be interesting to draw in the international organisations as they may bring a new (fresh?) perspective.

Culture: the power of the Dutch human mind

Cindy Hoong asked whether the power of the human mind to read messed up text would hold in Dutch (and other languages). It is not difficult to do a short test in Dutch:

Dit is een meiojlke tkest oevr het fmeeenon van de kahcrt van het mjelnesik biern. Eglinejk is het mekakjikr om gownee slelnpig te tpeyn doaarm maar een ktroe tkset dzez keer, ik doe heir al vjeitifn meutnin oevr. Bibakraljr weet ik ook neit zveeol lnage woeordn.

I don't know how easy it is to read it in Dutch, but my impression is that turning around of the coupled letters (ei, eu, ij, etc) makes it more difficult to read.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Culture: communication by text and the power of the human mind

Mirjam Kesseler sent me this from Bosnia:

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The
phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde
Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny
iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The
rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is
bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a
wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! If you can
raed tihs forwrad it.

It's very easy to read! This 'phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid' may also explain why a lot of intercultural communication works very smoothly nevermind all the misunderstandings which should be occurring following theory ...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Technology: trust in virtual teams

John Gundry wrote a paper on trust in virtual teams trying to 'unpeel the onion about trust'. He states people will have a hard time trusting eachother unless they've met. And further in the article: "it is easier to be suspicious of people when they are out of the line of sight. "

I disagree here: I think that the crux of web2.0 is a change of paradigm- it changes trust and the need to meet face-to-face before you can trust someone (even though it might be true for the past and for lots of people, it is not a general truth). Yet, it is a skill to be learned/a mindset to be taken on to be comfortable with people's reaction (or non-reaction) when they are out of the line of sight.

What I like is that in point 6 he states that the first component of trust is predictability, we use the word 'trust' to mean that we believe people will act in predictably good or positive manner. That's exactly how I unpeel trust: it means you know how a person will react (because you've seen it happening, because the person resembles a previous experiences, etc.). 'We can make judgements that others are predictably good or predictably bad through having communicated enough with them.' A team member is trustworthy if he/she:
- Acts in our and the team's best interest
- Is trustful
- Keeps his/her promises or tells us when they can't keep them
- Respects the citation and/or protection of information we send them
- Shares mutually -valuable information with us

Thinking outloud: in communities of practice and web2.0 trust seems to work differently. Especially bloggers seem to have be ready to exchange ideas/opinions on the basis of reading each other's blogs, processes which could take much longer to build trust face-to-face.

It might be nice to make the link to another article on communication and trust in global virtual teams by Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa and Dorothy E. Leidner which also explores the challenges of creating and maintaining trust a global virtual team whose members transcend time, space and culture, in a study comparing high and low-trust teams and looking at the levels of trust at the beginning and end of a team task. They introduce the notion of swift trust: imported expectations of trust from other settings with which they are familiar. This means that if I've been a participant of 10 online forums, when entering the 11th forum, I bring the trust (again: expectations on predicted behaviour of other people) I have built through participating in the other 10 fora. Which explains that once people get more experiences with working virtually, the 'hard time to trust each other unless they have met' will shift. Swift trust de-emphasizes the interpersonal dimensions and is based initially on broad categorical social structures and later on action. (because high imported trust teams can still end up with low trust at the end, if people did not participate as expected).

On a practical note as tip for facilitators: a nice way of demonstrating the fragility of trust to a group is by metaphore is by taking a paper, crushing it and comparing the effort it takes to crush it to the effort it takes to get the paper straight again.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Communities of practice: interview with John Smith

Netsquared had an interview with John Smith. That's the danger of delicious: I had tagged it because I didn't have time to listen to it when I saw it first, but fortunately I remembered to listen to it now.

The audio-interview has excerpts only. Unfortunately I couldn't trace the full interview- though I would have liked to listen to the full one- now it kind of jumps between hugely different subjects.

But John stresses the aspects of relationship building in communities of practice- as social contact is the primary vector for knowledge creation. Tacit knowledge is about sharing standards and perspectives whih needs people to spend time socializing. In the online workshop on cops this translates in the practice of letting outsiders interact with the participants and making use of mentors who have done the workshop before to help out and get people going with the technology.

Interesting is the part about online and face-to-face interaction: he is saying face-to-face is too important not to be preceded by online preparations. Technology should not be seen as a substitute for face-to-face but rather as a way of augmenting the value of face-to-face interactions. The other important remark I got was that most of the discussions about technology are vendor-centric discussions- and it's rather the other way around- ommunities jumping around using technology to communicate. Lastly: talking about practices in a very intimate kind of thing. (I think it would be hence be useful to distinguish levels of talking about practices- mm haven't really found any materials talking about that yet)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Technology: inclusion/exclusion via choice of technology

We had a friend over for dinner and discussed changing use of technologies: we had made the appointment by exchanging 2-3 mails whereas 1 year ago, we would use a phone call to make appointments. So she said that's it is important to keep up with changing technologies not to get sidelined (I was showing her my blog and RSS and she was very happy with the discovery of RSS services). Her -younger- brother was surprised that she was sending sms-messages (she had come back from Indonesia where everyone was sending sms' all the time).

Then she wanted to show something on her mobile phone. And found a an SMS from a friend inviting her for his birthday- which had passed already- . She had missed his call because she did not hear her phone in her bag. She just posted a birthday card, not knowing about the invitation. So I told her that next year he would probably stop inviting her at all, since she did not even reply, a slow entry into a final state of social isolation. She agreed that I could blog this :).

Lesson of the week: when chosing a certain type of technology for communication be aware of the assumptions you make about the use of the medium (frequency of use/access, comfort levels, personal preference: having a phone doesn't mean you check your voicemail daily) or rather try to be aware as I also end up with surprises all the time. For instance I assumed that people in the Netherlands are comfortable with e-mail; for a CoP using a mailing list I learned that at the one end a person was subscribed to 100 mailing lists, on the other hand a person felt overwhelmed by the number of messages which wasn't more than 5 per week.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Communities of practice: interview with Etienne Wenger

Playing around with delicious (I started using my inbox- by adding people and key words -that's fun!) I found a very interesting interview with Etienne Wenger , discussing identity and situated learning. The webcasting system is great because you can choose to see just parts of the interview if you like.

"In this interview Wenger outlines (in clip 1) the constitutive and fundamental assumptions of social learning theory, he explains (clip 2) how the theory can be applied in organisations, how (clip 3) the industrial model of knowledge is being challenged and revisited by the assumption the learning is happening all the time, (clip 4) that learning is not only situated in physical situations but is culturally and experientially situated in ourselves, (clip 5) how practitioners share and develop competence and knowledge together in practiced communities, (clip 6) that there is a deep relationship between individual identity and the participation in communities in the social world, and (clip 7) how a whole new language or public discourse of learning is mostly welcome."

My favorite is number 5 where he talks about examples of CoPs and the case of the Aid Workers Network, a virtual comunity of practice. He states that it's not important if CoPs meet face-to-face or virtually, the question is: "can practitioners engage with eachother in a way that allows them to bring their practice to bear in a conversation". This helps me to think about my suspicion around virtual communities of practice: my fear is that by bringing practice to bear just by conversations, there is room for crucial distortions from actual practice and the way people talk about their practice. Or important 'tacit' elements might go missing. So, nothing like working jointly in actual practice. (but I realize that it would matter what you practice entails; if it is a practice where interpersonal skills don't matter it might be easier).

Friday, March 03, 2006

Communities of practice and innovation

Dorine Ruter alerted me to the Einstein picture (I'm stalking her through my delicious inbox). I'm very interested in innovation stimulated by CoPs. Unfortunately I did not keep the article in the newspaper (Volkskrant) some time ago about Einstein. It did talk about the fact that he used to talk through his ideas with other practitioners. It's still a question for me in how far people need space for their own creative thinking processes (based on experiences) versus interacting with members in their communities of practice.

Technology: blogging memes

Nancy White refered to me in relation to Paul Currion's meme

So here’s my meme: what five resources - online or otherwise - would you point people to, if you wanted to give them an entry into your field of expertise?

Though I'd been tagged before, I did not realise I had to respond too till I saw the others responded, so that's why I'm a bit slow. Secondly. Oef. Your field of expertise.... I hope this is not going into my field of irrigation engineering as I lost hopelessly touch with irrigation. So let's take communities of pratice (for development). 5 resources.. (now I'm thinking back on the way I learned about communities of practice):

1. Participate in communities of practice and observe! Try to work in different roles, I'm still often thinking back on how I felt and experienced my community of practice when I was an ordinary member of a CoP for advisors in Western Africa. (officially this disqualified as a resource, but what do I care)

2. The basic theory in three offline books: Situated Learning, Communities of Practice and Cultivating communities of practice of which the later is a much more practical book.

3. Participate in the seven-weeks Online Foundations Workshop, there will be one in May and September, it takes you about 1-2 hours per day. In September we will organise a parallel workshop in Dutch. Though the name foundations might suggest that it's only for people who know little about CoPs, I find it is even more useful if you have experiences in/with communities of practice and have clear-cut questions.

4. Join com-prac, a yahoo discussion group, which is public and free and knowledge board which has a SIG on communities of practice. You can also add it to your aggregator.

5. Read blogs which talk about communities of practice. I don't have an overview of all people blogging on this topics but Nancy White provided a good entry point. And yes, we are awaiting the blogroll of CPsquare (a community of practice on communities of practice) to be coming soon.

Culture: adapting the Wold Cafe methodology in Thailand

The World Cafe is a participatory methodology, trying to get people to talk about questions that matter to them. Chaiwat Thirapantu describes how this methodology was used to facilitate a meeting of the People's Assembly in Thailand. He writes:

"In 2002, I came across the World Café when I attended the Authentic Leadership Workshop in Halifax, Canada. The Café was facilitated by David Isaacs and I enjoyed the concept of walking from table to table. At that moment, I realized that World Café would fit in a Thai context smoothly. In southern Thailand where I was born, people visit traditional coffee shops every morning for social and political conversation. This coffee shop assembly is called Sapa Ga fae."

After using the methodology in various situation, he was asked by the end of June 2005, to “People Assembly” with 3,000 participants of the opposition party. Using the world Cafe methodology, people talked in 375 small groups on the following questions:
  • From your heart, tell me why did you come here to join the People Assembly?
  • From your point of view, what are the most challenging issues that our society will encounter? Please name it only three issues, and tell us why they are so important.
  • Please tell me five strategic goals that you and Thai society should achieve in 2009.
  • Tell me from your heart. When you leave the People Assembly and return home, what do you want to do immediately? Why? And do you have any suggestion for Democrat party, what should they do as a political institution to guide Thai society to better future?

I remember I once introduced and facilitated a participatory method for a membership meeting of WERENGO in Takoradi (similar to the world cafe, with people working in small groups on a question and going around to the next table). The normal procedure was that the chairperson would lead the meeting and render accounts and few people would ask questions. Many new issues came up, and many members volunteered for various actions. It was a very new way and innovative way of meeting for this group. Actually, without sustained support, I'm not sure this would basically change the way of working of the network, but I know the network is active and its members contribute fees to cover the costs of a coordinator.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Practical example: Ayuda Urbana

Etienne Wenger wrote a case study in 2002 about Ayuda Urbana, a constellation of communities of practice focused on urban issues and challenges in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean region, or as they call themselves: 'Red Inter-municipal'. The case describes the efforts to assist 10 huge cities in the Central American Region to improve their technical expertise and municipal effectiveness by connecting mayors and their staff into forming communities of practice. The initiative followed the move of the World Bank to become the 'knowledge bank'. The first focus on informational infrastructure was followed by a recognition of the need to supplement the focus on collecting information with connecting people. The Ayuda Urbana initiative followed from a conversation between the World Bank's urban specialists and several mayors and their municipalities: Guatemala City, Havana, Managua, Mexico City, Panama City, San Jose, San Juan, San Salvador, Santo Domingo and Tegucigalpa. The members of the network include the mayors and their staff, specialists in various areas of urban development and management. Even though membership is open to other cities, I still see the same members on the website now.

A central part of the initiative has been partnership: several organizations joined forces to bring the resources necessary for the 'project' together (World Bank, UCCI, cities, local organizations). Eight topics were selected by participants (from e-government to disaster prevention) and seven CoPs were started, bringing together 128 members from 10 cities. Different cities volunteered to coordinate one or two communities of practice. They were each launched through a two-day workshop, facilitated by a team of the World Bank. A web-based tool was made available to continue online conversations and stay in touch. Furthermore there was a website serving as a repository. A formal evaluation by an external agency gave extremely positive feedback. The 'project' was adopted by the UCCI/CAMC in 2002 and the municipal councils have agreed to integrate it into their annual plans and alternate in taking the coordinating role for the communities and the website.

Very interesting are the lessons learned:
- The experience in cultivating CoPs from the inside in the World Bank was critical to the success of the Ayuda Urbana project
- The communities of practice were an effective vehicle for learning; enabling sharing of knowledge with direct applicability to practice
- Adapting 'best practices' requires adaptability to local conditions; CoPs allows people to explore the principles underlying a successful practice
- Learning is best enabled by a variety of activities that enhance each other's effectiveness
- Always stay close to the needs of the members
- Engage the practitioners: provide assistance to enable them to develop materials and organize events
- Bring a variety of resources- the most important resource being process and domain knowledge (in this case the process knowledge came from the World Bank people)
- Prepare for hand-over; start with lots of support but prepare to hand over the initiatives, eg. convincing local authorities to take over the sponsorship of the project.

In the conclusion it is stressed that this is a new model for knowledge transfer in development, giving voice to local expertise, and whereby target countries are not recipients of ready-made knowledge handed down by experts from outside.

Even though this may have been the shift for the World Bank; compared to all participatory processes and methods common to most grassroots development projects, I'd almost say, the main shift in a community of practice 'approach' to learning is away from the idea that everybody has to participate and has to be heard. CoPs theory acknowledge the role experts can play in a community of practice.