Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Core elements for designing an Enterprise 2.0 portal

Lately I was invited to comment on a concept for an Enterprise 2.0. Based on the range of Web 2.0 applications I’ve seen in the past years, I was thinking about some of the most critical elements one should consider when designing a Web 2.0 application for an organisation. Second, I had to consider that typical Web 2.0 principles and features wouldn’t be known by all those reading the comment. Keeping that in mind, I came up with the following points. This is of course not a comprehensive list, but just what sprang to my mind immediately:

  1. Configurable, dynamic newsfeed on start page
    The most important element for any Enterprise 2.0 portal is a one-stop entry page with a dynamic so-called "newsfeed" about activities of people it’s core. It is what made Facebook so successful and why Facebook has actually built its recent redesign around such a “newsfeed” as the core piece of the site. When you get to the start page, the navigation to places where you can go (documents, links, groups, photos, blogs, etc) is still there, but it takes a backseat. What is more important is what has happened on the portal recently with your peers. In an application for a working environment this could look like:

    - Which of your contacts added other contacts to their peers
    - Which of your contacts joined which work groups/team spaces/communities and events
    - Which of your contacts added new documents, blog entries, links, wiki pages, photos, etc
    - What happened in your groups/workspaces/communites (new documents, blog entries, links, wiki pages, photos, etc)
    - What new events are coming up
    - To which new groups/workspaces/communities and events have I been invited by my peers
    - What comments have been posted by your peers on new/your documents, blog entries, links, wiki pages, photos, etc

    Unlike static document records, such a dynamic feed will trigger constant ad-hoc interaction between peers, users in groups, and between people which haven’t known each other before. It is where people get connected around activities and events which are directly relevant to them and where further follow-up activities or knowledge exchange is triggered. Of course there need to be sufficient options to configure what kind of newsI see from my peers, as not all information of all peers might be relevant to me.

  2. Status updates
    Another key feature in Facebook to trigger lively interaction between people has been the status update (also featured by http://www.twitter.com/ as stand-alone tool). By making a statement about “What are you doing right now?” people in an organisation could create visibility about their work, and stay on top what’s currently going on with their peers in their teams and communities. It is important to note that this is not just a fancy bell&whistle-feature for private socializing, but it has proven to be an excellent feature within professional work environments. How could these status messages look in your office?

    a.) “Writing a report on urban development in South Africa”
    b.) “I’m off for a ICT4D workshop in Dakar with the World Bank”
    c.) “Need good examples how to strengthen ownership in service delivery projects. Any ideas?”
    d.) “Do we have formal templates for handover notes? Can’t find any in the intra”
    e.) “Great times article by on One UN reform: http://www.times.org/unreform. Check it out!”

    Messages like this, even if only updated once per week, can be an excellent source of peer-to-peer learning. They can trigger associations and interaction which would otherwise not been possible, such as:

    a.) “Oh, you’re writing that report, great! Make sure to also include this issue: http://www.greatresource.com/
    b.) “hey, can you come by and give me an update how that workshop was?”
    c.) “You’ll find good examples here: http://www.greatresource.com/
    d.) “Don’t know about formal templates, but John Smith has developed something last year which seems useful.
    e.) “I don’t agree with the viewpoint of the article, it’s way too optimistic”

    By allowing users to comment on status messages, further discussion and sharing of references will be triggered. This is where the instant knowledge exchange happens and – more importantly – knowledge will lead to concrete action. An organisation envisioning an internal Web 2.0 portal should absolutely consider to make this a prominent feature on its entry page.

  3. Social Bookmarking
    An additional feature which seems crucial to me is Social Bookmarking. From my experience, this has probably been a tool which has been the easiest to convey its benefits to Web 2.0 newcomers and non-techies. By maintaining your professional bookmarks for your work online instead of your browser, you will have them with you everywhere you go (on mission, working from home or at a colleagues PC) and get independent from computer crashes, etc. More importantly, you make your bookmark collection available to your peers and you will be able tap into their bookmarks at any time.

    By highlighting newly added bookmarks in the newsfeed of the start page (see point 1) you will in addition always stay on top of the current important items found by your colleagues. This has proven to be an invaluable source of ad-hoc peer-to-peer learning with similar effects as the repeated status message update with regard to triggering further interaction and exchange (see 2).

  4. Integration of external tools
    While it is important to build such feature like status updates and bookmarking within the application framework for those who are new to Web 2.0, there are already many colleagues who are effectively using similar free online tools for their work, such as http://www.delicious.com/ (bookmarks), http://www.twitter.com/ (status updates), http://www.dopplr.com/ (updates about upcoming travel), individual blogs, etc. In order to harness the current knowledge sharing activities of these Web 2.0 champions within your organisation, it will be crucial to provide integration of existing Web 2.0 services within your platform. This is also common standard for any Web 2.0 portal today. This way, users can link their external tools with the corporate tool so that their new delicious-bookmarks, twitter and dopplr-updates as well as blog posts show up automatically in the corporate news feed of the user (and therefore their colleagues see them in the main news feed on the entry page of the corporate portal).

  5. Commenting
    Finally, it will be important to allow for easy user comments (see Facebook on how it’s done well) on every item in the website. This includes newly posted documents, links/bookmarks, blog posts, announcements, wiki entries, status messages, events, photos and videos. And of course all these comments, if they are posted from people within my peers list or work groups, need to show up on the my main newsfeed on the start page.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Review of KM Workshop with ENRAP/IFAD in Bangkok

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a KM workshop in Bangkok hosted by ENRAP (Knowledge Networking for Rural Development in Asia/Pacific Region), which is a collaboration of IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) and IDRC (International Development Research Center in Canada). The workshop was facilitated by Lucie Lamoureux and Allision Hewitt which I knew from the KM4Dev network.

It was very interesting to see how they managed to make the workshop very participatory and interactive (and this is said by me who actually doesn't like to be forced into group discussion on a topic which I couldn't choose myself). I particulary liked the way they consistently mainstreamed the use of Web 2.0 tool as natural mechanism for documenting workshop content in Wordpress, PBwiki, Flickr, YouTube and SlideShare (so "when the workshop's done, the documenting is done"). The good thing was that these tools were not just set up for use during the workshop, but the facilitators organized a scavenger hunt in which participant teams had to complete a list of tasks in each of these tools. A very energizing and funny way to introduce newcomers to Web 2.0!

Even more so, the different non-IT approaches to facilitate and organize knowledge sharing, discussion and capture were delivered very effectively. I particularly liked the chat show, in which a moderator sets up a TV-show like environment, introducing his guests and asking them intriguing questions. But also tools like After Action Reviews, Speed Rounds or Peer Assists where introduced very well. I also liked the way in which reference was made to valuable outside resources such as the CGIAR KS Toolkit. After all it's not like any KM facilitor would need to pretend they have developed all the knowledge by themselfs. It's good to acknowledge that we are all a large learning community.

All in all, time well spent, even though and I was not able to attend all the sessions. Downsides where only the painful leaks in the internet connection and a bit too many organized group discussion for my taste. But you can see from the After Action Review done for the workshop itself, that this can be a workshop approach worth replicating.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Wordle: Nice visualization tool for text content

Just discovered this neat online tool called Wordle (thanks to Sarah Cummings for posting it on the KM4Dev.org network!). It's a visualization tool for any kind of text content. You can use it to visualise whole documents, short texts like poems or lyrics, websites and even your del.icio.us tags. As the website of Wordle states, the tools is meant to "generat 'word clouds' from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like."
See below an example of the tag cloud that is generated for this blog. You can see, that the prominent "Web" word should actually be "Web 2.0", but apart from that minor flaw, I really like it!

Monday, 10 November 2008

Why is mainstreaming Enterprise 2.0 so difficult?

There is an increasing acknowledgement within the organisational development and management sector that Web 2.0 can bring concrete benefits to organisations - labeled under the tag "Enterprise 2.0". If you want so see some examples, Mashable.com published a list of 35 corporate social media examples in action and I was also very happy to see that players like IBM indicate a shift to Web 2.0 in their own organisational development. In addition, as a tool for self-assessment, Brett Bonfield compiled a set of indicators whether your organisation is ready to benefit from Web 2.0 approaches.

However, the Web 2.0 community also realizes that something is different, when you want to apply the benefits of Web 2.0 from your personal development to an organisational environment. I found the analogy of the "two tunnels" by Thomas Vander Wal quite striking in this regard. He argues that while Web 2.0 is like building a tunnel through a mountain, where imperfections and leaks will not prevent the tunnel from being useful, Enterprise 2.0 on the other hand would be like building a tunnel under water. Any leak or or inconsistency could cause the tunnel to break and therefore fail.

While this image is very valid, I think the core of the Enterprise 2.0 issue is another one. There is a significant difference between Web 2.0 tools and traditional IT tools in organisations: The success of Web 2.0 is built on voluntary participation. The value of communities of any kind come from people participating because they have an intrinsic motivation to do so. This is the reason why their contribution also tend to be of good quality, as well as of a very open, flexible and innovative nature. And it also acknowledges the fact that Web 2.0 is a style of communication in itself, which not necessarily fits which the personal characteristic and style of any person.

In organisations on the other hand, motivation is rather external. People participate in and contribute to processes because they have to, because it's part of their job. And defined processes and guidelines establish a framework in which employees have to use certain IT systems in order to deliver specific results their are accountable for according to their job description.

Therefore, introducing Web 2.0 tools as a way "colleagues have to work from now on", won't work as such. Web 2.0 tools only work on a voluntary basis. Meaning that we deliberately have to allow people to also choose not to use it. We can see that this then won't work for organisational workflows which try to reflect mandatory business process within the organisation.

What does that mean for Enterprise 2.0? In my view, we need to acknowledge that Web 2.0 tools can always only add value to the extent its usage is not indispensable for a certain business process. However, where traditional IT tools are already in place and support mandatory business processes effectively, Web 2.0 can actually add great value to the process. This is the entry point where we need to come in when we want to advocate for Enterprise 2.0.

Let's encourage colleagues and managers to let the free and dynamic use of Web 2.0 blossom within our teams. But let's not fall for the illusion, that we could at any point introduce Web 2.0 tools as mandatory work flows for our business processes. They can only unleash their power if you don't have to use them.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Moving on to do Knowledege Advisory Services in Bangkok!!

As I got the confirmation already 2 weeks ago, it's about time to announce it here formally. Having worked for UN Volunteers for almost 2 years now, I will move on to Bangkok in October where I will take up a one-year position in the Knowledge Services Team of UNDP Regional Center Bangkok.

There I will support the KM team in providing knowledge advisory services to UNDP Country Offices in the Asia-Pacific region, promoting knowledge networks, delivering training and consultancy services and - together with Country Offices - developing knowledge management strategies for the region. The environment will surely offer me some opportunities to further develop my skills in applying practical KM approaches and I am looking forward to learn a lot from the team and the new counterparts there.

I have already got to see some of the South-East-Asian region last years during training mission and travel in Malaysia, Indonesia and Burma, so I am very excited to spend the next year in Thailand and dive into a new culture. Hopefully I will still be able to stay in touch not only with friends and former colleagues in Europe, but also with the enthusiastic group of KM practicioners all over the place which I got to know during the last too years (and of which a lot are based in Europe).

That makes it all the more important to make use of all the different ways to network, share experiences and stay in touch globally, which the knowledge age offers to us.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Your recommendations for your organisation's KM in the future?

In our organisation, we are currently conducting a Knowledge Management Review (often also called a Knowledge Audit). The objectives of the review are to establish a baseline regarding where the organisation is now with respect to KM practices, to develop a better understanding of existing good practices and perceived needs in regards to knowledge sharing and to identify priority KM initiatives for the future.

One component of this review is a quite comprehensive online survey, mostly with multiple choice questions, but also with some fields to state opinions in free text. Even though it was part of the team which developed the survey, as a staff member I was also entitled to fill it in myself. The final question in the survey asks "What are your personal recommendations and expectations regarding the organisation's knowledge management in the future?". So here's my answer to this question:
  1. Let's not go for a big bang KM strategy, but rather launch various different small initiatives (e.g. introduction of handover procedures, FAQ for newcomers, etc).
  2. Let's not discuss KM further on a too broad level. Let's start doing something. We should just try things out. Some of the small initiatives will work, others will fail, and that's ok. Every organization is different. We will only learn and improve our KM if we go and start doing it.
  3. The introduction of communities of practices could surely improve the way we work and enable us to learn from each other across units, duty stations and countries.
  4. Especially online social networking within and across these communities could be a great tool to improve internal communication and to overcome the gap between headquarters and country teams, as well as the issue of each HQ unit working for itself (working in silos).
  5. Realize that Web 2.0 is all about focusing on people, rather than documents or technology. There is a huge potential for organizational change in there, to create an open, transparent, collaborative and knowledgeable organization. Let's make use of this opportunity!
  6. Let's thoroughly analyse the organization’s business processes and brainstorm how we can learn before, while and after doing whatever we do. Let’s develop prescriptive contents (guidance on how things should be done) for our business processes and link them to open contributions by users in which they can add tips & tricks on how these processes work in practice. This way, lessons learned are not dumped in a database, but are accessible exactly where the process takes place (and where prescriptive content is looked up).
What's your opinion is about these recommendations? And how about your organisation? Do you think these are rather specific comments on a specific organisation's case or could these remarks apply to more organisation's out there?

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

What is the potential of knowledge brokering?

On my latest field trip I made an interesting observation with regard to Knowledge Management. First, I visited our field office in Kosovo to learn about volunteer related activities and projects in the brand new nation. After two days, I travelled to Macedonia to visit a UN colleague from a partner agency there. Hanging out with the colleague I also got to know a volunteer who is working in the country office there, highly motivated and enthusiastic about possible opportunities to involve community volunteers in local development projects. However, he felt very disconnected from other volunteers in the surrounding countries and he found it difficult to find partners for possibile joint activities in the region.

It hardly took any effort for me to connect this committed individual with the focal point for volunteer activities in Kosovo, once I had seen what both were working on. But none of them would have found out on their own.

When we talk about KM and that the focus of KM should be on people, I think we highly underestimate the impact that the role of an institutionalized knowledge broker could have. To some extent KM work could just be described as match-making. Looking at what different people do and trying to set up linkages and partnerships between individuals, teams and units, that could benefit form each other in a certain area.

For an international organisation, I even wonder if it might be a worthwhile investment to create the position of a Knowledge Broker who is mostly travelling around and talking to people. Not necessarily to document the experiences that people share (although that can be a valuable by-product) but to establish connections and matches among people who otherwise wouldn't know about each other's work.

The important point here is that someone is much more likely to connect to somebody else with the intentiona to exchange knowledge if s/he was referred to that person by somebody else, rather than just finding a name in a lessons learnt database. The downside of course is that this approach is costly. But then, who said good KM is for free?

Monday, 5 May 2008

How to handle information stress

This spring, I experienced an unpleasant downside of Web 2.0 tools. During the last 9 month, I had accumulated a wide range of different web information channels and online tools regarding KM and Web 2.0. Everyday I was literally plugging my brain into an accelerating flow of information via RSS, Twitter, email lists, online fora, news websites, online social networking sites and portals, in my professional and my private life, from 9am until 12pm. Plus I was contributing to these channels myself by writing my own blog and twitter posts, as well using email and website applications excessively.

I hadn't recognized it at first, but after serveral weeks this spring I felt that I got more and more exchausted. Not physically, but mentally. It wasn't a classic burn-out, as I was still working normal hours, I didn't have immediate deadlines and the social climate at work was excellent. I just couldn't process information properly anymore. The Neurologist later said, that my brain had just been doing too much of the same activitiy, causing a neurological imbalance which resulted in a constant painful headache in the temples whenever I had been looking at a new RSS feed or Twitter message. Finally, the headache started even when I thought(!) of a website, and evenings or even weekends weren't enough anymore to recover. Was this the end of my way into the wonderful Web 2.0 world? Did I have to give up web-based knowledge management because it made me sick?

Well, today I'm working normally again and also resumed reading my RSS feeds, even though I'm still carefull. Several steps helped me to find the balance again. On one hand I first reduced the information overload as much as possible:

  • I took 1 week off from the screen and written text. No computer, no TV screen, no mobile phone display, no work-related text in paper. Without compromise, which of course means taking a week off from work (I even guess 2 weeks would have been much better, but my projects didn't allow me to).
  • After this week, I continued to ban Computer as well as TV from my private life for another 2 weeks (leaving a 'not available' message in my private mail and on Facebook). But at least I could work again.
  • Back at work after the week off, I scheduled my mobile phone to remind me to take a 5 min break from the PC screen every hour. For lunch I took a 90 min break of which I used 60 min to have a nap in an empty office. And of course, I tried to avoid overhours if possible for the first weeks.

On the other side, there were alternative activities which helped me to get my brain cleared out again:

  • Of course: sports! Running, biking, long walks, gym, ball games, everything where my brain doesn't have to think, but can loose itself in the physical activity.
  • Second, and more surprising: Singing! Sitting at home and playing guitar and singing along, or even joining a Karaoke party helped my brain to do 'something entirely different', thus getting refreshed.
  • Yoga exercises and meditation also contributed to my inner balance, as well as being out in nature.

After 4 weeks of this procedure, I now have the capacity again do my work 100%, plus writing on my blog, following RSS posts etc. However, I have learned that the ability to process information is not a given, but a skill which relies on a healthy mental and physical environment. If I have to work physically outside everyday, I need to treat my body carefully, give him regular rest, good nutrition and alternative activities to stay in balance. The same applies to the knowledge workers's brain, and I am actually glad I had the opportunity to learn this lesson now, which will enable me to effectively handle my professional life in the future. For work life in the knowledge age is very much about this one skill: how to effectively deal with information stress while delivering knowledge work results.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Twitter concept study for categorized feeds

How can you filter better what kind stuff you want to follow on twitter? Doing some further research on this, I discovered that there are indeed already a few options. First, there's the Twitter Pack Project, a free wiki where you can find users who are only twittering on specific issues. Some people are also automatically feeding their twitter with Twitter Feed, which can then be used to sharpen a twitter profile towards a certain issue.

A great way to create a thematic twitter feed within a community has been presented by the Nonprofit Technology Network. By using a combination of a new common community Twitter account, Twitter Feed, Terraminds and a unique keyword like "ConferenceXY", they were able to produce a collaborative feed on an event where every post of users which contains the keyword "ConferenceXY" is published.

However, I would still love to have in Twitter the option to define different categories (job, private life, hobby X, interest Y, etc). Then anyone of my contacts could suscribe to just the one of my specific thematic feeds which (s)he is interested in. I played around with Photoshop and created the quick concept study below, which shows how such a categories feature could look like in Twitter. Would be interested to learn what you think about it!

Friday, 28 March 2008

The flaws of Twitter: About message noise and categorized feeds

I’m using Twitter now since 4 months. And I’m still note sure whether I should continue using it, whether I should promote it or whether I should just abandon the tool. There are indeed benefits. Like with the status messages in Facebook I can monitor what’s going with people which are important to me and by writing directly to that person through twitter I can hook in on an issue whenever I want to. However, I experienced two very critical flaws which in my view hinder Twitter to be a really excellent application.
  1. Some people are sending messages just every other day or once a week while others are twittering twenty times a day. That makes it awfully difficult to identify the valuable contributions from the ones which are only writing rarely within the very “loud” twittering by the frequent users of which only a certain percentage might be useful to me. I wish I had a button where I could “quiet down” certain people without having to kick them out of my contact list totally. Maybe there could be a policy which defines that one could only twitter a certain amount of times per day. But then – who would decide on the frequency? And what if I actually have already used up my amount of messages and then something comes up which would be also critical to post? One option could be that for each user you follow you could vote on how often you’d like to hear her/him per day. The average of these votes then gives the user a (non-binding) hint what might be the optimal amount of daily entries his network contacts feel comfortable with.

  2. It’s very annoying to have professional messages mixed up with private messages. I personally would desperately need a mechanism to only receive professional entries as I’m really not interested on the dinner menu of a professional colleague on the other side of the world. In the beginning I tried to set up two accounts, one for private and the other for professional purposes. But that of course doesn’t work, as you can only be logged in with one account at a time. Using a different tool (e.g. Dodgeball) in parallel is kind of cumbersome, because then you need to promote a different tool for each purpose. Of course you can’t force your contact to twitter only on certain items which are of interest to you. Maybe a tagging system for twitter might be a good thing so you could filter the pieces you are interested in. Or actually, there is still quite some space left on the twitter overview site. Why not have different columns on different topics on which I frequently want to twitter about (e.g. private, job, studies, promotion, sports, hobbies)? Then everyone could decide which of my different personal news feeds (s)he wants to subscribe to.

In general, I don’t think we have seen the full potential of microblogging yet in terms of user-friendliness and added-value features. Let’s see what developers might come up with in course of this year!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Devil's advocate: Forget about KM strategies?

There is a consensus in KM literature that every knowledge management setup in organizations needs to be based on a corporate knowledge management strategy as a mandatory prerequisite. Dealing with KM strategies myself, I don’t disagree. However, when reflecting on KM approaches with other KM practitioners, I realized that one could also take a different position, which would be the one of the devil’s advocate below:

"I don’t believe in corporate Knowledge Management strategies. Since I am exploring possible ways of doing knowledge management in organizations, I increasingly become to think that instead of strategizing, promoting and enforcing top down KM concepts, we should just start doing the things at hand. Because the business needs are already there (and already incorporated in strategic business frameworks). People do projects, people launch initiatives, people communicate and participate in the exchange with each other and their partners. And they are hungry to learn about more effective ways to do it right. We as KM people don’t need to reinvent business. We need to provide tools and mechanisms to do what we already do – just better.

Actually, the way of doing KM under the surface (“stealth KM” or “guerilla KM”) would be a much better approach, rather than trying to convince teams and business units of new strategies that cost a lot of money, cost a lot of time and imply that things should from now on be done completely different.

The thing is that people are happy to change if they see there is an immediate benefit. So what we ought to do is to provide tools which give that immediate benefit. Users of course don’t know in advance that a certain approach might help them, that’s why we need to communicate clearly. But instead of strategizing for a long time, how about we give them some tools that respond to their micromanagement challenges? Tools like social bookmarking or wikis, peer assist and after action reviews. Let’s play around and experiment with these tools. The ones which prove to provide a real benefit will survive. Some of the offered tools are not beneficial? So what? Most of them don’t cost anything, so we can drop them again. Instead of setting up a strategy and designing from top down what people ought to use, let people decide what’s useful for them and what’s not.

Now this of course will become difficult when we talk about approaches which’s benefits will only become visible over time. That’s why it is still important to have a KM Unit. Cause we need to have people who can do the experiments, who can pilot new approaches of communicating and exchanging knowledge. The KM team also will identify knowledge champions in the organization which are willing to listen, which are open to new approaches and eager to experiment. There are always some of that sort in each organisation. Get them on board and show them what did work for you personally and what did work for other organizations. Once it appears that a certain tool is indeed beneficial, the word will spread.

We are dealing with networked and interconnected societies and organizations. Instead of desiging KM stratgies top town, plant the virus and let the virus spread itself!"

Here we have again the bias between the view of organisations as fixed hirarchical structrues versus networked organisms. If the view of organisations as flat networks, which are (as Christian Kreutz posted today) democratic, flat and passionate, also makes top down KM strategies obsolete can be subject to discussion. I would be interested in your comments: What's your take on KM strategies? What makes them indispensable for your organizations?

Friday, 22 February 2008

Transparency is good

Here's just an add-on to my last post about Facebook. This article of the German journal DIE ZEIT points out the benefits of transparency in a completely other area: taxation. In Sweden, everyone knows what everyone earns and how many taxes they pay for the good of the national community. No hiding and no fear. And as a result more trust into the state and the community.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Don't use Facebook (Part II) - because of privacy issues?

Privacy concerns have accompanied Facebook since its launch in 2004, mostly for legitimate reasons. Undoubtedly everyone has a right and - to variing degrees - a need to privacy and any service provider who ingnores these rights and needs should seriously reconsider his strategy.

However, I would like to shed a different light onto the scenario. Especially in the German media, more and more articles voice a very critical view on social networking in general. Like e.g. my favourite online journal SPIEGEL ONLINE, which has continuously publishes solely critical articles against Facebook & Co (http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/0,1518,531000,00.html or http://www.spiegel.de/unispiegel/wunderbar/0,1518,532070,00.html). The critical voices all go into similar directions:
  • If you use social networking sites, publish rather less about yourself
  • Why should anyone connect to so many people online?
  • Why should anyone just tell stuff about himself?
  • It's better not to use social networking sites at all
As you can guess, these statements differ from how I see social networking. Why? For 2 reasons:

1. Transparency is good. It's a sociological rule that the more people know of each other, the more there will be a chance for understanding, respect and peace. Why should I share a lot about myself with a lot of people? Because if everone does, no one would have to hide anything anymore. Ok, that's pretty idealistic, but it shows the point. It's fear of comparison, of rejection, of loosing one's image and status, of loosing love, that keep us from sharing what we think and who we are. And it's this fear that bears greed, rejection and violence. But if everyone shares and receives respect for what he shares, there's no need for fear anymore. That's how every community, every friendship and partnership works. They work because transparency bears trust.

2. Relationship is good. Never has the internet come so close to what the essence of the human being is all about: relationships, which is the whole idea of social online networks. Now of course you can argue that you can have this essence also without Facebook & Co. True. But the thing is that social online networks offer additional opportunities for maintaining, building and creating relationships, especially with people hundreds of kilometers away, which you would otherwise soon loose track of or which you would even never know. Here is a tremendous added value. I have just lately reconnected though Facebook with a dear old friend, which I had lost sight of some 7 years ago. Today we're on the phone again, and that's just great. Thank God for the 'Poke' feature!

Now, I agree there are real issues. One issue is the controvery about private data of e.g. Facebook possibly being sold to third parties for advertisment - or even worse - national intelligence purposes. This needs to be addressed and policy makers need to make sure that there is transparency (ah, yes!) regarding what exactly happens with my data. Users need to be in control about the information they give to service providers, there is no doubt about that!

Despite these clear issues however, I would encourage all of us to be a little more open and adventurous. Of course we might step into some pit here and there, but only by playing and trying out will we advance. Nothing good ever emerged from remaining on the spot:

The bottom line is: Are we always just able to either hype something into the sky or bash it into the ground? Potential and danger are always going hand in hand, and we shouldn't deny our responsability to find a thoughtful way through the unknown, so that we can harvest the most benefit possible (the potential of social change in a interconnected world) without risking everything (our freedom and our integrity).

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Blogging increases stress

After about 6 months of blogging, it's time to look back and reflect on the outcome of my blogging activities. And I hate to name it, but the first outcome that comes to mind is stress. First it was the stress of finding the right topic. Do I have anything to talk about which would be interesting enough to others? Then it was the stress of being seen. Suddenly friends were mentioning that they have read my blog lately and were commenting on it. Each time then I rushed back to my site to verify that what I had written was really something I could still confirm, desperately hoping that I make somehow sense with what I write. Then it was the stressful urge to get more users. Of course I want to be seen and I want have more readers, so I started to link to other blogs and make comments there, at the same time inviting others to comment on mine. Which of course requires further investment in research and quality check. And increased quality indeed takes time and effort, which in return results in - yes - stress.

Not that I regret having started to write this blog. Actually I really learned about Web 2.0 and myself in a way which would not have been possible without writing about it. And yes, by now I really HAVE someting to write about. I'm discovering new aspects of the Web 2.0 discussion, of social networking and knowledge management every day! In fact, meanwhile I'm having much more ideas and blog posts in my mind than I am able to write about. I'm just running out of time, as I have of course a full-time job, a social life outside the internet and the need to relax from time to time. Not being able to follow up on all I want to write about, this is actually the most frustrating blogging-induced stress I experienced so far. And again one, which I haven't had 6 months ago...

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!