Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The power of mass collaboration

The notion that 'knowledge resides in the network' keeps surprising. Via the twitterfeed of knowledge management expert Christian Kreutz *) I was pointed today to the master thesis of the CEO of Zpply, Mr. Ahmad Ghazawneh, with the intriguing title Managing Mass Collaboration (June, 2008).

*) see Kreutz's favorites on deli.ci.us and especially the set tagged with web2.0 + knowledge_management (another set of links on deli.ci.us that I like to recommand here are the favorites of community guru Nancy White aka Choconancy)

Mass collaboration is a collaboration model that is based on collective actions that occurs and takes place while large numbers of contributors and participants work independently but collaboratively in a single project which is modular in its nature.

The purpose of the study is to create and form a process framework from existing theories, practices and approaches in order to manage mass collaboration's initiatives and projects in organizations, and has the ability to analyze and describe those projects.

According to Ghazawneh the power of mass collaboration is also attracting governments' agencies, noticing that mass collaboration can make their work more effective.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

KM4Dev 2008 in Portugal

Km4dev is an international community of development practitioners who are interested in knowledge management and knowledge sharing.

80+ participants from all over the world gathered 18-21 June for KM4Dev 2008 at the Pousada de Juventude Hostel in Almada, Portugal (just outside Lisbon) for an open space event on knowledge management for development. The faces of the participants and other gathering pictures are geotagged here on a Flickr map.

One of the participants was ICCO's Maarten Boers. Maarten will give you later a more extensive report of the experiences. You may have a little foretaste by taking a sneak preview at the KM4Dev 2008 Annual Gathering Blog , look at the tagged links on Deli.ci.us or enjoy the group pool and Peter J. Bury's pictures on Flickr.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Plus ca change...or...how far have we come?

On the one hand I feel really positive about the two day workshop. The participants brought together an enormous amount of experience and creativity, from across the globe, and people worked very hard ("it was really intense" was one feedback I feel guiltily pleased about, as a facilitator.) As Maarten said, the output is forward looking and imaginative yet also practical and focused.

But, the issue of how to engage and encourage people in organisations to share learning and ideas with each other inside and across organisations South and North is as old as the development business. Olivier Sagne encouraged us to recognise that both horizontal and vertical sharing are important but we know it is the horizontal sharing which is the most difficult.

My own experience starts with the Arid Lands Information Network-Eastern Africa (ALIN-EA) which promotes exchange of ideas and experiences among Community Development Workers (CDWs) in the Arid and Semi-arid Lands (ASALs) of Eastern Africa. www.alin.or.ke.

"The origins of Arid Lands Information Network-Eastern Africa (ALIN-EA), formerly Reseau d'Information des Terres Arides - Arid Lands Information Network (RITA-ALIN), date back to 1987 when Oxfam GB held a partners conference in Cotonou, Benin. As a follow-up of workshop resolutions the Arid Lands Unit (ALU) was established within Oxfam GB in the United Kingdom. In 1991, RITA-ALIN programme moved from UK to Senegal as a unit of Oxfam, and was later launched in 1995 as an independent British charity. In 1999, RITA-ALIN closed the offices in Dakar, Senegal, leaving the eastern Africa wing of the network operating as ALIN Eastern Africa with concentration in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia."

ALIN stands out because it has evolved its methods with technology. It still produces a paper quarterly, Baobab, but it also uses WorldSpace satellite services to reach remote locations with its information; has CD archives; increasingly uses Video and links with Community Radio. So on the one hand this is a story of a tenacious NGO maintaining its core business through intelligent evolution. On the other, much of the work that they are doing - workshops with grass-roots community development workers, training in communications (writing) with workers and community leaders - is exactly the same as some of the techniques and ideas we were discussing.

Does that matter? Isn't it simply that the old techniques still have their place? But there is still a strong demand for services of intermediaries like ALIN in the same areas they have always worked. So perhaps the most relevant question for ComPart is what will be the impact of the new technologies that we are introducing? The reaction from the participants at the workshop is positive - they see a need and believe the approach and tools will make an impact. Our challenge, I think, is to explore how to improve communications long-term with these approaches.

..as the kids always chant at the back of the car, "are we there yet"?

Pete Cranston, Lisbon, 19/6/08

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

ComPart South Workshop 16 and 17 June 2008, Lisbon (2)

It is amazing how much a group can do in two days. After all introductory and explanatory talks yesterday, today we mainly used to work in two groups. The question to the groups was Each Group imagined a programme and a region in which it would be executed, and find out what should have been done and how by the end of 2010 as to make the ComPart idea support the quality of the programme. After hard working both groups came with very realistic and good scenarios about what could happen. Of course we did not find solutions for everything, many points have to be worked out still, but we have an excellent basis to work on further. It was also very nice to hear that all expressed their willingness to keep on working and contributing on the support of ComPart in the South.

As an interesting detail we also learnt about a for most of us new way of presenting the results of group work, using “Freemind”. In the picture below such a presentation is shown.

As so often during this type of workshops we had some moments of confusion as you can hear from David Barnard (SangoNet – South Africa), but - also as so often - confusion can very well lead to clarity.

So after two days of hard working we all enjoyed a good meal while watching “The footbal games”, and together with the one Italian and the one Dutchman we could end the day satisfied an very content. Many thanks to the Euforic team for the very good preparation, logistics and facilitation!

Now we are looking forward to the following next days in which we will participate in the KM4dev meeting.

Maarten Boers

ComPart South Workshop 16 and 17 June 2008, Lisbon (1)

As announced in the previous post, these days a workshop is organised in Lisbon to talk about how to set up support on ComPart for Southern partners. Twelve people from all over the world are participating. The main idea is to generate ideas on how to introduce the ComPart tools and especially the "ComPart thinking" among Southern Partners involved in the programmes supported by the ICCO Alliance.

As you can see in the programme we used this first day to explain the backgrounds about ComPart (what it is and why the ICCO-Alliance is introducing using it) and sharing the related experiences of the participants. It became clear the gathered experience is a really good and fruitful basis for the discussions of tomorrow. To give you an idea about who they are, hereby a couple of presentations of the participants.

Olivier Sagna - Codesria, Senegal

Margarita Salas - Sulá Batsú, Costa Rica

The last part of this afternoon we started with a kind of a brainstorm asking all the participants to give some feed back on ComPart and the question whether this way of working for sharing information and experience has potential for Southern Partners. Some very interesting ideas on the role of “enabling organisations” have been mentioned. Tomorrow we will further concretize them and hopefully also come to define some possible strategies on how to work further on the introduction. I will come back to that in a next post.

Maarten Boers

Monday, 16 June 2008

How are we doing? Reviewing the ComPart Flowers

On 29 May, some 15 participants – learning facilitators and ComPart enthusiasts – gathered in Utrecht to review progress and formulate priorities for the Euforic-supported project to enhance knowledge sharing and learning in the Alliance.

Participant reflections

We began the workshop with a series of ‘coffeeblips’ by participants to collect views and experiences with the past year or so of the project. Viewing these, we could identify some perceived project successes:

1. A smart package of technologies has been put together
2. The Wiki’s are useful to organise documents, research reports, partners meetings
3. Awareness of the new possibilities of the web has been raised
4. Some new and useful ways of sharing information have been introduced
5. It gives new perspective on everyday work
6. It creates opportunities for partners in the South to contribute

We also heard some challenges:

1. How to better embed ComPart into knowledge creation and learning cycles of the organizations
2. Promoting greater use of the tools and approaches
3. How to take content out of people into an ‘open’ web space
4. Convincing and engaging others to work along
5. Embedding into workflow and mindset of the organization
6. Making the tools less complicated

Looking back …

Peter Ballantyne of Euforic presented the project so far (see ppt presentation). Formally entitled ‘Supporting ICCO Alliance Knowledge and Learning Networks,’ the project works with Alliance members supporting efforts of staff to document, communicate, and share knowledge and information.

The aim of the initial ‘north’ component is that Alliance staff members will become more aware of ways they can use knowledge sharing approaches, tools, and applications to support and achieve their objectives and programmatic purposes. Many will also try out and test some knowledge sharing tools, learn new skills, and have begun to employ them in their daily work with colleagues and partners. The (larger) ‘south’ component aims to enhance the strategic information, knowledge and communication capacities of alliance partners in the South – so they can operate more effectively in a networked environment, contribute on an equal basis to alliance supported programs and projects, and learn from and share their experiences more effectively.

He outlined the major elements of the approach being followed: to mobilize information and knowledge assets across the alliance; to encourage sharing and open exchange of information and knowledge; and to enable easy ‘user generation’ and sharing of information. This implies behavioural changes of staff and managers, also development of a new knowledge sharing ‘toolkit.’

The major emphasis of the initial phase of the project, roughly from March – August 2007 – was mapping the different knowledge and information demands and flows in the Alliance, with a particular focus on the roles of ‘learning facilitators’ associated with the new Capacity Building Programme. By the late summer of 2007, a toolkit based around various open information sharing and communication applications was emerging, with a wiki at the centre. A training and awareness programme was started and, in November 2007, ComPart was officially launched.

By the end of May 2008, more than 30 wiki spaces, 6 blogs, and 15 dgroups had been set up. More than 150 people from most Alliance members had undergone an awareness session – including Learning Facilitators; Programme Coordinators; Programme Officers; Programme Managers; Directors; Financial Officers; Programme Specialists; Consultants; Regional Process Coordinators; and Secretaries.

The different parts of the toolkit are being used by individuals, to track and to share information. Some tools are being used by groups to share and communicate with each other, across the alliance, and to some extent, with partners.

Peter concluded by asking ‘where are we now?’ He concluded that the main focus has been on the Alliance members in the Netherlands, especially ICCO. The toolkit has received much attention, so people too often assume that the tools ‘are’ the project. There has been much training and awareness for alliance staff, leading to the emergence of a group of enthusiastic users and champions.

… looking forward

A main purpose of the meeting was to identify changes needed for the coming period. For this, we carried out a simple SWOT analysis of the approach followed so far.

Some strengths to build on include that ComPart seems to fit well with future directions of the Alliance, it offers a useful toolkit to support emerging brokerage roles, it’s often easy to use and is fun, and it offers a high potential to collaborate both in the North and in the South

Weaknesses: we have to address include that it can add to existing workloads, it requires even more time ‘online’, the information is often not very structured, many of the people involved have weak ‘writing’ skills for such a platform, and there is still relatively little interaction and wide engagement in the different tools.

It offers several opportunities: to link with the ‘2/3 loop learning’, for people to ‘participate’ at their own time and place, to create and maintain institutional memory, to gain overviews of activities/knowledge, to connect with local oral cultures of sharing in the South, to reinforce existing practices of networking and community building, and to visualize information.

Some of the threats: Poor Internet connectivity in many places, lack of culture of sharing and joint learning, both in North and South, and the potential tension between the use of open Web2.0 tools and the use of proprietary applications such as Microsoft Windows.

We also polled participants to explore what additional opportunities are emerging to put ComPart into practice across the Alliance. This revealed a wide and diverse range of possibilities that we will investigate alongside recurring efforts to improve and extend the platform.

The next milestone in the project is a June meeting with potential ‘ComPart South’ enabling organizations to explore how best the approach and toolkit can be extended and enriched by engaging with development partners in the South.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Use your google account as RSS-reader

After seeing some new possibilities in the course on RSS and del.icio.us I started experimenting with my google account.

The cool thing of the company google is that they give their employees 20% innovation time. This means that many cool ideas also have the 'frame' of development within the company.

I already used the Google Agenda, but have now also found the google RSS-reader. You can use it similar as your iGoogle account, but the main advantages of using the reader above the iGoogle are:

  • that you can see, how many articles are unread
  • you can see more articles than the iGoogle's maximum of 9
  • you not only get the headlines, but also the first lines of the texts, or the pictures

Want to try it out for yourself?

  • Login on your iGoogle account.
  • In the top of the screen you find navigation buttons to different Google features.
  • There you can find "Reader" (or when its not in there, click on the "more" button)
  • Add your feeds with the "Abonnement toevoegen" button
  • And start following your favorite pages

Monday, 2 June 2008


No, not a new brand of cookies, but a quick way to capture views from workshop participants as they arrive for coffee at the beginning of a workshop.

On May 29th, we met with some of the ICCO Alliance Learning Facilitators and other ComPart 'activists' to take a look at our garden and see where we stand after one year of ComPart flowers.

As participants arrived at 'de Ster', together with the coffee we handed each group of two participants a card with two questions, together with a simple digital camera. We showed them how to film a short video and suggested they find a quiet spot to record each other reflecting on the two questions in a one-minute 'blip'.

Then, while Pete Cranston and Peter Ballantyne continued the main session, Chris Addison listened to the blips and prepared a quick powerpoint summary of the messages in the blips.

Henk Gilhuis shares his experience working with ComPart - please note, there's a reason the video is "a little upside down"!

The videos were later played back to all the participants [learning point: need loudspeakers next time] and, with the powerpoint summary, gave a chance for different perspectives to be heard and discussed. The immediacy of the data captured and the possibility to hear from 6 of the videos in a short time provided a quick basis for discussion. More details were then be brought out in the subsequent SWOT analysis of the project.

Lisette van der Wel shares her reflections on working with ComPart

Feedback on the video blips was positive. The process also raised awareness of the potential use of short videos in other workshops and projects. It was also an unexpected and fun way to start the workshop!

The term 'blips' comes from our use of 'Blip.tv' as a platform to publish video online. See, for examples:



by Chris Addison and Pier Andrea Pirani