As we start the last week of the online phase of the KS Workshop, the conference call this morning was about looking back at the network mapping exercise and its usefulness. We talked about the tools and methods that we are currently exploring on our virtual discussion space, and we did a short evaluation of the workshop so far.

Many found the network maps really useful: “it is good to have it as a visual.” “It was the best workshop lesson because it showed the weaknesses and what I can do better to involve others” “It was good but now I have difficulties to relate the map with the tools” “It was great to do it with my colleagues” are some of the reactions. We also learnt an interesting unexpected use of the map: As an induction to a newcomer in the project team, or as a way to explain an organization, a project or a team during a recruitment process.  

For the upcoming workshop in Rome, many tools are on the list of desired hands on sessions and explorations: wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, tagging, Content Management Systems, but also communities of practice, World Cafés and After Action Reviews.

Finally there was a round of feedback on the workshop so far, and the issue of the amount of information and interaction that seems difficult to digest for many. On that one, I just came along a post by John Smith of CP Square called “How much time does it take?” He describes a very similar situation in his workshop about communities of practice. Have a look!

Week two was very active at the FAO-CGIAR KS Workshop. Participants were invited to think about the people we do / need to share knowledge with. After having explored the issue of the “Why share knowledge?” during week 1, which aimed basically at getting to know each other’s contexts better, during week 2 we dived into the area of our networks.

KS is about people and people organize themselves in groups of all kinds. The network theory / approach allows us nicely to analyze those groups –call them teams, communities, units, organizations– in terms of: How do we share our knowledge currently and what could we do to improve interaction, enhance innovation, reach out to new users… We invited participants to listen to related podcats, look at a related IMark module, participate in a conference call, and most important to develop a network map that would look at the today of our project / group dynamics and at the opportunities for improvement. Our special guest this week was Eva Schiffer, former IFPRI, now consultant, who specialized in network mapping and helped us explore the potential of this method.

We offered two podcasts:

  • In her interview on social networks Patti Anklam who has a strong KM background and has been working for large computer companies before becoming a consultant, highlights how social network analysis (SNA) helped her to make sense of her intuitions: “SNA helps us to improve our understanding of organizations and ask relevant questions. We are used to see organizations through their charts (who reports to whom?), but to get things done we use much more our personnel connections. SNA illustrates the existing knowledge pathways and a map can illustrate questions like: Are we focusing too much on some individuals? Who are the connectors? And SNA can reveal the hidden value of people. Where do we need to create more pathways?” Patti recommends a reading for those who want a introduction to this area: Robert Cross: The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations
  • Eva Schiffer complements nicely Patti’s interview by linking SNA to our R4D context. She tells two stories that illustrate the use of SNA in research projects, done in low-tech environments with basic materials like paper, markers and post-its. “SNA opens the black box about impact, because it helps us to understand how things work and why we have or don’t have impact. It can give us additional information on how to reach better out to end users.” Eva uses SNA in meetings and asks project stakeholders questions like: – Who are the actors in your project? – How are they linked? What is their role (donor, advisor, partner…) – How influential are they? (using influence towers) – Have you influential friends / enemies “The complete map is for many an eye opener and generates excitement. It confirms intuitions for some, for others it highlights the different understanding that the actors can have about the relationships and dynamics in their network”, she says

Our weekly resource, the IMark module is definitively an extremely rich and useful resource for those who want to go more systematically through the issues of on-line communities and how to establish and make most out of them. The module offers us a first exploration with concrete situational examples within our R4D domain. Then it helps us go through a needs assessment, and have a look at the available options and tools. It guides us through all the design issues of on-line communities—from roles and responsibilities to online security issues—and has also a crucial chapter about online facilitation. On that one, and just as example, I really like the slides about cross-cultural differences i.e. about how we start a conversation, use humor, our attitudes towards time, conflict and moments of silent… very insightful.

Our weekly conference call (divided as always in three alternative schedules to cover the different time zones of our participants) allowed us to have Eva Schiffer with us and to explore network issues around some examples given from the participants. On the call we explored questions like: incentives and the existence of a “tipping point” for active participation and how to reach it; the role of a core group as most active members who engage the others; the potential of focal points to reach out within the network; the notion of “boundary spanners” between the more connected and the less connected in a network; the trap of seeing us too often in the center of the network as an indispensable node; the power of informal meeting opportunities for networking; the power of on-line tools for active networking and the need to offer different tools or channels to meet member’s varying preferences.

The network mapping exercise generated some good on-line discussions on our Moodle space. So far participants contributed 10 maps or so. The discussion came up about the need to map the network with regard to the people we have relationships with, not so much the units or groups. It’s the nodes between actors of the network that we can influence / work on. Another important step in the mapping exercise is to look at the map as it is now but also to add the links and relationships we dream of developing. Here are examples of issues that emerged while analyzing three of the maps:

  • “ By looking at my map, I found that we should involve more on our Focal units, because they are working at the national level and they have a close collaboration with their national institutes and researchers. A Regional Information System doesn’t mean nothing if it doesn’t has the support of National Agricultural information system.” The feedback suggested for example to aim at a face-to-face meeting to strengthen and motivate the focal units.
  • “ I envision that I have currently centralized to such a point where I am the only connector and now I would like to ensure that the relevant areas take on ownership of their own pieces of the Portal.” Eva reported an example of a colleague who tries to be very involved in the strategic development of his projects in the beginning, but who right from the start will look for a “leadership apprentice” to take over and who can assure continuity.
  • “Our partners are of different nature, positions, cultures, but they are all committed to information exchange. The actors involved are basically those who produce information (data providers) and the big audience that uses this knowledge.” Workshop participants reply: the challenges is to moving individuals in the network from a mindset of “data exchange” to thinking about KS, i.e. What would the map look like if those same end users were able to shape the type of content that goes into the platform in the first place?

It is also worthwhile mentioning that this week we experienced some problems with our Moodle space. Many participants had problems to post their messages, specifically when they were pasted from another document. While this is been currently addressed we all had some frustrations and certainly lost some good comments. We hope that next week will be a no technology problem one! We are looking forward to now explore tools and methods for knowledge sharing during week 3 of our workshop!

The KM4Dev workshop started with a Day 0, a day for newcomers to discover the community, it’s core group of people, it’s history, it’s communication channels, and the context and challenges that community members are involved in.

“This first day was much about identity issues”, said Ewen Leborgne from IRC.
After a first icebreaker (would you define yourself as a Northern versus Southern, Newbie versus oldie, KM versus Development orientated member, techie versus process focusing?), we had a chance to discover the history of KM4Dev commented by Lucie, the “oldest and wisest “ community member present at the event, accompanied by a live and visual illustration done by Nancy White and Allison Hewlitt. A chat show hosted by Nancy White gave us the opportunity to discover different contexts in which KM4Dev members are developing their activities: rural development, development communication, international research…

When we reconvened in the afternoon we already have had a chance to talk to many participants, but the real first in-depth interaction took place around a network mapping exercise led by Eva Schiffer. Eva is passionate about SNA and she was brave enough to use us as guinea pigs for a first attempt to make “individuals map individuals”. We were 8 at a table and as a first step we shared among us sister networks we are involved with. The result was a huge and impressing list that we put together in plenary. We then started to draw individual network maps and to link them at our tables of 8. Things got a bit complicated when we were asked to identify content and community drivers within these network maps and give them a number between 1 and 5 as an expression of importance. At our table people felt reluctant to put numbers on people’s names and rate them. Other’s had a problem with the exercise as a whole: what is this useful for? Here are three of the many reactions that were shared afterwards:

  • We could have done the mapping exercise around the sister communities to highlight their importance and relevance
  • It seems that some people here are very into the community and enjoy mapping it whereas other participants are users of KM4Dev resources and don’t feel the need to map relationships.
  • It was incredibly brave that Eva took the lead on the exercise and showcased the value of experimentation with Km tools.

All the reactions and workshop notes are documented on the KM4Dev wiki.
If you want to know more about Social Network Analysis, go to the KS toolkit
Follow the KM4Dev workshop blog.

Petr and Daniel working on a ASARECA project network mapThe KS Workshop Phase 2 starts tomorrow. Most of the participants have arrived and we are currently improvising a Day 0 with a small group of those who couldn’t follow and contribute as much as they wanted to the Phase 1 online conversations. To get started we did a quick table round on the question of what we want to hear or learn more about, things that cached our attention in phase 1 but that we didn’t had the time to think through.
We ended up with a discussion on how to get our colleagues, mostly scientists to contribute to our information and communication initiatives (intranets, portals, Web sites). Beyond connectivity problems that exist in many parts of Africa the biggest challenge seems to be to find a form of collaboration that adds value to the scientist’s and staff individual business and provides at the same time opportunities for sharing with the wider institution and stakeholders. We all agreed that this topic will certainly be at the heart of our 3-day workshop.
We then decided to split up in pairs and to draw the networks maps of the projects that we would like to work on during the next days as a way to catch up with the most successful activity of the online workshop phase and also to prepare for tomorrow’s activities.