KM4Dev Futures: Interviews with Current Members
During December 2013, I ( Melissa Bator ) spoke with different members of the KM4Dev network in order to understand their usual routine around KM4Dev, the different ways that they currently participate, and how they see themselves participating in the future. In addition, members shared the benefits they have gained through their participation and their reflections on the administration of a group like KM4Dev. Summaries of the interviews are posted below. The interview questions may be found on the discussion tab of this page. I have uploaded a pdf of my reflections on the six interviews I conducted (in Bator Reflection on Interviews.pdf). Feel free to expand this page by adding your own profile and/or reflections on KM4Dev.
- 1 Ewen Le Borgne, Knowledge Sharing and Communication Specialist, ILRI
- 2 Johannes Schunter, Knowledge Management Specialist, UN Development Programme
- 3 Nancy White, Founder, Full Circle Associates
- 4 Kristie Urich, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Knowledge Management Coordinator, World Vision International
- 5 Lissette Bernal-Cruz, Manager, Knowledge Management, The Rockefeller Foundation
- 6 Piers Bocock, Director, Knowledge Management & Communication, CGIAR Consortium
Ewen Le Borgne, Knowledge Sharing and Communication Specialist, ILRI
Joined KM4Dev: 2006
Joined Core Group: 2007
Member of SA-GE, SIWA (though the group doesn’t currently exist), KM4dev Ethiopia/Addis Ababa, KM4Dev Africa and various NING groups.
Face-to-face events attended: Brighton 2006, Zeist 2007, Almada 2008, Brussels 2009, Rome 2011
Ewen connects to KM4Dev members mostly through the Dgroup platform. He receives daily emails from the listserv, which he reads regularly. He checks KM4Dev.org (the Ning network) once every week or two. He rarely, if ever, looks at the KM4Dev Facebook page or the LinkedIn page. He uses the wiki as the need arises. Finally, he attends to the Core Group and SA-GE as activity in those spaces calls for his participation.
Ewen is also an editor of the KM4Dev Journal, which is affiliated with KM4Dev. This portion of his service takes up most of his KM4Dev-related time.
Ewen is also involved in ongoing efforts of the KM4Dev Addis-Ababa & Ethiopia Regional Group, which he helped set up in early 2012. In an average month, he estimates that he spends approximately 6-8 hrs of his time focused on all of these KM4Dev-related activities. Ewen describes gaining several benefits from his varied participation in KM4Dev. His participation in KM4Dev, starting in Brighton, was like finding his true professional family; he notes this realization as a turning point in his own career. His work on the Core Group gave him a better sense of place within KM4Dev. His involvement as a Core Group member allowed him to witness first-hand the self-organizing principles at work in a network such as KM4Dev. The network only functions to the degree that members willingly engage and are present. He has brought this understanding of self-organizing systems into his own professional work. In fact, Ewen often cross-fertilizes his own work with ideas gleaned from KM4Dev and Km4Dev with ideas gleaned from his own work. He regularly incorporates ideas he read on the KM4Dev listserv into his professional blog. He has even blogged about the impact that KM4Dev has had on him professionally here. In addition, participation in the Core Group has allowed Ewen to develop close relationships with other members of KM4Dev through the more intimate, project-oriented discussions this space affords members. Finally, his presence within KM4Dev has opened up his professional network for work opportunities.
As he looks ahead to the next year or two, Ewen expects his involvement will change. As a member of the Core Group, he has a global view of KM4Dev. He is interested in changing his focus to a more local role. He sees the growth in both the number of members within KM4Dev and the geographic coverage as an indication that local epicenters of action need to be nurtured in order for KM4Dev as a whole to continue to thrive as the self-organizing group it is meant to be. Therefore, he expects that he will continue to “listen” to the general discussion spaces to keep tabs on what the community is talking about, however, he would like to spend more of his energy nurturing participation in his local region of Ethiopia, where he has already organized several meet-ups for professionals, and perhaps in the Francophone world through SA-GE.
As a member of the Core Group, Ewen has a more nuanced understanding of the funding needs of KM4Dev than an average member. He sees the immediate funding needs as the money necessary to run the interaction platforms for the group (Ning, Wiki, Dgroups). He was originally enthusiastic about a grant-based funding model, similar to the IFAD funding, that works on a single organization, project oriented, model for funding. However, he now feels that such a model may be too constricting for a loose network, such as KM4Dev. It is difficult for members of a network to work within the constraints issued by an organization, such as short-term deadlines and rigid funding guidelines (i.e., what type of work will be funded). He believes that this sort of funding is highly taxing for a group of networked volunteers and contributed to burn-out within the Core Group.
Instead, he offers a demand-based perspective. He suggests that KM4Dev experiment with listening and letting the direction of the group “bubble-up” from members, rather than pushing conversations and activities to the general membership from the Core Group. He believes that a series of possibilities need to be tried in order to find the right funding model. He listed asking for individual donations, sponsorships, and members asking their organizations to donate as possibilities. Although he is not opposed to a single-donor funding model, he stated that it would need to be a highly enlightened organization that did not intend to impose its own objectives onto KM4Dev.
Johannes Schunter, Knowledge Management Specialist, UN Development Programme
Joined KM4Dev: 2007
Member of “KM4Dev-UN”, “Online Peer Assist Experiments” and “KM4Dev community funding models”
Face-to-face events attended: Zeist 2007, Brussels 2009, Rome 2011, Seattle 2013
Johannes connects to KM4Dev members mostly through the Dgroup listserv. He reads all of the subject lines of the KM4Dev messages that come directly to his inbox, but he approximates that he only pays attention to about 20% of them (the 20% that most interest or are most relevant to him). He only checks the Ning page when he receives a notification in his inbox that someone has commented on his page, which rarely happens. He also uses it to identify people. For example, he was recently asked by a colleague if he knew of other people who worked in the UN who are members of KM4Dev and who had field experience. The Ning site gave him the tools to put together a rough list of names. He visits the wiki when he wants to write something in it. He has posted a couple of summaries of discussions that he started on the Dgroups platform that received a large number of helpful/insightful responses. Finally, Johannes makes a point of trying to attend a face-to-face event every other year.
It was difficult for Johannes to quantify the amount of time, on average, he spends on KM4Dev related activities. He noted that his participation can vary with the level of activity on the listserv. For instance, there are times when the membership posts fewer messages. There are also times, such as when he summarizes a discussion, when he can spend an entire day working on this mini-project. Although the amount of time he gives to KM4Dev related participation varies, he estimates that he spends approximately 2-3 hrs each month.
Johannes receives multiple benefits from participating in this way. The overall benefit he experiences through his involvement is that he is able to continuously learn about his craft. By simply following the conversation topics on the listserv, he is able to stay aware of where the conversation is within the community and what other members are concerned with. This pushes him to think about other peoples’ perspectives. In addition, he has a better understanding of other members’ expertise (i.e., who knows what), and how to connect with these people if he ever needed to tap into that expertise. Attending face-to-face events, posting to the listserv and becoming a part of the conversations have helped him to develop his professional identity within a peer group. In 2006, when he heard first about KM4Dev, he was one of only a few professionals in his work unit formally charged with knowledge management. He lacked a professional support unit within his own organization. In KM4Dev he found a peer group of KM professionals who were in similar situations (often the only ones concerned about KM in their organizations) and who had similar questions and challenges with whom he could learn on an ongoing basis. Finally, utilizing the collective know-how of the listserv, by posting a question that he and his organization may be struggling with (e.g., the usefulness of developing a lessons learned repository), allows him to tap into other people’s experience with similar issues, broaden his own knowledge on the topic, and gather concrete insights from others’ experience in order to inform the conversations he has and strengthen the work he does within his own organization.
As he looks ahead to the next year or two, Johannes expects that his involvement will stay the same. He is happy with the amount of time he contributes and the benefits that he receives from this. He is most comfortable with project-based work that has a definite timeframe. Therefore, he believes that as opportunities that interest him arise (e.g., sitting on a funding-model advisory group, summarizing an interesting discussion on the listserv, or running a session at a face-to-face event) he will volunteer, as he has done in the past.
Overall, Johannes sees KM4Dev as an open, collaborative community with high levels of trust among members. In fact, Johannes believes that the people within KM4Dev are fantastic, which he contributes to the nature of the profession. Johannes believes that KM is fundamentally about sharing, developing trust, being collaborative and open, and providing mutual support. Therefore, colleagues working in the field of KM tend to be genuinely nice people who live these values. However, working within an organization as a KM specialist can be lonely work, as there is typically only one staff person with this formal role. For him, KM4Dev acts as a safe haven where he can reflect on his work and learn from his peers.
Finally, Johannes reflected on his changing wants and needs in respect to KM4Dev. Now that he has been a member of the community and a practitioner in the field for a number of years, he finds he is less interested in and he no longer feels the need for the “simple” or “basic” conversations about KM (e.g., the difference between information management and knowledge management). He does not begrudge the “newbies” who post these types of questions; he did this once himself. However, at this stage in his career and membership he is more interested in delving deeper into issues or exploring new and emerging questions or areas related to knowledge management in development. He believes that it is through these types of conversations that KM4Dev can stand out as a thought leader in the field.
Johannes has a more informed view of the financial needs of KM4Dev because he spent time as part of a subgroup of the KM4Dev membership interested in brainstorming funding possibilities. He estimates that the technical platforms (wiki, Ning, Dgroups) require between $3,000-5,000 USD each year to keep them running. Johannes is a big proponent of the yearly face-to-face meeting model. Therefore, he believes that this should be a part of the budget. However, he also sees the face-to-face meet-ups as a space where the group needs to encourage greater participation from members in the Global South. Therefore, even though he believes that face-to-face events can be organized as cost neutral (e.g., by charging a registration fee) he sees the need to provide sponsorship for members from the South to enable greater participation from this part of the membership. This could cost upwards of $30,000 (20 people at $6,000 per person). Additionally, he observed that it would be ideal for the group to pay a facilitator to handle the administrative work related to keeping a group formally functioning. He imagines paying someone for 20 hours/month of work. Finally, he said the rest would be up to the community to see what they would want to do. For instance, he mentioned an action research project that he and others are doing with IFAD as a nice model that KM4Dev could adopt. He imagined the community doing action research as a way to harness the knowledge of the group and to increase the impact that the community has on the field. He offered on several occasions to work with interested KM4Dev members on piloting a voluntary crowd-funding drive to see what potential that kind of funding modality has.
As far as leadership and how KM4Dev is maintained, Johannes believes that you have to work with what you have. KM4Dev has volunteers, who all have other jobs, and who can only be involved to a limited extent. From his vantage point, he is happy with KM4Dev and how it functions. Personally, he is not especially interested in the administration of KM4Dev. The current model, where volunteers who are interested in these types of things commit to the core and work together to carry out those tasks, is what the community can handle right now. However, he does not think that he is the right person to critique this model, as he never had the energy to commit to joining the core group. He sees the current core group members as the best people to elaborate on what is or is not working for the functioning of KM4Dev (i.e. whether they are too stressed out with the way it is done at the moment). He does note that the other model would be to pay for a facilitator/manager, as he mentioned in his budgeting reflections. However, this requires money and it would create a more formalized leadership role.
Nancy White, Founder, Full Circle Associates
Joined KM4Dev: 2001
Core Group Member: 2004 - 2012
Face-to-face events attended: Hague 2001, Brighton 2006, Zeist 2007, Almada 2008, Brussels 2009, Rome 2011, Seattle 2013
Nancy focuses most of her attention on the Dgroups listserv. She reads almost every message that comes through her inbox. However, she changes this routine when she is traveling or when her work becomes hectic, by paying only enough attention to stay on top of what is going on. She checks the Ning site when she receives a notification that someone has contacted her through that page or when she is the monthly facilitator, in which case she checks it daily.
It was difficult for Nancy to estimate how much time she devotes to KM4Dev on a monthly basis. One of the reasons for this is because Nancy treats KM4Dev conversations as part of her daily work/learning routine. For instance, as she reads her email in the morning she often reads the KM4Dev messages that are sitting in her inbox. In addition, the amount of time she devotes can vary dramatically, such as when she volunteers to organize an event or facilitate a structured conversation on the listserv.
The main benefit she accrues by participating in this way is continuous learning. She enjoys contributing to interesting conversation threads and finds that she must hold back from contributing too much, so that she does not dominate a thread. Furthermore, learning and contributing are the main benefits that she perceives she gained from her participation both when she was on the Core Group and now that she has stepped down and is a part of the general membership.
To Nancy, KM4Dev is a set of communities of practice (CoP) embedded within a larger network, which brings in a greater diversity of people and views than a traditional CoP could. She believes there is great value in the member-to-member participation model inherent within KM4Dev.
As she looks ahead, Nancy imagines that her participation will change depending on the direction the community takes. Nancy is excited by the member-driven model of KM4Dev and would continue to be involved in such a community. However, if the community decides to take KM4Dev into a service provision model, where people are paid for their services, she guesses that she will participate less. She believes that paying people changes things, and she is not as interested in that model. There are plenty of organizations. She doesn't think we need more.
To that end, when Nancy envisions the budget of KM4Dev she believes the main costs to be those associated with hosting the wiki and Ning platforms, which she estimates at around $1000/year max (and could be less). In fact, she is willing to pay for this for a year while the community figures out how to collect these funds on a yearly basis. She is also a proponent of exploring the possibility of asking members to donate to cover the costs of the technological infrastructure. She is leery of becoming too dependent upon organizational donations, without closer understanding of the cost/benefits. She wonders why there aren’t more conversations happening around what such dependencies do to the culture of KM4Dev and the implications that such “strings” can have on how the group operates.
When thinking about the Core Group Model currently utilized for organizing administrative duties related to running KM4Dev, Nancy believes in transparency. She believes that this sort of voluntary “leadership” model works well, assuming that those who undertake the commitment follow-through and understand the importance of making room for new members to take the lead. She sees the membership-driven organizing model as something that can be fostered through open and timely communication between the Core Group and the general membership. She is not sure she would recommend a paid moderator position because she believes that this may contribute to more passive "consumption" of KM4Dev as a service, and less as a community/network of people who give and get value. She does NOT underestimate the value of the facilitation and so is a bit torn.
Kristie Urich, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Knowledge Management Coordinator, World Vision International
Joined KM4Dev: 2013
Face-to-face events attended: Seattle 2013
Kristie is relatively new to the knowledge management for development sector. She found KM4Dev through a recommendation from her boss, who is a member. She attended the KM4Dev Seattle event with other members of her organization. The event influenced her thinking around knowledge management and helped contextualize her online experience within KM4Dev. She is a member of Ning and Dgroups, however, she never checks the Ning site. The Dgroups listserv pushes member posts directly to her email, therefore, the main way that she participates is through active monitoring of other members’ posts. In addition, she keeps tabs on a regional group of members, and has met up with these members for their quarterly, informal, coffee meeting. In a given month, Kristie estimates that she spends less than hour on KM4Dev related activities (i.e., attending to the member posts that come through her email).
The main benefits she receives from participating in this way are connections to other members and serendipitous learning. The face-to-face events (both formal and informal) have expanded Kristie’s professional network and they have provided spaces for unexpected learning within the context of her work. Skimming the emails that come through her inbox allows her to feel connected to a group of other professionals who face similar challenges, and it affords her the opportunity to stay up to date on what people in her field are working on.
She would describe KM4Dev as a network of KM practitioners working in the field of development.
Thinking ahead, Kristie hopes that her involvement will change. Currently, she sees herself as a listener and learner within the group. She feels that her inexperience within the field makes it difficult for her to actively contribute. Part of her learning curve, she admitted, is learning what kinds of questions to ask. She hopes that over the next couple of years she will have something to contribute to the group from her own experiences, both positive and negative, that others may learn from. In other words, Kristie looks forward to changing her participation from actively listening to actively contributing to ongoing conversations as she gains more experience in her field of work.
Even though Kristie is new to KM4Dev, I asked her to imagine what a budget might look like in order to keep KM4Dev functioning. She could not put a dollar amount to any of her budget items; however, she did list the following as operational expenses: the KM4Dev annual meeting, a paid moderator, and the costs associated with different online platforms used by the group. More specifically, she noted that she felt all of the platforms work well. She really enjoyed the Seattle face-to-face event, and would love to see a budget line for a keynote speaker and capacity building training. However, she realizes that this requires a bigger budget and it may simply be a “wish list” item. Finally, she has seen the benefit of having a paid moderator keep conversations moving and administrative issues in check through her own work at World Vision.
Speaking of the Core group and the administration of KM4Dev, Kristie could only speak tentatively. She likes the Core group model and the variety of perspectives that are represented within the same industry by the members who are on it. She would not want to lose this aspect of the group. She is impressed by both the way conversations on Dgroups carry-on over many weeks (at times) and how often new conversations are started, especially after clarifying that there is no permanent paid moderator for the group. Her suggestion for a paid moderator stems from her own experience with sustaining a vibrant community, such a position might take a portion of the work-load off of the Core group. However, she acknowledged that a paid moderator could affect the culture of KM4Dev.
Lissette Bernal-Cruz, Manager, Knowledge Management, The Rockefeller Foundation
Joined KM4Dev: 2005
Member of: LinkedIn: KMPro, KM Pracitioners and KM Experts
Face-to-face events attended: Seattle 2013
Lisette “found” KM4Dev through the KM4Dev journal. She read an article written by Lucie Lamoureux, which was helpful for her work at the time. The article pointed her to the KM4Dev community, she has been a member of the Dgroups listserv ever since. Out of all of the KM4Dev platforms, she pays the most attention to Dgroups. She finds the Ning site helpful for organizing information for events. For example, she found it extremely helpful to have the Ning site as a resource in the weeks leading up to the Seattle conference. She would visit to look at the evolving agenda and the updated list of attendees.
She sees the Dgroups listserv as the embodiment of the living community that is KM4Dev. It is an active listserv, with many messages coming to her inbox every day. Her strategy for coping with the volume of posts is two-fold. If she has time, she reads messages as they come to her inbox. If she does not have time, she moves KM4Dev related messages to a KM4Dev folder she has created. Later on that day or week she revisits this folder, reading messages with catchy subject lines or authored by people on the list she likes to follow. She estimates that she spends 3-4 hrs/month paying attention to KM4Dev in this way.
The main benefit she sees from her participation is the ability to stay engaged with the larger world of knowledge management for development and knowledge management practitioners that exist beyond her own organizational world. She finds it interesting and informative to “listen” to the list. It has helped her to better understand who’s who within KM4Dev, which was further solidified by meeting some of the people she had been listening to for years at the Seattle face-to-face event. Furthermore, keeping up with the listserv helps her to understand what other folks are working on, new tools people are trying, and it can create possibilities for creating new network connections. Regarding this last point, Lissette recounted her use of the list to create a network connection, which she does not believe she would have made without her listserv reading routine.
Johannes Schunter recently posted a call for a job position where he works. Lissette has a very bright intern who is nearing the end of her internship and work toward her Master’s degree. After seeing the job call, Lissette contacted Johannes to see if he would be interested in having an informational interview with her intern. In this respect, she sees KM4Dev as being an invaluable resource for connecting people. In this example, it allowed her to create a network connection between a “newbie” to the field and a seasoned veteran.
Lissette sees KM4Dev as a dynamic and highly collaborative community. It is a safe space that encourages dialogue; a space where you can talk shop without fear of criticism.
Thinking ahead (1-2 years), Lissette believes she will continue to participate in the same way, by attending face-to-face meetings when she can and keeping up with emails. Over the next 3-5 years, she sees the group facing a sustainability challenge. In fact, she was frustrated to find out that KM4Dev has no official 501c3 (nonprofit) status. After attending Seattle, she was excited to find possible avenues of funding for the group through the organization where she works. However, her organization will only fund organizations with a formal charitable designation. She sees this as a major hurdle for KM4Dev and its ability to procure funding from organizations. In fact, she suggested several resources for those members interested in doing the due diligence required to make the decision to claim this more formal status, including The Foundation Center and regional associations of grant making.
On the topic of funding, I asked Lissette to imagine what a budget for KM4dev might look like. She listed the costs associated with maintaining the group’s online platforms, the KM4Dev journal, an annual meeting, and regional face-to-face meet-ups. She sees the journal as an invaluable resource, and she likes that it is once again open access. She believes face-to-face meetings are important, and it would be nice to find a way to provide scholarships to cover the costs for those who cannot afford to attend. Finally, she sees potential in having members of the community work together to create a periodic resource for KM Practitioners. Therefore, in her idealized budget she would include funds to support the creation of such a resource.
Lissette had only general thoughts on the administration of KM4Dev, since she does not entirely understand the nuances behind how it is currently managed. She is happy with the current Core Group model and believes that many people on the Core have a lot of energy and passion. However, she sensed from the Seattle meeting that over time Core group work can lead to burn out. She believes that there needs to be a clear transition path for both old and new members of the Core. For example, maybe a formal job description with clear term limits and a succession plan for transitioning seasoned Core Group members out and new members in to the Core might alleviate the possibility for burn out among Core group members. She sees no problem with people serving more than one term, but she believes that a more formal process would allow new blood into the Core. It would also provide a means for veterans to formally recommit themselves. However, she understands that if no one steps forward to fill positions on the Core group, such a plan could pose a problem.
Piers Bocock, Director, Knowledge Management & Communication, CGIAR Consortium
Joined KM4Dev: 2013 (lurked/visited website since 2011)
Face-to-face events attended: Seattle 2013
Piers Bocock was introduced to KM4Dev through a former employee, Natalie Campbell. However, Piers is wary of becoming involved in virtual groups without first meeting members, and he did not formally register for any of the online platforms until he had the opportunity to attend the Seattle face-to-face. In other words, before he attended the face-to-face event, he believed that KM4Dev was a great resource based on recommendations from peers, but he was not sure how best to get involved. After attending the face-to-face meeting, he developed a deeper trust and understanding about the group that has made him more interested in leveraging the network for his work. He joined the Ning network when he registered for Seattle so that he could stay up to date on the event logistics. After the event, he intended to leverage the group better, but he has had difficulty finding the time. He confessed that he did not know the best way to interact with the group. During our interview, Piers registered himself on the Dgroups platform.
Piers described his initial experiences with the KM4Dev community as “the embodiment of the Community of Practice concept – a voluntary community of like-minded practitioners who leverage each other in collaborative ways to address common challenges.”
Looking ahead, Piers sees himself participating more and more. He is excited to begin leveraging the community to a greater extent and he expects to see more benefits from greater involvement. He sees enormous value in the face-to-face events. In fact, if one were held this year he would love to attend, and he would be willing to look for funding for the event.
When I asked Piers to imagine what the budget to keep KM4Dev running might look like, he responded that it depended upon the type of organization KM4Dev would like to be. Personally, he likes the voluntary and independent nature of KM4Dev. However, Piers did suggest that it may be vital to the group’s sustainability to have a few key staff (e.g., Executive Director, Administration support) to provide stable leadership and sustained support that can fill the holes created by ad hoc volunteerism. Beyond this, Piers included the costs associated with maintaining the group’s online platforms and funding for a couple of face-to-face events each year.
Piers thinks the current Core Group is great. He believes the question of whether or not the current Core Group model works well is better answered by the current Core Group members. From what he understands, through interacting with different people in Seattle, in theory the Core Group model works well. However, people can burn out from their service. He suggests that there might need to be a set period of time for service in the Core, at which time others can step up. Of course, he acknowledged that if others do not step up there is a problem.