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?