Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Summary of Week 2: FAO-CGIAR KS Workshop

Week two was very active at the FAO-CGIAR KS Workshop. Participants were invited to think about the people we do / need to share knowledge with. After having explored the issue of the “Why share knowledge?” during week 1, which aimed basically at getting to know each other’s contexts better, during week 2 we dived into the area of our networks.

KS is about people and people organize themselves in groups of all kinds. The network theory / approach allows us nicely to analyze those groups –call them teams, communities, units, organizations– in terms of: How do we share our knowledge currently and what could we do to improve interaction, enhance innovation, reach out to new users… We invited participants to listen to related podcats, look at a related IMark module, participate in a conference call, and most important to develop a network map that would look at the today of our project / group dynamics and at the opportunities for improvement. Our special guest this week was Eva Schiffer, former IFPRI, now consultant, who specialized in network mapping and helped us explore the potential of this method.

We offered two podcasts:

  • In her interview on social networks Patti Anklam who has a strong KM background and has been working for large computer companies before becoming a consultant, highlights how social network analysis (SNA) helped her to make sense of her intuitions: “SNA helps us to improve our understanding of organizations and ask relevant questions. We are used to see organizations through their charts (who reports to whom?), but to get things done we use much more our personnel connections. SNA illustrates the existing knowledge pathways and a map can illustrate questions like: Are we focusing too much on some individuals? Who are the connectors? And SNA can reveal the hidden value of people. Where do we need to create more pathways?” Patti recommends a reading for those who want a introduction to this area: Robert Cross: The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations
  • Eva Schiffer complements nicely Patti’s interview by linking SNA to our R4D context. She tells two stories that illustrate the use of SNA in research projects, done in low-tech environments with basic materials like paper, markers and post-its. “SNA opens the black box about impact, because it helps us to understand how things work and why we have or don’t have impact. It can give us additional information on how to reach better out to end users.” Eva uses SNA in meetings and asks project stakeholders questions like: – Who are the actors in your project? – How are they linked? What is their role (donor, advisor, partner…) – How influential are they? (using influence towers) – Have you influential friends / enemies “The complete map is for many an eye opener and generates excitement. It confirms intuitions for some, for others it highlights the different understanding that the actors can have about the relationships and dynamics in their network”, she says

Our weekly resource, the IMark module is definitively an extremely rich and useful resource for those who want to go more systematically through the issues of on-line communities and how to establish and make most out of them. The module offers us a first exploration with concrete situational examples within our R4D domain. Then it helps us go through a needs assessment, and have a look at the available options and tools. It guides us through all the design issues of on-line communities—from roles and responsibilities to online security issues—and has also a crucial chapter about online facilitation. On that one, and just as example, I really like the slides about cross-cultural differences i.e. about how we start a conversation, use humor, our attitudes towards time, conflict and moments of silent… very insightful.

Our weekly conference call (divided as always in three alternative schedules to cover the different time zones of our participants) allowed us to have Eva Schiffer with us and to explore network issues around some examples given from the participants. On the call we explored questions like: incentives and the existence of a “tipping point” for active participation and how to reach it; the role of a core group as most active members who engage the others; the potential of focal points to reach out within the network; the notion of “boundary spanners” between the more connected and the less connected in a network; the trap of seeing us too often in the center of the network as an indispensable node; the power of informal meeting opportunities for networking; the power of on-line tools for active networking and the need to offer different tools or channels to meet member’s varying preferences.

The network mapping exercise generated some good on-line discussions on our Moodle space. So far participants contributed 10 maps or so. The discussion came up about the need to map the network with regard to the people we have relationships with, not so much the units or groups. It’s the nodes between actors of the network that we can influence / work on. Another important step in the mapping exercise is to look at the map as it is now but also to add the links and relationships we dream of developing. Here are examples of issues that emerged while analyzing three of the maps:

  • “ By looking at my map, I found that we should involve more on our Focal units, because they are working at the national level and they have a close collaboration with their national institutes and researchers. A Regional Information System doesn’t mean nothing if it doesn’t has the support of National Agricultural information system.” The feedback suggested for example to aim at a face-to-face meeting to strengthen and motivate the focal units.
  • “ I envision that I have currently centralized to such a point where I am the only connector and now I would like to ensure that the relevant areas take on ownership of their own pieces of the Portal.” Eva reported an example of a colleague who tries to be very involved in the strategic development of his projects in the beginning, but who right from the start will look for a “leadership apprentice” to take over and who can assure continuity.
  • “Our partners are of different nature, positions, cultures, but they are all committed to information exchange. The actors involved are basically those who produce information (data providers) and the big audience that uses this knowledge.” Workshop participants reply: the challenges is to moving individuals in the network from a mindset of “data exchange” to thinking about KS, i.e. What would the map look like if those same end users were able to shape the type of content that goes into the platform in the first place?

It is also worthwhile mentioning that this week we experienced some problems with our Moodle space. Many participants had problems to post their messages, specifically when they were pasted from another document. While this is been currently addressed we all had some frustrations and certainly lost some good comments. We hope that next week will be a no technology problem one! We are looking forward to now explore tools and methods for knowledge sharing during week 3 of our workshop!