Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Every community of practice should be able to articulate their value

Yesterday I saw an interview with Ron Fouchier, a professor in molecular virology about the search for vaccines for the swine pest (you can still watch the interview with Ron Fouchier in Dutch here). He works for the Erasmus University, one of the centres that will get the virus to start cooking up a vaccin.

What's interesting is how he phrased the collaboration with other centres. In the case of SARS, they were one of the 6-7 centres of excellence working to find a vaccine. He calls it a 'fair competition' between the centres whereby the Erasmus had won some 'small competitions'. I can imagine the centres are in close contact, but try to be smarter than the others. You could see them as a community of practice, exchanging information and ideas and trying to innovate. Or you could see it as a project team with a clear aim- finding the vaccin.

What strikes me is that he could so clearly articulate the resulting benefit of the process. In the end, they will contribute to public health by finding a vaccine that will help control the swine flu. Nobody will contest the fact that they need to collaborate and exchange.

In a lot of communities of practice though, participants find it hard to articulate the benefits. As a result, exchange in the communities is sometimes seen by managers and sponsors as unnecessary waste of the practitioners time. In this case, it is amazingly clear, and it would be weird if anybody would object to exchange of information. Not in all communities it might be possible to stress the added value so clearly, and to have such a compelling goal. Nevertheless, I think it is important to try and make a similar case. Which vaccine are you hoping to develop with your community of practice? What will this bring to your organisations and sponsors?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dutch workshops 'webwerken' and 'online faciliteren'

This is only interesting for Dutch speaking people. With 3 other consultants (one of whom I've known online) we've developed three different workshops in Utrecht in the Netherlands
I think what makes our workshop special compared to others is that we are facilitators with years of experience experimenting, engaging, working with social media. Trainers and facilitators who have good face-to-face facilitation skills and want to learn more about translating these skills online can get a kick-start using our experience. Participants in the workshops are usually asked to give marks and the ratings for the last workshop were between 8 and 10 on a scale between 0-10. (I'm not boosting, these are just facts :).

If you are interested, or know people who might be interested in joining us; you can download the brochure from scribd by clicking on the link 'Folder webwerken' below and then clicking on download. You can also read the latest newsletter from IAF from page 11 onwards.
Facilitation of online learning: an art and a profession
Facilitating online requires different skills than face-to-face facilitation. E-facilitation expert Simon Koolwijk tells us about a unique course that teaches about communicating and facilitating in an online environment.

Folder Webwerken Folder Webwerken joitske Folder met de workshops webwerken en online faciliteren in 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Every question can be misinterpreted (communication is hard!)

"Would you rather have lived in Leidschendam?" that sounds like a pretty straightforward question to someone who knows that Leidschendam is a town in the Netherlands, isn't it? (and when you see the picture here of the center of this town the answer would Yes!) But even to this question there are two interpretations!

I'm doing a series of interviews with neighbours in our (young) area. This was one of my questions. I always think I have been trained on the job by living in Mali, Ghana and Ethiopia to formulate my questions as clear and unambiguous as possible, so I was surprised that this question was interpreted in a way that escaped my observations. I thought the interviewee answered it the way I intended it: whether she would rather live in the town called Leidschendam than in the Hague. I didn't realize that this part of the Hague where we live used to be part of Leidschendam. So she interpreted it as 'Would you have liked this area to be called Leidschendam rather than the Hague"? Fortunately we were two doing the interviews and the other person knowing the history better than I understood this different interpretation. Confusion, confusion...

This is even a small confusion compared to the misunderstandings we have around concepts related to knowledge management for our paper on impact assessment of knowledge management strategies. It shows communication between people from different backgrounds, frames of mind or mindsets can easily be distorted. It shows the importance of a common framework for easy communication. After all, old couples really only need half a sentence.. But where that framework is absent, we have to be careful.

So how to work with this? If you are aware of this distortion, you can try and work in tandem with people who know more about the background (in this case, the co-interviewer). It really calls for teaming up, because working in two's makes this easier. And you can build in sufficient checks. When a common understanding is crucial, you write it down, or paraphrase it in a conversation. That allows you to see the misunderstanding. When you have a skype conversation, you can type your understanding at the same time while you talk, that also help for clarification.

Nancy Dixon has a good blogpost on perspective taking and how you can learn something new by opening your perspective to other people's perspectives. She argues that this already starts by using inviting language.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Can you shift your organisational culture by introducing social media?

image through

This post may be a little chaotic as I'm using it to get a grip on some of my ideas about social media for organisations. Tomorrow I'm going to write with Sibrenne Wagenaar; we are writing a booklet on social media for learning and collaboration. We start with social media for professionals (individuals), then teams, then organisations. It's the organisational chapter that needs much more thinking. I once asked on twitter whether the exchange on twitter is not similar to the chats with your co-located workers. Someone replied that is it not, that on twitter people are far more open to sharing and helping each other. This started me thinking about the fact that introducing an internal twitter system would NOT make people share. The term enterprise2.0 is often used. But is that an open, creative organisation or is it an organisation with web2.0 tools? In my opinion, an organisation with less web2.0 tools could be more 'enterprise2.0' in terms of culture than an organisation that has a lot of web2.0 tools but lacks the culture.

One confusion is brought by the fact that organisations can embrace social media from so many different angles. I see a higher emphasis on social media from a marketing perspectives than from a learning perspective. If you jump on it for marketing purposes, you will have a different focus and process than when you want to explore how social media can stimulate learning and knowledge sharing processes. But probably in both cases, it has to match your organisational culture too.

Tools and culture: is your organisational culture ready for social media or do you want to shift the culture by introducing social media?. I'm re-reading Schein: organisational culture and leadership. Schein explains very well how cultures are created and reproduced. And that it's possible to influence cultures in organisations. At times I hear that an organisation is using wikis. Or uses Sharepoint internally with the blog function. An organisation seems enterprise2.0 enough because it has tools like blogs, wikis and social bookmarking. However, the juice of social media is far more in the culture of openly sharing knowledge, collaboration, and engaging in co-creation. Having the tools does not mean you have improved the collaboration between your professionals. So what is the actual change that you are envisioning? Can social media play a role in this? But what are the other interventions that are needed to help change the organisational culture? I see a lot of potential for change management professionals to help organisations with this process. On the other hand, there may be organisations that are already having an open culture in which social media fit neatly. But probably these organisations do not need any accompanying change process or at least a different process? So you'd have to start with assessing the culture of the organisation and see whether there is a match or a mismatch with social media cultures.

Another dilemma is how to balance individual preferences and creativity versus uniformity in tools. Back to the original question: what organisational processes do you feel can really be supported by social media? What is the organisational change that you envisage? I don't think there is any organisation that is completely enterprise1.0. I'm sure there are employees engaging in social media individually and that most do use wikipedia for instance. But a real enterprise2.0 is an open, collaborative, creative organisation that leverages the tools to the advantage of the functioning of the organisation. In this organisation: do professionals choose their own tools and are proficient in using them or do they work with the preferential toolset of the organisation?

By the way a nice guide of where to start with social media can be found here on the technotheory blog. However, this is also written from the assumption that you use social media to promote your organisation or products, not to stimulate internal learning processes.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Twitter is randomly bragging about your un-exceptional life

For two week I didn't have time to blog- a combination of busy with work and nice wheather calling for going outside and cycling.. I'm waiting for some time to really reflect about two trainings we did last week, both related to social media and online interaction. Not today though!

Here's a nice video I found through the blog of Willem Karssenberg: Twouble with Twitters that relates to my experience in the training. It's a great illustration of how the twitter-sphere (and sometimes other social media spheres) comes across to people who are not twittering. A quote from the short movie "Twitter is randomly bragging about your un-exceptional life". Since a few months I enjoy twitter (after using it for almost a year without really understanding the fuss). I think the difference is finding some sort of network that you relate to. And building this network takes time! Enjoy the video, it's really funny. You can find the original through