Friday, 23 October 2009

How Twitter can support live events

Early October I was in Brussels attendeding a workshop of the Knowledge Management for Development Network (, the leading Community of Practice on KM issues in development.

In one of the sessions there were several people with Twitter accounts persent, and we started twittering during the sessions with out laptops. It was really interesting to do this during a normal face-to-face session when one person was presenting and others in the room where adding context and opinions while the resource person spoke. This side communication (a bit like whispering in the classroom, but less disruptive) made the session very rich and added a lot of different perspectives. At one point we even exchanged comments across different sessions which took place in different rooms of the building at the same time. This created a connection and some information flow between events which otherwise would not have been possible.
Then in the afternoon we scheduled a discussion session to be held in Twitter (marked with a particular #tag so people can find contributions easily), and announced it to other KM colleagues all over the world who couldn't attend the workshop. And even though the announcement was on short notice, we had several external people who were engaging into the live discussion, which really opened up the face-to-face event to a virtual audience.

This was definitely an interesting good practice on how a status update feature can add value to live events, and something which could be easily replicated in any corporate system where a status update feature is included.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Does Web 2.0 save time, or eat up even more of it?

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an interesting article on Web 2.0: Why Email No Longer Rules… And what that means for the way we communicate. After nicely outlining different implications of the new communication tools, it ends with a critical remark regarding the potentially time consuming aspect of Web 2.0:

"We get lured into wasting time, telling our bosses we are looking into something, instead of just doing it, for example. And we will no doubt waste time communicating stuff that isn't meaningful, maybe at the expense of more meaningful communication."

I've been asked this question many times before, and I realize that it is an particularly important issue for senior management witin organisations. However, I think the question approaches the topic from the right angle.

I would rather look at this from a perspective of an empowered workforce. Unlike in past times, where we had one job for a lifetime and a clearly defined top-down hirarchy would determine and control exactly what a worker has to do, we are as workers today much more in charge and responsible of our performance management, our learning, our networking and our career planning. Anything which doesn't help us becoming better professionals and getting our job done, will not be used. On the other hand, if we use something, that means that there was value for us as professionals and for our work results. And that value is determined individually by each user, not by the organization as such.

That is why not everyone is using all Web 2.0 tools & techniques, but only those which provide value for a certain user in a certain situation. Providing these tools from a corporate perspective is therefore not a matter of telling people what to do, what not to do, and how to do it, but rather creating an enabling environment for users who are free to use whatever helps them (according to their own judgement) to achieve results and improve in their jobs.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Moved on to New York, implementing Social Networking and Web 2.0 for UNDP

Being here in New York for already 1 month, it is high time to give an update on this site, which has been painfully abandoned by the author due to major stress caused by a change job and location. I've concluded my assignment as JPO with UNDP in Bangkok, funded by the German government, and moved on to a full staff contract with UNDP headquarters in New York. Since mid June I'm now with the Knowledge Management Group of UNDP's Bureau for Policy Development as Knowledge Services Specialist.

My main area of work is the implementation of UNDP's new Knowledge Strategy, which entails as a major component the development and roll-out of a UNDP-wide Social Networking Platform, similar to Facebook. This is indeed something I was wishing for since I'm with the UN, as networking across countries and units is a critical factor not only for UNDP's work, but also for my own professional development. After having been able to comment on first concept stages of the project during last year, I'm now very happy to be at the heart of its conceptual development. And I'm looking forward to all the change that the introduction of Web 2.0 in a bureaucroacy like UNDP can bring to teams, project, relations with partners and finally development results.

My major responsibility will be the liaison with users, both from internal teams and external partners, as well as partnership building with organization which might be interested to connect to the Social Networking Platform and engage in collaboration with UNDP entities. Although the scope of my work now seems a bit more technical than my work on Communities of Practices in Asia-Pacific, it's major part will actually be change management, advocacy and partnership liaison. Exciting new tasks, and I'm very much looking forward to the next months and the new services and business cases that will emerge out of this project.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Key ingredients for the success of a Community of Practice

Lately I was asked what I would propose as major key ingredients to ensure the success of a Community of Practice (CoPs) in a United Nations environment. It made me think a little bit about the issue, as I've never pinned that down explicitely for my self before. Three items which immediately came to my mind (although these are surely not the only success factors) are "Needs monitoring", "Use of Web 2.0 opportunities" and "Linkage to Knowledge Products".

Needs monitoring

Communities of Practice are dynamic and sensitive animals which evolve, develop and change over time, both due to developments in the fields they are focusing on, as well as due to the constitution of its membership. They need to be carefully taken care of and require capacity to adapt to new developments. So, to ensure long term success of a CoP I think one should on one hand emphasize careful monitoring of the CoP in light of an organization’s business challenges and strategic objectives. The needs of practitioners need to be regularly monitored in order to identify:

  • What substantive issues are of interest to members;
  • Which topics require special attention through featured e-discussions;
  • What are knowledge gaps within the community for which external knowledge might need to be tapped and new knowledge needs to be generated;
  • What are CoP outputs that members need, both in terms of services and knowledge products. Maybe new challenges require adjustment of existing services (e.g. expert referrals) or new partners call for the introduction of a new type of knowledge product;
  • What activities beyond the email network could increase impact of community interactions and knowledge generated (e.g. knowledge fairs, specific training activities, etc)
  • And most importantly: How can the activities and outputs of the community be further aligned with activities and developments in context of the organizations results.

Adequate mechanisms to ensure the CoP’s success in context of the above questions are regular CoP audits (at least yearly) through surveys and interviews with CoP members, but also UNDP clients and partners.

Use of Web 2.0 opportunities

On the other hand an organization should foster the use of Web 2.0 and social networking tools within the CoP as they can provide powerful mechanisms to increase further a sense of belonging among community members. They also help to capture community knowledge in a more dynamic way (e.g. through wikis or blogs), to add value to community interactions by contextualization (commenting on each other's links, status messages or content) and to broaden the audience and therefore the impact of knowledge generated within the community by disseminating knowledge though additional channels.

Linkage to Knowledge Products

Finally, the link between the CoP and the development of knowledge products (KPs) needs to be strengthened. UN organizations in particular produce a wide range of KPs and invest significant resources into their development and dissemination. The question whether these products actually respond to a critical need of the community which should apply them often remains open. The UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery published an excellent Knowlede Management Toolkit including guidelines which encourage the consultation of their Community of Practice as a peer review instance during the development of a KP, by posting a query on the respective knowledge network asking for feedback on a first draft. Such CoP peer review approaches need to be strengthened and may be expanded by introducing a “Virtual Peer Assist” (to learn more about Peer Assists see this video from Ottawa University). This would mean that an author is expected to get community feedback already before embarking on developing the new product by submitting the concept note in a query on the network.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

How stupid can a company be? A comment on the latest Facebook "Terms of Use" policy disaster

Has anyone ever considererd, that e.g. FedEx or UPS may own the written letters or christmas gifts I send through them to my friends? Of course not. However, when it comes to internet content, these
self-evident truths established as a common sense in modern society over years suddenly seem re-negotiable. Facebook now tried to strech this silent agreement to an extent which could be regarded as ridiculous - if it wasn't so outrageous.

As reported by The Consumerist Blog, Facebook silently amended their existing Terms of Use a few weeks ago by a statement which allows Facebook to

"use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you post"

through Facebook. Basically do everything they want with any personal message or photo you send to your friends, even after you have deleted your account.

The reasons I was outraged was twofold. On the one hand, this clearly is in stark contrast to any prior committments to protect the privacy of Facbook users as they try to establish a dangerous example how ownership over private data of users is misused for commercial purposes in open social networks.

But on the other hand I was furious because I still believe that social networks are the coolest thing that happend to the web in the last years. And by it's awesome usability and great ideas the Facebook application has the potential to set milestone standards for any private or corporate online networking environment in the years to come. However, by messing around with the most important capital they have - the trust of users - through such an outright stupid move Facebook risks that thousands if not millions of users turn their back not only at Facebook, but at the whole social networking approach as such. Simon Davies of Privacy International made a good point when he said that

" appears to be going down the same road as Google. Its halo is starting to slip. [...] Now, there are other kids on the block, like Twitter, Facebook can only survive a certain number of disasters like this. It will only last three years if it continues to make these errors".

I hope that this will not be the case though as I just like Facebook too much (the application, not the company that is).

But honestly, how stupid can you be? Following critical discussions around Google's greed for user data and about Facebook's own privacy settings in 2008, the reaction of the public was absolutely forseeable. It seems Facebook has learned nothing from the past as they once again clearly underestimated the power of the community itself. Within only a few days the Facebook group "People Against the new Terms of Service (TOS)" grew up to over 100.000 users and the group "Millions against Facebook's Terms of Service" gained over 2.000.000 members within weeks. It had actually been the first time that I invited ALL my 360 Facebook contacts to a group I've joined. And it was worth it.

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg announced the temorary withdrawl of the new policy and invited the community to participate in the formulation of a Bill of Rights for Facebook users online. A clear proof that the power of the crowd is very much alive. But the damage to the trust of users has already been done. I sincerely hope that this episode will not endanger the further adoption of social networking approaches in the coming time, as I still believe the potential of an open and networked knowledge society outweighs the pitfalls and loophole issues we are trying to sort out right now.