Sunday, October 05, 2014

Learning about Learning - telling stories and reflecting on change

Telling stories, as a way of sharing and ‘storing’ knowledge has been part of the culture of our species since we first started talking to each other.
And storytelling has been recognized as a central tool in the area of work we now know as Knowledge Management in Development (KM4Dev) since Steve Denning, then leading the World Bank’s drive in the mid 1990's to become a ‘Knowledge Bank’ made it a central part of his methodology. So we were following a well-trodden path in asking participants to tell a story of change at the East Meets West (EMW) workshop during the WEDC 2014 conference in Hanoi in September.

In a previous blog we explained the context and genesis of the workshop. In the session we put our overarching question to participants after we had introduced the concepts and process: ‘How does sustainable change happen, and how can learning about change be applied at scale and in different contexts?

We then asked participants ‘think about a situation where something has changed over the past two or four years, at team, project or organisational level' and then 'tell the story of how that change happened'
  1. Where, when and in what context did this happen? Paint the picture in words or on a flip chart
  2. Who was involved?
  3. What happened - list the key steps in the process?
  4. What happened next, was the change institutionalised (embedded in the organisation or project), or is it still being worked through, or did the learning and drive to change disappear e.g. management structures for institutionalising reflection, such as set time within meetings 
  5. What can other people learn from your example that they could use in other situations?
The process was outlined as follows:
  1. In small groups, brainstorm some examples
  2. Choose one story and develop it in more detail, capturing key points on a flipchart or post-its: diagrams are good
  3. Share the story with another group and identify any common themes and critical factors - what had to be present for the change to happen. Was the change maintained beyond the original context - and if so what made that happen?
  4. Sharing back - in plenary if there's time, or as posters on the wall - summary of the story and key learning points that could be shared beyond the project or organisation
Half of the  participants were either EMW staff or partners of their CHOBA program. The other twenty or so people came mainly from INGOs present at WEDC. We’d done some preparation with EMW staff. Theirs is a fascinating story to tell, since they have been developing an Output Based Aid program now fully funded on a payment-by-results basis. This video is a recording on an EMW Project Officer, Nguyen Van Ngoc Tien, telling their story, translated on the go by Nguyen Hong Hanh, Senior Monitoring, Evaluation & Research Officer at EMW

There were other stories in the room, for example:

  • Jonny Crocker, from the University of North Carolina, working a related WASH project with PLAN International,  on his learning about how to cut through the formalities of large organisations to be able to engage directly as a researcher with project staff
  • A great story from UNICEF about the positive impact of handing control of developing M&E systems  over to national staff (you’d have thought not a lesson that still needs learning!)

Reflections on the reflections

One of the challenges of working in this way relates to the age-old tension in KM4Dev between product and process. Learning is a process, as is reflection. “Being 'busy' creates a mindset that is not conducive to innovation and creativity.  Time to discuss, reflect and generate new ideas is the ransom that quality demands.”1. But without concrete outcomes, like reports, action points or stories – like this one – people are often uneasy about the value of these kinds of sessions. And part of the challenge is that the learning is as likely as not to become evident or relevant well after a particular workshop. We deliberately ensured that Kathryn Harries’ excellent materials were available to participants as a handout, to ensure that there was something immediately concrete to take away. And we hope to track the outcomes of the workshop with East Meets West staff in the months to come, following up on the event and asking about people’s own perception of what happened and whether useful learning took place and, most importantly, whether what happened as a result. And when we have completed this set of blogs we will follow up with other participants as well.

In terms of learning from the workshop, all the organisers were pleased that the majority of the responses in the post-workshop evaluation form were positive. We ourselves recognised that we came to the event with our own objectives, some of which overlapped and some didn’t. So the format and activities were necessarily a compromise, which meant that we too came away feeling positive but not entirely satisfied. Simply from the point of view of workshop facilitation I (re-) learnt some lessons about using story telling

  • Not everyone is a good story teller: it’s not always easy to condense important events over a period of time into a short, compelling narrative and some people are better than others at identifying the elements that will engage an audience, from amongst the detail, and even fewer people are natural raconteurs in front of an audience.
  • Everyone is ready to have a go, which is the fun of the event
  • Using graphics is essential. Again, some people are better at visuals but most people can display a story at least as well as they can tell, it, and most people do best in a combination of the two, as illustrated in the video
  • Those who regularly reflect both on their own and with others in a social, critical reflection process, find it easier to find examples and construct stories. But it’s a challenging exercise for those who haven’t that experience to do so in the constrained time of a workshop
  • The group sharing was too short in our own workshop: we should have left people for longer, simply telling stories to each other, rather than pushing them as early as we did to construct one illustration. The ‘group’ story would have emerged more naturally and easily after a longer small-group period and people would have had time to listen and learn, to engage and question
The next in this series of blogs will be about the CHOBA experience in Vietnam, based on interviews with EMW staff and their key partners in the Vietnamese Women's Union.

(Note 1: adapted from a quote by Thierry Barreto-Fernandez West Africa Rural Foundation, Senegal)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Learning about learning - stories of change

We set ourselves quite a target for the three and a half hour workshop on a Friday afternoon, on the last day of the five-day WEDC 2014 conference, that we described in a previous blog. We proposed to explore the relationship between Knowledge, Action and Change. We chose to do that by focusing on stories of change provided by the participants. 

The underlying concept was that constructing such a narrative requires people to focus on change within and between programmes, teams or organisations. And working backwards to track when and how that change was triggered requires the kind of reflection – both individual and collective - that is a central part of learning processes. I was building in part from an earlier workshop, organised by Michelle Laurie in Manila at the Asian Sanitation Dialogue for the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub project (introduced in Michelle's blog). The overall aim for the four national projects is to influence change through research and knowledge networking. Working with Michelle we applied some ideas and techniques I first learnt in Oxfam GB a long time ago, and later reinforced in work around advocacy and campaigning, where the first step is to identify change goals – defining a future state that illustrates an improved state of affairs, and then stepping back from that point to now, identifying activities that could lead to the desired future state. 

In Hanoi we were working from another angle, aiming to draw on story telling skills as a way to understand how a particular project or team might improve their work and to identify lessons that might be relevant in other contexts. As I said, a tall order for three and a half hours on a Friday afternoon at the end of a very busy week.

Change, time and learning loops

We framed the activities with two sets of ideas. I began with a story based on my experience in Oxfam, as an IT manager for the International Division, from 1994 - 2002. I was part of an Oxfam-wide group running big, complicated IT projects linked to the regionalisation process that was convulsing the organisation. Individually and collectively the organisation was learning how to run such large, integrated programmes. I wasn't the only one who was making major mistakes: the programme as a whole was over-budget and behind target in most areas. As a result OGB went through a learning process, painful for me since I had to accept my own failure, but the failure was at all levels of the organisation, up to the top.

There was a lot of formal output from that learning in terms of documentation and new ways of working, including a much more rigorous Business Case process required for any new IT-related investment. The new systems and approach worked well and one of the main reasons was that learning had happened across OGB, not just among IT specialists. As illustrated in the diagram it wasn’t just about being better program managers, supported by improvements in process and documentation, but also that all those concerned reflected more deeply, in a classic second loop of learning, about priorities and aims. As a consequence the organisation became better at the larger process of integrating constantly changing IT and IS systems into its core business, better at re-using what was still usable and less ambitious in defining requirements for new systems. And while those lessons were also captured in documentation, it was the shared learning – hard earned in many cases, including mine  – between people across Oxfam GB that anchored the new ways of working. 

The importance of this ‘human glue’ became evident when I returned to Oxfam GB five years later, this time working in the Communication Division on Interactive Media, and later, as part of a group defining a Digital Vision for the organisation. Many of the IT staff were still in place, as were the formal processes and documentation. But many of the 'business' managers in the rest of the organisation were different, with few remaining of those who’d learned through the challenge of rescuing a failing program. Consequently, many saw the processes as an imposition, an exertion of central control from the IT Department, and a few were attempting to subvert the process. Institutional memory had dissipated.

To some extent this is a depressingly universal story, in public, private and not-for profit organisations. Our aim was to illustrate that documentation and procedures are meaningless without a shared understanding of and commitment to the ways of working they seek to embed. And that sustaining that change over time is more challenging than achieving more efficient programmes. Further, by starting with a story of ‘failure’, my own, we hoped to encourage people to share openly. Finally, we also wanted to emphasise the importance of engaging with at least a second loop of learning, focusing more on the question, ‘are we doing the right thing?’ rather than ‘how do we do it right’.

A wedge that sustains progress

Kathryn Harries, the Knowledge and Learning (K&L) Manager of the AusAID Civil Society (CS) WASH fund, has developed a model of K&L processes that she presented to contextualize and ground our activity in real examples of K&L processes. A central process in the model is the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, as shown in this excellent illustration from Kathryn’s work, enabling projects and organisations to, “move up the continuous improvement slope towards best practice, and thereby improving WASH outcomes” as is explained in the guide for members of the CS WASH fund.

And Kathryn has captured creatively the importance of capturing and sharing good practice to maintain improvements within and between projects or when staff members change, which she expresses as a “wedge” to capture good practice so it is not lost between projects, or when staff members change. We explained that in their stories of change participants should focus on the wedge, identifying how lessons were learnt and captured in ways that ensured they didn’t disappear. And the connections to my story from Oxfam are obvious.

Kathryn illustrated the full model below with examples of good practice from SNV and East Meets West itself. I think it's an impressive and rich framing of good, sustainable K&L processes in all sectors, not just WASH and will explore it in more detail in the near future. 

However, in the next blog in this series we will describe what emerged in the workshop.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Learning about Learning with East meets West

"In the WASH sector there is a plethora of information, but not always the ability or willingness to learn, both as organisations and individuals. Effective knowledge systems requires organisations to embed knowledge and learning in day to day work in a way that achieves goals and empowers staff. Additionally they require reflective professionals motivated to learn and equipped to build knowledge and learning into their programmes"

It's always reassuring to find someone else apparently whose thinking overlaps closely with your own. This quote from a training session at the 2014 WASH conference in Brisbane captures well the balance between knowledge and learning that informs the KM project we're doing with a group of organisations. We've based our plans partly on the argument that, in common with other development sectors, there is an over-emphasis on Knowledge products and outputs and not enough emphasis on the reflection and learning processes that produce sustainable change within projects and organisations. Given that we're arguing that we need to make time for learning and reflection I want to 'work out loud' as we go along, sharing process and progress using social media - blogging and tweeting, mainly. Hence this blog, the first of a series based on a visit to East Meets West in Hanoi, recently re-branded Thrive Networks.

Knowledge to Action to Change

How to strengthen the link between Knowledge and Action is one of the design principles that emerged from the consultation with the organisations about how to improve KM within the programme. It's also the theme of a workshop we're doing at the annual WEDC conference. East Meets West (EMW) is lead organiser and we've planned the session with Kathy Harries, who is the Knowledge and Learning manager of the DFAT funded Civil Society WASH programme. (Kathy was one of the authors of the quote above). To help keep the workshop practical EMW suggested we focus on action that leads to change.

Looped learning

We introduced the triple loop learning model as a useful model for understanding knowledge and learning processes to the group of organisations at their annual workshop early this year.

The kind of learning we're interested in links knowledge to action - the reflective and analytical process that involve processing Knowledge, whether research results or personal experience, and identifying what practical steps will improve performance and outcomes.  And in terms of sharing and institutionalising learning and change we're particularly interested in social learning based on critical reflection processes.

We're story telling in the workshop later today, asking people to give examples of changes they have experienced and tell us the story of how that happened. We'll be capturing and sharing those stories, and reflecting on what we're learning about learning in later posts

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Multiple KM4Dev

An extended vocabulary for KM4Dev to describe ourselves now and in the future was one of John Smith's major contributions as part of his consultancy on KM4Dev futures. This vocabulary was introduced along with a framework illustrated below to help envisage different ways that KM4Dev might develop in the future. In the report four scenarios are laid out, one describing the current situation and three describing possible futures.

In his final report John suggests that KM4Dev identity is currently informal and interactionist in nature. Thinking through the implications of being located in another quadrant seemed a good way for a group of KM4Dev members to reflect on the implications of John's report as well as all the other material from KM4Dev that informed his thinking. We recorded in a Google document the process and outputs - including our rich pictures - from that March 2014 meeting.

This blog is a personal reflection on KM4Dev futures - mainly the reality but also the project since we've been in it from the beginning! With Nancy White, we compiled (from years of drafts) the final application to IFAD for a project that focused on KM4Dev, what it can and does contribute, and how it might evolve; with Natalie Campbell, we coordinated the KM4Dev Social Network analysis that was the first product of the project; and then we took on a project coordination role for John's work.

Multiple KM4dev

The notion of multiple knowledges was at the centre of the much missed IKMemergent project. And I think it helps in understanding that KM4Dev operates already in more than than one quadrant, something that became clear to us in the Hague (and online). Jaap Pels did a mapping that illustrates it well, with a page on the wiki to gather ideas
Multiple KM4Dev means to me that the Open Space principle operates: 
people cluster around ideas, usually suggested or led by one or two people; those people stay in the network, report back, engage with the KM4Dev Core Group as necessary, develop short-term (like face to face meetings) or longer projects (like the KM4Dev journal).

Crucially, KM4Dev as a network flexes to accommodate those ideas and projects. If there is energy and some leadership then activity happens, and when it is over, it is over, to borrow from the Open Space principles. This potted history of the Km4Dev journal, lifted from the meeting documentation, illustrates the point.

Case Study - KM4Dev Journal

A group of individual members started the journal because they wanted to. They consulted within the network, and the core group, and have been running it since 2005 as volunteers. In 2009 funds became available from the IKMemergent project to support its becoming a print journal, published by Taylor and Francis (T&F). The decision to move to a printed, published journal, caused controversy within KM4Dev. Some people opposed the move on the grounds that the journal ceased being an Open Access publication, although 200 free print copies were available. Some of the founder members decided to move the journal to T&F, from where it was published between 2009 - 2012. When the funds ceased the journal move back to an Open Access model, from 2013 onwards. 

We suggested the significance of this example is that, firstly, the journal represents a focus on capturing, ‘reifying’ knowledge into collections of articles. The move to T&F was in order to benefit from the more formal status of an academic journal and some argue that the content became more ‘academically rigorous’. In this sense the journal as a whole, and the move to T&F, represent a position where expertise, formally captured, is seen as at least as important as the interactions at the core of KM4Dev. 

The second significant lesson from the history is that it illustrates the benefits - and risks - of a loose structure. A group of individuals started the journal, from within the community. A group of people made a move that other people opposed, yet the material being published largely came from within KM4Dev, which continued to support and promote the journal. It is now back in Open Access format, because the same, dedicated, group of individuals decided to put the time to re-establishing the journal in the Open Journal platform. Km4Dev enabled, supported, and flexed to accommodate the trajectory of the journal. It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened if there had been a more formal structure to which such a set of decisions would be taken. Would a more formal structure have been more rigid, and in consequence taken decisions that resulted in a split - as is so often the case in organisations that are less supple than the loosely organised KM4Dev.

Formal vs Informal - a view of the IFAD funded project

We've also done a case study in the meeting documentation of the IFAD project, to illustrate how KM4Dev operates in the 'Focused Quadrant, where more more formal structures develop but the predominant value is an “interaction” orientation to knowledge production, rather than an “expertise” orientation”.  Formality, in the sense of more detailed and bureaucratic structures for governance and management, is the dimension that worried us the most in our meeting - concern that was reflected in the various conversations that took place online in the KM4Dev network. The IFAD project illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of the current informal structure.  On the plus side, a lot was achieved in terms of research, useful reports, conversations - both 'directed' and emergent - in the network and the richness of the work that John led, co-created from and with KM4Dev members. However, I think that the absence of any dedicated, paid, coordination made the project inefficient, in the sense that time was wasted in getting things started and delivered, and opportunities to learn with the network weren’t taken as fully as they might have been. The only coordination came from the already over-burdened volunteer KM4Dev Core Group, which has next to no formal structure or processes. That exacerbated the inn efficiency, yet the project delivered, people volunteered and all we know about learning tells us that a lot of people will have been enriched by the exchanges, the materials and their spin offs.

Relax, don't do it

One of the driving forces for the IFAD project was a fear about KM4Dev surviving in the absence of funding. And there were those who argued that KM4Dev should become more of a formal entity, to be able to attract more funding and become more influential, to be able to advocate for KM in Development. Discussions continued over most of the project, with a particularly rich set of exchanges on Nancy White's blog. But the impression from all the exchanges is that probably a majority (of those who contributed): 
  • do not support  KM4Dev  moving to a formal, governed structure, with a constitution and the formation of a legal entity. Indeed there is support for the opposite, staying as organic, emergent, informal and open as we are
  • believe that funded activity can deliver enormous benefits and that funds will be useful for 
    • a paid coordinator
    • Support for KM4Dev face to face meetings, including scholarships for people to attend, especially from the global South.
Probably the most inspiring development is the number of people volunteering to contribute to KM4Dev, via a membership scheme of some kind. It will be interesting to see what emerges, how much money is actually generated.

KM4Dev hasn’t done a review or evaluation of the IFAD project which would be a useful activity. While John Smith’s reports are a rich resource of information and analysis on KM4Dev his final report is deliberately not a set of recommendations or a plan. There is an interesting outstanding question as to whether the outcome of the whole KM4Dev futures process is that one, single community-driven strategy plan cannot be and shouldn’t be a target. That the logic of the report, driven by the network in discussions and in response to surveys, is instead of multiple future states co-existing within a healthy KM4Dev network - a model of one of those complex adaptive systems we are all learning to recognise and love. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Upstream in a social learning process

Social learning: A change in understanding that goes beyond the individual and spreads within communities or groups through social interactions between people1”. The process sounds benign in this simple definition of a multifaceted process but often Social Learning reveals or generates tensions as conflicting interests emerge. We’re tracking such a process as part of the Climate Change and Social Learning project that is supporting the initial phase of a project in Hoima-Uganda. The project aims to link Integrated Watershed Management (IWM) tools with social learning approaches as part of an effort to enhance the adaptive capacity of communities to climate change in Hoima-Uganda. The Albertine Zone in Uganda in which Hoima lies has been identified as one of the areas to be most impacted by climate change in Uganda.

Social Learning group
The story that is emerging from the initial participatory research illustrates the inadequacy of our sector categorisations in framing the complexity of people’s lives as well as the power of participatory approaches focusing on addressing issues across a large scale. The context and process so far are summarized in these extracts from an interview with the team leader, Prof. Dr Moses Tenywa2 about this early phase. Dr Gerd Foerch3 and Alex Zixinga, a project assistant, also contributed to the interview.

What you have learnt from the process so far, including if there were things which came up that you didn’t expect?
Discharge in river Kiiha
When we went out we were trying to go and do Integrated Watershed Management but also use a Social Learning approach. The stakeholder meeting .... yielded a lot of information we had not expected. The reason for that was that at no time in history had the communities organised around the river stream to be able to recognize the factors that affect them, and especially the importance of water and how it is affected. We invited stakeholders from upstream, downstream and the middle-stream of river Kiiha and by bringing them together for the first time they were able to reflect on issues pertaining to their stream water, its use and even land management and even socio-economic activities that are impacting negatively on the environment and their lives. They were also able to recognize some of the implications, for example they do distillation and many of them take that alcohol and there is a lot of domestic violence and sexual abuse and many of those things. So when we brought them together they were able to reflect on those things and bring them up. It was more like an eye-opener

Initially, because they had never been organized around that theme, when they came they were ‘innocent’…. They came expecting the usual kind of meeting that they have with people from agriculture or development or regional development people. They were expecting the usual discussions, but when we engaged with them asking questions about issues pertaining to upstream, downstream, mid-stream, that’s when they began really reflecting and recognizing that they belong to the same unit which is affected by issues which perhaps in the past they took lightly, just observing some activities or felt that they could not do anything much. But then they realized they are a group together, that they have a voice that they can be able to take some form of action. They say, “we have learned that water is life even in the meeting we have taken water” and “this pollution of the stream has been has been killing our wildlife and flocks and in the future it will kill them”. That kind of realization was the first time and it came through the meeting.

What does that learning mean for your plans: are you changing any of your plans following the outcomes of the first, consultative phase, and if so how and why?
Yes, we are going to change the phase in that we are going to allow in-depth sharing of the social groups so that they can be able to learn more from each other

The process brought out tensions between distillers and other users, a deep seated opposition of interest. Can this be addressed in a small project like this or is it out of scope?
Distillers - photo from New Vision
 (Note that news of the same issue in the same area has reached the national press, as illustrated opposite)

I think it is possible to bring out, to improve the understanding especially considering that they have been working as individuals and those who distill in bushes have no major contacts with community as such and many come from outside the community. People fear that because they are from outside they worry less about the pollution and exploit the community. That they (the distillers) will see that it has reached a level where everyone is now concerned, that there is now an outcry that they will run back to their areas. At the same time there is a possibility that some of the leaders and community members have conflicting interests, that they may also be investors … (only now) … realizing how dangerous it is to the water and their lives.

The major issue now is that the quality of the water has deteriorated and they can’t use it so even the leaders who may have been benefiting from the activities through some social learning may begin changing their attitudes. So however small the impact I think it can help profound change that can take place.

Dr Gerd Foerch, who is working with the project team, added:
After learning about this experience we’re thinking about how to initiate a process where the SL will lead to better planning within the watershed. We have to adjust in the second phase which will come up in August how to get this question into our programme and how to get a better involvement from the water management zone management for that bigger basin. The most interesting thing is to get involved in a process that is not only happening in this watershed but is happening in one way or another in whole country. So … the challenge we would like to take up is to bring science and Development together.


  1. Social learning for adaptation: a descriptive handbook for practitioners and action researchers
  2. Prof. Dr. Moses M. Tenywa, Makerere University, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES), Director of the MSc Programme Integrated Watershed Management, Member of IWMNet.
  3. Prof.Dr.-Ing. Gerd Förch, Makerere University, CAES, Visiting Professor for Integrated Watershed Management, Initiator of IWM postgraduate training in East Africa, retired from Siegen University, Founding Member of CICD – Centre for International Capacity Development, and IWMNet
  4. Pictures from Hoima by from the project team

Monday, May 19, 2014

Are you digitally competent?

So you are on the West Manhattan cycleway on your way to work at the mission in the UN and a US airways Airbus A320-200 crash-lands, deafeningly, on the Hudson river beside you.
Being a well-trained diplomat you respond coolly. You assess the situation and realise instantly that you can be of no practical help in the water - freezing - and that boats are already turning and heading towards the plane, which is beginning to settle lower in the river. This is NYC, so your first-aid training is probably going to be trumped by the well qualified professionals who are doubtless already leaving their bases. So do you join the increasing number of shocked spectators on the waterside, take out your smartphone and start filming the scene or do you get back onto your bike and head quickly to the mission so that you can contribute to the response of your national delegations in New York and Washington DC.

Wait - haven't you even taken a photograph? Being digitally competent you take a good shot, tweet it it immediately, echoing your post onto the Embassy Facebook page, with a message of support and praise for the pilot and the US response  (You work for an enlightened Foreign Ministry, that encourages staff to be active in social media and trusts them to do so professionally and competently -  you've had training, of course). Then you head to the mission, already working before you've even taken off your Lycra. By the time you've showered you've got messages from too many colleagues and friends to deal with immediately, as well as several acknowledgements from different US agencies. Both you and your embassy are well connected on social media, having identified 'influencers' who can support your own policy positions and engaged with them regularly online. You talk it over with your colleagues and agree that part of the official response should be a quick blog from you, expressing your personal reactions - which are only now beginning to make themselves felt - as well as appreciation for those who've saved 100s of lives, and maybe making an appropriate reference to a national issue of relevance. You've blogged before, understand how to walk the fine line between personal and professional (talking to people as a person, but from within the context of your professional position), how to upload and embed your photo, make links to other relevant websites.... and so on. Which means that you will be able to make your 11 am appointment.

The digital dimension of a Capacity Development 2 

We developed a digital competency framework as a tool for our social media training and development work and have used it in a wide variety of contexts, including with diplomats at all levels, hence the references above. The framework is grounded in the notion of behavioural competencies, used to guide, assess and evaluate holistically how people operate within their work, as introduced in a previous post. There we suggested how being digitally competent is clearly an essential component of any definition of a Capacity Development 2, the concept we have been exploring with a team of Itad staff and associates for the UN GEF. Thanks to team-member Cheryl Brown in particular, we extended our standard '5Cs' model, drawn initially from the work of Howard Rheingold on digital literacy, into a two level, 8Cs model. We identify three foundational and five core competencies.

Foundational competencies

These are largely passive in nature (reading, looking and listening), maintaining a low profile, keeping in touch with what is going on and who is active

  • Comprehend
  • Connect
  • Check Context

Core competencies

These competencies are about active engagement in digital media and platforms, developing a profile and working with others to build inter-connected collections of content

  • Collaborate
  • Create
  • Critique
  • Curate
  • Communicate

We provided more information about each of these in a Google Spreadsheet, along with examples of how they are used and links to illustration reference sites. The competencies are mapped in the table to elements of the GEF Theory of Change although of course the framework is transferable to other contexts.

We're very interested in any comments and suggestions for improvements.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Capacity Development 2 - Behavioural Competencies in a Digital World

There can’t be many tenser moments in life than following behind your child as she cycles, more or less steadily, on a main road towards a busy roundabout, and then wobbles as she raises her right arm out to signal and turns her head quickly to try and spot a space in the stream of cars coming up behind. And then there’s the time she sets off alone with her friends to do the same route and you have to trust that she has learnt enough traffic sense to be able to negotiate the same roundabout on her own or, and this is the final ‘wake in the night rigid-with-fear’ moment, that she’s developed enough in all the senses necessary to be able to react quickly and intelligently to the unexpected, which the complexity of the human-machine-environment interface is likely to throw at her. So if you’ve ever helped a child to ride a bicycle then you’ll know with aching certainty that simply learning how to stay upright on two wheels while moving forward is only the first step in absorbing a whole new way of behaving, indeed being.

It’s very similar – though with little of the accompanying tension and heartache – to working with people as they learn to navigate digital technology and its extension, software programmes. ‘Technology Stewardship’ involves a certain amount of simple skills training but is much more about working with people as they navigate into a new way of being that involves using technology and interacting with software. And operating online, in social media and other web spaces, is analogous to cycling in a busy city, having to apply the simple skill-set in a dynamic context where the most complex and unpredictable element is other people. That complexity is one of the reasons we have embraced and promoted the notion of digital competencies as a way to frame the gamut of skills and behaviours involved in operating effectively as a digital citizen. There is a wonderfully rich visualisation of digital competencies in the JRC conceptual model (Ala-Mutka, 2011) 

We have written and presented elsewhere about this methodology, which informs a lot of our training work, but in this first part of a two part post we want to ground that concept in the underlying principles of the Behavioural Competency approach more generally and link it to the work we have been doing on conceptualising Capacity Development 2. And in a second post we will introduce an extension and update of our usual 5Cs framework.

The impetus for this post comes from our work with Itad and two associates on developing a framework for ‘Capacity Development 2’, as part of a brief for the UN Global Environment Facility (GEF). The brief arose as a follow-on from the IDS climate change knowledge exchange, where a colleague from the GEF Evaluation Unit recognized the potential of, among other things, the use of ‘Web 2.0’ tools and approaches in KM & Capacity Development. In the early part of the brief the Itad team quickly widened the scope of the work from technology 2.0 to a more holistic exploration of contemporary approaches to Capacity Development. As part of this we concentrated on the underlying principles of competency-based approaches, the focus on how people behave towards each other and their work. This, of course is in marked contrast to the skills training that can be seen as a typical activity of a CD1, where participants are ‘taught’ how to complete definable tasks and activities. “A competency is more than just knowledge and skills. It involves the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobilizing psychosocial resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context” (OECD, 2005:4).

To say ‘Susheela is a competent manager’, for example, is both a compliment and a description of a set of behaviours. It implies that Susheela has learnt a range of skills in dealing with complicated tasks – constructing and monitoring project budgets, for example. But is also implies that she performs those skills well in a complex context, for example: working with a range of people and organisations; aligning what she is doing with the strategic and operational requirements of her own organisation; bringing to bear her own experience and knowledge, learned mostly from different contexts. Defining, measuring and developing such a collection of learned behaviours and skills is the essence of competency-based approaches that have been central to much Knowledge Management (KM) and Human Resources Management (HRM).

The assessment of observable behaviours, as part of a Behavioural Competencies Framework, is widely used in staff management systems. The United Nations Competency Framework, for example, includes desired competencies such as, “teamwork: supports and acts in accordance with final group decisions, even when such decisions may not entirely reflect own position”. We suggested in our paper that, “the behaviours which might be a product of a CD2 approach, for example, could include collaborate within and across teams and organisational boundaries or tell stories and identify shared purpose through narrative.”

Behavioural competencies are a crucial link between individual and organisational and network levels of capacity development. Behavioural competencies also contribute to and are enabled or blocked by the wider enabling environment. For example, the UN framework referred to above includes the indicator, “gathers relevant information before making a decision”. However, this is evidently dependant on the availability of accurate information. And the study revealed that, unsurprisingly perhaps, the concept of competencies as a frame for engaging with capacity holistically, is still to be embedded in the work of the GEF. For example, competencies, albeit expressed vaguely (eg, “handling conflict”) are a focus in some cases but "the approach tends to be CD1 (train people) rather than CD2 (look holistically at the context and motivational issues relevant to a desired behaviour)."

In the next post we will focus specifically on digital competencies.