Raw material - Thread 1
KM4DEV-L: Sharing knowledge in inclusive and exclusive arrangements Marc Steinlin 2001-08-24 09:38 *** Is there a fundamental distinction between "Knowledge Sharing for Developmental Organisations" and "Knowledge for Development / Global Knowledge"? I propose the Dimension of "inclusion" - "exclusion" as distinctive term. ***
An introductory remark: It's quite some time since I've been on the list for the last time. But we're persistently developing our Knowledge Sharing Strategy at Helvetas and at the same time try to evoke a vivid dialog on these subjects in Switzerland. I would like to share a several things, but as a lot of material we have is in German and I still didn't have the time to translate it to a more common language, I've been hesitating. But if someone is interested in what we're doing and able / willing to read German, please contact me! And maybe one fine day, I'll find some rest to make it more "accessible".
But what I want to share with you today is something different: on the occasion of discussing with Manuel Flury from SDC about the follow-up of the "Swiss Meeting on Global Knowledge Sharing" (http://www.helvetas.ch/km/workshop/), we came up with a question that rises time and again: when we talk about "Knowledge Sharing for Developmental Organisations", is this the same as when we talk about "Knowledge for Development / Global Knowledge"? Eg. we structured the Swiss Meeting in several modules according to a supposedly underlying distinction. We called one field "Harnessing Knowledge and ICTs in the South and for the South" and the other we called "Knowledge as an Organisational Resource - Managing Knowledge". For me that was a quite a clear destinction all the time but I realised often, that this is not the case. And I did not manage to explain what I felt was different. Peoples always asked me whether I thought there might be a fundamental difference between sharing knowledge in the north and sharing knowledge in the south. But that was absolutely not the point. Only, what was it then? I couldn't express it.
While discussing this once again with Manuel, I suddenly realised what it was: "Knowledge Sharing / Management" in a narrow sense (and I plead to use it only in a narrow sense in order to avoid this inflationary usage of these terms as a projection screen for everything that is fashionable) for me is closely linked to the concept of some kind of formal or informal institution (or community or whatever other form), where people consider themselves as related members. This is a fundamental precondition for the creation of a feeling of trust, loyalty and a feeling of belonging together. According to Larry Prusak ("Working Knowledge") mutual trust, is a crucial prerequisite for sharing knowledge successfully. A call this an "exclusive" arrangement.
On the other hand, knowledge (or information?) is also shared with a wide public, not only some sort of "members" but it should be made accessible for "everybody". Completely different mechanisms of human interaction play a role in this "inclusive" arrangement, which is more characterized by anonymity. We're much closer here to the world of mass communication and mass media. Now, when talking about community radios (in the south as well as in the north) for example, we find ourselves in this second category.
Different laws rule these two spheres. If I know personally (and at least partly f2f!) who is in the community, I trust them more. Consequently I'm more open to share certain things (e.g. if they are premature, to some extent "confidential" or "valuable"). Knowledge is and remains closer to what we could consider as a PRIVATE GOOD (I know I'm pouring oil into a political fire by using this term; but my intention is not to make a political statement; I don't say that something should like this or like that; I try to find a helpful category for understanding what is happening). But if I make knowledge (or information) available to a wide, undefined, unknown public, it will become something like a PUBLIC GOOD and I will be more reserved. I will think at large what I "expose", who will listen / see and what the effect could be. I will also behave more like eg. a journalist. Therefore I will also use different instruments.
There is an interesting example to illustrate this: this very list is quite close, I know many of you personally due to the Brighton Workshop or other occasions. This seems to be a precondition for the quality of the dialogue here. As a counter-example for me the GKD-list of the Global Knowledge Partnership (http://www.globalknowledge.org) is very anonymous and follows other rules - and it doesn't have the same quality for me; and I'm not feeling "attached" to it in any way. I'm not saying one is better than the other, it's just two completely different things and they serve to different purposes - so we need both for the appropriate occasion.
This dimension of "inclusive" and "exclusive" is fundamental for me to structure the field of sharing knowledge. As they follow different laws, we must distinguish between two, develop different concepts, tools, skills and so on. Mixing up the two of them will create confusion. And me for my part I see "Knowledge Sharing for Developmental Organisations" more in the light of "excluive" arrangements whereas I use the term "Knowledge for Development / Global Knowledge" more for the latter.
Well that was a long sermon, but I had to get rid of that. What do you think, is this reasonable and useful?
Regards Marc Steinlin Programme Coordinator Knowledge Sharing Helvetas - Swiss Association for International Cooperation
KM4DEV-L: Sharing knowledge in inclusive and exclusive arrangementsPaul Whiffen 2001-08-24 10:07 Marc,
A fascinating contribution, thanks, and it has tapped something that at first I didn't know I was feeling, then once I had it worked out I adjusted my way of working...and I'm still experimenting!
I belong to more than one online discussion group. I found that I was contributing to them in a different way depending on how much I felt I belonged to the group. With groups I knew well, I found that I could quite happily be open, chatty and give lots away. With others I knew less I found that I was being much more formal, guarded and 'safe' (and much less effective as far as I could tell).
Then I discovered chat rooms on the internet and spent some time in those to see how people interracted. This was a big insight for me...why? Because here were people from all round the world who had never met yet they were being very open, friendly and talking about anything.
So I decided to adopt the same attitude in whatever group I was in and see what happens. It can feel strange joining a new group and talking as if you have known people for years, but pretty soon it feels like that anyway since people seem to respond in the same way you talk to them. (Someone once said that "the meaning of communication is the response you get"). You have to be sensible of course, but from what I have seen, informal, chatty, friendly, open approaches to online groups (even if addressing very serious issues) seem to work much more effectively than the more formal and closed ones. Even if you have never met the people, nor likely to.
I think another bonding issue is that of the purpose of the group - another quote I like is that "purpose is the camp fire around which people gather". I can imagine us all sitting around the KM camp-fire discussing things to do with KM - ie, our purpose is clear and we share common highs and lows to celebrate and moan about.
This then helps to remove the distinction between friends and colleagues that are near and far. You all look the same on my PC screen anyway - no matter whether you are in London or Africa or the Far East. And I think also that, the more I learn about KM the more I realise that the high level issues are the same everywhere - so the nature of the subject may be helping too.
So, I guess I am contradicting you. I have no idea whether you are right or I am to be honest - probably the 'right answer' is in the middle somewhere!
I'd welcome other views too....because I have seen some groups excel and produce great things and almost a sense of warmth coming through the screen, whilst others are cold, distant and combative. It would be great to be clear why this is the case...!
KM4DEV-L: Sharing knowledge in inclusive and exclusive arrangements Steve Denning 2001-08-24 10:09
Marc, It's an interesting distinction that you propose between inclusive and exclusive. Here are a couple of thoughts. My guess is that the difference between them is highly correlated to thelevel of trust in the group. If the trust level is low in an exclusive group, then not much knowledge might get shared anyway. Yet if the trust level is high in an inclusive group, then it might be very effective in sharing knowledge - an example would be the development of Linux which was a spectacular success.
There are boundaries of some sort in any group, so that the inclusive/exclusive distinction is one of degree and not absolute. The danger of exclusive arrangements is that they can get too cosy, and mutual reinforcement of ignorance occurs. A recent study in the World Bank showed that the best results from sharing knowledge are obtained when there is a mix of local and cosmopolitan (or international) expertise available to assess relevance of the knowledge to which there is access. Mere access to knowledge without either kind of expertise may in fact be more of a problem than a solution.
The danger of inclusive arrangements is that it is difficult to get to the trust levels needed to promote true sharing. Having a passionately held common objective can obviously help, as one sees in the lively web discussions among the sufferers of rare diseases. Having a common enemy also have assisted in the Linux development. What is needed is something that will generate the energy levels to overcome the initial barrier of low trust.
I'd be interested in hearing other views. Steve
KM4DEV-L: Sharing knowledge in inclusive and exclusive arrangements2001-08-24 11:15 Nigel Thornton
Hello from London, and coming back in from temporary, IT imposed exclusion, and from earlier lurking. I agree with PAul that the issue is the accepted rules under which the group operates, and that the distinctions between inclusive and exlcusive aren't that easy. The focus would seem to be the rules of the game. In chat areas on the web there is often active moderation to preserve the rules of the game (ensuring mutual respect, inclusivity etc). However, that could be stifling if too invasive. I would argue for a gentle self moderation by the group to ensure inclusivity, and being explicit about values up front and reinforcing this from time to time; having a sort of bill of rights for communities so that trust is maximised, and that joiners are accepted, without impinging on the focus and cut and thrust might be one way, (but could end up again with everyone getting bogged down if over done). The notion of knowledge as a public good reinforces this I think; it is in my best interest, your best interest, our best interest if we can exchange what we know freely an in a safe context of mutual respect. If we disagree, so be it, but we can still do that forcfully and creatively without resorting to trading insults about each other's grandparents.
Common identity in a group is important, as Steve says, in order to determine a mutual trust and openness. This can be created in a variety of ways; one network I know of appears explicitly exclusive; its for women involved in Corporate Social Responsibility, and they call themselves the "CSR Chicks". But they aren't, they just have a clear sense of purpose and identity. The name is important in asserting the identity of the group, and also setting some parameters for the internal rules of the game in the group. However, this particular group is very good at welcoming joiners, allowing people to step over the border easily and being accepting.
The trick seems to be to enable everyone to share without face being lost, and at the same time keeping the debate on track and focused on the issues. I don't think that this is in the end about inclusive and exclusive; the discussion will have its own voice, and whether this works is as much down to the calibre of the people in the group to sing or play their own instruments as it is their reading the same score properly. But a common (if only tacit) understanding of the rules of the game is essential.
KM4DEV-L: Sharing knowledge in inclusive and exclusive arrangements Steve Song 2001-08-24 11:35 *** In which Steve replies to Marc's question "Is there a fundamental distinction between "Knowledge Sharing for Developmental Organisations" and "Knowledge for Development / Global Knowledge"?" and suggests that they are part of a continuum which is distinguished by factors such as Trust, Commonality of Purpose, Identification, and Usefulness.***
Marc, that was excellent. Thank you. And thanks too for reviving the message abstract idea.
I think trust is the real issue but I don't think that trust is the exclusive (or even necessarily typical) domain of organisations. As an example, trade unions often develop higher trust among their members than those members experience within their own organisations.
I propose a continuum, at the left of which are Communities of Practice and at the right of which are Information Networks and in the middle Knowledge Networks.
CoPs <--> Knowledge Networks <--> Information Networks
Key factors on the continuum: - Trust - how safe do you feel here - Commonality of Purpose - to what extent are you in a similar discipline or face a similar obstacle - Identification - how personal is the group topic for you - Usefulness - to what extent does the group actually do work, give you things you need
The closer you get to the left (CoPs), the bigger each of the above factors are i.e. more Trust, Identification, Usefulness, etc . I really like the example you gave of the GKD which is an excellent electronic newspaper for development which anyone can publish to. I think it serves an invaluable service to the development community but as you say is more anonymous. I think is because it is so general that it is hard to say that there is commonality of purpose except perhaps the broadest of general development goals. Thus it is hard to really identify with in a personal way as well. I do think it actually "does work" but it is only 1 in 20 posts or so that may be of use to me.
It is worth pointing out that one person's CoP is another person's Information Network. Depending on how new you are to the group or network, how many people you know in it, how well you know topic at hand you may perceive the group as very close or very foreign.
I have just read an excellent article on Knowledge Networks and CoPs by Verna Allee in the OD Practitioner. You can find it in the KM resource directory (http://mail.bellanet.org/kmdir/) under Communities of Practice or more directly at http://www.odnetwork.org/odponline/vol32n4/knowledgenets.html.
KM4DEV-L: Sharing knowledge in inclusive and exclusive arrangements Jaime Nadal-Roig 2001-08-24 11:42 Dear all,
Hello from NY. Let me start by saying that I joined the list just recently and that this is my first message. Therefore, I may be raising issues that were already discussed and on which you have already some clarity.
I think that low trust and reluctance to share knowledge based on the assumption that by doing so one may lose power are two issues of foremost importance. I feel that individuals implicitly distinguish between information -a company asset- vis a vis knowledge -a personal asset-. From my point of view, "the notion of knowledge as a public good" may still be unclear and perhaps in some cases assimilated to just "information". In this line, improving conceptual understanding within organizations, as well as fighting internal "resistance" -skepticism, cynicism, etc.- remain two of the key challenges.
With regard to technology, it has reached such degree of development that it should not be a problem. In fact I believe that KS could be achieved even in contexts where IT is not state-of-the-art, but where there is willingness to do it. Setting the rules of the game is essential where there is a previous openness towards KS, but it may have little impact if people do not perceive KS as a win-win game.
KM4DEV-L: AW: Sharing knowledge in inclusive and exclusive arrangements Marc Steinlin 2001-08-27 06:06 *** 1. Can f2f contacts be substituted through on-line contacts? I don't think so. 2. Clear limitations of a group make that certain something of an exclusive group. 3. I have my reservations about proclaiming that all knowledge should be publicly accessible. ***
Thank you very much for all this feedback. That's very inspiring and helps me to continue my own reasoning and opinion shaping.
I realise that several among you have a more "carefree" attitude towards this issue. I have two things concerning trust, which I want to set forward - maybe shaped by my background as a sociologist, but also by my experiences in this field:
I'm really curious to what extent personal acquaintance as base of any community is substitutable. I think, basically it isn't. This is an experience almost everybody made. I agree that to some extent trust can be built in a chat-room or a pure on-line community (only after a considerable time). But it will not be the same and I have my doubts that these bonds are as strong as f2f-established ones. When it comes to the really critical points / issues, this will turn out.
What I wanted to say in my last contribution - when making the difference between inclusive and exclusive - is not that it is linked to an organisation. But I strongly believe that trust depends on the ability of the individual member to keep the overview on participants, and therefore the seclusion of the group (any kind of group). I think - and sociological research claims it - a critical limit is at about 200 members. This mailing list today reached 166 members (whereas the GKP-list has more than 3000!) and we're still able to remember most of the names (and even faces). This is the point where we fall from an exclusive to an inclusive group or become public (here the "laws" naturaly change in a qualitative but not gradual manner and we loose many advantages of a closed community, especially this sense of trust and feeling of "being safe and secure / in good hands").
A final remark: I don't think that all knowledge should be accessible for everybody - for many reasons: there is knowledge that is not important to others (--> limit the flood of information); there is knowledge that is "private" and confidential. The point is not to withhold peoples from essential knowledge but I think it's an illusion to have a world where everybody has access to all knowledge and I'm even not sure whether it's a desirable one.
So much for today.
Warm regards -marc
KM4DEV-L: Sharing knowledge in inclusive and exclusive arrangements Nick Milton 2001-08-27 06:24 Marc said
> I'm really curious to what extent personal acquaintance as base of any > community is substitutable. I think, basically it isn't.
Can i recommend the following article on trust in virtual communities
KM4DEV-L: Sharing knowledge in inclusive and exclusive arrangements Paul Whiffen 2001-08-28 03:47 *** This note replies to Marc's statement "I don't think that all knowledge should be accessible for everybody - for many reasons: there is knowledge that is not important to others (--> limit the flood of information); there is knowledge that is "private" and confidential." It also tries to address the issue of the need for f2f meetings again. ***
Good to hear from you again, I think you have started (and continue) a very good debate here.
There is an almost infinite amount of knowledge in the world, so to liberate it all in one go would be counter-productive - totally agree with you. I think key to success is being very clear about which knowledge is irrelevant and unhelpful as much as which is the opposite.
The solution, (I think - since "solution" is a risky word!), is to be very clear about Mission, purpose and objectives. Once these are in place then the quantity and quality of knowledge exchange becomes much better. In Tearfund we try to do this by asking what the Mission / Values of the organisation are, then what Key Activities and Goals we try to deliver to achieve them. This then makes Knowledge and Information exchange / storage more focused, more brief and more value-adding. Otherwise, it's tempting to have a general reflection all the time which while stimulating and interesting in the short term doesn't take things forward in a very concrete way.
Going back to the internet chat-room thing, although I was struck by how open and informal people are, it was also very clear how completely unfocused any form of debate is. Nominally, there are chat-rooms to discuss certain topics but my experience was that no matter what the room topic was supposed to be the chat usually dispersed and faded to the same level of initial introductions and humour (much of it rather poor and 'base'). Once in a while, however, a relatively serious debate would open up and then, in a very short time, all manner of high quality contributions would be offered - this gave a glimpse of what could be done!
So, I guess I'm saying I agree with you completely ref the appropriateness/purpose of knowledge exchange issue. Get this right, and applied with some informality, then some very good things can happen.
In response to the question 'can online / virtual teams be made as effective without f2f meetings?' I would say yes they can but only if the Mission / Values / Purpose / Goals are implicitly understood and shared - gets back to Steve Denning's point about people sharing online ok with, for example, discussion around medical ailments. If any of Mission / Values / Purpose / Goals are not shared then I would say f2f would be required to establish them - but that applies in any team, real or virtual.
All the best, Paul.
KM4DEV-L: Sharing knowledge in inclusive and exclusive arrangements blank 2001-09-03 10:24 Marc, et. al.
Questions like the ones you raised to start this discussion thread are popping up on several excellent KM discussion lists. (Therefore sorry for any cross-posting of the substance of this message.) The continuum proposed by Steve Song (CoPs <--> Knowledge Networks <--> Information Networks) is one of several ranges being identified by people, each addressing different but complementary aspects of online collaboration.
Earlier this month I started work on a short-term research project for the Policy Branch of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) called "Alternative Approaches to e-Collaboration". Its purpose is to identify a variety of issues about which decision makers make decisions when planning and implementing e-collaboration initiatives.
The study addresses:
"What practical strategies are being adopted at this time to design and implement e-collaboration in governments (various levels), in civil society and in businesses? Are there significant differences in e-collaboration strategies (like 'schools of thought') among various organizations. Do these present the need to make important policy choices for how one's own e-collaboration initiatives will be addressed? If so, what are the choices, and how can the strategic alternatives be clearly articulated to inform discussion and decision?
Later next week we plan to launch a global online survey, and we are please to say that both the empirical results and initial analysis will be publicly released later in September under the GNU Free Documentation License. While the motivation for this research is CIDA's own planning requirements, our intention is to open up and leverage our own work to create a shared resource by and for the broader community of practice working on ways to improve e-collaboration.
I have posted a preview with the current draft text of the planned survey here: http://www.organicks.net/software/methods/e-collaborationsurvey_draft30-08-2001.html
The results will offer a useful profile of our community of practice, however defined, and provide us a lot of interesting substance for further discussion on this list. My own synthesis of the results for CIDA will emphasize cross-tabulation analysis. Since the response data will be shared in a downloadable spreadsheet file (excluding respondent identities), anyone else can undertake further or alternative analyses.
We invite any comments or suggestions to improve the value of the survey results to anyone reading this message. Unfortunately the launch of the survey is imminent -- about 7 of September. This is a short study, and we are taking whatever opportunity we have to solicit input prior to running the questionnaire. Therefore as we work on setting up the web survey logistics during the next few days, we will do our best to take into account any ideas for issues that colleagues think should be added, or suggestions for improving what is already there. Please share your comments without delay, either directly with me or in reply to this list discussion thread if you want to invite the opinions of other members on your own comments. (Do not send any survey responses yet! The response address will not be my personal email address, nor the address of this discussion list.)
Here's a twist in the methodology that, I think, will increase the value of this profile: Respondents to the survey will be requested to answer "only the questions they would themselves like to know the answers to". This means that, in addition to ensuring each person uses his/her time effectively, this approach will provide us an automatic poll of the importance within our community of practice of each issue identified. I presume some questions will get many responses, and some only very few. The response rate will roughly indicate the importance of each issue to the self-selected sample of respondents from the community. Perhaps a bias will be introduced against questions that appear later in the list?
In sum, I welcome anyone's prompt collaboration in finalizing the substance of this survey during the next several days. The official announcement of the survey launch will be in a new thread.
Joseph Potvin Organicks firstname.lastname@example.org