Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Join in and experiment with us - First KM4Dev Online Open Space

As is often the case, the recent face to face gatherings in Seattle and Geneva have rippled onto the KM4Dev list, bringing a lot of energy and discussions.

One conversation in particular generated a lot of interest, on the value and constraints of bringing people together to share and learn from each other. Between the need to reduce travel related meetings to limit our carbon footprint, decreasing budgets to organize and attend conferences and events, and a general ‘business’ that doesn’t always allow us to engage, “to what extent is convening a conversation still considered a luxury?

One of the (many) ideas that emerged was to try and organize a KM4Dev online open space - so we offered to facilitate the process to make it happen.


So you are invited to join us and experiment in the first KM4Dev Online Open Space on 14th June, from 02:00 London time (01:00 GMT) to 19:30 London time (18:30 GMT). We will be using Adobe Connect for the meetings and Google docs for the Market Place and for notes.

Suggested process

We’re proposing to run approximately two-hour long sessions, with a 30 min break between them. In total, we have up to 8 sessions scheduled, so all timezones should be well covered.
The suggested outline for each session is as below - but of course these are first thoughts and we welcome comments:
  • Hellos, including people logging in, 15m 
  • Introduction to Open Space - principles, how we’ll work, 10m 
  • Marketplace - looking at any suggestions already collected during the registration, inviting new topics, and then the process of agreeing which topics will be led by whom, followed by people selecting which one to join and allocating people to the different online breakout rooms, 30m
  • Conversations of about 30 - 45m 
  • Feedback, about 15m
  • Goodbyes, 5m

Who else is coming?

Some 15 people have already registered, and we’re already covering the whole globe, from Manila in the Philippines to Seattle in the US.

But as you can see in the illustration above by fellow km4dever Tina Hetzel, your piece is still missing. So why not joining us? You can register here and join the list with the other volunteers that have come forward to make this happening.

Come experiment with us, travelling with the sunshine over our planet!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dialogue for impact - preparing the ground

In the first blog in this series we shared some of the creative challenges in co-designing CARIAA’s research program annual learning review (ALR), which is taking place in Nepal on 3-6 May. The Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) aims to build the resilience of poor people to climate change by supporting a network of four consortia to conduct high caliber research and policy engagement in four ‘hotspots’ in Africa and Asia.

Collaboration and conversation

Collaboration and learning together is the life blood of CARIAA and so dialogue and conversation is at the core of this year’s ALR. In this blog we share what we’ve been doing to prepare the ground for the conversations to come, experiences that will enrich our next Oxford FacilitationAnywhere training workshop in June.

‘Conversation’ is right there in the purpose of the ALR, which is about understanding how the research emerging out of CARIAA can bring the SDGs ‘into conversation’ with national planning processes. Hearing some of the research finding so far has been exciting and moving - we have a vivid sense of the huge potential to really impact the lives of the people who are most vulnerable to climate change.

Dialogue is all about tuning into this sense of potential and bringing different perspectives together for what William Isaacs calls a ‘living experience of inquiry within and between people', but without actually knowing what will emerge. In practical terms, what will this look like?  How do we shape up an agenda and create processes to literally ‘bring into conversation’ the needs of researchers, who want to hear more from each other about the science, and the other element of CARIAA’s purpose -  to influence policy.Here is where the story goes. Try to enter a link like this so that it opens in a new window.

In the remainder of the original post on we describe how the agenda is shaping up, and the preparatory sessions we've designed to maximise the chances of success in what is turning out to be a complex process, as befits a complex programme!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Learning events and the privilege of being facilitators

Designing a Research Program Annual Learning Review

Sometimes we have assignments that involve working with people and being present at events so interesting and impressive that we'd pay to attend as participants! We're facilitating the third Annual Learning Review (ALR3) of the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) program in Nepal this May.

We've been working with CARIAA in one form or another for most of its' five year life, beginning with the set up of a collaborative KM platform based in the Google Apps for Work for their CARIAA research programme - and some subsequent work to create an M&E dashboard using the same technology. During 2017 we also worked to support Knowledge Management and Learning processes across the program, including the facilitation of the second Annual Learning Review.

This is the first blog in a series where we will share our experience of co-creating the event design and facilitating the four-day programme, partly as a lead-in to the next FacilitationAnywhere training workshop in June. In this post we briefly describe what makes CARIAA such a remarkable initiative and some of the immediate challenges in putting together an agenda with the potential to enable participants meet its ambitious goals.

Hot-spots and collaboration

The combination or scale and depth is one of the things I find so impressive about CARIAA. The program, "aims to build the resilience of poor people to climate change by supporting a network of four consortia to conduct high-calibre research and policy engagement" in what it calls hot spots, in Africa and Asia. The program focuses on three types of hot spots in Africa and South Asia: semi-arid regions; deltas; and glacier and snow-pack dependent river basins in South Asia. Each of these hot spots combine vulnerability to the extreme effects of climate change as well as a large concentration of poor populations. Hot spots are seen as a lens for research on common challenges across different contexts.

The West-Vigne glacier is a headwater of the Indus © Ahmad Abdul Karim

Pause for a moment and unpack, 'snow-pack dependent river basins in South Asia'. "The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, the source of ten large river systems of Asia, provides water and other ecosystem services to more than 210 million people living in the mountains and over 1.3 billion living in the plains" The HI-AWARE consortium, who are hosting ALR3, is therefore working across Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh, undertaking original research and seeking to find common threads and original solutions across that enormous region. The other three consortium are similarly engaged in attempting to both synthesise research findings across their own huge focus areas, and with HI-AWARE also to find common threads that can be shared globally.  There are other similar programs, including larger ones like BRACED, but it's this determination to do more than simply share results and hold joint events that makes CARIAA different: it's such an ambitious undertaking, and in a seven-year program.

Research on climate change adaptation demands collaboration. So the different consortia bring together researchers and practitioners, from the North and the South, with different backgrounds and expertise, to create and share knowledge.  This consortium-based model is itself innovative and not yet seen as mainstream in research for development. It emphasises collaborating and learning within both within and between the consortia involved in the Program, as well as with other initiatives. So another striking feature of the Program is the embedded mechanisms in place for knowledge exchange across the four consortia, aiming for syntheses of emerging research findings, and a structured learning process over time.

In the remainder of this blog on we explain more about the concepts behind the third Annual Learning Review, and some our our early thinking on the agenda as we joined the planning process.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dimensions of learning and knowledge sharing

This is the second blog cross-posted from WaterAid UK, where we've been supporting a Knowledge and Learning Review and a follow-up programme involving four countries. The aim there is to explore ways in which individuals, teams and leaders can embed improved learning and knowledge sharing into their everyday rhythm of business. In this blog we introduce that programme and focus on some practical ways forward for strengthening learning and (KM).

Training Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) of Parasi Municipality, Nepal.
© Regina Faul-Doyle/ CLTS Knowledge Hub

Individuals, teams and leaders

Synthesising findings from the review, it became clear to us that a practical way forward in which WaterAid could learn from good practice was to focus at three levels:

Individuals: sustainable change starts at the level of personal attitudes and actions, with individuals changing the way that they behave and act with other people. We consistently came across WaterAid staff, at all levels, who were models for their colleagues in, for example, how they consistently sought to question; to seek learning about what works well and not so well; to engage with others collaboratively in addressing challenges and embedding learning; and to respond enthusiastically and voluntarily to requests for ideas and support.

Personal capacities, skills, learning and communication preferences, and work patterns, all influence how an individual engages with their work context. The work culture in each location influences hugely how effective individual efforts in learning and knowledge sharing can be, especially in terms of staff motivation. And, of course, commitment of resources and leadership from the top is necessary to support a minimum standard in communication and other competencies relevant to learning.

But a range of daily choices are down to individuals, for example:
  • What to prioritise 
  • How much to question assumptions and current practices – be critically reflective 
  • Whether to seek learning from outside the immediate context 
  • Whether to make the effort to share ideas, innovations and lessons more widely 

Six main themes emerged:
  • Curation – selecting and filtering, and sharing information relevant to particular projects 
  • Communicating effectively with others 
  • Critical reflection on current practice 
  • Networking and connecting 
  • Learning 
Competencies describing good practice in these areas can be used as a checklist, or for staff development.

Teams: people work in teams, whether organised by projects or programmes or by organisational structures. Presenting a vision of how the best teams in the organisation work can provide a yardstick for comparison. In this section, five themes emerged from the study:
  • Learning is at the centre of team plans and activities 
  • Knowledge-sharing practice caters for individual learning preferences, enriching the global programme while capturing learning from elsewhere 
  • Communication facilitates the flow of information and knowledge across the organisation 
  • Partnership and networking 
  • Knowledge capture 

Leaders: "management is always encouraging and often facilitates learning activities," – WaterAid Bangladesh staff. "The management is extremely supportive to reflect, learn and share," – WaterAid Madagascar staff.

These two quotes are typical of staff interviewed in the KM review. They illustrate the central and unsurprising finding – that senior leadership drive and support is essential to establish and nourish a supportive learning and knowledge-sharing culture.

A further output from the review was a simple KM culture review tool for management teams to use with their staff to understand current perceptions of how the culture supports effective knowledge sharing and learning. The output can form a baseline against which progress can be measured.

Knowledge and learning accelerator project

This 18-month project gives us WaterAid staff and teams an opportunity to strengthen learning and KM in selected projects in four country programmes. The accelerator project aims to enable teams and staff to become more efficient and systematic in how they reflect on progress and share learning. It began with the appraisal and identified gaps which will feed into the action plan.

We will continue to blog from the project as we explore how to learn from the findings of the appraisal tool, and how best to take the recommendations forward to strengthen learning and KM in the daily rhythm of business.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Converging on common ground - or not

As a facilitator of meetings and gatherings, it’s a great feeling when it’s going well and awful when you run into the sand. There’s nothing quite like the first stirrings of unease as you realise a session isn’t going to plan. And speaking personally, that reaction stirs a prickling of sweat glands, a stirring in the stomach, natural components of the fear response.

The FacilitationAnywhere wiki links to sample workshop methods for each phase

Reflecting on the process of coming to agreement, which is the next ‘phase’ of our loose six part model of ‘typical’ events, brought me to remember how often tensions are raised in these sessions. The process of prioritising, selecting and re-prioritising, means some people will have to give way on ideas they value. It is also the key exit route from the ‘messy middle’ which is another way of visualising Sam Kaner’s ‘groan zone, which we described in our earlier post on this phase.

Keep Calm and Carry On

25/10 Crowd Sourcing is one of those creative methods from the Liberating Structures people, designed to both stimulate new thinking within a group – using a form of quick brainstorming - and help a consensus form about the most promising ideas. It’s a curious method, almost algorithmic in the way it tries to use a rapid process to bypass deeper reflection and questioning that can slow down, or interrupt a group’s convergence on what is common.

"First, every participant writes on an index card his or her bold idea and first step. Then people mill around and cards are passed from person to person to quickly review. When the bell rings, people stop passing cards and pair up to exchange thoughts on the cards in their hands. Then participants individually rate the idea/step on their card with a score of 1 to 5 (1 for low and 5 for high) and write it on the back of the card. When the bell rings, cards are passed around a second time until the bell rings and the scoring cycle repeats. This is done for a total of five scoring rounds. At the end of cycle five, participants add the five scores on the back of the last card they are holding. Finally, the ideas with the top ten scores are identified and shared with the whole group"

I’d had warnings from that ace facilitator, Ewen Le Borgne - about how easily the process can go wrong. Ewen’s response to most things is to laugh, which is a great way to deal with problems and stay in touch with other people in the room. The problem with the 25/10 method seems to be that the apparently straightforward sorting process is unusual: it’s mix of allowing people to talk about an idea, and then asking them to simply score the rest on a rapid appraisal. There is some movement too and music is meant to help. But when the process broke down during a large event we were working on last month, it suddenly made it all worse. There was too much noise and even more confusion about when the music should be on or off. So there we were, meant to be starting round two of the five scoring rounds and some of the ideas cards already had three or four scores on them. Uneasy looks, prickling of the skin: we had to laugh, and my first reaction – scratch out all the scores and start again – was quickly corrected by the group to the more logical and easier start the scoring again on the other side of the card. Dunh!

And like magic, a quietly-spoken participant, not at all one of the most vocal during the earlier three days, started making sensible suggestions during the rest of the process, but talking very softly, almost into my ear (confession: I tend to panic over numbers and counting, early educational trauma!). It was both an intensely practical way to help the group, via helping me, and also very calming for me. As a result we ended up with a series of ideas that the group in general found the most interesting – the method does work!

[More reflections and examples of methods and approaches to dealing with the 'messy middle' are included in the remainder of this post on the FacilitationAnywhere blog]

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Social Learning and sense-making in events

"One day a woman went hoeing in the field. Before she started hoeing she put her baby under the shade of a tree. Whilst she was working in the field some baboons came and stole her baby." The constantly original and creative Charles Dhewa grabbed instantly our attention during a session at the 2011 IFAD ShareFair as he told one of the Bantu narratives he describes in his powerful paper, "Traducture and Sensemaking: Experiences from Southern Africa". We were working together in a session exploring sense-making as a process, and the stories were triggers for us to reflect on how different people take different meanings from a single prompt.

Dhewa developed the sense-making framework illustrated above that embraces the complexity of this process, especially when working with people from different cultures and with widely varied experience. The paper explores the dimensions illustrated above and it's a good introduction thinking about the role of a facilitator in working with large and small groups of people as they sense together and shape ideas and new meanings from their discussions.

As we described in our first blog on sense-making and emergence, the process of collective learning and making sense of what is emerging is probably the most complex part of a workshop. Several popular and well-tested facilitation techniques can be used to support these processes, including:
World Cafe, where participants have rounds of conversations on linked sets of questions, with 'hosts' at tables recording the progressively richer exchanges.
  • The wide range of variations in storytelling methods 
  • The different approaches to Appreciative Inquiry, with their emphasis on seeking the affirmative and positive as the basis for considering future actions 
  • Future Backwards or Backcasting - taking people out to a future they construct, either or both ideal or nightmare and then considering how they will or did get to that future, as the basis for thinking about what they might do next 
[Information about FacilitationAnywhere courses (next one likely to be in April 2017), the associated wiki of resources, and further examples of methods to encourage sense-making can be found in the remainder of this blog on the FacilitationAnywhere site]

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Knowledge Management in organisations: admitting success

British organisations, like the British more generally, tend to shrug off compliments. Ask a member of staff at an international development NGO to describe what’s wrong with x or y in the organisation and make sure you have a comfortable seat, because people will usually provide a huge list, speaking at length and without notes.

In contrast, explain to those same people that actually their organisation, like most, does a lot of things very well, that they are ‘good enough’ and typical of the sector, and you can watch the eyes glaze. If, more radically, you suggest that identifying and building on good practice instead of addressing an endless list of faults generates more sustainable and less disruptive organisational change, then you get back, even from the polite British, grimaces and grunts of disbelief. 

Inclusive WASH planning © Regina Faul-Doyle/ CLTS Knowledge Hub

We've been supporting a Knowledge and Learning Review in WaterAid UK. In this summary of a blog, cross-posted from the WaterAid site we explain how we created positive conversations when reviewing WaterAid's practice around learning and knowledge management. We shared some of the examples from WaterAid of good and excellent practice in learning and knowledge management. From reactions to our sharing of these stories at the 2016 Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) conference, we believe these examples are also useful for other organisations facing the same challenges.

Appreciative inquiry

The knowledge management review used ‘appreciative inquiry’ (illustrated by the diagram below). We chose this method to create a positive conversation and practical footing. It involved:
  1. Moving away from the deficit model, characterised by long lists of faults in the organisation.
  2. The art and practice of asking questions that strengthen an organisation’s capacity to identify, anticipate and enhance the potential of its processes. 

The review investigated two WaterAid country programmes that are well regarded for learning and knowledge sharing, and also two cross-organisational areas of work that demonstrate good knowledge management. The resulting four case studies described the context, common principles, and examples of good practice found across all the studies.

As we worked our way through the investigation, common themes emerged from the project and the country programme case studies. For example:
  • The crucial role of consistent leadership and management support, at all levels. 
  • A shared commitment among teams to: talking; sharing experiences, challenges and learning; noting down formally or informally the process, conclusions and recommendations, and revisiting those notes to review progress; and to embedding this culture in regular project processes.

Equity and inclusion – the 'Rolls Royce' of projects

For example, one of the areas chosen was WaterAid’s Equity and Inclusion project (E&I). We referred to this as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of projects, as it was well designed and well resourced. It ran over several years and aimed to improve the way WaterAid integrated and adapted its work to the needs of all its stakeholders, paying particular attention to specific needs of, for example, disabled people.

We considered it as a model for how organisations can change fundamentally and how they do business at all levels. Key points of interest are:
  • The project was supported strongly at all levels of management, from senior leaders at the global and the country levels through to middle management and staff at the country level. 
  • The project was well resourced. Support staff were available and money was set aside for global face-to-face meetings. It also involved partnering with WEDC and others to develop custom materials. 
  • The project embodied good practice in ‘learning by doing’. The team constantly reviewed and reflected on their progress, adapting the project over time. 
  • The project built a powerful network of country E&I champions, but the pace and scale of its achievements owe a lot to the team at its centre, led by Louisa Gosling, who networked and communicated well and placed partnership at the centre. 

The story of how WaterAid developed its work on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is equally powerful, and very different. The MHM case study, which we described in an earlier blog here emphasised that the combination of active listening, communication, and critical reflection is an important aspect of learning and innovation. Another major highlight from the various interviews was that networking and partnership play important roles in strengthening knowledge management.

We processed and discussed these findings across WaterAid UK, and will describe some of the follow up activities in a later blog.