A KE perspective

This is reprinted with permission from SDC:

A Greenhorn’s insights of the KM4DEV annual workshop in Zeist, Netherlands, 18-20 June 2007.

Once upon a time there was a greenhorn who had been entrusted by his superior to represent their organization on the occasion of the annual workshop of an international community of practitioners.
He was aware how lucky he was to have the opportunity to participate in such an event, but he also thought that his task was not as simple as it might look! First, because the topic of this meeting was complicated. Knowledge management is a complex field, especially when it takes place within the framework of international development. Second, because the organization the greenhorn had to represent is recognized by its peers for its competences and the quality of its work in this particular issue. And finally, because his organization was one of the main sponsor of the project the greenhorn was supposed to work on, he felt that he would hold a strange position.
With his 8 month experience in this field, would he be equal to such a responsibility? During the flight from Geneva to Amsterdam, the greenhorn suddenly caught a glimpse of the fact that he might not be able to live up to the expectations placed in him. But this feeling didn’t last for long. “No risk – no fun”, he thought.

On Monday morning, during the warm-up “ice break” session, he had the confirmation that this event would be a complete new experience for him and that it would be very funny. Thanks to the “madness” of the facilitator of this session, participants met and learned quickly from each other. It had the power of creating an atmosphere as cheerful as motivating. All were in the mood to dare share. The work could begin.

After a talk show session on the challenges of collaboration, the parallel sessions for project work started. The greenhorn joined the “Knowledge Expeditions” group that was in charge to collaboratively develop this concept. The audience was diverse. There were people working for NGOs, research centres, international organizations, universities and development agencies, from North, South, East and West.
The session started with a story told by one of the facilitators and recorded by the other. They showed to the group what should be the procedure of the documentation of experiences within the framework of a knowledge expedition, how it should be recorded, pictured and posted on a blog, etc.
But…the problem that begun to rise within the mind of the greenhorn was that the group hadn’t created a common understanding of what actually was a knowledge expedition… Admittedly, as we could have read it in the project concept, we knew that this was “an initiative which would generate methodological process that could be followed, adopted, and adapted by development workers to address common and specific challenges”. Ok, but it wasn’t so clear for the greenhorn. He said to himself: “It’s in the nature of a greenhorn, not to understand how it all goes about”, and he let it go. He noted though that what was proposed to the group was to work on the “how”, without being sure of the “what” and, more importantly thought the greenhorn, without knowing the purpose, the “why” of the knowledge expedition. Going on an expedition is funny, he noted, but maybe dangerous if you don’t know where you are, where you go and what you want to find. “Anyway”, he thought.
During the break, on the balcony, on the occasion of a talk within a small community of smokers, the greenhorn noted that he wasn’t the only one who had had troubles understanding what the knowledge expedition was about. Each one of them started to confront its own perception of the concept. For some it was a development of the storytelling method, for others it was an electronic way to document stories, etc. For the greenhorn, knowledge expedition was a process that goes from issues or needs to solutions by the intermediary of KM tools, and so in order to create understanding and legitimacy for knowledge management as an efficient way to solve problems in the every day development work. A member of the group said to the greenhorn that it was also his personal understanding and his acceptation of the concept as a way to respond to the needs of his organization. But he added that others could have other needs and, consequently, other acceptation of the concept. Ok… the greenhorn thought at this moment that, maybe, the purpose of knowledge management wasn’t after all to simplify things.
After that confusing break, the participants were invited to form up pairs in order to test the procedure of the knowledge expedition with a volunteer issued from another group of the workshop. The aim was to record a story related to one of the eight knowledge expedition themes that were proposed and then, post all the documents (audio, picture, text) on the knowledge expedition blog. The greenhorn and his colleague were a bit confused because they didn’t know what to explain to the interviewed person. So they decided to come to an agreement on the “what” and the “why” of the knowledge expedition, as a guideline to conduct the interview. They conducted it with a person that gave to them a good practice on the way to foster environments that could support deep personal and collaborative teaching, that enables people to share knowledge in an efficient manner. This man gave to the pair the example of a fair he collaborated to organise and explained to them that it was an effective way to foster exchanges and learning. The greenhorn thought that it was a great moment that led to an interesting discussion between the trio on the recognition from the top management of the usefulness of such an event. The pair documented this story and made it posted on the blog as an exploration of the theme “wisdom”.

On the second day, after a very interesting as well as funny session on graphic facilitation, the knowledge expedition group met again in order to go forward with the work on the concept. As an introduction, each one of them explained his experience of the past day with the interviewed person. It led to interesting insights on the conducting of the storytelling method.
But after that warm-up session, the need appeared to split up the group. One part would work on the procedure of the knowledge expedition while the other, which express the need of more intelligibility, would define more precisely the outlines of the “why” and “what” of the knowledge expedition concept. The greenhorn participated in the “vision group” which drew the conclusion that the concept was hard to explain as well as tough to understand… The greenhorn noted that it would be difficult “to sell” this concept to a sponsor in that state of affairs… Another member of the group added that this concept had to be very clear in order to “be sold” as well in organizations, for colleagues who would be part of such a process. So they decided to address the central question of the “why”, the “what” and went so far as to also examine the question of the “for whom”.
The greenhorn was relieved. He would come back to office with something concrete and specific for his boss who had showed interest in the progress of the work.

On the last day, the two parts of the group worked on the presentation that would take place in that afternoon. They managed, thanks the use of graphics, drawings and metaphors, to come up with a clear explanation of the various dimensions of such a difficult concept.
The greenhorn was happy. Even if the work was hard, the conceptualization sometimes tough, the construction of a common understanding not so easy, the collaboration within the group was highly efficient and productive and led in the end to a coherent and understandable concept. The good work has to continue because the expeditions have just begun.

During those three days workshop, the greenhorn learned a great deal, that’s why there would be many other things to tell, such as the informal talks in the bar, the Dutch food, that strange misunderstanding of what knowledge sharing means for people in the South and in the North, the consequences of an internet connection failure on web 2.0 addicted people, etc.
But he will stop here and leave his organization after his internship period with one more happy memory of his first work experience.

The greenhorn
Axel Roduit, SDC

How to use flickr

A really helpful slide show from The Travelin’ Librarian on using flickr, which could be helpful for people wanting to share photos. If you get going in flickr, save your photos for the Knowledge Expeditions with the tag “km4dev” and it will appear in our flickr badge on this blog.

Analytical Windows by Amanuel Assaf

amanuel_t1.jpgamanuel_t1.jpgamanuel_t1.jpg The meeting was indeed a privilege to me, that it allowed me meet many people who are really skillful, thoughtful and enthusiastic about knowledge sharing and learning.  

I also got a chance to participate in the talk show- to tell a story about my experiences in knowledge management, particularly my engagement in the coordination of a national learning and advocacy platform to promote local innovations in Ethiopia. I am not sure how much of my story was educational to the workshop participants but, from my side, the questions and comments forwarded were very educational. In another meeting-I had also a chance to tell a story about my engagement in knowledge management project in Ethiopia. This story was recorded and uploaded in the Blog.


I have chosen to take part in Knowledge expedition project, on which the group has spent more than two days- developing the concept and the tools. The idea of the knowledge expedition was very interesting and inspiring. For me, the eight themes identified under the broad framework of knowledge expedition are very important. They can help a research to look in to the knowledge management issues from different directions. Each theme is like analytical windows, through which we can see to the world of knowledge management. Based on the context and the purpose of the study one may chose few but most appropriate windows to look in to the KM agenda. It is not necessary to deal with all the eight themes /windows for every KM research project, but some are more applicable for certain situation and others may be important different situations. The questions that are put under each theme are also like analytical tools that can guide the researcher to investigate about the chosen theme.  That was really a  knew insight for me, which I was really impressed with. I also found it very relevant for my own research ( I am doing my doctoral studies on innovation systems approach). Among the few research questions I posed, understanding the generation, sharing, communication and utilization of a certain knowledge body in agriculture is one. Apparently I am also at a stage of developing my methodological approaches to answer the research questions. The basic ideas and the windows of knowledge expedition is therefore very helpful to define and refine my methodologies and tools.. 

One important argument which, my self and another colleague of mine from Ethiopia was trying to bring to the attention of the group was that- although the themes identified under the knowledge expedition are really good- the issue of utilization of knowledge was not considered as an important theme. For us,( people from the South), we have understood that there is a stock of knowledge in the research institutions (national and international), universities and other knowledge institutions, while millions of people are going to bed with out eating. Several reasons could be given as causes of the problem.  It is true the issue is complex and the factors responsible are also complex. For example some people consider “lack of good governance” as a major responsible factor for the crisis. Nevertheless, one of the important reasons for the gap between knowledge accumulation and high level of poverty in developing countries is – because the knowledge stock we have in the country is not effectively utilized. In other words, innovation- which is not just to mean a technology or knowledge but- the translation of knowledge in to social and economic use, is not getting adequate attention. Unless knowledge is used to create new values in the social and economic systems- it is absolutely like stuff in a museum. The utilization aspect is indeed not easy and straightforward (linear). It involves several social and economic actors who have to interact, communicate, and engage in a certain mode. The mode is in turn determined by the policy, institutional, and cultural contexts. The transnational process of knowledge in to economic and social use is therefore a complex one and that demands a mix of skills, changed attitude, policy support etc. In short this is what we often refere to the concept  “innovation”. Therefore, in this workshop we strongly recommended that “Innovation” (as a process) has to be included as an important theme/window in the border knowledge expedition framework. We were indeed very glad that the group has accepted our argument and included one additional window on innovation. We will be gladly involving to develop the analytical tools of the additional window in the future. Finally, my self, as a practitioner and researcher is committed to involve in working and developing some of the windows of the knowledge expedition framework. I believe my continued engagement with the community will help me to develop my thoughts also contribute to over all works of the KM4dev community.


Simone Staiger


Click here to listen to Simone talk about her experience in organising a KS week.

Early 2004, Simone Staiger returned back to work after a short hiatus following the birth of her third son. She was excited about the opportunity – joining the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) in the communications department as it would give her some relief from her job as a full-time mom. At the same time, her confidence was at a low – she was still getting used to her new home in a country far away form her birth place and picking up a new working language.

One of her first tasks in her new position was to developed an institutional website. Intuitively, she turned to her colleagues recognising that creating and populating a website would be unsustainable on her own. She quickly nurtured a network of website focal points who together worked to build a user-friendly place to share information and news with internal staff. One lesson that Simone took away from the experience was the potential of a collaborative approach.

In January 2004, a Knowledge Sharing Project was launched in the CGIAR with the lofty goal of changing the centre’s culture to one that is oriented on sharing knowledge.

Simone was a project associate and co-organized a workshop that brought together 20 or so people across the CG to discuss what knowledge sharing meant to them and generate ideas to put forward as proposals to be accepted for project funding. It was during the workshop, that an idea popped into Simone’s head – to change the approach in running Annual Meetings at CIAT so that they would allow for more space for interactivity and engagement of ALL staff (especially those from the regions) while still working towards the meeting’s objectives.

The pilot was approved for funding and Simone was identified as the lead. She spent more than three months working full time designing an agenda and preparing for the five day event. But, these months weren’t free of challenges. Early on, Simone felt resistance towards changing the way that business was traditionally conducted at CIAT.

“I was a nothing in the institution and came up with an idea on how a very important meeting could be run better. It was clear that I was putting my hands in other people’s business.”

Simone persevered and, with the help of an external consultant and through consultations with her colleagues, she was able to get enough buy-in to move forward with an agenda based on a formula that was completely different than what staff had experienced in the past.

The agenda incorporated approaches such as open space, peer assists and a knowledge sharing fair. The event was oriented towards creating spaces for people to get to know each other and their work better in an environment that was more informal. Several elements of previous meetings remained as requested by a number of scientists who wanted to take advantage of bringing together team members face-to-face.

Reflecting back on the experience, Simone took away a number of lessons.

“Give opportunities and space to people who aren’t leaders but have ideas. And, allow them to take some risk – as is often permitted by other divisions in the organization.”

Has she seen change? Simone admits that change is coming slowly. One thing that she has noticed was that although many of her colleagues haven’t changed the way that they behave – especially in engaging partners in the work of the CG – there is a sense that they don’t feel as comfortable working with the status quo.

Jane Carter

Jane Carter

Jane Carter’s story elicited in an interview conducted by Arthur van Leeuwen and as Riff Fullan heard it…..

Click here to hear Jane’s talking to Riff and to record your comment.

Experience of Intercooperation (IC) in India – IC had been working in India for 20 years and was closely associated with the Swiss donor organisation, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The Deputy of SDC was also the IC Delegate. In 2003, there was a decision to clearly separate the two. In addition, shortly after that, it was announced that SDC funding in India was going to go down radically (these two decisions were not related, but people experienced them as connected). Both were somewhat unexpected developments. IC staff felt closely identified with SDC, and felt very demotivated. SDC was in a phase of uncertainty itself and it wasn’t clear within the organisation exactly which projects would continue to be supported.

Within the IC delegation, it was decided to have a series of meetings to let people know what was going on (as far as this was known), to discuss how to deal with immediate challenges, and to plan, as far as possible, for the future. At one of these meetings of project team leaders, things came to a head. The team leaders had no enthusiasm to dicuss mundane mangement issues; they wanted the opportunity to create a vision for the future of IC in India.

An opportunity was created a month later, and an external facilitator was brought in who was very experienced with the Appreciative Inquiry methodology. There were about 15 staff altogether, almost all local plus one expat staff member….

The question in the visioning exercise was: what do we want IC to be in India?

The visioning exercise was in June/July 2005.

Process: 2.5 days – They went through the Appreciative Inquiry steps of: 1) Discovery 2) Dreaming 3) Design and 4) Destiny.

  1. First, they did appreciative interviews with each other. People were asked to describe what they appreciated in their work and in the organisation through one-on-one dialogues
  2. What were the positive things that could be done in future – done in plenary, folowed by group sessions on different aspects.
  3. They then looked for keywords on different aspects of the organisation that were common threads. They ended up with a large number of words, it was difficult to filter down to a concise set of words….
  4. The Destiny stage was not really completed – partly because of the timeframe, but also as the facilitator felt that the time wasn’t right.

At the previous workshop, people had been very upset and rebellious. The visioning workshop, helped to build a greater sense of trust. People felt better and more positive about the future, although it was a very difficult situation, with projects and jobs in a greatly uncertain situation.

IC’s values in India: Results: Apart from people leaving the wkshop with a positive feeling, another result was the definition of key values of what IC in India should be in future (this was also incorporated into a brochure). A few people who had the drive and the wish to assemble proposals, looking for new funds did so and stayed on with the organisation; others needed a steady salary and decided to move on.

The Appreciative Inquiry workshop and other regular meetings eventually served as a way for people to vent their frustrations and fears, so their sense of anger and disappointment was improved. Appreciative Inquiry was a very good methodology in this case. Also having a highly experienced external facilitator was a critical factor, someone who could be a neutral party.

Ernst Bolliger

Ernst Bolliger

Last January, I collaborate to the organization of a fair at SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation)’s Headquarter in Bern: the CoP (community of practice) Dare to Share. The idea was to let CoP animators present their work through a market stand. They were invited to show to SDC staff how they go about CoP, how they organize themselves, for what purpose CoP is a valuable way of organizing, etc. 25 CoPs were presented.

SDC collaborators could walk through the market, talk with CoP animators, ask questions and inform themselves about this instrument. This fair made the CoP working within SDC more visible and represented an occasion to show how they work day to day. We can say that it was a success, first because of the amount and quality of exchanges made and second, because of the number of people who came to discover this way of doing.

A couple of weeks later, we wrote a CoP manifesto that encompassed the main key findings of the CoP Dare to Share. Afterwards, we demanded to the participant to give us a feedback about this manifesto. We received a lot of answer and that was the proof of the interest and of the success met by this fair.

Learning our language

Learning our language