Sunday, December 30, 2007

A colourful 2008!

As I'll be busy tomorrow travelling to Vught where we'll celebrate new year's eve with friends, I'd like to share my new years card and wish you all a Great 2008 (in English - it rhyms :). I've sent the card by snail mail to Dutch friends, you can call it either old-fashioned or you can call it a multi-media strategy.
I'll be starting a Dutch blog as soon as I get Wordpress up my domain... That will be one my first things to do in 2008. And I'll open a separate bank account for my consultancy (Joitske Hulsebosch Consultancy). That will make everything very serious. Not to forget a business card.
I have plans for this blog too, I hope to do more linking and commenting on other blogs. When I read blogs, I sometimes feel like crossblogging, but often think I'm late in reacting (at times I read it two weeks late). So I'll try to keep up with reading other blogs, because I really enjoy reading them and always pick up something new, or they make me thinking. Happy new year!

'Design' versus 'emergent'

In a previous blogpost I wrote about the three myths about communities of practice. The second myth is that communities of practice are self-emergent. I'm currently reading a lot of articles to include relevant parts into an article I'm writing with Sibrenne Wagenaar about facilitating in communities of practice. I haven't really found good parts that describe how you can facilitate in communities.

Our ice-skating in front of our house last week offers a good example. Because of the ice-skating, lot of neighbours came outside and skated/slided and chatted. I got to know a few neighbours a little better, and talked for the first time with some others. Unfortunately this was the first time in the seven years that our street exists that ice-skating was possible.

Suppose you are someone with an interest in fostering relationships in our neighbourhood. Would you wait for another seven year so that more of these opportunities emerge? I believe you can learn from what happens naturally (the emergent) and use it to facilitate (design). For instance, you could organize a trip to a artificial skating place. Or rather organize a different event, because you observed that this event attracted mostly parents with children. Nothing dirty about facilitating a community of practice!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Designed for ice-skating

We live in a relatively new neighbourhood (8 years old). A few weeks ago the school facilitated a traffic situation investigation and one of the identified problems was that the bridges in our area are high, hence make it hard for people (especially children) footing to school to safely cross the road and see all traffic coming over the bridge.

Today the area looks beautiful because all water is frozen. This is how I learned from neighbours that the design was optimised for ice-skating. The bridges are high enough so that you can skate under them. Unfortunately so far, in the past seven years, people have not skated since the winters are not that cold anymore!

Another example of design flaws. I still believe in interactive design, whether it is for irrigation systems, bridges or toolsets. But I am always surprised that the designers makes certain decisions without really discussing them with the future users of the system they are designing. And often they don't even know they are making those assumptions!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Beth's vlogging resource

I knew Beth Kanter did a vlogging training in Cambodja and just found a great resource that she developed for the occasion. I'm a little ashamed, I thought I had developed quite something when I developed a 12 step guide for vlogging a meeting or presentation. But this is slightly... uhm more developed with screencasts and everything.

Christian Kreutz and myself are currently working on a blog widget guide as a blogpost. Maybe we should rather develop a blog widget guide in a wiki?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Introductions and requests improve likelihood of responses in an online community

I wrote in an earlier blogpost about the participant-observation analysis of Swedish music fan's interactions on the internet. The analysis shows that interactions take place at multiple levels, at different online platforms. So you can't assume that people interact neatly within the boundaries of one online platform.

Library Clips refered to it and wrote about the blogosphere as a distributed social network. "To make this type of network explicit you would have to get all these people to join the same network eg. MyBlogLog (blogs), FeedEachOther (RSS Readers), Ziki (Lifestreams). I’ve posted in the past and recently on how much benefit we could get out of blogs we read and interact with if we were directly connected in a social network." He (or she?) lists what you can do with your blog in terms of widgets to make this kind of networking more explicit.

At the same time, I read an article in the train by Burke et al called Introductions and Requests: Rhetorical strategies that elicit reponse in online communities. I must say that I travel less by train and that reduces the number of articles I read. So unfortunately I found this article of less practical use than I had thought. The main point of the article is that the way a person introduces a message in an online community matters for the response. If a person includes a self-disclosing introduction it increases the chances of reply. Saying 'I've been lurking in this online forum for a while' almost doubles the chances of replies. Putting a request forward, also increases the chances for replies.

However useful this may be to know for newcomers in established online communities, the research is an example of a research that ignores the distribution of communications. It does not pay any attention to the 'culture' of the online community (inward-looking, outward-looking, welcoming or not, etc) Neither does it to the other interactions that may have preceded the message. For instance, I posted a request in an online yahoo group, but that was stimulated by email introductions and exchanges by the group facilitator or initiator. This interaction would be invisible to the researchers. (you see why I haven't become a researcher..) I think that knowing the language (jargon) of the group may matter a lot too. So you may say that you've been lurking but if that doesn't show through the way you 'talk' in your message, it may not improve the response rate.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Communities of practice at Rabobank New Zealand and Australia

Brad Hinton wrote a paper about his experiences with communities of practice at the Rabobank Australia. You can download the paper here.

He explains that knowledge and information transfer have become important ingredients for an organization's competitive advantage. Learning organizations look at enabling and encouraging knowledge (creation) and its use throughout the organization. Communities of practice can be an important component of a knowledge management strategy. People in communities share their experiences and knowledge in a free-flowing, creative way.

The Rabobank Australia and New Zealand wanted to leverage the knowledge of the rural account managers and financial officers, with better information provision and business solutions to clients as the desired outcome. They started communities of practice under the name 'pubs'. The pubs are dairy product based eg. beef, cotton, dairy, oilseeds etc. The first pub was created opportunistically, after a Roundtable event. Unfortunately the pub was not successful because there was insufficient input into its development.

Then more research was undertaken into the knowledge management and communities of practice literature and also into the information use patterns of the relationship managers. Preferred communication methods were interpersonal, and e-mail.

A group e-mail system was then chosen over more sophisticated technological options because of its ease of use and familiarity to facilitate early adoption and activity. Some key success factors included personal visits to explain the concept of communities of practice. The name pub generated also a lot of interest. The 'pubs' now provide a vehicle for ideas and discussions that can lead to innovation and improved work performance. Benefits have been helping staff to work smarter, encourage thought and put that into action by helping clients.

I liked the approach of going for simple technology. That's what I usually do too, a short inventory of what people use and then choose the best, most familiar option. What I noticed though is that when organizations have invested in an online forum, the urge to use that forum is quite big, and group e-mail is no longer an option. Maybe this is an option to bring back into focus, even when there is a 'more sophisticated' forum? And how to combine a toolset? And how to stimulate people who are used to other forums and may feel the simple technology is not appealing? I would be interested to know more about the facilitation of the later pubs. Brad states that the first failed because of little facilitation, but what kind of facilitation was offered to the later pubs?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Aid is a knowledge industry?

picture: Mariette Heres
In the Broker you can find an article called Aid is a knowledge industry in which Mariette Heres argues that "although NGOs are taking more interest in knowledge management, they have so far failed to recognize that they are part of a knowledge industry, of which the delivery of goods and services is only a part."

I think it is interesting to put up such a statement, which makes people think. Unfortunately she does not define what a knowledge industry is, which makes the argumentation weaker. And there is no definition to be found on wikipedia. It made me think about what a knowledge industry is, compared to a service/product industry. The knowledge worker is a term I use myself at times. Anecdote wrote that the word knowledge worker is now meaningless in developed countries because the shift from manual labour to job requiring knowledge work is now complete. If you look at it from that angle, all professionals are knowledge workers, and the term becomes obsolete. Is a farmer not a knowledge worker?

Mariette explains the 'stock and flow' approaches to knowledge. (by the way an article from 2002 by Dick Stenmark that I still like very much for its explanation of the two approaches can be found here). He states that supporters of the flow view of knowledge:
"may thus understand knowledge management systems not as an IT artefact but as an environment of people, organizational processes, business strategies and IT, where the objective is to leverage and advance the knowledge of those people."
And states that: "the ICCO alliance is one of the few NGOs to have taken a step towards adopting the flow approach to knowledge." I think it is a bit tricky to use the approaches to label one or the other organization. It might be better to use the distinction between the two approaches to point out where some approaches may be flawed or to understand a difference in thinking about the best knowledge management intervention in a certain situation.
Wenger furthermore talks about a third wave of knowledge management:
" The third wave is now starting to focus on strategic capabilities. It reflects a view of knowledge as strategic asset and places the emphasis on the strategic stewardship of knowledge domains. The promise of knowledge management now lies in a systematic knowledge strategy and in the potential of communities of practice as a vehicle for engaging
practitioners in the required strategic conversation."
Maybe organizations should learn how to manage knowledge as a strategic asset?

Let me finish by trying to formulate my opinion about the statement made by the article: I think the development sector can indeed benefit from improved knowledge management interventions. Nevertheless, I think I disagree that knowledge was never a concern. Lots of organizations started out with 'knowledge transfer' strategies. For instance, it is a sector where evaluation is really institutionalized and embedded.

It would be good to see a better knowledge systems analysis of the development sector and where knowledge creation and innovate is hampered. I see the gap mainly in separate learning circles in the south and in the north that do not sufficiently merge. And Dick Stenmark gives a hint to why this gap may exist: 'only individuals who have a requisite level of shared background can truly exchange knowledge. Tradition, profession and organizational belonging all carry their own assumptions. The more overlapping these tacit assumptions and experiences the better (eg. if all three realms overlap likelihood of understanding will increase.'

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mail is for the elderly

In the newspaper here there was a good article by Theo Stielstra called 'mailen is voor oudjes'. Henk Blanken also blogged about it. Stielstra states that mail is for the elderly (in this case 25+!). Students communicate via MSN, SMS and Hyves. A 15-year old is quoted who says that she uses email at times when she has to send files to fellow students for school. Another had the experience that she thought she wasn't invited to a party - but hadn't checked her mail for a long time! Another example (as I blogged before) of exclusion through choice of technology.

So why don't they use mail? Mail is old-fashioned and slow. Writing mail ressembles work.

I must say I recognise the way mail for me is the baseline, if a forum doesn't have alert, at times I forget to check it. I participate in Facebook through mails. Our babysit (17 years) complained once her friends don't reply to her mails frequently (this article explains why!). That shows that even amongst the youngsters, there are huge differences.

Conclusion: communication is getting easier, and getting harder.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Free online Forums

I am looking for free online forums where you can set up group communication, for informal exchange and learning with the ability for parallel threads. I think it is good for groups that don't want to invest heavily in customized forums in the initial group stages, or are not sponsored by an organisation. The fact that the forum is free and easy to set up and delete can make the online experience for participants more experimental. You avoid the fact that people feel that they now have to communicate online because their organisation built such a forum and invested this amount in building and hosting it.

For email-based discussion forums there is yahoo groups en google groups, but there you have to follow all messages or nothing (not completely true, you can follow it by RSS too, but you can't ignore certain threads)...

I am quite a big fan of NING, but I think it might seem chaotic for some. The advantage is the flexibility (you can insert element, or leave out elements) and the option to insert RSS feeds.
So far I've come across the following alternative: collectivex. Josien pointed to Bryght and Barnraiser. Oscar mentioned Goingon, Mugshot and Peopleaggregator. In my delicious I further have Razoo, and Onlinegroups. And there is the alternative of starting a group on a site where people are already active, eg. facebook.

On what basis should you choose one or the other? Is there a way to avoid that the preference of the initiator is the only factor guiding the choose of a certain platform?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The difference between consonents and vowels

Both my children are in mixed classes at school. The youngest in group 3/4, the eldest in group 4/5. At times the youngest overhears what is being taught to the other group. So she heard that they learned about consonents and vowels (in her class, they just start reading!). So at home she wanted to know what the difference is between consonents and vowels. Try to explain!

Though I could mention them (B = consonent, O= vowel), I found it hard to explain why a consonent is a consonent and why a vowel is a vowel. For my eldest daughter, this was easy. Since she had learned it in school a year ago, it was very easy for her to explain.

This shows that at times it is easier to learn from a person who has recently gone through the same process. The experienced person may have internalized the use and may not be able to explain how he/she makes certain distinctions or decisions.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

My blog in Arabic

Somebody in Egypt is reading my blogposts in Arabic! I found an Egyptian interested in my Carnaval and Aquasan blogposts; by following a referral link to my blog. It looks really great. So if you ever end up in an Egyptian carnaval you know where they picked up the idea.

We often encounter the question of working across different languages. It depends on the importance of the exchange whether you invest heavily in translations or not - by employing a certified translator.

An alternative could be to offer quick and dirty online translation services like:

Wouter tipped me about two resources explaining how to add translation services to your blog:

Britt Bravo showed me her blogpost explaining the Worldwide Lexicon project. Using open source, this project stimulates readers of website or blogs who are bilangual to translate parts of the website in other languages. It is somewhere in the middle of the machine translations mentioned above (weakness: mechanical translations) and professional translations (weakness: costly).

What's the best tool at the moment?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Find Sinterklaas on his boat

Last Sunday we went to the 'intocht' = arrival of Sinterklaas. Almost every town in the Netherlands has its own 'intocht', the official arrival of Sinterklaas, preferably by boat. Old readers of my blog know I'm a big fan of Sinterklaas.. Every year I write about Sinterklaas and never get any comment, so it must be really boring for you. Nevertheless, this year, a short movie of the Sinterklaas intocht of Den Bosch. Try and find Sinterklaas amongst all the Pieten... It is weird because the one in Den Bosch is the only 'intocht' that I know of that has a kind of carnaval atmosphere. A mixture of the Sinterklaas tradition and the carnaval traditions of Den Bosch.

The 'intocht' van Sinterklaas in Den Bosch, 18 november 2007

This year, the intocht made me think about our own traditions around the Sinterklaas tradition. With some friends, we gather at around 11 in the morning at the same spot in Den Bosch and wait for Sinterklaas to pass by in his boat (see video clip). Then we go to the market square, to the pub, to wait till he arrives by horse, where he is welcomed by the mayor of the town. The program there is the same every year. The mothers have to sing songs, the fathers have to sing a song and the children have to judge whether the fathers sung better than the mothers (but they never do). Even though,the number of friends joining our group varies (as children grow up) we always stick to the same routine. You could think of a millions other ways, but somehow, it is easy to do the same old things. What could be reasons to change these routines?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The new shape of online community

Sometimes (or rather frequently!) you read an article and you think.. uhm, well I already knew that. In that case, it still comes in handy to have something written by others that support your views (let alone the fact that it's nice to see your views confirmed too :)). Nancy Baym wrote an article called the new shape of online community: the example of Swedish independent music fandom. I know Abba, but didn't know Sweden is so important as a music hub...She uses a participant-observation analysis of Swedish music fan's interactions on the internet to show that sites are interlinked at multiple levels. Online communities have taken new forms between the site-based online group and the egocentric network.

She illustrates her point with the examples of the REM fan base, which started with a mailing list in the late 80s. Today, there are many other fan-created websites that co-exist. Plus there has been a rise in fan-authored MP3 blogs too. "Many of the bloggers link to one another through blog rolls, creating a multi-sited community of like-minded bloggers who interact through their posts and comments." With new incarnation of online fandom, the previous forms have not disappeared.

Mapping the boundaries becomes a challenge though. The Swedish indie fan community, for instance, is distributed throughout many places on the internet and off. Over time, active fans will bump into each other, and a sense of community may be formed, which has a lot of similarity with physical places. Few people visit every place in town, but in regular places, the same people may bump into eachother (school, sport clubs, restaurants, etc).

Apparently, it has been the norm for scientists to study an online space (as one URL) and study it. But that's a limited approach, given the interconnectedness of the various sites.
For developers it has consequences too; the challenge is to make sure site can serve as location of activity, and im- and export from other sites.

Ning is a good, positive example, I was able to feed my blog into my personal page on the forum, and to set up an delicious feed within 2 minutes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Don't laugh!

Via the Dutch blog of Wouter Rijneveld I found this short video which is part of the HIVOS campaign Stop de derde wereld. The video shows two journalists who try to get a laughing boy to look like a boy you would donate for: 'please take off your shirt and don't laugh'... I had to blog it because of the resonation with my experiences with journalists. When my husband worked in Somalia and a journalist team came and did not have enough malnourished children, they intersected pictures of malnourished children in other areas of the world.

Can blogging contribute to overcoming this bias/attitude? Probably only if a critical mass of different thinkers would write and blog and get read/heard. But it might be that a majority of bloggers have a similar bias.

For instance, it also resonates with the spirit of a lot of self-help projects that are springing up. Though I try to see the positive side of it, some of the projects are helping the 'pathetic' or 'zielige' mensen, and is really pure charity rather than development. Yet, it is mistaken as development work. For me, the basis of development work is that you respect the situation people are in, and their own aspirations. There needs to be some equality in the relationship.

By the way, Wouter is a very nice example of a person whom I met just once. We don't have time to work or get together. But through our blogs, we can lightly stay in touch and I'm my thinking is often sharpened by his critical thinking about development issues. Maybe what's more important, even if we would meet, we would probably not get to exchange some of the ideas that we exchange on the blogs!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tools versus attitude

The change management blog wrote about tools versus attitude. I kept it as new in my bloglines because it relates to something I have been thinking about: the attachment within the development sector to develop toolkits. I have to admit that most of the time, I keep blogposts as new, but never look at them again. So let's try and change that...

The toolkits fondness, I believe, probably derives from the desire to have something tangible, and to have a 'product'. Toolkits are not bad in themselves, but as Holger Nauheimer from the change management toolbook points out, the attitude of the advisor is so much more important. It's like the screwdriver without the carpenter. So a balance between focus on toolkits and attitudes is needed.

Once I read a remark by Etienne Wenger stating that a good toolbook (he probably said reification) fits the practice like a glove. So a good toolbook that suits the practice of a group of practitioners can really be helpful. On the other hand, a toolbook without the practitioners who work with it the way it was intended can become meaningless. An example is the Participatory Rapid Appraisal methodology, that became meaningless when used by people who did not apply to the basic principles behind the methodology.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Integrating a blog into your website

Probably most organisations would ask the question whether to integrate a blog into their website or whether to host a blog in a separate space. There are some good considerations written down on Mark White's business blog.

In my case, I have a blog and I want to build a website to make my advisory services clearer. I have already decided I would like to integrate my blog and the website, as I think a blog is a very powerful means, and I would like the site and blog to work together. Get clients now lists some reasons (in Dutch) why a blog can be more powerful than a website. I can summarize some for the non-Dutchies, adding my own experiences:
  • With every blogpost, you can show some of your thoughts, qualities, knowledge
  • You make it easy for people to point to some of your specific blogposts
  • You end up quite high in google with the words that you use in your blog

With regards to the last one; Mark Fonseca talked about podcasting to the e-collaboration group and shared an anecdote about someone who scored quite high numbers of visitors with his blog (or podcast). He achieved this by using tags like Britney Spears... Personally I found out through today through a visitor to my blog that googling on 'first person to invent lasagna' puts my blog as number 1.... I feel quite sorry for that person that I chose such an irrelevant name for my blog.

Mark White also has more technical considerations on where and how to integrate your blog into the site. I'm still finding out how to work it out technically speaking, and whether to integrate the full page, or use a feed. I think I will try the first one. Any advice welcome!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Free online fora for hire!

We've set up a Ning forum for online exchange between a group of people who are in the process of starting their own businesses. We chose Ning because it is super-easy to design and there is a Dutch version. When setting up the forum, you can choose a template, and you can drag and drop the elements you want in your online forum, for instance a blog function, a video upload function etc. You can also choose to make it as easy as possible and to add these elements later (by dragging these elements into your design). I used the video upload function and it didn't work, so I had to find a work around via youtube. I sent an email to report it, and within one hour, I got a reply and it was fixed! I thought this was an amazing service too.

I still can't believe how easy it is to set up these kind of forums as compared to software packages whereby you need a specially skilled webdesigner, webbuilder and webhost to design and build an online forum. On top of the length of the design and build process, there are often the translation problems. It is hard to explain all the features you want, and for the builder it is hard to explain the details of what exactly he is building.

I really wonder what the future of online forum design will look like. Some disadvantages of a free forum for use within an organisation:

1. There are advertisements in the free version (though if you pay something, it will be removed).
2. You may want the look of your forum to match your housestyle.
3. You are stuck with some design features and can not build it entirely according to your own design.
4. ??

Especially in this phase of experimentation with online discussions, I think it can be a great solution to start with a free and easy-to-set up forum, so that you and the other users have time to find out what features they like/need/desire.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The new knowledge worker

I participated in a teleconference by CPsquare where Jeroen van Bree presented his Phd research about What we can learn from Virtual Gaming Worlds. You can find another dutch set of slides here.

He spoke about the new knowledge worker who does not find enough space to be creative and to apply his/her skills in organisations, and especially not the way they are structured now. His idea is that we can learn from virtual gaming worlds where people are highly motivated and stimulated to develop their skills. What can we learn from this to change the structures and processes within organisations?

Though I'm not into virtual gaming, this is a question that I think is very important, and I experienced it throughout my own career in organisations. It's really hard to find an organisation where you get the space to innovate and develop yourself without managers getting in the way. Personally, I see a potential for communities of practice to provide that space. Jack Vinson had a nice presentation about the knowledge worker 2.0

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

'Between the Ears'; Three myths about communities of practice

We went to the studio of 'Tussen de Oren' ('Between the Ears') a television program that does all kind of psychological experiments to share scientific research about communication and psychology in a humoristic manner. One of the questions to the panel was to find out what was true of some widely known anecdotes or 'broodjes aap' in Dutch. This was hard to guess! Some of the anecdotes that were not true were:
  • eskimos have 100-s of words for snow
  • cat survives ride in washing-machine
  • you can breed 'bonsai' kittens by breeding them in a pot
While working with people on communities of practice I've encountered similar convictions about communities of practice that are not true, but are nevertheless quite persistent. OK, for the people who belief in them they are true, but not for me. Here they are:

1. A community of practice is an online platform

I think people who belief in this myth do know that there are people interacting through the online platform, yet they are blinded to this fact by focusing on the online space only. Their focus is too much on the online space that they don't see the human interaction through other media (or face-to-face). It is similar to the natural tendency of people to focus too much on the 'events', the public life of the community as opposed to the private spaces of the community, like one-on-one e-mail, informal encounters in the corridor, etc.

2. Communities of practice are self-emergent so after organising one event, they should self-emerge

The whole idea about self-emergence has blurred the view on the type of interventions and facilitations that can benefit the emergence and development of communities of practice in a organisational setting. Though communities can be self-emerging, there is a whole lot that can be facilitated, initiated etc to improve collective learning, knowledge sharing and innovation processes.

3. Meta-level conversations are not needed in communities of practice

I find the last one most intriguing as I think lots of people would disagree with me that it's a myth. I have the impression the idea of emergence in communities of practice stands in the way of using various techniques of guiding meta-level conversations about the health of the community. The idea that the community should grow 'organically' in my opinion does not counter the fact that meta-level conversations are healthy and can support growth.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blogging and vlogging an event

For a question by Simone Staiger on the knowledge management for development list, Peter Ballantyne, Chris Addison and myself compiled our experiences so far.

1. For the euforic annual meeting this year we tried to capture a lot of the discussions with blogs and short videos. see the Euforic AGM blog where we published a whole bunch of stuff. we started drafting stories on different sessions, by the end several participants were doing their own stories. At the feed you can also see some stories published by off our site about the conference. Doing videos has transformed our approach.

2. At the brusselsbriefings blog you can see where we use a more structured approach and a blog as the primary advertizing and reporting mechanism for, in this case, a series of short meetings. The blogging really changes the way the meeting is reported. Instead of a heavy policy paper we ended up with a four page newsletter format closely based on the blog. Interestingly the organisers offerred no comments on the blog postings but the moment the same text was in word it was closely edited. The video played an important role in the last

brussels briefing in the dynamic of the meeting itself. We were able to incorporate over 20 blips, many from non-speakers. As a result many people felt their views were taken seriously by the organisers. It also gives the meeting a buzz, we often get people thanking us for the
opportunity to talk to video.

3. We think it is VERY worthwhile to blog an event. Even if it just adds an extra documenting element and gets people used to the idea that others maybe listening. There is a difference in whether you want to capture the live presentations, or rather the voices of others who are
listening/reacting. You may have an aim of changing the conversations if you reach out to capturing other voices than the plenary speakers.

4. the blog (or site) MUST have feeds, and have the feeds on the sites of others [and get people to subscribe to them]. i think you want people to blog your conference and its blog on other blogs or platforms. Before, during and after. establishing a conference tag to be used
across different platforms may also be good. we need to go where the 'audiences' are and not expect them to come to us. I think the blog needs to have quite 'instant' stories, giving atmosphere and opinion as well as text and presentations. so the feeds change and it's worth
coming back.

5. However, a blog has a normal 'pace' and blogging an event can be overwhelming for the readers. Personally I still have 105 unread blogposts on the web2fordev blog. Suddenly
you are overwhelmed with information. ...So there could be other alternative ways of displaying
things too. For inspiration, here's an example of a vlogged event from rocket boom using a site which is very attractive. Erwin Blom wrote a great blogpost in Dutch (important language for all to know :). He writes about an aggregator page for an event. They asked people who were

interested to use twitter, youtube etc. to help cover the event. And aggregated all the content on a site of the event: Picnic07. They discovered (as we did) that you need a UNIQUE tag, picnic will also be used by anybody picnicking in 2007. You can have a look at the site, it's in english.

6. On tools: One thing that blogger allows (but not wordpress) is to be able to post directly to draft by email. This would make my job easier as I write posts in the meeting on my phone and email them for editing. It is also much more difficult to have relaxed blips if you use a tripod for the camera. We use small digital cameras rather than video cameras and talk to the person over the top of the camera. A little camera shake can add to the immediacy of the blip. (See Mabel

7. The experience of following meetings remotely. Although I don't have the stats for
web2fordev, the anecdotal evidence was that very few followed the event live, and I only had direct feedback at the meeting from one person, watching the videos has been higher than I expected (over 100views for individual items) but the impact is far higher as videos
are shown at other meetings and we show at individual training sessions.

Ethan Zuckerman and Bruno Giussani have compiled a tips for conference bloggers guide

Question for you: how do you as an online viewer experience an event from far? What makes it easier to connect? And how do you use the online documentation of events you have attended?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rothko's room

We visited Rothko's room at the Tate Modern Museum in London. The museum has lots of kids activities and since my children don't speak English, they gave them the most 'pictural' assignment. They had to use stickers depicting emotions and put them on a picture of their head. They put up lightning, bricks and other depressed images. They drew snakes and spiders. They were also asked what their feet, eyes were doing and their feet felt like 'running away'. Personally I didn't really know what to think of Rothko's paintings, but when I read the explanations, I was struck by the way they had felt like Rothko's intentioned effect.

In the late 1950s, Rothko was commissioned to paint a series of murals
for the fashionable Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, New York. He set to work, having constructed a scaffold in his studio to match the exact dimensions of the restaurant. However, the murals were darker in mood than his previous work. The bright and intense colours of his earlier paintings shifted to maroon, dark red and black. Rothko was influenced by Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence, with its blind windows and deliberately oppressive atmosphere. Rothko commented that Michelangelo ‘achieved just the kind of feeling I’m after - he makes the viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked
up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the

An illustration of the power of images and colour, working even unconsciously (on children). Also nice to see how different questions (stickers versus the verbal question: what do your feet want to do?) can bring out the same emotions but add some intensity/relief. I think that's what photos/videos/audio can do to online text interaction too.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Experimenting with Twitter

We conducted a week-long experiment with Twitter, for 12 people who were not yet familiar with the tool. In this blogpost, we'll describe the experiment, and we'll summarize the reflections and new ideas for applicability of the tool. I'll also share my own ideas about Twitter in more detail.

Twitter is: A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? Basically you update your information continuously with short messages (max. 140 characters) and you can follow/be followed by others who read those messages.

Our experiment was introduced with the following instructions (here summarized):

  1. Sign up for a twitter account at (in the right upper corner) and add a photo of yourself by clicking on Your Profile and share you twitter account (eg. in the wiki and Add the other participants to your twitter to follow them.
  2. Twitter away during the week…. You can twitter by logging in to Twitter.
  3. Experiment with messages for the whole group by using @ecollaboration
  4. Type of content: Share what tools you are working with, what tasks you are busy with in your organization, and ask the (stupid) questions you never dared to bother others with.
  5. Write down your experiences in the wiki.

The experiences summarized:

Though the interface looks clear, people needed quite some time to find their way. How to find the message? Where to reply to a direct message? etc. Someone felt like she might have missed some opportunities in the tool. It doesn't take a lot of attention, but needs frequent attention, hence people felt that it is time-consuming. People differed in their opinion of seeing added value: "it's fun to know how the others spend their time, but not really helpful" someone said.

Possible applications of Twitter:

It's interesting to see that people have very different opinions ranging from "The additional value of use isn't big", via "I would focus to use it for information exchange such as questions or recommendation and not to exchange moods or any kind of actions" to "I can see the potential for project teams that need continuous communication, or organisations or people that want to communicate to their "followers" about a conference, a campaign, or general news and progress. Also for theme focused groups (like e-collaboration)".

For me it has shown again that a new tool can be very uncomfortable in the beginning, especially if you don't know how it's going to help you to do your work. It may actually take longer than a week before you get at a certain level of comfort. Personally I started to enjoy Twitter after some days, because I really got to know some people better by what they are doing. I also got some interesting links to blogposts etc. but to follow that up takes time. So it easily diverts your attention from what you were doing. A colleague in Ghana added me to twitter too, and that experience made me realize that you can be very close with a group of people anywhere through twitter, much closer than through mailing lists, online forums, or an occasional chat session. Knowing his concerns, and frustrations (eg. with uploading) reminded me of the different context in Ghana.

But as someone said: it needs discipline to exchange and have added value. And it seems that this is not for everyone. That brings me to the observation that tools like twitter can bring new linkages and communication (I learned quite a lot more about the 3-5 people who were very active!) but you have to be carefull not to create too many divisions if people who don't find a tool intuitive are left out. On the positive side, almost half of the people who twittered, were not at the face-to-face meeting, so it is a way to engage a different group of people than with a face-to-face meeting.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How to explain blogging in Ghana

(picture:openingsceremony training web2.0 for journalists, source penplusbytes)

I'm still catching up with my bloglines.. after my summer holidays I could not keep up and have these kind of number (183) behind the blognames, which is extremely discouraging and even stopping me from reading. So I'm trying to reduce the number of blogs on my bloglines too. But going through them, I do like the wide variety of blogs, giving such different views to the world...

From Emmanuel Bensah's blog I got a report by Mr. Abissath about a blogtraining Emmanuel gave in Accra. The write up is so elaborate and different from the other blogposts I was reading that it made me happy and I can just imagine the scene of the training and the atmosphere in the room there.

"As stated in the opening paragraph of this write-up, when Emma was taking
us through the Blogging lesson, he made the subject matter so interesting with
his famous analogy that the learning became fun for us all. Before he started,
he asked the class that all those who were married should show by hand.
Virtually everybody in the class raised up their hands. Initially, nobody knew
what he was driving at some of us even raised up both hands. Then he proclaimed
(and I am paraphrasing him here): As behind every married person there is a
partner - a wife or a husband, so, too, behind every Blog there is a Blogger!
Suddenly the entire computer lab burst into spontaneous and prolonged
laughter. He himself could not help it but to laugh infectiously. Then someone
asked him whether he himself was married and he said capital NO. So it turned
out that all the students in the class were married expect the lecturer rather.
When he was asked why he was not yet married, he responded: "I am studying you people and I want to learn from you first." His answer to the question made the class to laugh even the more. Emma could be in his 30s or so and he is a man of impeccable and fantastic sense of humour."

The name Emma is used for Emmanuel. The full post by Mr. Abissath can be found here. More information about the full training can be found here. The training is a follow-up from the web2.0fordev conference that took place in Rome. (help! another blog with (105) behind its name!)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Introducing a book

I had seen this on television, but through Anecdote I discovered it is also youtubed and hence blog-able. It's a great way of showing the discomfort that goes with a learning a new technology. A nice step up to a summary of our twitter experiment. Though 11 people participated (and voluntarily!) only few actively twittered, and a lot of people felt that it is time-consuming. But I need some time to analyze all reflections. So upcoming: the introduction of Twitter. For now, the introduction of a book!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How technology shapes behaviour

The International Journal of E-collaboration is an interesting journal. It offers one free copy. Unfortunately you all get the same free copy, of Jan-March 2005, otherwise you could set up a group effort to get a all the issues for free :).

They use the following definition of e-collaboration: Electronic collaboration (e-collaboration) is operationally defined here as collaboration using electronic technologies among different individuals to accomplish a common task (Kock & D’Arcy, 2002, 2001). In the first article 6 key elements of e-collaboration are defined:

  1. The collaborative task

  2. The e-collaboration technology

  3. Individuals involved in the collaborative task

  4. Mental schemas possessed by the individuals

  5. The physical environment surrounding the individuals

  6. The social environment surrounding the individuals

In the article called: Technology-Shaping Effects of E-Collaboration Technologies: Bugs and Features by M. Lynne Markus, Bentley College, USA there is a great example that I would like to share with you.

In a case study of e-mail use in the late 80s the author found out that managers had to overcome the problems associated with a primitive e-mail system. For instance, the system lacked a 'cc' feature, requiring all recipients of the mail to be listed on the 'to' line, making it difficult to know who was expected to respond or take action. This was solved by the managers by using redundant salutations to name the particular recipients when there were multiple users on the 'to' line. The salutations made it clearer who was expected to take action, and for whom the message was a 'for your information'.

The second example was that use of the 'reply' feature would only reach the sender of the original message, no matter how many recipients had been listed on the 'to' line in the original message. This was solved by using the 'forward' function in stead of the 'reply' function. Even though this meant that the ID of the original sender had to be re-entered, all recipients of the original message would be included.

I think these are two wonderful examples of how technology set up (the system) did not determine the use, but did influence it in a certain way. The managers created their own ways of using the system in a way that supported their collaborative practices. Features are not binding constraints, if people want to communicate and collaborate they invent their own habits which suit them! If people are motivated enough, they may work with a suboptimal technology, and will invent their own ways of coping. Still technology shapes behaviour and hence it's important to think carefully through technology features while designing an online space.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What is the return on investment of the social web for nonprofits?

Britt Bravo from Netsquared invited me to contribute a blogpost with my ideas about the return on investment of the social web for nonprofits.

Since I think inviting bloggers to write a blogpost about a certain topic is a great method of generating ideas, I'm respond with this blogpost. Let me answer it from the perspective of nonprofits working for international development.

The word Return On Investment makes me feel I have nothing interesting to say on this subject, so don't expect any neat calculations from me.... .I do think it is possible to monetize the effect of using the social web for development organisations but that's not my specialisation. And when monetizing, it could be the challenge not only to measure the direct cost reduction (like the amount of money saved because employees use free skype calls to talk to partners instead of telephone!) but also the indirect benefits like improved relationships and changed power relations between partner organisations in the south/east and development organisations in the north. (mind you, the term partner organisation is now in common use, but that name may conceal the difference in power at work in the collaboration between the two).

That brings me straight to the heart of the matter: I believe that the social web can lead to changes in the way of working at various levels. For the northern development professionals it means the opportunity for faster connections between people with the right expertise, and hence improve quality of the work. You don't limit yourself to select the consultant you know, but you use linkln to select from a wider range of choice. I wouldn't have been part of this group if I had not started blogging. So the tools enable new connections.

Another level the social web can bring about changes is towards empowering southern organisations, think of southern NGOs who would use the social web to exchange information about their partner/donor organisation. That would make them more aware of where they stand and what's possible and would probably widen their scope for action. Common use of web2.0 tools can bring about more equal ways of collaborating, see the story of how milieukontakt's use of wikis makes collaboration with trainers in the east more egalitarian.

But there is an assumption here: that we are all working with the social web functionalities. I also believe that it's a whole new way of working and networking that is not yet a common habit yet. Maybe individuals are ahead of their organisations. Last week I listened to a webcast about enterprise 2.0 where the directors agreed that web2.0 started from the consumers side and that the enterprises are following. I think this is similar in the nonprofit sector where individuals may be ahead of the organisations. So welcome organisation2.0!

By the way, if you want to see more blogposts and ideas on this topic, watch the netsquared blog.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Online tools to say goodbye to a colleague

I was invited by WASTE to introduce some new web2.0 tools at the occasion of saying farewell to a colleague who had worked there more than 5 years. They had thought of learning to arrange a bouquet of flowers, but decided this might be more interesting. We decided to focus on 3 tools, weblogs, wikis and photo sharing. After a short introduction everyone got to experience how easy it is to become a blogger, wiki-er or photo sharer.

For each tool, I had prepared 3 exercises, the first one was to contribute to a virtual farewell present for the colleague who left the organisation, the second one to set up your own blog, wiki, or photogroup. The last one was to experiment with some additions like images, feeds, or cartoons.

What worked well is the fact that I set up a dummy account for all to use. By setting up one dummy account, you avoid the hassle of helping each one to set up an account. The boring part of the experience in my opinion, and if this would go wrong you get people discouraged by the 'IT stuff' . When I set up the dummy account I discovered that you are now forced to open a google account to use blogger. And to open a yahoo account to use Flickr. That's definitely much less user-friendly then it was in the past.

What also worked well is that in every group there were one or several people who were handy enough to insert images, and play around. I also learned that you might as well upload images directly from your camera, without uploading them first to your computer (as used to be my habit somehow).

One thing that I would do differently is that I had put up personal pages in the wiki to write anecdotes for the colleague who left. I noticed it would be more fun to do that as a group and to write a group story. So next time I would set up pages for groups rather than individual pages.

The brilliant thing about combining the introduction of new tools with a farewell party is that you get people in a mood to play around with tool and see that it can be easy and fun.

Monday, October 01, 2007

I'm setting up a twitter experiment

I'm preparing an experiment with Twitter for 10 people, most unfamiliar with Twitter. Twitter is: A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? Basically you update your information continuously with short messages (max. 140 characters) and you can follow/be followed by others who read those messages.

For some, this seems an 'old tool' but for most of the people I work with it is unknown. On the one hand I encounter people who think that putting your information on internet is quite dangerous and feel that we should reduce the number of emails, on the other hand, there those who don't care whether you reply on facebook, twitter or their blog. How to find the middle ground when a group is a mix of those people?

A nice Twitter guide for beginners is written by Robin Good.

Nancy White is compiling stories how Twitter can foster collaboration. Some examples (but there are lots of other examples- check it out):

  • Using a twitter network - project twitter on screen in face-to-face event. Ask a question out to the network. See the (FAST) response.
  • Find job candidates through Twitter
  • During a power outage, use mobile Twitter to coordinate information about the nature of the outage and the availability of internet cafes in the area with power for the team to reassemble.
  • Using twitter as a virtual water cooler.I work from home, and my colleagues are my collaboration buddies, clients, colleagues. Twitter is a great way to keep up with what is happening, so face-to-face meetings get up to speed much quicker. Blogs work the same way, though they tend to contain a different set of content.

Andy Carvin sees a lot of potential in Twitter, because of the combination with mobile phone. Read his post how Twitter can save lives.

For the real fans: there is the twitterfan wiki.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Connecting and collecting (and being lazy)

On the Knowledge Management for Development a discussion took place about 'knowlege products' to which I posted a remark about the importance of striving for a balance between connecting and collecting. I forgot where I read about it, but since then it the concepts have stuck with me. Every now and then, I have the impression a community of practice is either leaning completely on the side of connecting, nor producing anything tangible, or is going to the extreme of collecting a lot of information without making sure people re-connect to the information collected. I'm convinced this balance is very important to get right.

I was too lazy to search for documents where I picked it up, but Stan Garfield read my question and was so kind to make it into the Knowledge Management Question of the Week. It's a good idea to read the full post with references, but in short he cites two sources. Thomas Stewart, writes:

"Connection, not collection: That's the essence of knowledge management. The
purpose of projects, therefore, is to get knowledge moving, not to freeze it; to
distribute it, not to shelve it."

David Snowden writes:
"Many years ago I formulated three rules or heuristics of Knowledge Management:

  1. Knowledge will only ever be volunteered it can not be conscripted

  2. We only know what we know when we need to know it

  3. We always know more than we can tell and we will always tell more than we can write down

Unfortunately neither of them writes about the balance between connection and collection. I would like to know more about what makes people inclined to focus on one or the other. So maybe I have to search back in my files after all...

The other aspect I've been thinking about is whether connecting and collecting is the same as participation and reification in the theory about communities of practice. I reread some of the explanations from the book 'Beyond Communities of Practice'. I think these concepts are more subtlely described. Reification can also be in terms of a new concept, and is not necessarily something tangible. I guess the connecting and collecting may be concepts that 'speak' to a wide range of people more easily than participation and reification.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Prinsjesdag as example of local knowledge

Today is 'prinsjesdag' in the Netherlands, the day that the queen reads the 'troonrede' with the governmental plans for year to come. There's a ceremony that a golden carriage takes her through part of the Hague to the place where she reads the plans.

I didn't know that all schools in the Hague have a holiday on that day! Something which is common knowledge for the habitants of the Hague. Not a big disaster, but you have to arrange child care or be at home etc. I learned about it through the schoolcalendar.

It made me think about the enormous importance of being able to access relevant explicit, local knowledge when professionals are more and more working on a variety of jobs and change jobs. When I lived in Den Bosch, it wasn't very important to know that schools in the Hague are closed. But when you move here, it's part of the necessary brain-luggage of a parent with school going children. So rather than knowing a lot, it's better to become good at accessing the most relevant information - and distinguishing between relevant and less relevant information.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Working room with a view

Since we moved to the Hague I have my own working room/office at home. I used to work from the kitchen table at home. The difference is huge: it's now very easy to make a conscious decision whether to work/not to work and that leads to reading the newspaper more frequently, not checking my mail during lunchtime while talking to the kids, etc.

As a point of reflection, it makes me think about the importance of living through something. When I was working from the kitchen table, I could reason that it was not an ideal situation, but I could not image the enormous difference. Secondly, it's also an example of learning through comparison. It's only after the situation changed, that I can really see the difference in retrospect. In my old situation, working from the kitchen table was such a habit, that I could no longer see how it influenced my time and working/checking mails etc was such a constant thing that it influenced my ability to quietly read the newspaper.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I collaborate, e-collaborate, we collaborate

We produced a booklet with stories of how people and organisations in the development sector in the Netherlands have experimented with new e-tools to improve collaboration and communication. We have distributed hardcopies, but you can also download the booklet called 'I collaborate, e-collaborate, we collaborate from this page. Furthermore, you can find more stories on the blog with the same name.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Organisation 2.0

I'm preparing myself for a meeting with Agri-profocus. They want some advice for their website and database and communication between the partners. As far as I can see they don't use any web2.0 tools (yet). So how about the organisation2.0?

In his blogpost about enterprise2.0 Nic Brisbourne talks about enterprise2.0 as being about emergent structures rather than imposed ones. A sort of democratization of the workplace, which fits well with the trends of self-managing workteams and more horizontal structures in organisations. What he writes:
"The notion of “emergent structures” is a complicated and slightly counter intuitive one, yet I am thinking it will be very important in understanding the importance and power of enterprise2.0 apps. Emergent structures are patterns of intelligent behaviour which emerge bottom up from the independent actions of agents with no central control. They are common in nature - ant colonies are an oft cited example. This notion is counter intuitive because it is hard to see how the agents know what to do. The slightly unsatisfactory answer is that this knowledge somehow forms by natural processes of evolution and the agents somehow learn their role. I guess you could make an analogy to the roles people play in teams."

Peter Shelton pointed to this blogpost of Andrew McAfee with an example of a 1000-employee firm in Seattle helping clients with digital advertising and marketing, including intra-and extranets. Their own traditional static intranet has been overtaken by web2.0 tools with built in interfaces using social bookmarking site delicious, voting news site digg and photo sharing site flickr.
"AARF employees have learned to add the tag 'AARF' when they come across a web page (using, a photo (Flickr), or a news story (Digg) that they think will be of interest to their colleagues. Shortly after they add this tag, the bookmark (look at the top of the box), thumbnail of the photo (middle) or headline and description of the story (bottom) show up within the AARF E2.0 Intranet. So AARF has found a fast and low-overhead way to
let its employees share Internet content with each other. It's also free;
these interfaces with, Flickr, and Digg require no fees and no
permissions. I find this simply brilliant." ..."
The rightmost section of the page shows the most recent blog posts. At AARF, these include emails to group mailing lists, which are automatically posted to a bloglike page."

Check out the full blogpost for screenshots and more examples. It wasn't hard for the employees to get used to this way of working but he adds that AARF is not a typical workplace, being full of people who slap together mashups in their spare time. Nevertheless, I think web2.0 tools offer an opportunity to have more relevant content with less effort. Now how to introduce this is the big challenge....

Monday, July 30, 2007

Handwritten letters are moving again

We are going to move to the Hague soon. I decided to clean the attic and throw away stuff, when I found old letters my husband wrote me when he was in Tanzania and I was in the Netherlands (must have been 1989 or so). It is very funny to read the details of things you have forgotten. He had earpain and went to the hospital where the doctor took one hour to find the key to the cupboard where the ear-inspection-device was stored.

It struck me that I hardly receive letters now, and that I don't keep an archive of my mails (though with gmail you have a large archive, I doubt I will ever go back). And then you hardly write a long and intense mail as you used to write letters.

The letters was number 11 and he mentions that he needs to start keeping a diary with numbered letters, so that we can track the arrival of the letters... He is commenting on a job interview I had and I probably had to wait 3-4 weeks to get an answer, the difference is just so big with internet and mobile phones nowadays! When I started emailing (this started roughly in 1997 for me) I remember for a long time I still used to send hand-written letters to my friends, as emails felt so public, with a letter at least you knew that it would only end up in the hand of the person you write to. When I finally took to mailing girlfriends, we wrote less about our boyfriends, as we were not sure they would read it at some point. So technology does bring its own codes and changes your communication patterns.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Some bloggers meet

Yesterday I went out with the GINKS secretariat to meet Emmanuel K. Bensah, one of the most fanatic bloggers in Ghana. I met Emmanuel through his blog. When we connected on facebook he had stated (ticking a box by mistake) that we met in school, but actually the category 'met through their blogs' is missing...

It was very nice to exchange blog and vlog tips, and discuss the Ghanaian blogosphere which is too quiet according to Emmanuel. He is an author for the globalvoices for Ghana. This means that he reads about 15-20 blogs and when he thinks something is interesting for a global audience that doesn't know much about Ghana he writes a review to the editor, who then edits and puts it up the globalvoices site. See an example of a review here. This is a huge opportunity for bloggers to get known (this is how I found Emmanuel's blog) and to be crossposted to a wider audience. He told us globalvoices now has a feed into the Reuter's Africa site. On each country page there is a feed with blogposts, see the example for Ghana. We discussed ways of leveraging the GINKS vlog with ICT4D stories, a possible blogmentoring project and tried to start a Ghanaian vloggers group (so far with 3 members :). I forgot to ask whether the Ghanaian bloggers ever meet.

We had a good brainstorm about the developing of ICT uses in Ghana. Emmanuel was very enthousiastic about his GPRS phone which allows him to connect to the internet by mobile phone. It is not extremely expensive and you can set it to see what you used. When he's offline, he uses his onetouch (onetouch is a Ghanaian telecom service) pay-as-you-go subscription to check and reply to mails and even to go to facebook. I still have my video-ipod dream (in combination with videoblogs) . Mobile television is coming through ghana telecom/onetouch. So enough work for GINKS...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Zentation to combine videos with powerpoint presentations on the web

Via Erwin Blom I discovered Zentation, you can upload a powerpoint presentation and link it to a google video presentation! Very useful. though some of the slides on slideshare are quite self-explanatory, it can be more powerful in combination with a video. (or would be video with the slides be enough?)

Blogger integrates feedburner feeds

A short blogpost to alert all blogger-bloggers to the fact that feedburner and blogger have apparently collaborated to make the integrating of a feedburner feed into your blogger blog easy. You go to settings, then site feed and add the URL of your feedburner feed. Having a feedburner feed is very useful if you want to monitor the subscriptions to your blog. You can read more here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The news: no news

In Ghana, the Volta River Authority (VRA)'s main function is to generate and supply electrical energy in Ghana. For some time now, there is an energy crises in Ghana and every other day, you'll be 12 hours off electricity (alternating day and night shifts). This includes ministries and business areas, so you can imagine it affects work seriously, let alone the domestic troubles it gives. Yesterday one of the news items on the Ghanaian television was that there is no news on the energy crises. There was a briefing for journalists by officials of VRA planned on the energy crises yesterday by 9.00. By 12.00 someone came to explain that the briefing would not take place... So this became the news item.

I'm not blogging this to ridiculize the VRA officials, but I do think it shows how they continue to think and act according to a pre-media model, where officials can arrive as late as they want, and can even cancel meetings after letting people wait for hours. Yet, currently with the new media like television and internet, this will become the news itself. Strikingly, the meeting was called 'briefing for journalists' and not a press conference.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Great resource on communities of practice in a development context!

Dorine had a blogpost on their work on communities of practice in the development sector. I planned to reblog it, but didn't find the time, till here in Ghana (as the saying goes, in Europe we have clocks, but here we have time). Dorine participated in the online community of practice workshop and did a project with Bill Williams and Patricia Mantey. They made their small project quite big, as it resulted in a large and resourceful document with all kind of references that you can find online here. They had 5 main topics:
1. Life after funding
2. Gaps in technology
3. Differences in communities
4. Multiple cultures and languages
5. Donor pressure and expectations

They looked for cases and interviewed people. I was amongst the people they interviewed by mail, not know that these answers would be posted integrally in the report (I assumed they'd use it to inform their own opinion and write something condenses). It felt very ackward to be quoted as an 'expert' on all these big questions I don't really have an answer to, and then amongst the responses of other experts, sometimes completely contradicting. Would have been more fun to have an exchange! The biggest difference in opinion as I recall was my opinion that funding can be helpful (but tricky ofcourse) compared to Ueli's answers which go into the direction of banning funding for effective communities of practice. (I'm lazy to search for quotes, but if it's interesting to you, you can find it in the document). They are hopefully going to organize on online exchange still (the intention is there at least).

What I personally learned from it, is that I can see the parallel between funders and communities of practice and the manager's paradox. Both funders and managers should refrain from too much trying to control the domain discussions, but engaging in it in the right way can be energizing.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The tech forum in Ghana meets face-to-face

Today I co-facilitated a meeting of the 'tech forum' a group of ICT technicians who are active in ICT4D. We started last year with a meeting, and had a year of online exchange, which never took off full speed. Nevertheless, more than half of the people present had participated in the previous meeting and were still 'in the mood' and enjoyed their connection. I found out a lot of invisible connections had continued either by mail or meeting people.

It's always encouraging to see how energizing it is for people to engage in practice-related discussions, also today. Even though I'm not a practitioner myself, you see it from the body language, and the break discussions. We had a peer assist session where 4 people could bring in their cases, and I had worried about the others (the non-caseholders), but I noticed that it was as energizing for the others to think along the questions of the 4 case holders. For instance, one question of the delay in seeing the content on a website after uploading it to a CMS was a real puzzle, and we got all intrigued by it. Another very practical exchange was how to load your cell phone battery while travelling (by connecting the poles of your phone battery to a normal battery)...

Something I learned myself is how to use flickr images in blogger. It never worked, and when someone asked me, I felt encouraged to try and find out and I managed (click on other sizes and you can grab the flickr URL).

People thought it was really participatory and peer learning, but what was missing is some thought leaders, and some inspiring new ideas. A reminder that it is not easy to get those people engaged for a long period of their time. That's a process in itself. Secondly, we had done all our best to get the online forum going, but it never really took off. Now, through the face-to-face connections, there are new topic leaders emerging, and there is a plan to have a new topic every month, with a topic leader and monthly online chats, Fridays at 17.00 (without voice because people might not be able to talk outloud in their offices). This is really a breakthrough in energy level that would have been hard to achieve online.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Commoncraft video on social networking

Here's the new video in the series by commoncraft explaining social networking. Ofcourse I'm eagerly waiting for the social bookmarking one after our own attempt.. But you watch it differently after you tried to produce one!

As for social networking site, I've become a member of linkln and facebook, but I don't invest in it and it doesn't work for me. For my case, the video doesn't help in explaining the principle, or do I miss the clue because I'm not looking for a new love neither for a new job? for development

By recommendation from Jay Dedman I moved from Youtube to to host my videos (almost forgot I started with castpost). I thought blip had roughly the same features as youtube, but I liked the fact that when you embed videos, you don't have a large triangle and YOUTUBE on your video. Just looks better with

But yesterday I discovered an important reason why is better for use in a development context. Namely, it is very hard to download videos from youtube! It's quite easy from This feature is helpful if you want to put the video on a server or on a CDrom to play it back to an audience with unreliable or low bandwidth connectivity. Though it is not impossible on youtube, it is not as easy as on