Monday, January 29, 2007

Peer assists in communities of practice

Bellanet and the university of Ottawa have created a flash animation on peer assists. It's a great, thorough explanation. I think you can use the animation easily with a beamer to explain peer assists to a group learning about them. The animation is more lively and visual than a powerpoint presentation. If peer assist is roughly the same as Dutch 'intervision' you could probably add a part on the wide range of different methods of doing a peer assist. (they explain only one way of doing it).

Lucie Lamoureux of km4dev pointed to the Bamboo project blogposter who elaborated on different uses of peer assists in networks:
  • Having a "mini" Peer Assist as a regular part of network meetings. Potential Peer Assistees would submit their problems ahead of time and a portion of the meeting would be spent on brainstorming around one or two problems. This would have the added benefit of encouraging attendance at meetings because people both love to have their problems solved, as well as being able to offer help to others.
  • A Rotating Peer Assist would be a great idea for a half-day or full-day network conference. Organizers could identify a theme for the Peer Assist problems and/or consider having Community of Practice Peer Assists that relate to various job functions, such as having a "Case Manager Peer Assist Day" where case managers could present on their problems and get feedback from fellow participants. This seems to me a far better use of time that would be infinitely more engaging than the conference activities we usually see.
  • A technology-enhanced Peer Assist is another option. A wiki would be the perfect complement to the Peer Assist session. Rather than recording ideas on flip chart paper, they could be recorded directly into a specially created wiki. This would then be available for participants to add to later allowing them to provide links to other resources, sample documents, etc.
In the e-collaboration gatherings, we are reserving almost a third of the meetings for a kind of peer assist. It helps to stay very close to the actual practice of participants. Last two times, we asked people to submit their questions ahead of time. Next time, we will probably ask people to forward their questions during the meeting. This will allow for joint prioritisation, and will ensure questions are really 'fresh'. Last time, a few people had moved on in their problem definition in between the time they submitted the questions and the actual gathering.

While introducing peer assists in communities of practice, it may needs some time, to create the space for it, and get people to use the space proactively. So, my personally advice would be that it helps to prepare the sessions more in advance during the first few meetings, and gradually make it a more spontaneous process. Of course, that depends again on the group, whether people are already used to peer assists, etc. The size and frequency of changing members probably influences the level of trust and hence depth of inquiry.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tony Chocolonely talking to cocoa farmers

I've been too busy to blog, but the blogideas do keep coming in my head. So it would be better to allow time to let them out..

I've watched one episode (no. 4) of the 'keuringsdienst van waarde'. Unfortunately, it is not yet online, but it will be available here.

The story line is that Tony Chocolonely buys fair trade chocolate in the Netherlands. With Fair Trade farmers get a higher price for their produce. At least that's the idea. Tony goes to Ghana to find out what's actually happening. There's a dialogue with farmers which made me laugh outloud (out of sheer recognition). The dialogue between Tony and 3 farmers is roughly as follows:

Tony: 'So are you aware that you are Fair Trade farmers?' (something in his voice showing that he will have found something if the answer is no)
Cocoa farmer 1 and 2: 'No, we are not aware'
Cocoa farmer 3 (cooperative): 'I think you are aware'.
Cocoa farmer 1 and 2: 'Yes, we are aware'.

The rest of the dialogues are full of recognition for me too. The thing is that people are trying very hard to please the interviewer, but also try to safeguard their interests. So there are a lot of assumptions going on in their heads, influencing the answers. This makes it very hard to get the actual picture clear. Just a very practical example of intercultural communication in the context of development!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Britt Bravo's tips to start a nonprofit blog

Britt Bravo has a great blogpost with 5 tips to start a nonprofit blog. Shortened from Britt's blogpost, so click on the link if you want to read the full explanation of the 5 tips:

1. Read blogs.

Before your organization starts to blog, set up a newsreader, whether it is Bloglines or Google Reader or something else, and see what is being written about your organization and the issues that it represents. Not only will this give you a feel for the different styles of blogs, but it will also provide content for some of your first blog posts.

2. The best person to write an organization's blog is the person who is the most excited to write it.

You need a staff person who is not only excited to write on a regular basis, but also wants to immerse themselves in the "blogosphere."

3. Post consistently.

There are all kinds of theories about how often to post on your blog. The most important thing is to be consistent. You don't have to write every day, but once a week is good. T

4. Have an RSS feed and comments.

In my opinion, a blog without an RSS feed or comments is not a blog, it is simply someone writing regularly on a web site. A blog allows interaction through comments, and an RSS feed allows readers to subscribe. For your less tech savvy readers, you should also allow your supporters to subscribe to your blog via email with a service like Feedblitz.

5. Just start.

All very good and recognisable tips!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Communities of practice, bronnen van inspiratie

I read a Dutch book about communities of practice 'bronnen van inspiratie' written by Marc Coenders and Robert Bood Unfortunately the book is sold out, but maybe you may find some soon on the black market...

It took long before I read the book because I thought it would be a sort of Dutch translation of Cultivating communities of practice but it is not. It has a lot of Dutch examples and shares the experiences of Habiforum, an inter-organisational CoP in the field of landuse. As a result it is more focused than 'cultivating communities of practice' on inter-organisational CoP cultivation- the other very focused on corporate CoPs.

For me, it was almost funny to read some of the Dutch jargon like 'hoeders' (sort of thematic leadership). I also enjoyed the many practical tips throughout the book. In a way the practical tips may you see easily how the authors translate some of the theoretical parts into practice. I can share (my own summary and translation) one practical tip:

Taking stock in a community of practice

At certain intervals, it is useful to evaluate the balance between 'bringing' and 'taking away'. This balance is one of the prerequisites to obtain flow in a group. Taking stock of this balance offers a good moment for participants to reaffirm their participation in a CoP, or reconsider it (may even lead to a decision to end their participation). Some possible questions for stock-taking might be:
- What have been the benefits of the CoP over the past period?
- What has been my contribution to the CoP?
- In the coming period: what direction do I like to take?
- What benefits would make the coming period successful to me?

The first question often provides a wide range of reactions. What is important for one person, maybe irrelevant for another persons. The collective benefits are always higher than the individual benefits.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Technology: nownow for all your questions

Via Bieslog I found nownow by Amazon. You can ask any question and it will be answered by 3 people who are good in searching the web. The last question was: What religion are the ethiopians who are currently fighting with the somalians?

And part of the answer:
Ethiopia is a predominately Coptic Christian nation whereas Somalia is Muslim
"Ethiopia is a predominately Coptic Christian nation whereas Somalia is Muslim. They have had hostilities before over their religion in past conflicts.
But it isn't the US waging a Crusade or anything... Think of it more like Serbs against Bosnian Muslims. It is kind of ethnic and religion tensions there."

As far as I remember quite a substantial part of Ethiopians are muslims too by the way! So in this example, the answer is not really impressive...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Five things meme in pictures

The bloggers meme 'five things' has been going around for a long time now. People who are tagged have to tell 5 things about themselves that people do not know yet and then tag 5 others. Nancy White tagged me in December. And today I discoverd the knowledge cafe people tagged me too. They call it 'tikkertje spelen' online. (playing catch) with the aim of getting more personal stories on blogs.

Since my blog is about communities of practice and not about myself, I'm not so fond of the question of this meme, but it would be exciting to start a meme with an interesting content question about CoPs for instance. Will think about that. Since I didn't know what to say about myself, I thought about posting 5 pictures people have not seen and that stimulated me to go through my pictures, which was fun. I chose some pictures that will give me hopefully a tougher image after all this soft talk about communities of practice :).

The first is me and a crocodile (alive!) in Burkina Faso. The second me and my motor-bike in Kenya.

The third is the 'woonwagen' I lived in when I studied. The woonwagen was in Heteren, we didn't have a gass connection and no central heating. In the winter, the area around the woonwagen used to be flooded about once or twice in the winter season and then we had to use a small boat to get to your bicycle on the dike. (a real Dutch story :).

The fourth is a picture of me and my bigger sister. Since it is on ice, you can imagine how OLD I really am...

The last is a picture of Hamidoun and his family, our neighbours in Mali. We lost touch with Hamidoun Traore (he's from Awaki) so who knows we can trace him via the internet. In 2002 we tried to find him, but he had just left his job with Africare.

I forgot to tag 5 other people which is getting harder as so many people have been tagged: Emmanuel K. Bensah (see if we can get it to Ghana), John Smith, Sarah Cummings, Dorine Ruter (see if we can revive her blog), and Beverly Trayner (she was tagged by Nancy too but either didn't see it or chose to ignore it...)