Thursday, 20 December 2012

Ten PowerPoint Slides on Knowledge Management that Have Influenced Me (Part 2)

To get to Part 1 of this blog post, click here.

Do you hate PowerPoint presentations? Well, you probably have endured a lot of gruesome slides throughout the course of your professional life. But despite the usual wisdom that PowerPoint slides for presentations should be avoided whenever possible, I actually think that some well-crafted slides presented in the right context can be a very good thing. In fact, there are a number of slides that had a very positive impact on me in my knowledge management career. I treasure them because they manage to bring complex concepts to the point and often communicate an entire lesson’s worth of insight just with one diagram, graph or image. Here’s a list of ten powerful slides on knowledge management that have influenced me, which I am posting in two parts (for Part 1 click here). See for yourself whether you can get some inspiration from them.

6. The Innovation Adoption Curve

The innovation adoption curve by sociology professor Everett Rogers is a model that distinguishes between different types of adopters of innovations, based on the idea that certain individuals are more open to adaptation than others. Rogers innovation adoption curve is useful to acknowledge that trying to quickly convince all members of an organization of a new controversial idea is useless. Instead it makes more sense to start with winning over innovators and early adopters first. Also the categories and percentages can be used as a basis for setting expectations with senior management and estimating target groups for communication messages. Needless to say that when we introduced corporate social networking in our organization, the adoption pattern looked exactly like the above.

7. Managing Complex Change

This was part of a presentation given by Linda Stoddart from  Haute Ecole de Gestion in Geneva during UNSSC’s Knowledge Management course “Think UN, Act Smart”. It’s like a light bulb being switched on when you suddenly realize why you always felt in a certain way when trying to promote KM in your organization, and what conditions need to come together to make complex change happen.

8. Towards a Knowledge Age

Now this is the only slide among this selection that I have created myself. For all its flaws (e.g. that it looks at history from a Western perspective) it is particularly important to me because it illustrates the massive challenge that we face with regards to managing the amount of knowledge that humankind is producing. In addition, it also acknowledges the fact that one of the main drivers underlying this monumental change towards a knowledge society is technology. This is important, as in particular in the KM for Development sphere there is often a dismissive view of technology as mere "tools” that should just follow user needs, while disregarding the fact that it is often technology itself that is creating user needs in the first place and therefore is triggering and reinforcing culture change.

 9. RSS in Plain English

These slides are part of a PowerPoint adaption of the video “RSS in Plain English”, and I’m featuring them here as a tribute to the fantastic work that the CommonCraft blog does in producing simple and easily understandable instructional videos on different topics (of which it is the ‘technology’ and ‘social media’ videos that I benefited from the most). Anyone struggling with communicating difficult topics in a presentation can learn a lot from the methodology of the “In Plain English” video series. And it also illustrates that the main key to success in doing a presentation (yes, you can do something similar even with PowerPoint) is telling a convincing story.

10. Shift Happens – Did you know?

This is a quite a famous presentation that has been floating around since 2007 in different versions. It originated from a presentation that Karl Fisch gave to a group of education professionals, and since then has been revised and turned into a video (still based on PowerPoint slides) by Scott McLeod and the company XPLANE. Despite its somewhat sensational tone it serves as an excellent teaser to discuss the changes we are going through as a society and the implications this has for our learning. I usually use a few selected lines and numbers of the presentation when I do training on knowledge management, to set the stage for explaining why we need to deal with KM in the first place. The latest version of the presentation can be viewed as Youtube video here, and older versions are available in the ShiftHappens Wiki.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ten PowerPoint Slides on Knowledge Management that Have Influenced Me (Part 1)

Do you hate PowerPoint presentations? Well, you probably have endured a lot of gruesome slides throughout the course of your professional life. But despite the usual wisdom that PowerPoint slides for presentations should be avoided whenever possible, I actually think that some well-crafted slides presented in the right context can be a very good thing. In fact, there are a number of slides that had a very positive impact on me in my knowledge management career. I treasure them because they manage to bring complex concepts to the point and often communicate an entire lesson’s worth of insight just with one diagram, graph or image. Here’s a list of ten powerful slides on knowledge management that have influenced me, which I am posting in two parts (for Part 2 click here). See for yourself whether you can get some inspiration from them.

1. From KM incompetence to competence

© by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell

This graphic is taken from Chris Collison’s and Geoff Parcell’s book “Learning to Fly”, considered by many to be the bible for KM practitioners. They use it to describe the process of how we learn, e.g. driving a car, which starts with the state of “ignorance is bliss”, over realizing that you want to drive a car but can’t, to consciously applying every step necessary to get a car moving, until you finally arrive at a state where you don’t even think anymore about how you drive – you just do it.

After I spent already one year in my very first KM job trying to promote KM with senior management, it was this one slide during a meeting with my superiors that suddenly made the managers understand where we were with KM, and which resulted in the go-ahead for a real KM action plan backed by management and the development of a strategy for the organization.

2. Organizations yesterday and today

This slide was presented to me by a fellow participant of the KM Institute’s “Certified Knowledge Manager” training in 2007. It captures the essence of how organizations and therefore our work environments have changed over the past decades: away from a modern, hierarchical, intransparent and tightly controlled environment that sees infrastructure and money as its main assets, towards a post-modern organization with flat hierarchies and open and networked information flows that sees people and their knowledge as its main assets. The point is of course not that all are organizations resemble the right column today, but that 50 years ago, nobody questions the left column, while today these characteristics would be seen as obstacles to productive work. The table is inspired by the research of Philip Kotler, and is an excellent teaser to discuss our role as knowledge workers.

3. The Cynefin framework

The Cynefin framework (pronounced “key-nevin”) is a typology that describes in what contexts and problem situations a certain sort of explanations and/or solutions may apply, ranging from simple, to complicated, complex and chaotic problem situations. The framework was originally developed in 1999 in the context of knowledge management and organizational strategy by Dave Snowden, and provides a powerful way of assessing what kind of KM initiative may be right within a specific organizational context. It does e.g. away with the myth that “good practices” are generally a good KM tool for organizations in any kind of situation, as according to Cynefin they really only apply to a “complicated” setting.

4. Enterprise 2.0 Knowledge Management – A Revolution of Knowledge in Three Parts


This entire slide set is surely one of the most fabulous PowerPoints I’ve ever seen (the screenshot just shows four exemplary slides). They are a perfect example of slides that work as a resource by themselves without anyone presenting, because they actually tell a story. The entire slide set consists of a presentation in three parts, which was developed and is being used as a marketing pitch by the German consultancy company Besser 2.0 for their Enterprise 2.0 services. In the presentation they demystify in a perfect way what Web 2.0 means and how it changes the game for knowledge management inside organizations. Whenever I need to explain to someone why corporate social networking important I refer to this slide show, and it has never failed to leave an impression and provide ground for a fruitful discussion.

5. Tacit and explicit knowledge

This one is of course a classic, and should be part of any basic introduction to Knowledge Management. I like it because you can start with just asking the question and showing the iceberg picture, which will make the participants think and often discover themselves the key point behind this slide. I don’t know who came up with the iceberg analogy first, but evidently it is out there as common reference when you do a simple Google search. This particular iceberg image that I use in my presentations was taken from the blog ArtTech 101, although it is not clear with whom the copyright of the image resides.

To get to Part 2 of this blog post, click here.


Thursday, 1 November 2012

The pitfalls of crowd-sourcing: We might not like what the crowd tells us

I am excited to see more and more initiatives that tap into the wisdom of corporate or public crowds to shape priorities for specific policy agendas.

Just recently, different units in my organization called on staff to submit ideas how to improve their business processes, and let all colleagues vote on them to determine which idea would get most traction and support. This is a great way to improve organizational efficiency while involving those affected by change in an actual change process.

At the same time, the success of the Rio Dialogues showed how crowdsourcing policy recommendations and public voting on them can increase legitimacy of inter-governmental negotiations. This new model of public engagement during a United Nations summit received praise from participants as the “the most inclusive process in the history of global summits” (Josette Sheeran, VP of the World Economic Forum), and opened the door for similar approaches in defining the successors of the Milliennium Development in the Post-2015 process (see also Jamie Drummonds TED talk on crowdsourcing the Post-2015 agenda).

I find this new momentum towards open government and democratization of political as well as organizational processes extremely encouraging. However, while embarking on this journey towards bottom-up participation and openness, it is important that we understand exactly the conditions under which this can work - and under which it might not.

Why is it a good thing to open up agenda setting to crowd-sourced suggestions and voting?

Let me highlight a few aspects that are of importance in particular when using approaches that involve crowdsourced suggestions and a system of voting on those suggestions  in order to identify priorities.
First, why is it a good thing to open up agenda setting to crowdsourced suggestions and voting? Here are what I consider the most important benefits:
  1. Participation: By giving people a voice, they get engaged in the process, reflect on issues and contribute to them, rather than being on the mere recipient end of a process.
  2. Innovation: By providing an open space for any kind of contribution, the crowd often comes up with out-of-the box ideas that an expert group might otherwise have never thought of.
  3. Prioritization: By giving people a vote, we are finding out what is most important to them, vs. what might be most important to those who have the task of setting an agenda.
  4. Buy-in: By appreciating the vote of the crowd on following up on suggestions that most people identify with, we create buy-in for the process and increase the likelihood of successful implementation.

The benefits of point 1 and 2 are relatively easy to achieve. The 1.3 million public votes that were received on the recommendations of the Rio Dialogues clearly showed that the public was willing to provide their opinion, and also the call for ideas among staff receives ample attention. People usually really like to be asked for their opinion.

If you ask people for their opinion, you have to mean it

Points 3 and 4 are much more difficult to manage, because - as with any democratic mechanism - asking for a vote does not always mean we are fond of what receives the most votes. And arguably, neither an organization that seeks for input on its own agenda, nor the heads of state within an inter-governmental process are technically obliged to follow the vote of the constituencies they asked for their opinions. However, if one has chosen to go down the path of asking people for their input, there is a certain responsibility that comes with it. And once we go into prioritization of specific suggestions over others, there are a few things we have to keep in mind:
  1. Communicate how suggestions are selected. It is important to communicate very clearly to the users how the final selected suggestions (the winners) will be selected. Otherwise everyone is expecting that the whole process works like an election in which automatically the suggestions with the most votes will be honored, and users will be put off once they find out that this is not the case. The selection process needs to be formulated and presented in a transparent way (e.g. by explaining who is in the selection panel, by what criteria are proposals selected, what are no-go conditions, etc.).
  2. Avoid cherry-picking. The more the picked winners deviate from actual results of the vote, the less buy-in we will get on those picked suggestions. It might be tempting for governments or managers of organizations to pick suggestions that match most what they want to do anyway, no matter how many votes the suggestions received. However, it cannot be overstated that picking a suggestion as a winner that nobody identifies with will have no positive change management effect. In fact, it is likely to increase the perception that those in charge of formulating the agenda are just cherry-picking what they like for themselves, which creates a sense of disempowerment we need to avoid in any participative process.
  3. Don’t distort suggestions when clustering. Often we will have to aggregate different suggestions into one in order to capture a cluster of submissions. When doing so we need to be very careful not to distort the original meaning of a suggestion. Otherwise we can face a situation in which e.g. a suggestion that receives a lot of votes is stripped off the very points that made it a popular suggestion in the first place, just so it can fit within a bigger cluster of suggestions. Even when idea is acknowledge, for the person submitting the original popular suggestion, seeing one’s own idea promoted in a distorted manner can be disempowering as well.
  4. You have to follow up. No excuses.. No matter how great the participation was, and how well the final prioritized agenda reflects what the crowd wanted, if we don’t actually commit to following up on this agenda, we can destroy all the work we’ve done. If we open up a process that promises to take the views of the people we asked to contribute seriously (no matter if it is staff in an organization or the public in a process like the Rio Dialogues), we have to mean it and follow through. Otherwise the group in charge of the agenda loses all legitimacy, as well as the trust it needs to engage its constituency for implementing any changes in the future. The result will be resignation and reluctance to contribute to any similar exercises next time around: We’ve been asked for our opinion in the past, but nothing was done, so why should I care now?
Now, it is understandable that neither governments nor organizations might be able to pick all ideas with the most popular votes as they are because implementing them might have far reaching implications (in terms of cost, feasibility, collateral effects, discrimination of minority groups, etc). There are often good reasons why good ideas cannot be implemented (or at least not right now), but then this needs to be explained to those who were involved in the process. Otherwise people participating in the call for suggestions and the call to vote on them will feel their voice is not heard and feel disenfranchised.

Keep the conversation going

Finally, when presenting the winning proposals, it is important to maintain a follow-up discussion on those results and the process in general, where users can raise their concerns and also make further suggestions on how the proposals can be implemented down the road. Presenting a prioritized agenda based on crowdsourced suggestions is only the starting point of a participative change process. Whatever happens after that should happen with full participation of the crowd as well.

Friday, 12 October 2012

"New Synthesis" - A framework for generating solutions with citizens, rather than for them

This is the most terribly written book that every public administration practitioner should read. Well, I should rephrase that :-) This is a must-read for people working in public administration, but it takes a bit of suffering to get through it. Luckily I was helped by the fact that 340-pager was made available to our business unit for free, combined with a strong incentive by my boss to get familiar with its concepts as our unit prepares for aligning itself with its main message:

That we as public administration practitioners “are called upon to serve the public good and the collective interest in the face of increasing complexity, uncertainty and volatility”. And only by shifting our strategies, systems and minds towards a framework that balances public policy with civic engagement as well as government authority with openness and collective power, are we able to face the challenges of public administration in the 21st century.

Developing a framework for public administration in the 21st century
The New Synthesis Project has been established in 2009, bringing together officials, scholars and experts from six countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore and the UK) and more than 24 organizations through five international roundtables, five post-roundtable reports, and 17 case studies. The project has generated significant insights into preparing governments to serve in the 21st century. The underlying idea was “to expand the circle of people committed to modernizing the role of government in a post-industrial era”, based on the realization that public administration as a practice and discipline is not yet aligned with the challenges of serving in the 21st century. For a brief introduction to the project, you can see this video.
The book starts with the observation that today’s crisis, challenges and opportunities are too complex to be managed by government (or one goverbment agency) alone. Public administrations which are based on the closed, top-down, one-way concept of mass public service delivery that emerged in the industrial age are poorly equipped to master the uncertainty and unpredictability of scenarios like the financial crisis, natural disasters, terrorism or pandemics. The New Synthesis acknowledges that “on its own, government has neither the power nor the tools needed to successfully address complex issues and achieve complex results”. In order to achieve complex results for society, for example education, taxes, school buildings, salaries for teachers and curricula can only get students that far. What is in fact needed is a complex interaction of policies, teachers, families, infrastructure, community support, many of which require the contribution of actors beyond government. The main realization behind this is that “issues that affect the collective can only be solved by the collective”.

Generating solutions with citizens, rather than for them
The New Synthesis therefore proposes an approach that shifts away from thinking of government as the solution provider with citizens remaining passive recipients, a view which devalues their contributions and limits options for society.  Instead, the book suggests seeing government’s role in generating solutions with citizens through means of co-creation and co-production based on openness, innovation and civic empowerment.

A cumbersome read
The author, Jocelyne Bourgon, who served many years in the Canadian administration, condenses the results from the roundtable discussions and case studies of the New Synthesis Project into a framework that tries to encompass the entirety of what public administration in a post-modern environment means. In pursuing this rather ambitious objective, she unfortunately falls prey to her dwelling in this topic on a very abstract level, and a lacking ability to communicate clearly and concisely what the essence of her argument is. This is ironic, given the fact that the vast majority of the book consists of real life case studies that exemplify on every step of the way what the ideas of the New Synthesis mean in practice. But even in doing so, her elaborations remain often vague and unspecific. By the end of Part 1 which lays out her theoretical framework, she eventually manages to get her points across, but only after one makes it through what are 125 pages of a very cumbersome read, full of unnecessarily academic language, professional jargon and fuzzy formulations that don’t lend themselves to conveying her points to an audience that hasn’t worked on this topic daily for the last few years.

Unhelpful illustrations
The book tried to mitigate this problem by providing the reader with illustrations that map the “enabling framework” of the New Synthesis in a graphical and more understandable way. However, the graphic representation of the framework around the axis of government authority and collective power, as well as public policy results and civic results, carving out the four quadrants of performance, emergence, compliance and resilience, achieve exactly the opposite. By the end of the book I was still looking at the illustration wondering how exactly I had to interpret it, and how the different parts would relate to each other. The author could have equally thrown all those rather generic keywords (some of which really don’t mean much without deeper explanation and context) randomly into one bucket and it would have meant as much to me. If the meaning of an illustration is not immediately and intuitively (or at least with just a few explanatory words) understandable and if it creates more questions than it answers, it somehow seems to fail its purpose. And the problem of the book is that it relies heavily on this illustration to explain the entire framework.

Why you still must read this book
All this aside, however, the substantive points laid out by the framework are extremely sound, well researched and of utter relevance to the topic at hand. Bourgon puts the finger on all the vulnerable spots where public administration in its usual form (it’s modern form that was shaped by the industrial age) is not equipped to handle the challenges of the 21st century. And she is proposing a way of reform that would enable government to face those challenges.
According to the results of the New Synthesis project, in order to move towards a public administration that can do so, the following elements need to come together:
  • Awareness that the multitude of issues, possible solutions and stakeholders that lead to public results are all interconnected and cannot be looked at separately from each other.
  • Understanding that the purpose of public policies ultimately are to achieve civic results, and that they should be managed and measured accordingly, through better access, stronger voices and expanded choices for citizens.
  • Understanding that government needs to work directly with its citizens to co-create and co-produce public results (e.g. through innovation labs as practiced already by UNDP through its innovation work in Europe & CIS), instead of seeing itself as a one-way solution provider.
  • Understanding that in a dynamic, uncertain and unpredictable environment the best way to achieve results is through iteration and adaptation, and that for this reason "public organizations need to operate as public platforms for innovation, exploration and experimentation". This shows a strong link to the evolutionary development approach championed among others by Owen Barder (
  • Appreciation of the principle of emergence (growing innovative solutions in complex environments) and understanding the need for building anticipative capacity, inventive capacity and adaptive capacity within government through research, learning ,knowledge management, prototyping and crowdsourcing.
  • Ability of public institutions to learn to work within networks rather than strict hierarchies, and across boundaries rather than within closed siloes. This relates closely to the contribution of next-generation knowledge management (KM 2.0) to organizational development as it was introduced to UNDP in the last three years through its Knowledge Strategy 2009-2011.
  • Commitment to open data, open government and open management in general. Or as Bourgon puts it: "Trust breeds trustworthiness. Systems designed based on distrust impose high costs on society and are unlikely to lead to better results".
  • Understanding that civic empowerment, social innovation and participation of citizens in creation and production lead to increased resilience of societies in times of crisis.
  • Understanding compliance within public administration as a matter of shared accountabilities and responsibilities across agencies and external actors, rather than as a mechanism for performance control of isolated entities (e.g. a programme or ministry).
This is not a complete summary, but just the main points that stood out for me. It becomes clear that all these items relate very closely the mandates of capacity development, knowledge management and innovation that me and my colleagues are concerned with daily. So yes, my critique of the communication deficiencies of the “New Synthesis” notwithstanding, I recommend this book highly to every practitioner involved in any of those three areas. The New Synthesis Project is on to something here, and we as development practitioners seems well advised to get involved in this global discussion. I am very much looking forward to seeing how this discussion among public administration community will evolve further.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Proud to receive a Knowledge Management award as part of UNDP's KM team

During the last three years, I have been working in a small team at UNDP's Knowledge Management Group working on a number of KM initiatives such as connecting UN agencies with regards to KM topics, supporting UNDP's communities of pratices on development topics related to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and on establishing the social collaboration platform "Teamworks" for UNDP and its partners. I am therefore quite proud that UNDP as an organization has now received the prestigious "Column of Knowledge Award 2012" by Knowledge Management Austria (KMA) in Vienna, Austria, for its “outstanding efforts and achievements to promote the idea of knowledge societies”.

The UNDP website features a respective article here, quoting the Managing Director of KMA, Mr Andreas Brandner, highlighting “UNDP’s role in connecting UN Organizations with Knowledge Management" and in particular emphasizing Teamworks as “the most promising knowledge management initiative within the UN focusing on knowledge networking within a global knowledge partnership”. Mr Brander also mentions UNDP’s “effort on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals, to document MDG (uneven) achievements with case studies, good stories, supported by videos, and other media, which were tremendous and outstanding within the UN”.

My colleague, Giulio Quaggiotto, UNDP’s Practice Leader for Knowledge and Innovation at the UNDP Regional Centre in Bratislava accepted the the award on May 31st on behalf of UNDP, and during his keynote speech highlighted the importance of focusing on people and cultural change, becoming a real time organisation by harnessing the power of social networks and the digital footprint, and harnessing the knowledge outside of UNDP through initiatives such as the RioDialogues (see my earlier blog post here).

According to KMA's letter to UNDP informing the organization about the award, "the Knowledge Management Award is presented annually by Knowledge Management Austria to one personality with outstanding achievements in the field of knowledge politics and knowledge management, as well as to one international organization with a global impact on knowledge societies." Since the foundation of the Austrian Knowledge Partnership, two other UN organizations have received the award, namely the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2010 and UNESCO in 2011.

For more information on Knowledge Management Austria and the award ceremony, including pictures, presentations and the entire Laudation text, please follow this link:

Friday, 8 June 2012

Working on global crowd-sourced recommendations for upcoming Rio+20 UN Conference

Many of you know that I work for the United Nations, but usually I don't talk so much about the specific UN-nature of my work as my thoughts regarding Knowledge Management can have a live by themselves, regardless of whether I work for the UN or not. As of late, however, my team was working on a project which is so interesting (and still very much KM-related), that I definitely want to share it here. I need to give background information though...

20 years ago, all UN nations met in Rio de Janeiro to discuss for the first time as part of a world summit issues around sustainable development: the idea that we as societies and economies need to develop without jeopardizing the health of the planet and the development of future generations.

This July, 20 years later, the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development will review the status of the world and progress made, and discuss further measures. In preparation to this conference, the government of Brazil invited 12,000 people from NGOs as well as normal citizens to the "Rio Dialogues", a process to discuss which issues should be brought forward to the heads of states during the upcoming conference. The topics of these Rio Dialogues have been clustered around ten areas 
  • Food and nutrition security
  • Sustainable development for fighting poverty
  • Sustainable development as an answer to the economic and financial crises
  • The economics of sustainable development, including sustainable patterns of production and consumption
  • Sustainable cities and innovation
  • Unemployment, decent work and migrations
  • Energy
  • Water
  • Oceans
  • Forests
Our team in UNDP has been working with the Brazil government on this, providing them with a social knowledge platform (the Teamworks platform that UNDP has developed and is using since 3 years), adapting the platform to the purposes of the Rio Dialogues, as well as supporting the process with a number of knowledge management and community facilitation specialists to make the discussions a success, as well as staff providing technical support for the platform itself. 

For each of the above topics, ten recommendations have been selected by the 12,000 platform participants (done via a crowd-sourced market mechanism within the platform) to be put to a public vote in which every citizen of the world can participate! The top three recommendations resulting from this global public vote will then be brought forward to the Heads of States (including yours!) that this is what the global citizens want.

Such a direct link of public opinion to the negotiations of heads of governments is unprecedented, and marks a milestone in the process of including civil society in international policy processes. 

So seize the opportunity and be part of this historic milestone, cast your vote for the future you want

until Friday, June 15 at

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Ten Random Success Factors for KM in your Organization

Yesterday, I was serving as resource person for knowledge management on a “One-Day Forum on Exemplar KM Practices in Regional/Global Networks” hosted by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), an inter-government organization among 11 Southeast Asian countries which was inviting organizations like WHO, ILO. UNISDR, CGIAR and UNDP to share their knowledge management (KM) experiences.
One of the questions the online audience asked was “What are the key success factors for implementing knowledge management in an organization?
Now this is a big one, which probably deserves its own book! I asked the participants to take my comments with a grain of salt, as was just writing from the top of my head the first ideas that came to mind. Incidentally, I often experience that the first response to a question is often the most genuine one, so I’m just gonna share what I wrote without any filter, knowing that itwill be far from giving a complete picture of all possible success factors for KM.
In general, there seem to be two ways in which KM can be established in an organization. Top-down or bottom-up (the latter is often referred to as the “stealth” approach). In practice, both usually need to come together. As long as there is no strategic corporate recognition of KM by senior management, an organization can already achieve a lot with a number of champions or specific business units that pilot KM initiatives, approaches and tools in various business areas. Those could be anything from informal brown bag lunches for learning, doing an after action review after a large event, to piloting a project wiki in a small team. Once quick wins can be demonstrated in a distinct pilot area, it will be easier to pitch the rationale and benefits of KM to higher management levels.

At a certain stage, however, it is crucial that senior management gets involved and embraces the need for KM. It helps to have one particular champion with a vision among the senior ranks, but of course it is best if the highest level of the organization understand the value of knowledge exchange and collaboration for their business, and are willing to put their weight behind a corporate vision. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a “big bang” strategy. In fact, small pilots and small-scale but strategic KM initiatives will already benefit a lot from senior management support.

At the end of the day, however, business owners need to understand that they can’t expect significant changes to business as usual without investing money. Formal communities of practice around strategic business areas can transform the way an organization works and achieves results, but they are rarely successful without a full-time person dedicated to it (and even then it’s an art that requires skill and perseverance). Facilitating networks and communities, the development of strategic knowledge products, re-engineering of business processes to include KM and learning, and the introduction and maintenance of suitable IT tools all come with a price tag. An organization therefore needs to assess the business case of knowledge management and how it relates to their organizational objectives. If an organization identifies that (and in what aspects of its work) it is a “knowledge organization” (meaning that knowledge is the primary resource it uses and produces as part of its mandate) then hopefully it comes to acknowledge that it needs to get the KM part of its business right in order to succeed.

There is no need to re-invent the wheel. The KM challenges of most organizations are rather similar. So my suggestions to get KM off the ground in an organization would be:

  1. Go out, get the good practices from other organizations, and start with small key initiatives, rather than a big bang strategy.
  2. Find champions in your organization that believe in and breathe KM, and work with them, rather than waste too much time on trying to convince the skeptics. Once you and your champions come up with the first successes, you’ll win them over slowly.
  3. Get a commitment from the highest management levels, both in terms of a knowledge-related vision statement (which will help you talk to middle management) and financial support.
  4. Be non-dogmatic about tools. Ignore turf battles between IT systems (maybe even go around your IT department if you need to) and instead get the system in place that does best what you need. There are a lot of free or affordable tools out there that will get you a long way. And be aware that whatever you invest into building new IT, you have to invest at least the same amount in change management and training.
  5. Find synergies with existing KM initiatives, networks, projects of other organizations. You are hardly the first organization to think about a network on a specific topic, or to implement a KM tool. If you can, work together with other organizations which already do KM for a while, partner with them so you can tap into their networks, use their systems and develop knowledge products with them together.
  6. Always make it about people first, and only second about processes and technology. And when talking to people, always make sure you can tell them “What’s in it for them”.
  7. Don’t think you can do KM without investing into it. That doesn’t mean that you have to build a entire KM unit from scratch (although for large organizations that might be the way to go), but without some people whose job is to take the KM agenda in the organization forward, and without giving them financial support to pilot some initiatives, you will only get so far.
  8. Don’t think of knowledge management (or social media for KM for that matter) as the panacea to everything. Because it is such a diverse topic (encompassing areas like strategic management, HR, programme and project management, policy development, learning, communities and communications) KM means different things to different people, and if you promise they’ll all get what they wish for, you’re bound to disappoint many of them. Instead, identify the hotspots in the organization where it hurts most, and set some achievable change management goals that you want to focus on in the first phase.
  9. Sooner or later in your process you will touch on issues around management control and information security, which will force the organization to make some hard decisions. At those crossroads, there is only one way to go for KM. Away from a culture that asks “What information should be make available? Only that information we’ll share” to a culture that asks “What information do we have to protect? The rest we’ll share”. Alex J. Ross, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Senior Advisor for Innovation last year said at a UNDP-hosted conference on social media “Tell your boss that the 21st century is a lousy time to be a control freak”. If the senior management of your organization is not ready yet to give away some control, the prospect of getting KM right is not good.
  10. And finally – allow yourself to make mistakes. Sometimes, what works in one organization doesn’t work in the other. Or not right away. Maybe the timing was not right, maybe you came out too early with a specific initiative, or too late. Maybe people were tired because of previous change processes. Maybe some people in the organization felt threatened, or the necessary seed funding was not there. Innovation is a constant process of trying, failing, getting feedback, revising. So don’t be afraid to fail, revise and try again, but be sure to close the feedback loops when doing it, so you always get input from those who should benefit. Identify initiatives that minimize the cost in case of failure, and allow for scalability in case of success.

Again, this is by no means a complete assessment, and I will be glad to learn from others on what elements to consider when starting off KM in an organization.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Why we will use social media for both work and personal life

In her Harvard Business Review article “Why We Use Social Media in Our Personal Lives — But Not for Work” from February 16, Tammy Erickson claims that the conditions under which we use social media in a personal and an organizational context are entirely different, and therefore should lead to massive challenges in getting adoption for Social Media solutions within enterprises.

I must say, while Tammy makes some valid points (e.g. that internal platforms are usually less user-friendly than public tools), I find many of her arguments somehow missing the mark, which leads me to formulate a thorough critique of her article here.

First of all, I cannot agree with Tammy’s sharp differentiation between use of social media in our work and our personal lives. This feels as odd as claiming in the early days of the telephone that the phone would be less useful for business than it is for personal use, or saying the same about email in 1990. What’s more, the lines between personal and professional networking have been significantly blurring more and more (e.g. I’m engaging regularly with professional peers outside my organization through Facebook, LinkedIn or blogs). Drawing such a sharp line between the two does not do justice to the realities that a professional workforce faces today where often professional and personal email accounts are managed on the same smart phone, and professional peers we engage with online become part of social exchanges too .

Most importantly, however, the key reasons for using social media tools are the same in both personal and professional realms: communicating with my peers, voicing my opinion, sharing what I do, being visible, earning reputation and respect, asking questions, receiving feedback, presenting the “self” that I want others to see of me. Those are part of the general human need for attention, recognition and finding meaning in what we do. And it is this need basic need that made social media so successful. I don’t see how this need would be less prominent in the workplace than it is in social life, other than that individual organizations might not have a culture of treasuring staff communicating with each other, valuing their options or giving them respect and recognition. But that is a problem of the organizational culture itself, while social media is exactly there to change this.

As with the telephone and email, full-blown corporate adoption might not be there from the start, but it is inevitable if the tool meets the basic need of communication and recognition.

I also have some issue with the detailed comparisons Tammy makes between personal use and workplace use of social media:

“Personal use:
We're usually invited to participate by people we know and trust.
Workplace use:
Often we're instructed to use it by someone in authority, rather than invited by friends.”

I agree that use of social tools is only powerful when it is voluntary. Hence, the use of social tools within an organization cannot be mandated. However, rolling out a social tool within the organization with a mandatory imperative is not the only option. Within our organization, we went for a stealth approach in which we put an internal social networking prototype online and let the news spread virally (a core ingredient of social media adoption in the first place). After half a year we had 2000 of our 8000 staff trying it out and a survey among those users after 7 month showed that 90% of the respondent thought that both the organization and they as individuals would benefit from such a tool.

“Personal use: There are specific things we want to do with the other people involved, such as share photos, stay up-to-date on a club's activities, or develop a personal reputation.
Workplace use:
Little of what we actually get paid to do (or believe we get paid to do) requires information or input from the vast majority of other people on the network.”

Not sure where this idea is coming from or what type organization this should represent. But when we are talking about an organization that has to deal with any kind of intellectual assets, then the daily work of a regular employee has everything to do with getting information and input from others than him/herself. Of course I don’t need input from everyone in the network, but that is not the case for my personal networks either. One of the key challenges of a knowledge organization (one that deals with knowledge as its primary resource and output) is helping individuals to get the right information to the right time. Social media is the best mechanism conceivable today (other than mind-reading) to do exactly that.

“Personal use: We get something back from participation: advice, practical information we need, a network to tap when times are rough, or the emotional pleasure of seeing others photos or hearing their news.
Workplace use:
Participation feels like dropping pearls into a black hole — there's often no sense of getting something in return for sharing an idea or suggestion.”

I agree the “pearl dropping” issue is a valid one, but I experience that this can happen as much in Twitter or Facebook as it can happen in an internal network – sometimes I just don’t get any feedback. At the same time, I am part of very strong professional networks (some formal, some very informal) that I rely on heavily in my professional development and learning, a group of people I can vent ideas with and ask for advice. And where I receive emotional satisfaction by the professional recognition and respect that we give each other. Anyone who doesn’t get any emotional satisfaction of engaging with peers at the workplace I would suggest to change jobs as soon as possible and find a nicer environment.

“Personal use: We have control over who sees our information.
Workplace use: We have no control over who sees our information and little idea what "they" are doing with it.”

I guess this depends on the tool you use. In a public Twitter profile (which for me is the most reasonable way to use Twitter), I have no control whatsoever over who reads my tweets, and I formulate accordingly. Within the organization – as in Facebook, LinkedIn, etc – I know exactly the number of people who can see what I write, and who they are. Knowing the scope of a limited audience helps me in formulating for that audience accordingly. And at the end of the day, the golden rule of social media “only say what you are comfortable to be read by you mother, your boss or you ex-partner” should be kept in mind both in confined and public social media spheres.

Finally, I’m only comfortable with half of the recommendations Tammy makes to organizations who want to implement social media internally:

1. “Strategy — a clear, specific purpose”

I never used most of the social media in my personal life with a clear strategy in mind. Social media for me is all about experimenting, trying things out and seeing what works. I didn’t join Facebook or Twitter with a purpose in mind, and I never got one prescribed from top down – I discovered my best uses of these tools myself over time. While we know that the “build it and they will come” idea usually doesn’t work, I’m also highly skeptical of demands for clear business cases and top down strategies to incorporate social media into formal business process in the organization. The power of social media is that the best uses emerge over time by themselves, and most often they are very different than what we thought people “should” use it for. Hence, having strong ideas of how staff should use social media tools within the organization is counter-intuitive to the very idea of social media, and can suffocate its adoption from the start!

2. “Technology — designed around user behavior”
Absolutely agree. This for me is the strongest point of Tammy’s article.

3. “Organization — supported by new structures and practices as necessary”
I agree that the introduction of social media usually collides with existing organizational cultures and processes, and can cause confusion for staff in the beginning. But again, rather than prescribing ideas of how staff should use it in their processes, let them find this out themselves. Work has to be done one way or the other, at the end staff should be accountable for results. Where social media does help to improve a process or achieve a result, it will be used. Where it doesn’t, it will not, and that is perfectly fine. I don’t believe we can effectively design new structures and practices for the most effective use of social media from top down. We need to observe the best uses of the new tools by the users, and then adapt those uses accordingly by scaling them up.

4. “Personal Engagement — catalyzed individual discretionary effort.”
Absolutely agree. The use of social media cannot be prescribed. Organizations where senior management doesn’t understand this fundamental characteristic, are not ready yet to adopt it successfully.

In sum, I think the conditions of the use of social media in professional and personal environments are much more similar than Tammy’s article would make it seem. If we want to achieve adoption we have to focus on the basic needs that bring people together in any kind of communication technology. It is the extent to which new tools addresses those basic needs adequately (and often in a new way) that decides over success or failure of their adoption.