Thursday, May 21, 2015

Learn with us online at the ‘AgKnowledge Innovation' Process Share Fair

On 25 and 26 May, we'll be joining the ILRI communications and KM group in Addis Ababa and several partners in the AgKnowledge Innovation' Process Share Fair.

The focus of the event is on the "design and delivery of truly effective ‘process’ improvements that lead to applied innovation, social learning and value for money (in agriculture)."

While Pete will be onsite in Addis, I'll be connecting online; together we'll facilitate and host one session on social reporting. We'll also provide technical support and participate in the other 3 sessions that are open for online participants.

To help us organise we’ve set up Eventbrite pages for the four sessions currently open, so please register here (all times East Africa Addis Ababa/Nairobi):

We’re experimenting with different types of online engagement, from a simple webcast of a Liberating Structures workshop session to more interactive formats, with presenters both online and in the room, and participants able to interact equally with those physically and remotely in the room.

If you're interested in learning and experimenting with us, please do register for the sessions and join us online next week!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Role of technology in knowledge sharing: the case of DECCMA

A couple of months back I blogged about the project we had last year with IDRC, to set up a collaborative KM platform based in the Google Apps for Work for their CARIAA research programme - and the subsequent work to create an M&E dashboard using the same technology. 

So I was very happy when I got notified by Blane Harvey of a recent piece that has appeared on the newsletter of E-QUAL, a European Union funded International Collaborative Project.

Starting from page 12 of the newsletter, a clearly writtent article provides a view into the use of the platform by DECCMA, one of the consortium that forms CARIAA. Better yet, it provides a story from a user perspective, on how technology helps and enables knowledge sharing in a decentralized, multi disciplinary project.

I recommend reading the (short) article to see what solutions technology has offered to the DECCMA team, and the CARIAA project at large. Here some quotes from that I find particularly interesting:

"Spread across 3 continents and 4 time zones, running a research project like this would have been difficult had it not been for the boon named internet! Emails, Skype calls, Google Hangouts, feeding in monthly progress via Google forms, responding to Doodle Polls and answering questionnaires keep us on our toes day in and day out. Monthly catch ups with Soton, work package (WP) meetings with the WP leads, DECCMA Management Committee (DMC) meetings are held every month over Skype or Hangout."

"For any multi-country research project, knowledge management plays a pivotal role. As a part of the CARIAA Program, DECCMA has the advantage of using the Knowledge Management Platform. The Google Apps for Business edition on the domain are available to Consortia members of the four projects and IDRC to better facilitate CARIAA Consortia’s communication and coordination processes within and between each other. KM is about how the CARIAA Consortia will communicate and coordinate within and between each other, and with the CARIAA Project Team as program activities are implemented, research evidence is generated, and lessons are learned."

"Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is an important part of any project and this task has been streamlined with the use of this KM Platform. [...] Users can view the running data and review the existing log files to avoid duplication during entering data. Finally, all these data are collated and archived quarterly. With a user-friendly approach enabled by the bliss of technology and dedicated people to upload these data , writing reports based on M&E outputs is no longer an uphill task."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Measuring the quality and reach of a curated news highlights service

In my previous blog post, I introduced the process and tools we’re using to publish a monthly curated news update about about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as part of the work we are doing to support KM in the Building Demand for Sanitation (BDS) programme.

With 9 monthly issues published so far, how do we measure if this activity is working well, and grantees are using the curated news put together by their peers?

As we’re using several tools to run our Curated Updates, we also make use of several metrics and indicators that form our basic M&E system. But before we dive into this - and what we’ve learned from our own monitoring and evaluation - I think it’s important to mention that this activity is intended for a rather small audience, with an initial list of around 50 recipients and website that is purposely not indexed in search engines.

Nevertheless, some useful lessons can be identified also from a small project like this one, and maybe scaled up to larger initiatives.

How useful is the service? 

From what we can see, users make use of this curated news update. They do open the newsletter that hit their mailboxes regularly during the first week of each month. Out of the many different things you can monitor in MailChimp, we decided to focus primarily on open rate and click rate. As you can see from the image below, MailChimp provides you also with benchmarks and average for your industry, and we’ve been pretty happy to have an email open rate which has constantly been above what MailChimp consider the industry average.

Besides the generally positive informal and anecdotal feedback that we receive from users, we can also see that the they appreciate the service: the list of subscribers keeps growing, in spite of the fact that we don’t do any active promotion of this service. So the list growth is all driven by peer recommendations and suggestions, with subscribers encouraging their peers to register for the service as they find useful to receive a monthly newsletter with a few, key resources that are already filtered and digested by experts, and whose judgement they can trust.

Are users clicking on the suggested links? 

In general, resources shared through the newsletter are opened and users go and read the original document. MailChimp provides automatic tracking of the links included in any newsletter. However, for some technical reason, this didn’t work at first with the RSS driven campaign, and we failed to properly track clicks on links in the first few issues of this Curated Updates service. So while figuring out the issue (which we did eventually, thanks to the great MailChimp support team) we started using Bitly to shorten the links for each curated update resource included in the newsletter.

This gives a better idea of what resources resonate with our audience, where the click happens (if on the newsletter, on the website or elsewhere) and where the audience is located. Through Bitly, we can also see if the link is re-shared on other social media channels, allowing us to have better link tracking and potential insights into where our audience interact online.

How valuable are the resources? 

The RatingWidget Wordpress plugin allows us to get a better feeling of the usefulness and relevance of each single curated news item for the users, and to understand the appetite they have for different types of contents. As we’re using the pro-version of this plugin, the ratings are nicely collected and displayed in the RatingWidget dashboard, as illustrated in the image below.

As you can see, the number of votes remains low and we find it challenging to encourage users to make more use of this feature. However, we believe it remains a valuable addition to our M&E for this activity. Ideally, the perfect scenario would be to include the rating widget directly into the newsletter campaign, but this doesn’t seem possible from a technical point of view - or at least, we haven’t yet figured out how to do it!

Publish, review, adapt, publish...

This activity has been planned around a “publish, review, adapt, publish” cycle for 12 months, and indeed for each of the issues we’ve been publishing so far we’ve been tweaking and adapting the newsletter, the way we present the content in it and online, as well as some of the tools we adopt to track users’ behaviours and preferences. Each time, we try to learn something and put it into use in the next issue - the curators from a content point of view, looking for resources that resonates more with the audience; and us from a technical point of view.

We’re running the service for a year, which comes to an end in July 2015. As we review how it worked we’ll share what we learn and update our findings on this blog..

Friday, April 17, 2015

Learning & KS - "prod, shove, jolt, or nudge"?

“An organisation or programme’s development depends on the quality of interchange and group reflection going on among the staff” (EIU, 1996)

We know what works. The best Development practice has always centred on learning collectively how to work more effectively, adapting operations and exchanging lessons with colleagues to build in continuous improvement and scale. Yet, embedding successfully that kind of good practice into institutional norms and processes remains challenging, especially over distance and between layers of stakeholders engaged in combating poverty and inequity.

But it ought to be so easy. Whenever I’ve interviewed people for the kind of Knowledge Management review we’re currently working on with WaterAid, they always say that they really want to learn, to share, to document it’s just that operational pressures are so intense and relentless that it’s very hard to carve out the time. There are some well-worn responses to that conundrum, some of which we’ll rehearse in another blog, but we’ve become curious about what we can learn from all the experience and resources on Behaviour Change.

"Socially unacceptable not to learn"

Because, while I often say I want to clean the cooker properly (all right, sometimes say) somehow there’s always something else to do. Yet when we had tiny babies and children in the house we became hugely more concerned about food hygiene and we changed the way we behaved. And being honest, one element of the motivation for change was the reactions of friends with babies. We prioritised differently, and were influenced by the realisation that it had become socially unacceptable amongst our group of friends with kids to be as relaxed as we had been about kitchen hygiene.

Taking it back to Learning and Knowledge Sharing, how does a culture develop where, ‘it’s socially unacceptable not to learn’, as Aidan Cronin of UNICEF memorably asked? At its heart it’s about behaviour change, and it’s a problem shared by all those working for changes in areas like sanitation and hygiene, or vaccination, or climate change, that rely on how people act in their daily lives.

Nudge or shove

And since it’s not a new problem people have been aware of it and researching ways to influence it. Fashionable at the moment are theories grouped under the term ‘nudge’. It's odd that MS Word thesaurus cites "prod, push, shove, jolt" as synonyms, since the underlying theories opposes any kind of forcing behaviour in favour of gentler and more positive approaches. The ideas are rooted in Behavioural Economics Most sources cite Kahneman and his collaborators as the most influential and insightful research, accessibly presented in his 2011 book, ‘Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow’. And recent research demonstrates that interest in Nudge and similar theories isn’t just a modish response in the wealthy world, it’s a global phenomenon.

This is a nice introduction about nudge in the context of WASH from a blog by Stephanie Tam
"As fickle as our behaviors may be in relation to our conscious intentions, they respond systematically to certain environmental conditions, i.e. they have predictable biases. Through different combinations of biases, behavioral economists test out how to make certain behaviors easier to perform by subtly changing the context. These changes influence what neuroscientists call the reflexive cognitive system: a knee-jerk reaction that outstrips the slower reflective system we commonly call consciousness or analytical thought (Lieberman 2002). Instead of shoving people into sanitation and hygiene practices, we can create an environment that enables people to perform behaviors that they themselves have chosen."
There’s another excellent introduction in a resource from the Business Balls site, complete with useful toolkit:
“Nudge theory is mainly concerned with the design of choices, which influences the decisions we make. Nudge theory proposes that the designing of choices should be based on how people actually think and decide (instinctively and rather irrationally), rather than how leaders and authorities traditionally (and typically incorrectly) believe people think and decide (logically and rationally).”

“The use of Nudge theory is based on indirect encouragement and enablement. It avoids direct instruction or enforcement.”

“Fundamentally (and properly, according to its origins) Nudge theory operates by designing choices for people which encourage positive helpful decisions; for the people choosing, and ideally for the wider interests of society and environment, etc.”

“Nudge theory seeks to minimize resistance and confrontation, which commonly arise from more forceful 'directing' and autocratic methods of 'changing' people/behaviour.”
With the team in WaterAid we’re going to be reviewing what we can learn from Behaviour Change work in general and Nudge in particular, asking ourselves questions like:
  • What nudges you to take time to reflect, to share ideas, to document in some form or another? 
  • Is it a specific trigger, or a stimulus that is more environmental, part of the landscape?
  • What is the role of leaders and managers - how can they create that environment, or is it more of a personal style or posture issue? 
  • One of the commonest ways to kill things is to systematise it, put it in a manual. But how then can an organisation take on such an approach? 
What examples do you know of in your own work or from other projects about using these kind of ideas?

Friday, April 10, 2015

A curated news highlight service using Wordpress and Mailchimp

With all the news sources that are available out there and are populating our email boxes and social newsfeeds, how do you help reduce the noise to signal ratio? And how do you measure if what you’re doing is valued and used by the people that are benefiting from this service?

In work we are doing to support KM in the Building Demand for Sanitation (BDS) programme, we started to experiment last year with a selection of monthly curated updates about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). This activity came as response to the strong recommendation from BDS grantees about the problems of information overload and the need for support in navigating the flood of documentation and evidence.

We were lucky enough to find in Jonny Crocker and Shankar Narayanan two great curators, willing to work with us to identify 4 to 5 recommendations per month, curated and based on their own reading and selected from other peers’ recommendations.

But how to implement such activity?
Screenshot from last issue of the Curated WASH updates

A newsletter, with some extra features 

First and foremost, we wanted something as easy as possible for users. And having run several interactions and surveys with them, we know that if we wanted to have some hope for success, we had to plan around email. So our WASH Curated Updates had to be an email newsletter.

But we also wanted to be sure that each curated resource could remain easily accessible and searchable, into a browsable online archive that would grow with the content posted in each issue. And that this library of resources could potentially be exported and included into other archives and datasets.

Finally, we wanted to give readers the opportunity to rate the individual contents we would post in the newsletter. Something easy to use and without readers having to be logging into any account, because we know this is a major barrier to participation for some.

How does our Curated Updates work?

After testing various options (for example, using a social bookmarking service such as Diigo, which allow users to rate each bookmark shared in a group, or Scoopit), we developed an online system that works as follows:

  • Curated Updates are posted by our two curators each month as blog posts on a simple Wordpress website ( - they are properly categorized, using a custom taxonomy for type of resources, geographical and thematic coverage; 
  • For each (short) post, the ‘read on’ link is shortened using bitly and brings users to the original resource, whether it’s an external website, article or PDF uploaded on the Wordpress site; 
  • The RSS feed from the Curated Updates section of the blog feeds into MailChimp to populate an RSS-driven campaign that goes out in the first week of the month to the newsletter subscribers; 
  • When subscribers receive the newsletter, they can read the full post and click on the link to read the original source. Alternatively, they can click to read each post online and rate it; 
  • The rating can be done on the website using the RatingWidget Wordpress plugin, which is displayed after each post and website page. 
So how do we measure if this activity is working well, and grantees are using the curated news put together by their peers? In the next post, we’ll present the tools and indicators we use in our basic M&E system.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Five things I learned about running online webinars

Online webinars have become a popular form of online product, especially for trainings and learning events. However, have you ever participated in one of these online sessions, where you just sit in front of your screen, a presenter goes through the slides, but you have no idea about who else is attending the session and what questions have been typed in the chat? I personally feel very lonely being in these types of webinars!

Knowing how I did not want to organize a webinar, last week I co-facilitated an online webinar about “Using Dgroups in all its features(see presentation below). This was the first of a pilot series of three webinars co-organized with Dgroups and ECDPM to support Dgroups users in learning the ins and out of the Dgroups platform, the basics of online community building and tips and tricks that are at the heart of online facilitation.

I have to admit I’m very lucky to be working with with good friends and colleagues Lucie Lamoureux and Ivan Kulis in the design and delivery of the overall Dgroups webinar series. I guess that knowing each other from the KM4Dev community - and sharing similar ideas in terms of effective knowledge sharing and facilitation - definitely helps to plan and run these online sessions.

But as this was not the first webinar I’ve designed and facilitated in the recent months, I thought to share a list of five things I’ve learned about how best to conduct effective and engaging online webinars.

1. Plan in detail 

Even more than in the facilitation of face-to-face events, to run online webinars I think preparation is key. You don’t want to lose time fiddling with technology, or not knowing what should happen when. For me, this means:

  1. Developing a session design and storyboard document
    Before the session, we used Google Docs for the session design and storyboard, so we had all our links and references at hand and had a clear plan of what should happen, when. It’s so easy to run longer in a presentation, or to allow too long for Q&A and finding yourself having to catch up. The storyboard was our reference document to check where to speed up and where to pause, where to allow for more interaction and questions and where to refer users to post-webinar interactions.
  2. Timing your presentations - and adding presenters notes
    I had to practice a couple of times and time myself to make sure I could fit my slides in the slot allocated for each part of the presentation. I also used the presenter’s notes to write down my script, to avoid losing my train of thought while presenting but also as a contingency measure: had my connection failed, one of the other co-facilitators could have continued delivering the presentation, by reading through the script on each slide.
  3. Preparing your room layouts and materials
    We used Adobe Connect as our webinar platform. One of the (many) great features in Adobe Connect is that you can create different layouts for the different part of your sessions. So we had separate layouts for the presentation and discussion parts, for example with a larger chat window in the latter. All materials were already loaded in the room before the sessions, and ready to be displayed for each presentation session.

2. Build interaction into the session design 

The session was designed to last for 90 minutes - and it was content heavy, I was aware of it. So we designed the webinar to alternate presentations (for max 15 minutes) and discussions (for 10 to 12 minutes) sessions. But we also asked participants to use the chat and write down their questions as they emerged during the presentation. By using an open chat window, participants become presenters themselves as they integrated the contents of the slides also with comments and additional tips or suggestions. Besides leveraging the possibility of peer learning, this is also a great way to keep participants attention and engagement.

3. You need a facilitation team 

You cannot run an interactive webinar on your own. In our case, I was the main host and presenter, while Lucie was managing the chat and the Q&A sessions and Ivan was the technical host helping participants that had experienced problems with audio for example (very few in reality). I believe this is the minimum you can think of in terms of roles and task division. Sure, for the next webinars we need to improve our teamwork, for example in terms of making smoother transitions between one member and the others, or from one part of the webinar to the next, but that comes with practice and better use of the back channels.

4. Not all back channels are equal… 

They are definitely not! In Adobe Connect, you have a presenter area on the screen which is visible only to meeting hosts and presenters. So as back channel we used a note pod (as the various content areas are called in Adobe) placed in the presenter area. However, this was a bit fiddly - we ended up writing over each other or having to wait for one to stop writing before the other could. Even more problematic was the moment that Lucie lost the connection to the meeting room. We had not planned to have also a Skype chat open as back-back channel in case something went wrong with Adobe. So thinking about all possible options will help us identify better solutions next time.

5. Some participants will not come… 

We had a limit of 25 seats in the Adobe Connect room so we kept participants’ registrations to that limit and had a few interested Dgroups users in the waiting list. But as always happens with a free online webinar, some people just didn’t show up, and it was difficult to bring in people on the waiting list after the session had started. So what we’ll do next time is probably not to set any seats limit for the registration, so anyone can register, while only the first 25 registered participants that will actually join the room will have the possibility to attend. This will prevent ending up with ‘empty’ seats in the room - and hopefully will also be an incentive for participants to connect few minutes before the start of the webinar, so it can actually start on time!

What are your top tips to organize effective and participatory online webinars? Let me know in the comments! 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Supermetrics: how to easily collect Analytics and YouTube data

Collecting and charting data from your YouTube and Google Analytics can be a time consuming process and not a very enjoyable one, as I’m sure you are aware of...But there’re some good news here. And it’s called Supermetrics.

What is Supermetrics? 

Supermetrics is a Google Drive add-on - an extension that you can add to your Google Sheets and Docs. Add-ons are similar to Google Apps Scripts but with some differences. If you’re curious to know more about this, go over this blog post here, where the two are compared in detail. And where you can also find a good overview of some useful Add-ons.

With Supermetrics you can create queries to (semi)automate your reporting from sources such as Google Analytics, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Google AdWords, etc….Data from these sources are added to a Spreadsheet (or Google Doc). You can then create live charts from these data, so they are automatically updated once you refresh your Supermetrics queries. Supermetrics comes with a free and pro versions.

The main two differences are about the amount of data you can get from each query and whether you can schedule automatic refresh of your queries, which is available only for the pro version (49 USD/month).

In CARIAA program M&E dashboard, we used the free version of Supermetrics.

How to activate and use Supermetrics?

To use this tool follow these simple steps below here:
  1. Activate Supermetrics - Navigate to the Add-ons button in your Google Sheets and browse the gallery to select Supermetrics.
  2. Set up your queries by 
    1. Connecting your data source and selecting your profiles - Launch the Supermetrics sidebar and connect the various sources you want to monitor. In our case, we only connected the Google Analytics and YouTube profiles that were shared with the Google Account we used.
    2. Selecting the date range you want to monitor and the metrics you are interested in - In our case, we set up queries for a specific time frame but you can also have a year-to-date query, last month, etc...Out of the many Google Analytics and YouTube metrics you can collect, we limited the query to web sessions, users and pageviews for Analytics, and views for YouTube.
  3. Launch your queries and see your data - Once you’re all set, decide how you want to get your data, in a table or in the various default charts. Data will be downloaded and added to your spreadsheet.
  4. Refresh your queries - From the Supermetrics menu under your Add-ons tab, you can refresh all your queries with a click and update your results and charts.
  5. Launch Supermetrics from your Add-ons menu
  6. Modify and edit your queries - Alternatively, you can click on Manage queries; this will open a worksheet where all your queries are listed. From here you can manage and modify them, for example changing the date range of the query.

Using Supermetrics has proved to be a very effective and efficient way to collect usage stats and traffic data for multiple Analytics profiles and YouTube channels at the same time, without having to waste time navigating in and out these various accounts to get individual data.

Note that, while at the beginning of this post I mentioned that this tool can also be used to collect data from Twitter, in our case we decided not to use Supermetrics for Twitter.

In the next post, I’ll explain you why we took this decision, and what we used instead. In the meantime, if you haven’t try it yet, give Supermetric a shot and see for yourself how it works.