Raw material - Thread 2

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KM4DEV-L: Cultural setting and inter-organisational experiences Ben Docker 2003-01-15 04:27 Dear Members,

In order to stimulate the sharing of experiences specifically regarding inter-organisational KM I propose that the following two issues be the opening points of discussion and start by posing a couple of questions:

1. Cultural Setting. Does an internal KS culture solicit an inter-agency KS culture? and, What techniques have been used within the development community to produce cultural shifts, through attitude and behavioural changes across organisational boundaries?

2. Cross-agency activites. What examples exist on the institutionalisation of cross-organisational KS activities? What has worked? and what lessons have been learned?

best regards Benjamin Docker United Nations System Staff College

From: Lucie Lamoureux [1] Sent: Tuesday, January 21, 2003 4:57 PM To: Knowledge Management for International Development Organisations Subject: [km4dev-l] Re: Cultural setting and inter-organisational experiences

At / À 04:25 AM 1/15/2003, Ben Docker wrote / a écrit: >Dear Members, > >In order to stimulate the sharing of experiences specifically regarding >inter-organisational KM I propose that the following two issues be the >opening points of discussion and start by posing a couple of questions: > >1. Cultural Setting. Does an internal KS culture solicit an inter-agency >KS culture? and, What techniques have been used within the development >community to produce cultural shifts, through attitude and behavioural >changes across organisational boundaries?

Dear Ben,

Some thoughts on your first point. I think trust is a very important concept here, as knowledge sharing between organizations necessitates a high level of confidence. Building this trust is often done through personal contacts within other organizations, with people who are well-known, reliable colleagues.

I remember my own organization had a very suspicious relationship with a particular group whose work was very complimentary to ours. KS and collaboration was completely out of the question (at least for us!) until a new staff person came on board in that organization. He proceeded - through many contacts, meetings and discussions - to gradually bring us to trust him, and eventually to trust his organization. We now have a very collaborative and positive relationship with this group and even share a staff person (Peter B, take a bow!).

Just as within organizations where the best way to create cultural shifts is by "doing"- by tackling a small pilot project such as a thematic network or CoP for example - I think cultural changes across organizations also occur in small but deliberate ways, thanks to the champions who believe that KS and collaborating is the only way to work in this day and age.

Best regards, Lucie

KM4DEV-L: Cultural setting and inter-organisational experiences Ben Docker 2003-01-22 05:50 Dear Lucie, Thank you for sharing this experience. Indeed I have noticed through my efforts to initiate (only very recently) Knowledge Management within my organisation that people who in the past have been very reluctant to share, do so more readily through the creation of smaller thematic groups, in some cases just a few people, when in larger more formal meetings etc... they prefer to keep things (beyond the substantive business) for themselves. Obviously trust is easier to build in smaller groups when there is greater opportunity for give and take at an individual level. I am hopeful that this small trust-building will precipitate the wider growth of trust as the smaller groups grow and 'spill over' into a larger pool of knowledge. Essentially as I see it, this is the bottom-up approach.

What I have difficulty seeing however, is how this approach could be applied or if it is appropriate to an inter-organisational setting. I wonder if cross-agency networks (the larger group) can be effectively cultivated if there is not a pre-existing KS culture within each relevant organisation (the smaller group).

I would also like to draw a distinction between a collaborative partnership in which a joint project may be undertaken, with signed MOUs etc... and more general collaboration whereby persons with specific expertise may not necessarily be directly involved in the project, but through their involvement in development work and through the generation of a KS culture, feel compelled to provide assistance when and where it is needed. I mean as Alex said the other week "we are all on the same side" and therefore a KS culture should in effect already be present. If it isn't then perhaps there are structural barriers that prevent it. Inter-organisational KM should put the mechanisms in place to overcome these barriers and enable KS.

best regards, Ben

KM4DEV-L: Cultural setting and inter-organisational experiences Peter Ballantyne 2003-01-27 03:34 Dear Lucie, Ben, colleagues

I have not really been paying proper attantion to the messages about inter-agency approaches; assuming that it was really only for UN types. Then your messages came along. Thanks for the stimulus [though I am afraid this contribution is a bit long].

In my work, I have long been busy trying to stimulate and participate in true collaborations and partnerships across organisations. I believe it is the ONLY way we can bring information and knowledge resources to bear on development problems. On the whole, I have found it to be quite difficult to build effective KS activities across organisations. And, given the sector we are in (in Europe it is often called 'international cooperation'), it is a long-standing frustration that cooperation is so difficult to achieve.

In earlier papers, I called the essential characteristics that are often missing to be 'cooperativity' - as opposed to connectivity.

What am I talking about? In my experrinec, cooperation is about relationships, the give and take between and among partner organizations. It can be practised at different levels and with varying degrees of intensity. The results are quite different. Three main categories of cooperation could be:

1. Self-standing - or, I contribute to my system and I make it available. An organization builds an information resource or system and makes it available under conditions of its own choosing. Historically, this least cooperative approach is the norm. It assumes that the organization has, or can acquire, all the skills and capacities needed to produce the information product. All the ownership, including any benefits, rewards and impact are credited to the producing organization.

2. Functional collaboration - or, I contribute to your system and you make it available, or you contribute to my system and I make it available. An organization invites another to contribute in some way to its information resource or system, making it available under its own conditions. In the information sector, this type of cooperation is more common, especially among database producers who may invite contributions to a database from other organizations.

3. Partnership - or, we contribute to our system and we make it available. Several organizations agree to jointly produce an information resource or system. Each contributes to the costs, and each accepts ownership of the results.

If we compare the various categories, the essential differences in 'cooperativity' relate to three related factors - ownership, branding, and financing/resourcing. In the first category, all of these belong to one organization. In the second, the costs may be shared and the branding may indicate this. Ownership is usually with the lead organization. In the third case, the cooperating organizations share the ownership, contribute resources, and they 'co-brand' the resulting product or service.

Personally, I believe that the first approach is going to die or decay in development (or it should); the third is what we should be aiming for; and the second is what mostly happens.

What are some reasons for poor record? Mainly I think that each organisation tends to focus on its own needs and demands and rarely understands the mindsets and drivers of potential collaborators and where common interests might be. We are each under pressure to deliver outputs - products and services - that we can point to as 'ours'. Donors tend to negotiate with an organisation or agency about the funding for their project. There are thus hardly any stimuli for joint actions and collaboration. Nevertheless, because 'partnership' is now trendy, many people are trying to make their activities collaborative, often tacking works like partnership and network onto old projects. Collaboration and partnership often seem to be seen as tools to get other people to contribute to an existing service or system.

Are there some answers? I think it is to make sure that joint inter-agency efforts are developed jointly from the start. If I come with a fully worked out plan and invite you to join, it is more difficult for you to take ownership, even if I pay you, and even if I can easily include your logo on the new space. To avoid this, internal development and working out of a potential collaboration must not go too far before it is tested and shared. The internal champion/owner needs to quite quickly be willing to share ownership and to possibly compromise and see his or her idea developing differently. The supervisor needs to be willing to accept some loss of control over what might arise. We need time to get to know potential partners and initiatives and to understand actual and potential synergies and disagreements. These I suggest are part of an internal culture that promotes cooperativity.

Some recent examples that I have been involved in are:

www.dgroups.org - a group of organisations (really people) got together to work up a new project from some existing functionalities. It has been quite tough, especially reconciling different views on what the product could be, would be, and who could do what with it. We were lucky in that Bellanet ultimately saw the larger benefits and relevanct to its mission from sharing the ownership of something that grew from the workspaces it formerly owned.

www.itrainonline.org - a group of organisations got together to work up a completely new project about ICTs and training. It brought together several similar projects that coincidentally emerged at the same time. Luckily, we got in before any of the project ideas had left the drawing board, and we could therefore build something for us all. The challenge now is to keep it going and to bring in new partners and owners - in such a way that they feel able to influence the project.

The worst thing in my view is when something is designed and announced and launched, often by one or maybe two agencies, and then I am asked to become a 'partner'. Especially when 'partnership' means that I am supposed to contribute content or some other resources to what I am told is 'my' new initiative. If the builders had involved me earlier, I could have told them that I am already contributing to x collaborations; that I can contribute to this new one in the following ways; etc.

Some last thoughts, maybe more practical:

- At IICD, I insist that no knowledge sharing project or initiative be implemented by IICD alone. There must be an external collborator or partner, preferably several. If there are no external partners, we don't do it. This tries to get the incentives right.

- In this and previous jobs, I have been lucky to be able to find ways to co-host or host events, seed fund, network, or otherwise nurture processes that bring potential and actual partner organisations together to share knowledge and to collaborate. In many cases, the collaborations that resulted did not actually involve my organisation - but it contributed to our mission and, at ECDPM, it helped to establish its reputation as a neutral broker and facilitator. We should therefore not be afraid to invest in KS processes and spaces where ideas can emerge. Needless to say, these spaces are enriched when they are also joint ventures. When such processes are not available, people tend to invent and announce new projects in their own offices. Isolation and ignorance are te enemies of coperativity.

- I try to make sure that the people who work in my team get to meet others, that they go to relevant meetings and events, that they have space to develop their own projects, that they are also assessed on their external awareness and contacts, and that I am not always 'the one' representing the organisation.

Finally, hits on a website are popular ways to assess KS efforts. More hits = more impact. Websites that are more 'sticky' have more hits, therefore more impact. From an inter-agency collaboration perspective, instead of making our web sites 'sticky,' maybe an appropriate KS culture for inter-agency sharing is for our websites to be 'springy'? I am wondering if there is an indicator out there that shows not just how many visitors a website has, but how quickly they have been sent to a better or more appropriate place.

Regards, and sorry for the length


Pryor, Tony KM4DEV-L: Cultural setting and inter-organisational experiences 2003-03-11 15:36

These discussions have been very interesting, and bring back a line of debate we had awhile ago: the difficulty of talking about KS and KM out of context of the "culture".

My problem though has been that at times conversations of KM/KS culture tend to be among those of us who are not really part of the organizational culture of the bulk of the staff of an organization to begin with, at least not enough to define clearly the elements that affect/constrain sharing. Sometimes, calls for cultural change tend to reflect wishful thinking by those of us who chafe at the status quo, rather than a listing of radically practical steps that are 1) legal 2) cost-effective and 3) acceptable to those who need to change.

Just off the top of my head, things that seem to affect sharing include:

  • extent to which entity deals with research, where peer review and sharing (at some level) is culturally supported;
  • extent to which an entity does its own work, or outsources much of the thinking and implementation via grants and contracts;
  • extent to which entity is primarily "technical" or policy/advocacy focused
  • extent to which entity is results-focused in the short term (a la Tearfund)
  • extent to which the entity embraces teams and teamwork, especially teams that come and go across organizational boundaries to fix specific problems, and then are disbanded.

To some extent, these do not exclude each other; you can have a group that is highly team oriented and doesn't really ever accomplish much, or an entity that is team centered and highly results-focused. Both may embrace knowledge sharing, although the latter for my money will be of most interest.

Or one can have an entity that is a research organization and has its own researchers, or one that is essentially a manager of research funds.

But what I do find is that most of the best examples of knowledge sharing, and especially of communities of practice, are within an organization (and its culture), and not between organizations. The difficulties in trying to figure out cross-boundary sharing (as with the UN/UNDP discussions last year) are fully understandable.


From: Lucie Lamoureux [2] Sent: Wednesday, March 12, 2003 6:02 PM To: Knowledge Management for International Development Organisations Subject: [km4dev-l] Re: Cultural setting and inter-organisational expe riences

Dear Tony,

It is interesting that you raise the fact that those who often raise the issue of culture within organizations are consultants. You might want to read a couple of the exchanges on the "KM in UN" list which also touch upon this point.

http://open.bellanet.org/km/modules.php?op=modload&name=superbb&file=forum&b oard=5

These are interesting questions: why is it that the people who are least "bound" to an organization by the nature of their contract are more willing to talk about knowledge sharing than the actual staff? Has bureaucracy and rules completely quenched innovation and creativity in many large organizations?

I like your idea of "listing of radically practical steps" for cultural change: can we do that here? Has anyone out there have any (legal, of course ;-)) radical concrete suggestions?

Best regards, Lucie

KM4DEV-L: Getting concrete about culture change Brian Foster 2003-03-12 18:58

As a consultant, I am "least-bound" to quite a few organizations, and we are used to transmitting ideas and best practices across boundaries (there are always questions about confidentiality of client information). As consultants too, we are always hungry for keeping abreast of new ideas in order to stay in business. Having been on staff of a bureaucracy some years ago, I remember that it took extra motivation or energy to stay on top of developments. Many people were comfortable to coast, or didn't want to make waves in case they attracted unfavourable attention from supervisors.

On the question of concrete steps to change culture:

(1) top management driving it is essential. Forget the rest if you don't have that. You have to find a way for top management to see what their culture is (hard, if they've been in the organization more than six months) and be dissatisfied with some of it, and then agree on what needs to change. I think of this as holding up a mirror to them.

(2) we have learned through bitter experience that you have to grab the attention of the whole organizational system even if you're just trying to change one part of it. This means emotionally as well as cognitively. This is doable - and quite rapidly - through large group intervention methodologies such as the Dannemiller/Tyson approach that we have used on several occasions. It stresses working through microcosms of all stakeholders, or (if management is brave enough) you can even choreograph a change decision-making process involving the entire population of an organization in "real-time" (two to three days of conference work). Dannemiller/Tyson have had sessions of over two thousand people working together, although 300 to 400 is more common.

One spectacular use of such a methodology was the meeting at the Javits Center in New York last year of several thousand people at mixed tables,working on designs for the World Trade Center. It was truly a breakthrough that an earlier round of designs, produced in the usual smoke-filled rooms, was ditched by this process and a more imaginative set of designs came into play as a result. An amazing example of democracy at work. The people who organized that are a group in Washington DC called "America Speaks".

Brian Foster Eriksen,Faulkner,Foster

KM4DEV-L: Cultural setting and inter-organisational expe riences Barbara Weaver Smith 2003-03-12 19:44

Lucie and all, I find the culture discussion very compelling. Here at Smith Weaver Smith , we serve as project managers for large-scale collaborations among dispa rate organizations in the NGO, government, corporate, and educational are nas. We don't identify ourselves as "consultants" but in the larger scheme of things probably your constituents would place us in that category. After several years of managing projects that will not come together unless there are some "cultural changes," we have attempted to define more precisely what we mean by "cultural change" -- exactly which cultural characteristics seem to get in the way of progress, and what changes in cultural characteristics would, perhaps, facilitate some new ways of looking at the world. I'm attaching a short (2-page) text-only version of a more elaborate statement that we've produced about the nature of cultural change and our methodology to help grassroots coalitions accomplish cultural change. If anyone is interested in further discussion or elaboration, I would be happy to engage in the dialog. thanks, Barbara Barbara Weaver Smith, President Smith Weaver Smith Inc.

KM4DEV-L: Cultural setting and inter-organisational expe riences Pryor, Tony 2003-03-13 11:18 Many thanks for the reference - very interesting!!

It's not necessarily just an issue of being "inside" or "outside"; it's the case I think of whether you are part of the culture that "matters", in terms of KM having substantive impact. And this may vary from context to context, even within the same organization. For instance, for donor organizations that rely heavily on grants and contracts, coming up with programmatic KM strategies that are drafted by, and target only the internal career employees most likely will not fully reflect contract/grant constraints, perceptions and risks that in fact exist. Assuming these away is unhelpful, instead they need to be addressed and embraced if necessary. Yet in the same organization, there might be another subset (financial management, say, or personnel) where everyone is a civil servant - in that instance having a consultant (who never has worked in the public sector as an employee) define what that group needs and means by KM can be equally deadly.

There's also an issue of cultures between disciplines, especially when it is in regard to IT and its uses. Particularly in the US there is still a tendency for KM to be viewed as a subset of IT, at its most extreme with KM referring to specific software applications. While that's useful, it is also highly confusing, in part because of the difficulties often of the IT community in fully understanding and valuing the work and career processes the rest of the subject matter staff have to work within. This then can lead to KM strategies that are remarkably generic, "democratic" and vague. (And at their worst they are like the old joke about the economist on the desert island trying to open a can - "First, let us assume a can opener...", but in this case it's often "first, let us assume we know what knowledge is, now how do we move "it" around, etc...")

I would strongly urge you to reflect some of these issues in the agenda – so far, I found the draft to be abit too generic, and skirting past both organizational/contractual and career issues on the one hand, and concrete sector specific impacts on the other. These could be covered in smaller working sessions, rather than changing the major thrust of the meeting. Also it might be helpful for part of the session to lead to some specific outcomes and actions, and to build the workshop as part of a continuum, with discussions and actions before and after the event.

I'll save some ideas on communities of practice for another email!!