Archive for the ‘KM for development’ Category

G5 — Using Small Group Carousels for Collective Idea Generation

July 17, 2010

[This is a guest blog article by Bruce Britton. Please see his introduction in the previous blog post.]

During a recent training course on ’Reflective Practice’ that I facilitated for the Asian Development Bank and invited guests I used a technique that enables groups to work together, record their ideas and build on each others’ contributions. I know the technique as ‘Small Group Carousel’ and it involves dividing a task into stages, allocating each stage to a small group, asking each group to list out their ideas then move on to each of the other lists, discussing the ideas that are already there and adding their own ideas. The groups move round each list until they arrive back at their original list but this time with the other groups’ contributions added.

This is how we used the Small Group Carousel technique on the course. First of all I introduced ‘Bob’ who needed our help (see figure below). I explained that Bob’s challenge was to develop a good practice guide on Reflective Practice. The task seemed to me to divide into three stages – before, during and after – so participants divided into three groups with each group taking responsibility for generating ideas on one of the three stages. Each group was given a different coloured marker pen to note their ideas on a flipchart sheet.

After about ten minutes the groups were asked to move on to the next stage, so those working on the ‘before’ stage moved on to the ‘during’ stage; those who had worked on the ‘during’ stage moved to the ‘after’ stage, and so on. The groups then read through the ideas they found on the flipchart sheet and added their own ideas, or annotated the existing ideas. They were not allowed to delete ideas but could question or comment on those that were already written on the flipchart. After about five minutes they were asked to move on again and add to the ideas on the third flipchart (which by this time already had the ideas of two groups written on it). Finally, the groups were asked to move to the sheet that they had started and to read and discuss the collective thoughts and ideas of all three groups.

Here are the ideas generated for each stage:

Note that each group used different colored pens (black, blue and green) enabling everyone to see how each group built on the ideas of each other.

You can see that each group has not only generated new ideas but annotated those written by other groups. This provided a rich amount of information to discuss. The next stage was to negotiate overlaps, delete ideas that everyone agreed were not suitable, and reach consensus about what should be involved at each stage. Using different coloured pens made it easier to remember which group had written which comments.

The outcome of the carousel process is a collaboratively produced and owned set of ideas that draws on the collective experience of those participating. The dynamics of the process makes it easier for individuals to contribute (because work groups are smaller) and generates ideas that both build on and challenge earlier ideas. The technique can be adapted in many ways and used in a range of settings from team meetings to peer assists.

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Guest blog posts by Bruce Britton and Norman Lu

July 15, 2010

To my blog followers,

I have not been able to post blogs for more than two months because I had been sooo so busy travelling around. I was in several rural areas in the Philippines in the provinces of Southern Leyte, Capiz and Oriental Mindoro. I made a trip to Tokyo together with other KM experts to prepare KM guidelines for SME owners and managers. I was in Bangladesh earlier this week and I am now in Pakistan evaluating productivity projects. In the next weeks I will travel to Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.

Cheers! I intend to resume the G series promptly. I will also post two guest blogs. Bruce Britton, an expert from U.K. in learning organizations applied to the development sector, and Norman Lu, a KM specialist from the Asian Development Bank, promised to contribute blog articles on the topic of our G series: making visible how we think together.

The next blog will be about “Using Small Group Carousels for Collective Idea Generation” by Bruce.

Bruce is a principal of Framework (a UK-based consultancy organization established in 1985 and working exclusively with non-profit organizations). Before joining Framework he worked for Save the Children UK as a project manager, Staff Training and Development Officer and Regional Adviser (South Asia) on Human Resource Development. He has twenty five years of experience of working as a consultant and facilitator and has spent fifteen of those working with culturally and professionally diverse groups of development practitioners and managers in over thirty countries across Africa, Asia and Europe.

Bruce has designed and facilitated many courses and workshops on organizational learning and knowledge management for clients in the development sector including the Asian Development Bank, RDRS Bangladesh, CHF Canada, Oxfam NOVIB, TearFund, Swedish Mission Council, PSO, Netherlands, PLAN International, CARITAS Sweden and BOND. He has conducted organizational learning reviews and strategy development workshops for many international NGOs including SNV (a Netherlands based capacity building NGO working in over thirty countries), the Aga Khan Foundation and INTRAC (the International NGO Training and Research Centre, Oxford).

Bruce also has a blogsite on “Motive, Means and Opportunity.” It is about learning and development in NGOs.

I will post his guest blog within the next two days.

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G4 — Tabletop Grawing in a Knowledge Cafe

April 19, 2010

Knowledge Cafe is a popular tool for creative exploration and brainstorming together – thinking processes which are more productive if participants’ right brains are more engaged. However, about 94% of people are left-brain dominant and it takes effort and different process techniques to engage their right brains.

A process technique to engage people’s right brains more is by making them draw instead of letting them do talking or writing. Talking and writing words are left-brain activities, while drawing and using images and symbols are right-brain activities.

In a Knowledge Cafe, drawing is encouraged by placing large sheets of Manila or kraft paper as well as several colored pens or crayolas on the table. Participants are free to draw as they talk and think together. If many participate in the creative thinking and drawing process, the evolution of the drawing on the tabletop makes visible to the group what they are thinking together. They are “grawing” (=group drawing)!

Grawing is more a right-brain activity while griting is more a left-brain activity. Tabletop grawing in a Knowledge Cafe is a right-brain activity, while live griting the minutes of a meeting is a left-brain activity. In the grawing-and-griting or G&G Table in the previous blog, the upper rows are more right-brain while the lower rows are more left-brain activities.

Below is the result of tabletop grawing where participants together drew their collective idea of what is “successful community development”. “Tagumpay” is the Tagalog word for “success”.

what is success to the community

One of the participants, Annabelle, verbalized their grawing as follows (translated from Tagalog, shortened and edited while maintaining the essential ideas):

    For us, the start of development is like making walis tingting.* [*Note: “Walis tingting” is a local broom (“walis”) consisting of about a hundred coconut midriffs (“tingting”) tied together. This coconut broom represents a well-known local metaphor for unity: one coconut midriff cannot do anything; it is powerless. But when many are tied together (unity of the community), they gain strength and efficacy.]

    First, the leafy part from each coconut leaflet is removed by a knife to produce one tingting [midriff]. This is like individual discipline: it is difficult or painful but when done, it is a small success. Then many tingtings are tied together into a broom. This is community discipline and unity – a bigger success. With a broom you can clean the seashore of garbage. If the community is united and a project answers community needs – when families get their own house, land and livelihood and they can help themselves and the community – then the project is successful. However, that is not the end-all of success.

    The last stage [see last arrow pointing to houses inside a heart] is when you no longer need the broom because every community member understands and respects or feel responsible for the environment, and no longer throws garbage. That is far greater success.

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G2 — Live Griting the Mintues of a Meeting

April 4, 2010

The minutes (=written record, transcript or documentation) of a meeting is an example of “griting” — it is a record of a group’s discussions and decisions. In this blog series, griting is what we call a visible representation of what a group is thinking or had thought.

The group mind map described in the previous blog is mainly “grawing” (=group drawing) while the minutes of a meeting is largely “griting” (=group writing).

The common and traditional way of writing the minutes consists of:

  1. A secretary takes notes and/or audio recording during the meeting.
  2. After the meeting he drafts the minutes based on his notes and/or by listening to the audio recording.
  3. Before the next meeting, the minutes may or may not be reviewed and corrected by one or more meeting attendees.
  4. In the next meeting, the group reviews, agrees on final corrections and approves the minutes.

This common method is prone to many errors:

  • Days or even months pass between meetings. If no audio recording was made, the minutes is based on error-prone recall.
  • Reconstructing what was said and decided from an audio recording takes 2-3 times longer than the duration of the meeting.
  • If no audio recording was made, meeting attendees may have different recall of what was said and will have to spend extra time to decide what should appear in the minutes.
  • The speaker can change his mind since the previous meeting.
  • In the end, the minutes is a poor record of what had actually been said.

In live griting of the minutes of a meeting, the above errors are reduced.

In courts, special stenographic skills and machinery are employed to produce real-time transcripts of court proceedings as verbatim as possible. The main aim of a certified verbatim reporter is 100% accuracy of reporting. However, in griting the main aim is to make visible to a group what they are thinking. Griting is a tool for thinking together.

Live griting the minutes of a meeting can be implemented as follows:

  • A secretary, using a laptop attached to an LCD projector, records the minutes of a meeting while the meeting is going on.
  • The meeting attendees see on the projector screen the minutes as it is being written a few seconds after a statement is made or a decision is reached.
  • Any meeting attendee can immediately correct the record, if needed, and the secretary immediately implements the correction.
  • As the group goes through its thinking processes, the minutes gets written; constant interaction of the group with the secretary assures that the minutes evolves in a manner that reflects the result of the discussion with accuracy acceptable to the group — this is the essence of “grawing-and-griting” or G&G.

By the time the meeting is done, the minutes of the meeting is also done!

Furthermore, technology has now advanced to the point where the tool for G&G can be placed and collaboratively worked on-line. For example, an on-line meeting can be conducted among attendees from different geographical locations where everyone is talking and thinking together via a conference VoIP call and synchronously co-writing/editing an online minutes of the meeting as the on-line meeting is going on!

An inexpensive combination is conference VoIP call via Skype, and on-line co-writing/editing of the minutes using Google docs — a G&G technology within reach of most everyone to enable a geographically-dispersed group of people to think together!

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T1-5 High-Octane Knowledge Products by a Development Organization

January 29, 2010

Imagine: the top managers and executives of a development-oriented organization are ready to listen to you about KM. They are open to KM but they want to be sure that KM will benefit their organization. They are all busy and although it is difficult to bring them together, you succeeded in scheduling a one-hour slot for a KM activity you will design and execute. What will you do?

I was actually faced with this situation in two instances: a regional inter-governmental organization and a United Nations regional office. What I did then I now call “Zeroing in on High-Octane Knowledge Products”.

Development-oriented organizations are after results and outcomes that are far more complex than those of private corporations. Their stakeholders (the equivalent of “customers” for private corporations) pursue varied interests and agendas, operate at different levels (some are at the community and local level, some are at the national level, and others may be at the bilateral, regional or international level) and wield different types and magnitudes of power (financial clout of donors, regulatory clout of governments, military power of rebels and militias, local monopoly power of dominant businessmen, etc.).

The process I designed and found quite effective proceeded as follows:

  1. Brief lecture (5 minutes): using prepared PowerPoint presentation on what is “knowledge” (assets that enable effective action) and “knowledge management.”
  2. Small-group workshop (20 minutes) on the first question: “List three of your most important stakeholders, and for each one, what important action does your organization want them to do more effectively?” The group outputs are written in large kraft or Manila paper and posted where everyone can read. If there are 5 groups, there will be 15 important stakeholder-actions (duplication can occur across small group outputs).
  3. Voting (5 minutes): Each participant is given a red ball pen and he/she is asked to read all the important stakeholder-action pairs listed by all the groups. He/she selects three which he/she regards as the most important, and writes a red asterisk on each of the three.
  4. Plenary discussion (15 minutes) on the following questions: “Which stakeholder-action pairs garnered the highest votes? Do you agree or disagree? Comments? Did we miss any important stakeholder-action pair?”
  5. Last question followed by plenary discussion (15 minutes): “What knowledge product/service (existing or still to be innovated) of your organization can best support each of the top three stakeholder-action pair?” Those are “high-octane knowledge products” or services the organization is producing or can produce.

The logic follows from the same KM framework discussed in the F Series of my blogs (and the same color-coding also applies).

Identifying high-octane knowledge products

My observations:

  • The workshop illustrates the principle that knowledge enables more effective action, and makes this concrete via the concept of “knowledge product” or “knowledge service.”
  • Best ideas tend to come from the topmost executives, most likely because they are the ones more familiar and concerned with stakeholders in relation to the organization’s strategic objectives.
  • Development organizations often do not directly produce the desired social outcomes they aim for. What they do is to provide products/services to various development actors or stakeholders who produce or contribute to those outcomes. The workshop is a good way to prioritize and identify the greatest social value-adding outputs (or “high-octane knowledge products“) that the organization can produce.
  • The exercise can lead to identifying a high-octane knowledge product/service that the organization is not yet doing, i.e. it can help them set specific targets for R&D or innovation/design of new knowledge products/services.

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T2-2 Mapping Interests and Power Relations among Stakeholders

November 8, 2009

KM for development-oriented organizations (government agencies, non-government organizations or civil society organizations, non-profit foundations, aid or donor agencies, social enterprises, etc.) is more complex than KM for private corporations. In development-oriented organizations, external KM (or KM to serve stakeholders) must consider the multiplicity of stakeholders and external actors, each with their own different or sometimes conflicting interests and agendas, complex power relations, differences in cultural background, different “knowledges” or epistemological assumptions, etc.

A simple way of quickly grasping the differences in interests and power relations among a group is through a sociogram. Below is a sociogram drawn for the members of the Executive Committee of an ad hoc network consisting of local and national government, non-government, private and academic members.

execom sociogram

The sociogram was constructed after interviewing and iterative discussion/refinement of the diagram with a knowledgeable informant who knows and have worked with everybody in the Executive Committee. The sociogram has two dimensions: extent of informal power/influence and position along an issue or policy dimension, in this case environmental beliefs or ideology. Note the following:

  • The members are generally clumped at the high-power, right-leaning end of the diagram. This means somewhat general agreement and power equality.
  • The widest gaps between any two members show the potential conflicts. An actual conflict can be depicted in red. In the figure the widest gap is more horizontal then vertical, which means that the conflict is more along beliefs than along power differentials.
  • The Chairperson (Person #1) and Vice-Chairperson (Person #2) are more-or-less ideologically at the center of the group, which means that they are in a position to mediate or balance the groups “to the left” and “to the right”. The vertical position is informal power. Note that the Chairperson is at the top: he has both formal and informal power. However, there are two members (Persons #6 and #7) who exert slightly more power than the Vice-Chairman, and they are both “rightists”. Hence, if the Vice-Chairman takes over, he may not be able to play the balancing role because two “rightists” may tend to overpower him.
  • The person with the most extreme position in the group, or the farthest away of everybody else is Person #4. She is the head of a network of local civil society organizations. She is somewhat aligned with Person #3. She is always at odds with Person #7 who is represents a private corporation. The power of Person #7 comes from the fact that this corporation is a major funder of the operations of this group.

Can you see now that a simple sociogram can give you that much insight?

In fact, an ordinary organizational chart tells you very little, namely, only the formal reporting relationships. It shows vice presidents at the same level but we know that in reality, vice presidents are never equally close to the president, and they often have unequal informal power or influence. In fact, it can happen that the secretary to the president is more powerful than any of the vice presidents! Ha ha!

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T1-2 Development Organizations: Supporting Desired Stakeholder Actions

October 29, 2009

Knowledge management in government and development organizations is more complex than knowledge management in private corporations. For one, development organizations have to serve and deal with many stakeholders and external actors with their many different and sometimes competing interests and operating at different levels: international, national, local and community levels. For another, market-based measures common in private corporations are generally absent in the development sector.

I am in Hanoi, Vietnam this week, interviewing managers in public, local and international non-government and international donor institutions — stakeholders of the UNISDR-Asia Pacific (UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction). My mission was to help UNISDR-AP better understand the knowledge needs of its various stakeholders in South and Southeast Asia, starting with Vietnam (a Stakeholders Knowledge Demand Assessment study).

An exceedingly simple framework for this purpose is one based on the same basic KM framework described in the F-series of my blogs:

KNOWLEDGE and other actionable information –> Desired stakeholder ACTIONS

The steps are straightforward: (a) identify and rank (by power and reach, level of trust in your relationship, etc.) stakeholders whose interests coincide with those of your development organization, (b) identify and rank (by relevance, coincidence of interests, etc.) specific stakeholder actions that you mutually desire, and (c) identify and rank (by cost-effectiveness, responsiveness to top knowledge gaps, etc.) the knowledge products and other actionable information that can enable or support those actions.

Some observations and caveats:

  • In the private sector, the desired stakeholder (=customer) action is simple: keep buying your products. In the development sector, desired stakeholder actions are multi-level and more complex. The above steps can be useful for prioritizing across various choices.
  • Enabling or supporting desired stakeholder actions is central to value creation in development organizations. This can be called “external KM” and it is often more important than, or it is what drives, “internal KM” which aims at internal or operational efficiency.
  • Advocacies of some development institutions are not readily understandable by the common layman. UNISDR advocates “disaster risk reduction” or DRR — a concept that cuts across many sectors and disciplines: project design, community preparedness, building codes, land use and zoning policies, early-warning technologies, speed of coordinated implementation across government agencies, basic risk management knowledge among the general population, revision of existing legislation and standards, etc. One cannot simply ask a stakeholder what knowledge it needs, without first assessing its level of awareness and knowledge of DRR. A stakeholder knowledge demand assessment is useful only after a stakeholder had moved from unconscious ignorance (not knowing what they need to know) to conscious ignorance (being aware of what they need to know).

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Paper on “Monitoring and Evaluation in KM for Development” Now Available for Free

September 19, 2009

IKM Emergent has released for publication and has made available for free to the development community my paper on “Monitoring and Evaluation in KM for Development”. You can access it by pressing “Ctrl” while clicking HERE and saving the PDF file.


M&E KM4Dev paper cover

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The Art of Interviewing

June 28, 2009

Today I am flying to Indonesia to conduct interviews of staff in a company in Sukabumi, in the highlands of West Java. The Asian Productivity Organization provided them with training in 5S and kaizen a few years ago. My aim is to discover and evaluate the impacts of the training through interviews. After a couple of days I will fly to Thailand and do the same in Phitsanulok in Northern Thailand near the Laotian border.

As a knowledge-pull activity, the interview is the art and science of asking questions. The most unrepentant knowledge-pushers are professor-lecturers-cum-bloggers (like me!) and the best cure for them is to do interviews (ouch!).

From a previous blog post (“L14- Voicing”), the unproductive manners of voicing are: lack of respect, being judgmental and acting as if you know better, and talking more than listening. The interviewer is forced to unlearn these unproductive habits of voicing. The interviewer is also forced to learn the art of asking questions and interviewing.

What are some productive ways of interviewing?

  1. The presumptions of the interviewer hide underneath every question he asks — presumptions which may not always be shared by the respondent. Hence the first duty of the interviewer is to reduce his presumptions to a bare minimum. This is the reason why it is important to start with open-ended questions, or “grand tour” questions (see Step 1 in the diagram below), before moving on to more structured questions.
  2. A good open-ended question is the invitation to storytelling (e.g. “Tell us about it/them” in Steps 1-3 in the diagram below) which is a good device to elicit narration of experiences from a respondent in her own terms and using her own assumptions to interpret her experiences. The interviewer just listens, instead of asking questions which are often loaded — knowingly or unknowingly — by his own assumptions. The story teller’s experiences and her interpretation of those experiences reveal her mental models (see “12 Types of Learning”).
  3. In general, the cultural, technical and other assumptions of the interviewer are not the same as those of the respondent. And so the duty of the interviewer is to discover the assumptions of the respondent. He can then develop his next questions “on the spot” following the assumptions, categories and mental models/structures of the respondent — not his own. This is the reason why many anthropologists and ethnographers shy away from structured questionnaires: these research tools insinuate the researcher’s own assumptions onto the respondents’ answers. The casualties are scientific validity and cultural fairness.
  4. Interviews are expensive in terms of time, expertise and money. Open-ended interviews cannot generate the kind of data needed to make useful generalizations. In other words, open-ended interviews are good for hypothesis building, but structured questionnaires are better for hypothesis testing. If questionnaires are designed AFTER open-ended interviews and ACCORDING to mental models/structures of the respondent population, then structured questionnaires offer opportunities for generalizations that open-ended methods alone cannot offer. The two are complementary, but a structured questionnaire/survey should be a LATTER step (see Step 6 in the diagram below) in the research process.

interview questions

The same principle applies in designing a questionnaire: more open-ended questions should precede the more structured questions. For some research purposes, it is not advisable to tell the respondent what is the purpose of a questionnaire until after she is done answering. A good technique for avoiding or postponing some “smart” respondents becoming “test-wise” (i.e. they guess the purpose of the questionnaire and that guess consciously influences their answers) is to start with more open-ended questions.

Structure is “a fact of research life” because having research objectives means adopting a research structure. In this particular interview, my aim is impact evaluation of projects. The table above is oriented towards that aim. For my field interviews in five Asian countries, the sponsor and user of the impact evaluation is the Asian Productivity Organization or APO.

The range of concerns in impact evaluations typically includes (starting from the most immediate): outputs of a project, results on the larger organizational context of the project, side effects, and broader social outcomes. Attribution is easiest to claim on outputs and most difficult on social outcomes. Because interviews are at the individual level and social outcomes are at the macro level, interview is not a suitable tool for delineating social outcomes. The interviewer can still ask outcome questions, but he must remember that the answers he will get are highly interpretive and contextual on the part of the respondent. Hence, the correct sequence in asking such questions in an interview is to start with concrete and immediate outputs, and then move towards the more macro questions and their interpretive and contextual answers (Steps 2 and 3, followed by Steps 4 and 5 in the diagram below).

I will appreciate comments and improvements from other interviewers, or other impact evaluators (I am practicing knowledge-pulling!).

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Q28- Recap of KM Virtues and Gaps, or Will KM Disappear?

May 30, 2009

This Q Series had been a successful one; 16,267 hits came in since it started. We end this blog series with this summarizing post. To better appreciate an item that strikes you, I suggest reading the blog which explains that point. The blogs are accessible from this post through embedded links (which appear as colored text). While pressing “Ctrl”, you can click on the colored text to create a new tab to read the previous blog post referred to.

Virtues of KM and OL (organizational learning):

Gaps in KM and OL practice:

What we need next, a new KM or the next discipline after KM:

Q28 cartoon

We will start the new L Series on “Indigo Learning Practices” in the next blog. Stay tuned in!

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