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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.

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