Tuesday, 22 January 2008

At a glance: Three key opportunities for organisational learning

It's amazing how quickly knowledge management ideas have become a natural part of how I reflect on issues. I just finished an online training on 'Learning Management' and during the training was asked what opportunities I see for United Nations organisations to build capacity through learning. In an instant, I came up with three items most important to me:

In my view, most organisations underestimate to a large extent the potential of knowledge management mechanisms for learning on the individual, but especially on the team level and organisational level.

Three mechanims could be highlighted which would support organisational learning in any organisation (including UN agencies):

1. Introduction of Peer Assists
A Peer Assist is a process where one indivudal or a team which faces a particular problem or is about to start a project, calls a meeting to seek insights from other people or teams on the issue. This is part of the "learning before doing" in a knowledge management cycle. The exercise is simple, inexpensive and allows the people concerned with a problem to benefit from the experiences and views from others, while being able to directly apply the offered ideas and solution to their problem. An excellent video on what Peer Assists are all about can be found here: http://www.saea.uottawa.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=682&Itemid=649

2. Introduction of After Action Reviews
An After Action Review is part of the process of "learning after doing". It is a discussion or review of a project or an activity that enables the individuals involved to learn for themselves what happened, why it happened, what went well, what needs improvement, and what lessons can be learnt from the experience. This approach has first been developed by the US Army and later been adopted within knowledge management practice. Taking part in these exercises of colleagues allows other staff members to quickly get into the specific challenges of projects and activities and distill lessons learnt for their own activities. And doing such a review for their own projects enables staff to reflect on their planning and their decision making and helps them to learn for the future projects.

3. Introduction of wikis and other collaborative tools.
No one knows everything on it's own. On the other side, everyone could learn from each other. The last years have shown a tremendous uprise of various tools which facilitate online collaboration and exchange, thus initiating emerging learning processes within communities and networks. The wiki (http://www.wikipedia.org/ is probably known to all) is the most prominent example of these kind of applications. It offers all participants the means to collectively develop and edit content, thus contributing to a body of knowledge which is the accumulation of what all participants know. Wikis can be established around any theme, not just as lexicon, but also as research paper, project space or to-do list. The United Nations needs to open itself up to these new work environments and styles as learning and knowledge exchange in the future will happen less top-down, but more and more peer-to-peer.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Don't use Facebook - because of security issues! Really?

Since a few months I get the feeling that public (or media) opinion is shifting towards a more critical position regarding online social netwoking applications like Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, etc., mostly because of privacy and security issues. To one extent the emphasis on a more considerate approach to communicating his own data is definitely desirable. Privacy is an issue and we need to be careful to whom we tell what about ourselfs and where we store and publish which data for which purpose. On the other hand however, I have the impression that there is a current tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water. I actually meet more and more people who in a very strict way say that they would never register on any of these networks, sometimes referring to media news about identitiy theft like recently about Facebook.

In my opinion, there is a problem with this thinking, at least as far as security is concerned. The issue with the current security cases rather is that lots of Facebook users just quickly installed a third-party-application without checking its origin, which then turned out to by a spyware. This is kind of the equivalent of opening an email attachment from a sender they don't know - something which you just NEVER do, because you most probably catch a virus by doing so. Email users worldwide had to go through a painful learning process in order learn how to use email in a reasonable and secure way, and service providers had to improve their software and infrastructure in order to protect their clients from fraud and harm.

For social network applications it's exactly the same. Users need to learn how to use them deliberately (which by the way also includes not publishing any piece of junk about oneself) and providers need to invest in security. The latter - like Facebook - are in fact just starting to realize the work which is ahead of them. To say therefore we shouldn't use these applications at all is like saying we shouldn't use emails because we could catch viruses and people could hack them. That just doesn't make sense, because the benefits of both these applications are just too remarkable to ignore. Instead, we need to keep using the tools and learn about them, so we can improve them and make them more secure to use and thereby even more beneficial in the future!

In fact, online social networks are in my view the way to interact in business life in the future, like email was since the 90ties. Therefore we should consider the current times as a pilot phase for the new work environment ahead of us, even if some of the lessons we learn as we go might hurt a little bit.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Internship in Knowledge Management at United Nations Volunteers

Just want to seize the opportunity to distribute this announcement for an internship in Knowledge Management & Research in my office department at UN Volunteers.

The intern would support our Research and Development Unit in a variety of research and knowledge management related tasks which would include:
  • Researching, collecting, analyzing and editing documents related to Volunteerism for Development (V4D), volunteers management and UNV organizational procedures.
  • Assist in tasks related to mainstreaming V4D within the UNV volunteer management cycle and support the cross-sectional house-wide Task Force.
  • Assist in identifying and creating new content related to UNV, including the development of a UNV online glossary and research on external online resources.
  • Assist in maintaining the UNV Knowledge Platform using a web-based Content Management system. This includes upload and updates of documents and articles, changes to navigation and structure as well as collection of in-house knowledge resources in cooperation with different organizational units.
  • Assist in the knowledge capture during meetings, interviews and events by preparing meeting minutes and protocols.
The internship is for 3 months (11 February 2008 – 9 May 2008), but dates are flexible. If you're interested, just check out this site and submit your application (CV & cover letter, in English) until Janurary 23, 2008. Good luck!