Monday, 29 June 2009

Three Rome-based agencies share their blogging and microblogging experiences

Earlier this month my FAO colleagues Gauri Salokhe (@gaurisalokhe), Luca Servo (@neoluk), Michael Riggs (@mongkolroek) asked me to participate in their web2.0 session on blogging. I always thought that guest appearances were only the prerogative of celebrities… Well, guess what, also development workers can be guest stars!!!

I guess I will never quite make it to Oraph or Larry King's show, but quite frankly I do not know what Oraph or Larry can offer that I was not offered by my hosts. They made me feel just like a star (sounds like the Turkish airline ad, with Kevin Costner).

I was unable to attend in person. Since the session was about Web2.0 tools, we decided to use Skype as our preferred instant messaging tool. Luckily my webcam was working, so we did a video conference and I must admit it felt pretty cool….

I felt like I was being broadcast live on CNN or BBC. The difference was that I had a wonder anchor person by the name of Romolo – who has the most gorgeous voice asking me questions instead of Zeinab Bedawi and her annoying voice…..

I started by sharing my personal experience with blogging, when and why I started blogging – basically it started as a means for letting off steam, sharing my ideas and challenges. I am not an assiduous blogger – that is I do not blog every day – but I try to blog at least once a month.

In my blogging adventures, I was pleasantly surprised when two of my more serious posts were picked up and subsequently published. One is a personal tale (see original blogpost) and the other one (see original blogpost) has now turned to be a solid 'academic' piece which was published in 59th issue Participatory Action and Learning.

We then moved to the blogging experience of my organization - IFAD. I shared with the participants the fact that IFAD President has an internal blog. That won us lots of brownie points. It put my organization light years ahead of others and showed that we are indeed a modern organization.

IFAD's social reporting blog
We talked about IFAD's social reporting blog which now has over 100 posts.

I shared how it all started on a spring morning, when we set it up for an event. In retrospect, it was my easiest projects, as it picked up on its own and the reason of its success was because colleagues immediately saw its value.

For those who could not attend the event, the blog ended up being an invaluable tool. Every morning, they could read about what had happened in the workshop which was held in another continent. It was invaluable, because the blogposts included all relevant information in one single entry (yes, they were great examples of mashup!) – that is powerpoint presentations, videos, photos were all embedded in the blogpost. Truly a one-stop shop!

For those attending the event, and the organizers, it was a great tool, because thanks to their daily reports, they ended up having their final report at the end of the workshop. No extra work needed after the workshop. That was really a treat.

The audience was pleasantly surprised that both members of management and staff alike contribute to the social reporting blog. We recently held a couple of web2.0 briefing sessions and as a result we now have members of our senior management keen to blog.

Guidelines – how about common sense
I was then asked whether we had blogging guidelines for the corporate blog and personal blogs.

I often ask myself why do we need guidelines for common-sense stuff, why do we need to be told what we can and cannot do, if we can use our common sense.

I know, I know, we need guidelines because not everyone may have the same understanding… So yes, I told the audience we have some draft guidelines which we are finalizing.

I really think guidelines kill creativity and innovation. I wish we could live in a world where peer pressure would act as guiding principles.

For example, if I were to do something that the community deems unacceptable, I would much prefer for the community and my peers to point it out to me and help me rectify rather than a lifeless piece of paper telling me what I can and cannot do? After all, community is the foundation of Web2.0 paradigm! Is not it so?

Understanding the psychology
When we embark on new adventures which can rock the boat, we need to understand what goes on in people's heads. Inevitably there is uneasiness, because people feel they may be 'exposed' and/or they are afraid of entering into unchartered territory.

Web2.0 is no different. I was asked whether staff could comment on the President's blog and if so whether comments were anonymous.

When I mentioned that yes staff can comment and comments are not anonymous, although I could not see the audience, I could feel that there was a sense of awe, surprise and also uneasiness.

I must admit, until then I had not realized that the fact that staff feel free to comment and share their ideas on the President's blog shows the organization's maturity and transparency.

At IFAD our the philosophy is that if someone has something to say or ask they also expect to receive an answer. So, if they do not identify themselves, how can they get a response? That makes sense, does not it!

There are risks associated with this – for example someone can criticize or be obnoxious. But that is not necessarily bad, but rather healthy as it is probably something that needs to be dealt with. It is always better to know sooner rather than later if there are seeds of discontent, as this way these can be dealt with as opposed to being complacent and/or be left in the dark and let the discontent grow like a cancer.

My next guest appearance, this time on Twitter
After this first wonderful experience and because I had got a kick out of it, I volunteered to do an encore for the microblogging session.

I owe my entrance in Twitterville to Michael who was instrumental in making me understand the value of microblogging. I will eternally be grateful to him. Recently we did a tweet duet at the World Summit for Information Society Forum 2009. The two of us started twitting away and our enthusiasm ended up being contagious. As a result after the first session we had others tweeting! Sorry for digressing….

Back to the microblogging session…

I was really sorry that this time too I could not be physically present, especially since Peter Casier from WFP (@TheRoadTo) who is a fantastic and active blogger and tweeter was the guest star! Peter is truly exceptional.

I followed what was happening through tweets @neoluk, @TheRoadTo and @mongkolroek tweets. I did tweetvened (intervened via a tweet) by responding to a few questions, and asked my own questions. We also cracked some jokes about @neoluk's new haircut – thanks to the tweet pictures send by @TheRoadTo and @monkolroe. That was really fun and showed the sense of community, collaboration and trust – all pillars of web2.0 and the web2.0 way of life.

It is a challenge for novice twitters to immediately see the benefits and value of microblogging. I hope our tweets helped convert the sceptics. For sure, those more conversed – such as @ICT-KM - got a lot out of it, as they tweeted thanking for all the tweets and said "thanks to your tweets, I felt as if I was there".

In the true spirit of web2.0 – that of reciprocity and giving – we agreed that next time my FAO and WFP colleagues should come to IFAD for similar sessions.

My Web2.0 journey so far has been nothing but fun. It's been fun thanks to wonderful colleagues such as Nancy, Gauri, Luca, Michael, Peter, Lucy and many more who held my hands and showed me the marvels of these tools. You have really made the difference and I will eternally be grateful to each and every one of you.


Monday, 22 June 2009

Knowledge sharing: How can we encourage people to share knowledge without feeling threatened

Quite for sometime I've been thinking what motivates people to create, share and use knowledge?

I believe creating and using knowledge are part and parcel of our life. It is like breathing, we just do IT without realizing that we are doing it, and if we stop doing it we'll put ourselves at risk.

What will happen if you stop breathing? Well, pretty much the same thing may happen when you enter the 'no knowledge zone' and should that happen you should think: "why in heaven's name am I alive?"

I'll use a mundane example to show how we continuously use and create knowledge.

Every day when I am drive to and from work, depending what time I've left the house or the office, I use my traffic knowledge to choose the fastest possible way to get to my final destination. Almost every day by applying my traffic knowledge I end up creating new knowledge. The new knowledge is created simply by refining and/or fine-tuning my existing traffic knowledge, fine tuning actions such as when to change lanes, which traffic lights are to be avoided, depending on the hour of the day, which lane is the fastest etc.

Some time ago, I noticed that on Wednesdays and Thursdays evenings the traffic was heavier on the way home. It did not take too long to figure out that the heavy traffic was because of football matches on those evening were thousands of people commuted from South, East and West to the North of the city.

To avoid being stuck in the traffic jam for hours on end I acted on the newly acquired piece of information and found alternative itineraries. By proactively seeking to understand the cause of the heavy traffic and subsequently acting on what I learnt, I managed to circumvent getting stuck in the traffic.

My overarching motivation was: "getting to my final destination in good time". I could have left hours earlier to get to final destination in good time, which meant less precious sleep time in the morning and in the evening leaving the office at midnight!

But I chose to be efficient and do things in a smarter manner. I used my existing knowledge and my acquired new information, acted upon the newly acquired information to create new knowledge which led me to circumventing being stuck in traffic jams and helped me to get to my final destination in good time. And believe me it was not hard at all.

I believe motivation comes with sense of purpose and need. I can be motivated to drive an F1 car, but since I do not need to drive one, nor will I have the opportunity to do so ever, I can pretty much downgrade my motivation to a dream and concentrate my energies elsewhere!

But nothing prevents me from expanding both my information and knowledge base about cars, F1 and racing and applying the acquired knowledge to driving my battered city car!

So even if we do not have a specific challenge to overcome or issue to resolve, we can still acquire, apply and adapt knowledge and as a result create new knowledge.

Now let's move to what is considered by many as the most challenging knowledge management dimension: sharing knowledge. Let me stay with the traffic story.

Couple of weeks ago one of my friends had to go to my neck of the woods and asked me how to get there. I was faced with numerous options:
  • Share the longest possible way to get there (we've all done this sort of nasty things with people who we do not particularly like)
  • Find out when and what time they have to go and share the quickest possible way to get to their destination
  • Tell them I no longer live in that neighbourhood (typical knowledge hoarding attitude which in real life would translate to: "I do not know", "I do not have time", "this is not your area of expertise, back-off". Most probably we've both been victim of these attitudes and YES – most probably sometime in our life we too have exercised these attitudes)
I opted for the second option and shared my traffic knowledge. The next day we ran into each other and my friend thanked me profusely and I thought to myself, wow, what a nice feeling.

Sharing is the most rewarding and gratifying act in the world, this is why some call it an act of love simply because when you share someone else receives.

When and why do we share?
We tend to share when we come to know of something, when we read or hear of something interesting, when we have an idea, when we are faced with a challenge, when we experience something, when we have aspirations, when we do not know, when we want to show-off and when we are forced to.

Who do we share with?
We share with people who we trust, we share with our community and our peers, we share with those who love us, we share with those who hate us

So what is preventing us from sharing?
And let's not go down the path: "I do not have time to share", as that is a non-starter!

There have been times when I felt intimidated by certain individuals who were in position of power or considered as an opinion leader. As a result if I had something to share, I thought about it twice and 9 times out of ten shied away from sharing it, because I was afraid that what I had to share would be considered either as stupid or arrogant.

9 times out of ten I would have done myself a favour if I had shared my "stupid" and/or "arrogant" knowledge!

Probably most of us have had similar experiences. So, building on own personal experience I have reached the conclusion that often people do not share because they think – or are led to believe – that what they have to share is not worthwhile or is not of a certain calibre.

Another reason why people may resist sharing knowledge is lack of trust. Typically we share knowledge with those who we trust. This is because we know that they will:
  • not laugh at us even if we have something "stupid" to share
  • give us honest and constructive feedback
  • help us earnestly with our challenge
  • put to good use the imparted knowledge

How can we build a trustworthy environment to help a seamless and systematic knowledge sharing?

What I've observed is that people are more willing to share with their closest peers, colleagues and friends. When they collect their courage and decide to come out of their comfort zone and start sharing little titbits with others, they are pleasantly surprised because 9 times out of ten they get kudos. This in turn results in expanding their network, which often has a snowball effect, because like a cool insightful tweet, the expanded network will retweet the piece of knowledge many many times over!

Web2.0 revolution
The Web2.0 wave has revolutionized the way we share knowledge today. First and foremost, while we may have loyal followers and friends we know that we are also reaching out to many others, whom we may or may not know.

Secondly, we seem to be more relaxed vis-à-vis the reaction of people towards what we have to share. For example, for sure there will be some who may find this very blogpost absolutely stupid, but is it preventing me from posting it? NO!! It is not. Would I have shared these very thoughts and ideas in the old way? Probably yes, but only with those who I knew were interested in this topic.

What is different? If you come across this blogpost and after reading the first couple of paragraphs you find it utterly boring, you do not necessarily need to sit politely in a room being subjected to a boring dissertation, but you can simply leave the page and go off to another site. You may go through the hassle of leaving a comment expressing your view about the blogpost – which may be the same as laughing or deriding.

On the other hand, if you find it interesting, you may read it to the very end and who knows you may leave an insightful comment and share your knowledge about this challenge. You may also twit it and/or share the link and lastly you may add yourself as a new follower.

Why is it that I do not think twice about writing and actually posting this long blogpost – which by the way did not quite turn out the way I had originally intended (it does not have the depth I wanted it to have) - but I am willing to share the same thing only with people who are interested in this subject matter?

Is it because there are greater chances that someone who cares about the subject matter may find this useful and provide constructive comment or is it because I feel protected by relative anonymity or is it because I do not care if someone who I do not know nor care about leaves a deriding comment?

Maybe the answer to all the above questions is "Yes". What I've learnt over the years is that as a knowledge practitioner and facilitators we should continuously and relentlessly foster and facilitate knowledge sharing. We can do so by creating a safe and conducive knowledge sharing environment and championing knowledge sharing.

My own knowledge sharing journey was far from an easy ride. Having learnt it the hard way I do not wish it on my worse enemy, so here are three very easy tips which you may wish to take into consideration:
  • do not be put off by "opinionated and influential people"
  • dare to share. Yes sometimes you may be laughed at and criticized. But believe me 9 times out of 10 you will feel highly gratified by sharing your knowledge
  • sharing knowledge – especially sharing development related knowledge - inevitably spearheads something bigger and can contribute to a noble cause.
I now firmly believe in the African proverb: "knowledge is the only form of wealth that grows by sharing". This wonderful proverb has now become my mantra!