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.

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