Talk:KM for Development

From KM4Dev Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

David Ennis

Dear KM4Dev

Like Manuel, we on the Knowledge side at DFID have also been quite provoked by "Knowledge for Development" and by a number of other reports recently criticising donors - though often very politely - for spending more effort on getting their own houses in order on the knowledge front, than on increasing access for those outside their borders to their knowledge resources. From a personal view I fully agree with this - though in practical terms have found myself and DFID doing the same thing!

We are very interested in this dilemma and exploring how DFID and the wider donor community could begin to act more as knowledge brokers - how this can be development in its own right (rather than just being in support of our other efforts) - and we are currently considering how best to take some work on this forwards.

I would be very interested to hear from those who have been working on this area and if there are any other studies on this out there?

Best Regards

David Ennis Head of Knowledge Management DFID

Steve Denning

David Ennis asked about "exploring how DFID and the wider donor community could begin to act more as knowledge brokers - how this can be development in its own right (rather than just being in support of our other efforts)".

Here are a few quick thoughts on this important subject.

As someone who was involved full-time in KM at the World Bank up till 2000 and who is still involved on a part-time basis there, I agree that this is a central issue both for KM and for development generally. The Operations Evaluation Department evaluation of the World Bank KM program rightly highlights this as a central area for improvement at the World Bank, with an increased level of understanding and commitment by the senior management to making it happen:

As to how to make it happen, the report is perhaps not as clear as it ought to be. My own sense is that the issue is less mysterious or difficult that it is sometimes presented to be. Since we know that significant knowledge sharing only takes place where there is a significant level of trust, i.e. within knowledge networks or communities, a top priority must be nurturing of relevant knowledge sharing communities in which participation of practitioners outside the aid agencies is not only encouraged but is essentially the main thrust. This was already a feature of a number of the more successful thematic groups in the World Bank in the late 90s. In few striking cases, the external members of the thematic group were predominant.

It wasn't always obvious that the Bank top management grasped the significance. The top management tended to put more emphasis on "websites" and "systems", though fortunately many of the thematic group leaders saw the importance of external participation in the communities. This is not to say that websites and systems aren't important, but if they're not backed up by the human aspects of knowledge sharing, the track record of their utility is rather dismal, not just in development but in both private and public sectors in all industries.

Where external participation in knowledge sharing communities is encouraged, they tend to grow quite rapidly and then issues of scaling emerge. Groups larger than several hundred start to become something other than communities. I've seen some promising experiments with "fractal communities" to deal with this issue - where you have networks of communities that are linked together in some fashion, either by individuals and/or technology, so that each community can itself function as a vibrant knowledge-sharing network, as well as draw on the wisdom of the larger collectivity as necessary. Where online or email discussions can be reinforced by occasional face to face meetings of at least some of the members, the prospects of the community flourishing are significantly enhanced.

I'd be interested in hearing of other experiences with these approaches.

Steve Denning Email: Phone: 202 966 9392 Fax: 202 686 0591

Paul Whiffen

Hi David,

I used to be in the NGO / Relief and Development sector for a while. I'm aware that Tearfund continue to make progress in this area (contact Astrid Foxen at

Though my main role is working with clients in all sectors on raising awareness of KM and what it can do (including multinationals in the corporate sector) one of the best Communities of Practice I see out there is Mark Hammersley's excellent Aid Workers Network (AWN). This is all about connecting up aid (relief and development) workers worldwide to enable them to help each other through sharing advice and lessons learned, and together building accessible knowledge assets based on field experience. The only centrality involved is that directly needed for the support of this community and its ongoing dialogue and exchange. There are 4,000 members worldwide and it continues to grow.

I have to declare an interest because I'm an AWN Director too, but the only reason I agreed to become one and remain one is the power and potential of this approach - when these communities are run in the right way they significantly multiply up the value of its members and the exchange can be very empowering. See . I don't see anything in the corporate sector that is done better and where the principles are more clearly understood, even if some have the luxury of extensive resource support.

In my view, the future is about connectedness between the poor - and the north helping to facilitate that and the exchange of the south's own knowledge. The technology to enable large communities to connect up and empower themselves will eventually become so cheap and accessible that pretty much everyone around the world will have access to it eventually. I see those southern communities as becoming immensely influential in future due to their sheer size. Either the north helps that to happen in a positive way or the likes of Al-Qaeda will instead - in a rather more negative way, it's up to us. I know which I'd rather happen. This is just a personal view - but I have seen how powerful connected communities can become when they do become energized, motivated and well connected.

Hope this helps,


Paul R.Whiffen



Thanks very much for your interesting comments and helpful links and contacts. I reccomend both the Aid Workers Network and the WB report mentioned to other KM4dev members.

I'm very interested that both responses highlighted the value of external participation in networks - perhaps DFID could start by questioning and maybe getting rid of its ideas of internal and external in this respect? I'm participating in the KM4Dev network now, but don't feel like I'm an 'external' member, there is no sense of any of it being "internal" to a particular institution. For me this is probably quite an important aspect of the trust Steve mentioned. However most of what DFID has set up are internal communities - some of which are now trying to get external input. I don't think this is going to work - its not equal enough, particularly for Southern members.

I have a scenario that keeps going round my mind. What if tommorrow for whatever reason DFID had no money to spend - just enough to pay its staff costs and a limited bit of travel say. What could it continue to do that was really valuable in terms of 'development'? Would its notion of development change? Would its relationships with its former 'beneficieries' change - would they stop listening, (I would if I were them)? Almost certainly the nature of the relationship would alter - become much more about persuasion and real added value. If in this scenario DFID's business became truly about knowledge brokering, finding out who had a need, who was willing to learn and then who could meet the need, what would this look like? I suppose this kind of mediation would be through networks and communties? I guess I'm wondering - and looking for ideas - for how far Iits possible to go with this?

- I like the idea of fractal communities - building a free on-line environment (like the d-groups initiative) to enable communities to congregate, even aggregate(?), a 'still valuable' activiity in a zero-$aid scenario. Things like Yahoo Groups or Blogging (online diaries) sites, whcih are easy to set up accessible and free, are having quite a transformative effect in this respect. Perhaps these also start to give donors the chance to interact with individuals in developing country contexts without money becoming a distorting issue?


Bruno A. Laporte


Thank you for raising a very important question. While I recognize there might be a tension, I do not think we should oppose the two dimensions of knowledge management for organizational effectiveness (getting their own houses in order) and knowledge management for development (increasing outside access to their knowledge resources). There is a natural evolution of any development organization to work from the inside out. In other words, how can we become a good knowledge broker, if we do not have a performing knowledge management system at the level of the organization. Over time, communities evolve and include increasingly outside members, mostly partners and client countries.

As Steve pointed out, the question of how we embed knowledge sharing in everything we do, from Country Assistance Strategy, to analytical and Advisory Work, and to Project Lending, is very much at the core of the discussion at the Bank right now. The reframing of the Bank Knowledge Strategy in 2001 arround the there dimensions of (i) Sharing knowledge within the Bank, (ii) Sharing knowledge with our clients, and (iii) Learning from our clients and partners, recognizes the complementarity of these dimensions. The OED report, published in 2003, has generated a very healthy debate in the organization on how we can use knowledge sharing for capacity development and ultimately for long term sustainable development. This is not to say that we think that on the internal front we have solved all the questions. We still have quite a few problems to deal with. But it really encourages us to think about the critical question of how all this knowledge and all this learning ultimately help our clients. In the last couple of years, we have seen some very innovative packages of knowledge services offered to clients, that are straight knowledge management applications, and that are very different form the traditional Economic and Sector Work that the Bank has delivered in the past. In the next few months we will have on our Website some very interesting examples of these types of approaches. I will be happy to talk to you about this if we have an opportunity to see each other. The very best to you.

Bruno A. Laporte Manager Knowledge and Learning Services Tel: 202.473.2780 - Fax: 202.522 7019 Email: Web:

Paul Whiffen

This is an excellent debate, perhaps it's time for another Bellanet-led conference to discuss some of these things face to face.

It does feel to me that we have arrived at one of those critical points in time. Change is going to happen, the issue is to what extent we drives it rather than the other way round.

Bruno's email reminds me of some of the debates I have with clients. It all comes back to the key question of what are you trying to achieve? Ie, what is the "business" need? If the "business" need is strong northern donors then it's different from facilitating and energizing southern communities. Perhaps it's a little of both at the moment. But the point is that the "business" need must be clear before you can start to create the knowledge management approaches to enable it. Either can be improved with the right KM enablers in place.

I guess my view is that the over-arching "business" need is changing from one with dominant northern donors to one with emerging southern networks. I suspect that at least some of the power will shift with it. KM can make the reason for the shift more clear in articulating it and help to make the change itself more clear to communicate too.

David - I think you are asking all the right questions, not sure I can come up with any answers though. Aid Workers Network is a powerful learning example though - it gives a glimpse of the future I would say. Anyway here's some thoughts. You may feel that if you had no money that the beneficiaries would stop listening - but I would venture to say that's because you are used to being in that position. My experience with communities is that they listen very hard to those that help them to connect up, clarify their identity, define their purpose, show the potential of "all of us are better than any of us" and help the members to meet face to face on a regular basis. This doesn't take a lot of money relatively speaking and what little money is invested is multiplied up in value greatly. And the members of the community adore it - this is because it is immensely empowering. As such a Community of Practice develops (members are individuals that help each other but nonetheless work on separate projects / tasks) it can evolve into a Community of PURPOSE. This is where some or all of the members recognize that they, together, need to work together on a specific something for a common need. This also requires leadership and funding, perhaps this is another opportunity for the north to respond to a southern need.

The more I think about this, the more I think that another Bellanet-led conference to discuss all this would be great! Apologies if you've recently had one, I'm not as connected to this group as I used to be.

Best to all, hope this makes some kind of sense!


Paul R.Whiffen Knoco Ltd

Phone: Mobile + 44 (0) 7808 162 302 Office + 44 (0) 1420 560 147 (Alton, Hants, UK)

David Ennis


Thanks for your comments on the knowledge for development theme.

Thinking about this a bit, I agree it does seem wrong to oppose 'KM for internal organisational effectiveness' and 'KM for development' . Your point about getting our internal knowledge systems right in order to be able to become an effective knowledge broker beyond ourselves seems particularly true. For DFID though this is taking some time it feels - and as technology advances inexorably the house seems to get bigger and grander - subsequently we have a strong desire to work both ends towards the middle somehow.

Do you think its possible to make the two things one thing? We are under a lot of pressure in the UK to comply with what is called Freedom of Information legistlation. For DFID this may mean that what was once our intranet and even our personal files becomes 'out there' in the public view in the same sense as our internet site. These kinds of drivers for greater transparency are threatening to make DFID much more accountable for its knowledge and turn us inside-out somewhat in terms of exposing our processes - a new concept for DFID!

I'd be very interested in seeing the 2001 Knowledge strategy which I presume is at or near the link Steve sent through - I'll look it up. Its exactly the point where each of the three dimensions of this overlap that I'm most interested in exploring.

I'd welcome a chance to talk more sometime and to hear more about the knowledge management applications you mentioned which sound very interesting - I have to admit my ignorance here, I will spend some time looking through your site, where I know there is a lot of excellent work relating to this.

Thanks very much

David Ennis

not signed

Some good questions:-)

Exactly the ones I asked myself back in 2000.

A process that lead, as of Feb this year, to the development of CommKit - an affordable (for NGOs, NFPs and other famously budget limited bodies) next generation community platform that has been designed to take into account psychology and behaviour. In effect we mimic what goes on inside real communities.

If asked, I'm willing to expand on this, (the whole psychology, fractal communities and Reeds Law thing).

I will be giving a presentation of Psychology and Community Platform Design at the in Brighton next week (prob some time on Thursday).


Ian Dickson writes > >David, > >Thank you for raising a very important question. While I recognize there might >be a tension, I do not think we should oppose the two dimensions of knowledge >management for organizational effectiveness (getting their own houses in order) >and knowledge management for development (increasing outside access to their >knowledge resources). There is a natural evolution of any development >organization to work from the inside out. In other words, how can we become a >good knowledge broker, if we do not have a performing knowledge management >system at the level of the organization. Over time, communities evolve and >include increasingly outside members, mostly partners and client countries.

I'll throw in a few points here:-

Our (private) motto is Gossip is the Killer App.

In other words if you want to have an open knowledge system it must (ideal to aim for) fit the way that people behave, and not be something special.

The key to effective KM technology is the combination of Content Management, Community Platform and GroupWare. (We do the middle one). These are very different functions, (lots of people confuse them. I recently came across a person trying to decide between Web Crossing and Groove!).

But the key to effective KM is an organisational culture that promotes, rewards and expects it. And that can't be bought in boxes, as software, or even from external consultants. It can only be implemented by high level leadership within the organisation.

(I told one prospect that they shouldn't buy our platform unless they were really going to use it. If senior management weren't buying in, then staff would it mainly to network their way into better jobs with other, better, employers....).

>and knowledge management for development (increasing outside access to their >knowledge resources).

We argue that this is largely a matter of taking down the walls between the inside and the outside.

Again, technology is essential, but not enough with management leadership.

> There is a natural evolution of any development >organization to work from the inside out.

There is, but my experience with the International Rural Network indicates that, wrt to development organisations, this is part of the problem.

The "Dev Org knows best" approach that leads to solutions that don't work being imposed on those who are supposed to be grateful.

At the IRN conference all the "providers" were telling me much they listened to what people said then provided it.

The "recipients" meanwhile were sick and tired of never ending studies and consultations that never produced any results.

And the poor project managers seemed to spend year two of every project raising funds for the next one, or looking for the next job. They were all agreed that project based funding was crazy and that what was needed was a system for killing failing projects fast, but at the same time extending successful ones well before the project manager gets nervous for their career.

(One of the reasons that IRN are using our platform is to try and bring these groups closer together....).

>. Over time, communities evolve and >include increasingly outside members, mostly partners and client countries.

This can be allowed to evolve, but should be a specific goal of management, who should have a process and structure aimed at delivering this, and rewarding those who help.


-- ian dickson



Are we talking about knowledge or information management tools here? Are these tools provide step by step information or knowledge, for example, to set up gene slicing technology that will produce wonder crops for development in some remote part of the world? At least most knowledge management tools and managers that I know of sharing publicly available information and not knowledge. I thought David was talking something more than that. Sorry I may have missed the point.




Just to add to what Bruno said earlier, there is a growing number of examples of how the World Bank is using its knowledge services to engage with clients in a way that is more subtle that traditional approaches, particularly in countries where it does little or no lending. The Bank's ability to convene various players, its link to specialists outside the organization, and its knowledge of global practices have contributed to this emerging role. Several examples can be found at:

Best wishes,



Ian - thanks for this. I had a look at the conference you are speaking at, looks really interesting. I am interested in CommKit - is there anywhere I can see it in action? Whats an NFP? :) excuse my ignorance!

The psychology, fractal communities and Reeds Law thing is also new to me, and does sound interesting, is this related to social network analysis? - grateful if you could expand a little as promised?

re: "The key to effective KM technology is the combination of Content Management, Community Platform and GroupWare. (We do the middle one). These are very different functions" - - on the platform side there was a book I think called 'Virtual Collaborative Environments' edited by David Snowden recently which I found very thought provoking in this respect.




Ron, thanks very much for this interesting discussion of knowledge sharing in non-lending enviroments i.e where countries are in a relatively strong financial position, and willing to pay for Bank knowledge. q "...It was pointed out that much of our comparative advantage derives from the in-depth knowledge we acquire through our lending activities. If we did not lend, it would also change our comparative advantage in knowledge services. China was a case in point where the detailed understanding acquired by the Bank through its project lending has led the Chinese to maintain a lending relationship in order to continue to have access to our knowledge services."

Great set of resources and lessons in the second link. Its going to take me some time to read these.Worthwhile though. Liked your lessons on virtual communities/platforms.


Peter Ballantyne

Hi everyone,

I'm finding this to be a very useful stream of discussion.

In the international cooperation/development sector, I'm not sure that it is just two approaches we are talking of - KM/KS for internal effectiveness, and KM for development (about providing external access). The latter especially, as defined by Bruno, could be seen as a subset of the first (I would see providing efficient external access to internal knowledge as part and parcel of today's organisational effectiveness) and I am not sure how many people would define KM4D as just organisations "increasing outside access to their knowledge resources".

There is also a third area, which I suspect is where some funders and brokers would like to be more active, that is about enabling, supporting and encouraging OTHER organisations working in development (admittedly a massive group) IN developing countries to themselves become adept at using KM to enhance their effectiveness... This is much more than just giving them external access to 'our' knowledge in development agencies. It is about empowering them to become effective creators and exchangers and managers of their knowledge and them giving us and other 'externals' access to their knowledge.

In Bruno's typology, I guess I am talking of enhancing the potential for 'client-to-client' sharing and learning (through KM/KS) as well as bank-to-bank, bank-to-client, and client-to-bank.

Following this line, if KM folks or similar in development agencies see a role to assist developing country partners to obtain the same kinds of knowledge benefits that we enjoy, then I'd agree that a strategy to enhance KM/KS for internal organisational effectiveness is not a bad place to start. Mainly so we can 'test' all the theory, understand some of the the implications, and also sensitise colleagues to the development and management benefits that can be achieved through judicious investments in knowledge. Personally, I feel that it is essential that aid workers/managers also champion and promote KM/KS in the projects/programmes they devise and support (in the field). To do this, it helps that they have some positive K experiences themselves and a sense of what can be possible [following the logic that many developing country organisations, especially NGOs, got connected to email by northern partners who themselves could see the daily practical benefits in terms of mutual communication].

If we are indeed in the 'international cooperation' business as opposed to the 'development aid' field, then it is important that information flows are reciprocal. This could mean turning development agencies from mainly being knowledge 'pushers' into 'pullers'; and our country 'partners' from consumers into producer/consumers. I suspect it means doing things quite differently, things like Dgroups or this KM4D community where internal/external boundaries are very blurred, and where we get together in joint initiatives to empower both ourselves and others.



Peter Ballantyne, Deputy Director, INASP P.O. Box 516, Oxford, OX1 1WG, United Kingdom office: +44 (0)1865 249909 mobile: +44 (0)7876 161712

Bruno A. Laporte

I think Peter's Email captures really well what is at stake here. One thing we are all convinced is that development assistance has failed because we have been in the business of pushing information, and we have not done a good job at understanding the context and learning from and with our clients. What is really interesting with KM for development is that it has the potential of really changing the way we are doing business with the client, and it is pointing towards a much more effective "development partnership model", as opposed to "development assistance model." So Peter is exactly right: " This could mean turning development agencies from mainly being knowledge 'pushers' into 'pullers'; and our country 'partners' from consumers into producer/consumers". But let us not underestimate the difficulty we are facing in our respective organizations. Changing the model is extremely difficult and the first step is to unlearn and to genuinely behave in a different way. The good news is that we are begining to see some real changes in the interaction with the client in some countries.

Bruno A. Laporte

Tony Pryor

Following on Bruno's comment (and Peter's) I agree fully with the value of the intent of switching the flow of knowledge, but also with the difficulty in making the switch. Part of the challenge comes from the idea of knowledge as something that's pushed or pulled in the first place. At the end of the say what matters is the solving of problems, and frankly I think that often refers more to in situ capacity to analyze issue and respond effectively than to the availability of "best practices" or someone else's "knowledge". Thinking that effectiveness and political will emanates from the availability of knowledge, wherever it's from, potentially overstates the role of "knowledge" and understates the complexity of the development process. Knowledge can help, but it isn't a magic wand.

The concept though that views the development process as one of fostering peer relationships and not donor-recipient relationships is hugely important; certainly addressing this in terms of KM is worth doing, but isn't the only place requiring such a sea change.

Tony Pryor Senior Manager International Resources Group 202 289-0100

Manuel Flury

Dear all,

I like this discussion very much, it opens the most relevant questions we are as well dealing with in SDCs own endeavour of "promoting learning at all levels". We still talk about "Knowledge Management" but in fact it is more about learning (and capacity development, at least in my mind). We are well aware of all short comings with the concept of KM and the rather fuzzy interface to what we call "Knowledge for Development". For that matter I like particularly the title of the book: "Knowledge in Development".

During the last two years we have tried to "translate" knowledge practices and visions of SDC and partners in this respect into an overall "strategic orientation" and some "priority activities" to support this at all levels. This means that we push forward some ideas we already find in some way of the other in the practices of SDC and in the many partnerships SDC is involved in. Saying this we are on the route to somewhere, still confronted with problems such as "how do we push and pull knowledge in a partnership of unequal partner organisations?" (SDC is a donor, other partners are grassroot organisations, with less "power" to say so) or "how do we in practice motivate people from our south asia division to exchange their experience in a particular programme with the latin america colleagues" (workspaces are available, travel budgets as well but with investing "time", there we face the practical challenges).

Let me share with you those elements of the strategic orientation. To my opinion they provide a kind of an answer to many issues raised in this discussion:

"From "Knowledge Management" to "Knowledge for Development" (a sort of a continuum, there is no clear cut limit) - SDC learns as an organisations to secure quality: SDC plans and implements development programmes and manages the related knowledge. - SDC learns with partner organisations to develop capacities: SDC participates in knowledge development and learning processes and supports them. - SDC learns in view of empowering the poor: SDC promotes access to knowledge and supports knowledge generation and exchange."

"As a learning organisations SDC promotes learning on five levels: 1st Learning individuals . change how they understand and interpret reality that surrounds them. Learning implies changing and adapting practices. 2nd Learning groups . develop shared belief structures through interaction among group members. Learning implies the joint reflection on individual perceptions and interpretations. 3rd Learning organisations . incorporate knowledge gathered from past experiences in organisational skills, procedures and cultures. 4th Learning partnerships . constitute common ground - a common understanding - for successfully meeting the challenge the partner organisations are facing jointly. 5th On the level of the international system . learning refers to the development of a political, legal and socio-economic framework, a set of rules."

"Looking at the "internal sphere" of SDC, the "KM part", we have formulated five principles: SDC as a learning organisation ... . places people - collaborators, partners - their knowledge and competencies at the centre . develops and secures organisational competencies related to key roles . valorises practices of knowledge development and learning . opens up access to knowledge and experience . cares for a learning culture"

We could already gain a lot of acceptance within SDC. But there is still the big challenge to inject the life necessary into them. Our task as km/ks facilitators together with other people is to assist the many organisational units and the several hundreds of partnerships SDC is involved in translating this into something meaningful to them (or in some cases to find these principles already in practice). We are under way, the way is, however, still a long one.

What does this all say to you?

Best regards

Manuel Flury SDC Thematic Service Knowledge and Research CH-3003 Berne Switzerland


Dear Manuel

What this says to me at least is that i have a lot to learn from the people in this group!

I like the idea of a continuum between the internal and external as well as between knowledge management and knowledge for development. There's also something about organisational learning that seems to go in fives? ala Senge's Fifth Discipline. Not sure if anyone can explain this to me :)

This learning strand is also very interesting for the idea of knowledge in development, Professor King and Simon McGrath talk about the dynamic relationship between learning and knowledge in the early chapters of the book that prompted this discussion. I am strongly drawn to SDCs humility in stressing that it has something to learn itself from its interactions with its partners. I've often thought that DFID's lack of focus on generating country specialists - we are organised as Managers/Administrators and thematic specialists rather than as geographic experts - may hamper us in this respect.

My own very simplistic feeling on the knowledge/learning connection is that knowledge has to be learned - so you can't separate the two, but that this doesn't make them identical, instead complimentary somehow like two halves of the same process. Also 'sharing going on' in some form seems a necessary condition for someone to be able to learn something from this - but that person also has to want to learn. Otherwise the sharer is casting their pearls before swine.

Funnily enough we have been having an informal discussion within DFID about this balance and the extent to which staff here actually actively want to learn and what incentivises this. There are always individuals who do, but organisationally we think on the knowledge front we may have been far too supply driven to date and not paid nearly enough attention to why and when people desire to learn.

We have lots of staff putting lots of effort into disseminating what they do without much thought to who is actually interested - what demand is there for their knowledge, who wants to learn from what they are doing? This is quite a practical place to start with people I find, particularly those working in policy areas and almost always leads me into putting them together with someone else who is or has done something similar. Just doing something because a senior manager told you you had to shouldn't cut it in a knowledge based or learning organisation but people have to be helped and ultimately empowered for this - it means a very different management model from command and control as well I suspect.

For someone in DFID who really wants to learn there are really in one form or another masses of resources not least of which are other staff who seem very willing indeed keen to share their knowledge - yet when I sit down with people their perception is often that they are too busy, even sometimes to learn the things that would free up their time. I think this is because we are creatures of habit and once we learn something it requires effort to re-learn and to change behaviours.

What about becoming the un-learning organisation? Might be hard to sell up the managerial food chain!

From my experience there are some things that help individuals learn:

Humour - a lot of devekopemnt related knowledge is pretty boringly presented, i.e. again where no-one has really thought about their audience Defamiliarisation - closely linked to the first, old ideas resurfacing in new ways - I'm waiting for someone to re-launch 'Participation' as an idea in knowledge managemnt garb for example Timeliness/Opportunism - a big promotion board is looming where everyone has to show how they share knowledge, time to launch a knowledge management workshop. Connections/Camaraderie - people are often isolated and want to belong, connecting them is a useful precursor for their learning from each other, not only that but learning what they need to go and learn. What I'm doing in this discussion in fact Whats in it for me - you want a DFID Palm pilot, great you have to go through DFID's colaborative tools training programme before you can have one. You want to get promoted, right you have to prove you have these skills..etc. Make them pay for what they want by getting smarter - learning requires change = justifiable pain Time - find ways to give people back some time and space to learn, Where are people going? - what do people want to learn themselves regardless of what you want, for what?

Finally an internet skills course might be the easiest investment we ever make in self-guided learning


Erik Caldwell Johnson

Thanks to all for the knowledge sharing. I think I'm learning.

David: your reflections on what helps people learn are provocative. I'm going to share them with our instruction designers to see how they fit into their knowledge of how learning takes place.

Paul: There will be a Knowledge Sharing for Development workshop June 24-25 in Washington which is essentially a KM4Dev event. Bellanet, World Bank, UNDP, USAID and others are putting together the content and all are welcome to contribute and attend. This event's a bit more of an attempt to codify some learning content on KS/KM in Development to allow for wholesaling, but it will be a place to congregate and plow through some of these topics through structured or informal discussions. There's also going to be a related conference June 28-29 which is open to all as well.

On the whole issue of internal vs. external orientation of development knowledge, I'd just like to emphasize one point (though I could expound on several of the fascinating issues which have emerged). One word: PARTNERSHIP. There should be no us and them. Neither should we all be competing in the same realms of knowledge due to perverse funding incentives. While I think that King and McGrath are too critical of the money spent on internal organizational capacity (without this first step to change organization culture there will be no second step), I do think that the goal should be to break the organizational barriers to knowledge sharing. Utopian dream, but great aspiration.

Things like KM4Dev, Aid Workers Network, and other communities of practice which span organizational boundaries are where we should be going. The key, however, is to move these communities as close as possible to job-critical tasks which people perform. While it is useful to participate in communities for learning just as one would attend a course, they should also help us more directly in doing our jobs. Can they help us write a report, deliver training, prepare a project, influence policy, etc???

I don't think that communities of practice are THE answer, but it is the kind of model which allows us to see what is possible. I think that as KM practitioners, we need to focus on the following: 1. we should be working together to bring about organizational change in each of our organizations so that our operational staff will form boundary-spanning partnerships. 2. we should be working with our own staff to ensure that they have the skills necessary to form partnerships and that they use the best KM tools to make the most of these partnerships. This way we are playing a role in leveraging organizational resources for the ultimate benefit of the client.

Not sure if this makes sense, but it's what I've taken away from this exchange so far. Looking forward to some more exchange (if this message hasn't killed it :)


Erik Caldwell Johnson Co-Leader, Knowledge Sharing Team

Paul R.Whiffen


Thanks. I would also like to stress how much learning I get from these debates. It seems it’s the interaction between people where new learning takes place and new ideas form, and this community has come up with some clear insights that have helped me in my day to day work with the private sector too. Quite often I find myself talking to corporates about the good KM ideas taking place in the humanitarian aid sector.

Just one point about the communities. From what I see, they are not there simply as a theoretical notion, like a course – the reason that communities of practice exist is to help the individual members perform better and deliver their day to day work. This is why they often end up owning and maintaining a shared set of resources, documents or artifacts and also allow the members to ask for help in a practical way. For example, if a BP driller has a problem, they can ask for help from the global drilling community – they generally get real and practical help from several replies around the world within an hour or two. Another example - the other week I was with BP in Baku and a new technical knowledge sharing community was being formed. I attended the community start-up meeting and straight away it came up in the conversation that all the members would soon have to prepare a similar powerpoint presentation to management. They realized that previously they would each have done this independently – the new community meant they could craft this together and share it. Just in this one simple discovery several hours time would, overall, be saved. It also showed them that, together, they could prioritise the key challenges facing them as a community and then turn to management for assistance in addressing them in a positive way.

I realize I have sent rather too many messages again lately, thanks for your patience and again thanks also for the large number of good ideas and insights – these have been a constant source of inspiration and help to me.

All the best,


Paul R.Whiffen Knoco Ltd

Mike Gurstein

I've been following this discussion with considerable interest but now it is time to contribute and from a slightly different perspective.

A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by officials of the Bank to host an on-line discussion on Telecentres related to a webcast seminar that they were staging and more broadly an exercise in developing a Telecentre related program within the Bank. I was delighted to do so for a variety of reasons and after consulting with my "advisors" on the lists I host, I agreed, although not without some hesitation.

The discussion was conducted through two inter-related e-lists that I host on behalf of the Community Informatics Research Network , Community Informatics and CI Researchers with a total of 500 subscribers (pre-discussion--academics and practitioners and with 70% being Non-North American, and 30% or so being from LDC's) and some 575 subscribers during the discussion.

The discussion was extensive, very well informed, and I think very useful for the participants, those monitoring it, and for the Bank. (the discussion is archived at )

The only difficulty, from the perspective of several of those participating, was the almost complete absence of participation or engagement in the discussion from the Bank. There were no policy papers presented, few or no comments made, no feedback presented on comments made and so on. A void!

Back channel comments that I received were quite negative concerning this. Several participants felt that this was using the Community without giving back or contributing to the Community, and dare I say, this generated or re-inforced among some, quite negative perceptions about how the Bank "operates in the Knowledge Commons as a free-rider, a harvester and not a cultivator of Knowledge except through formal and essentially broadcast processes and channels".

Clearly there are difficulties in "representing" an organization such as the Bank, or in individual employees making statements which might compromise the Bank's positions in areas of on-going discussion and negotiation. However, my question here (and this should not be seen as a specific comment on the Bank as it holds for other public and private officials as well) is concerning the interface and interchange between the private Knowledge Commons within the organization and the public Knowledge Commons.

This interface between the private Commons and its larger public environment is of increasing importance (as for example in the area of public or expert consultations) but the question is how it can be managed in such a way that it is (and is perceived to be) a fair and reciprocal sharing of knowledge between all parties and not simply a one-way flow of information, knowledge and experience from one side to another.


Mike Gurstein

Michael Gurstein, Ph.D. Visiting Professor: School of Management New Jersey Institute of Technology Newark, NJ

Erik Caldwell Johnson


Seeing as your critique is focused on World Bank participation in e-discussions, I thought I'd better jump in on this one. It would really be sad to have this discussion without anyone from our side participating.

In terms of the lack of participation from Bank staff, you are absolutely right. This has been a challenge ever since we started doing e-discussions and particularly with the launch of Development Forum, our e-discussion platform. I can think of a few reasons for this, some of which we try to address when we help Bank staff set up their e-discussions:

1. Fear of official misrepresentation. You mention this. While e-discussions are not meant to be debates over Bank, or other organizations' positions, they are often seen that way. So, there is a fear among Bank staff that their views will be held not only against them, but against the Bank as a whole. You never know where and how you're quotes will be used.

2. Fear of intellectual inferiority. For those who are more used to a formal academic or bureaucratic setting as a platform for airing views, an e-discussion can be pretty intimidating. The Bank has built up a strong reputation in the development field so it sets the bar rather high for those participating in discussions. Basically, they're afraid to look stupid by speaking up. Silence is safer.

3. Time prioritization. Probably the most important reason is that staff don't think that e-discussions are a productive use of their time. They have many other pressures that have higher accountability. If you don't participate in an e-discussion you're not going to miss a promotion.

4. Finally, many of the e-discussion we hold are to hear what others have to say. So, perhaps we're overly cautious with getting involved for fear of tainting the discussion. This is not an excuse, but it's a valid reason. However, there are ways to participate and guide a discussion without tainting it with your views. We need to ensure that people know how to do this.

So, these are some reasons why you don't see more Bank staff in e-discussions (even ones which we convene). We're trying to get past these issues, and feel that some progress has been made over the years, but alas, more needs to be done. A lot of back channel messages to Bank staff can help kick them into the ring as well as giving them responsibility for moderating a week's discussion subject or something specific like that. Any others ideas are welcome.

Through the partnerships that we're forming more actively these days, i hope that better platforms for intersecting public and private realms of knowledge will be formed (i.e. linking more of our internally-oriented communities of practice to external partnerships). It's a challenge.


Erik Caldwell Johnson

Nancy White

At 11:51 AM 3/30/2004, you wrote: >This interface between the private Commons and its larger public >environment is of increasing importance (as for example in the area of >public or expert consultations) but the question is how it can be >managed in such a way that it is (and is perceived to be) a fair and >reciprocal sharing of knowledge between all parties and not simply a >one-way flow of information, knowledge and experience from one side to >another.

From my experience, Eric nailed many of the barriers that prevent people from getting involved. Also the fact that the conversation appears to have been held between two lists (rather than in one discrete container) may be another barrier.

I think the idea of this interface between groups is really important. Perhaps we need to think about gradients of privacy that build our competence to communicate on tough issues "in public" - that we have conversations that may start private but then go more public. Think about a F2F event. In a huge hall, few will speak. IN a small break out, most will speak. Just because we move to an electronic forum it does not mean we keep the comfort of the small group. Trust comes in to play.

Second, it might be worthwhile to think about what "fair and reciprocal sharing" might be. I'd bet a big bar of dark chocolate that there is not a uniform idea of what this is. Perhaps we need to design our online interaction efforts so that we can not only address the content at hand (in this case telecentres) but our capacity to understand what this sharing is, why it is valuable and how we might become good at it.

We aren't yet so good offline either. Grin

Nancy White

Barbara Fillip

Hello everyone,

Since I was involved in planning and facilitating the discussions that are being talked about here, I might as well add my two cents.

Part of the problem, as I see it, was the result of a couple of planning failure.

1. Had we carefully planned for the participation of World Bank staff in advance, specifically talking to individual staff with expertise in the topics being discussed, asking them to participate, specifying what that meant in terms of time spent reading messages and contributing, negotiating different levels of involvement for different people based on their expertise and time availability...perhaps we could have achieved more World Bank participation (though given all the obstacles mentioned Eric, it is not clear to me that it would have been sufficient).

2. Had we included the existing list members in identifying/clarifying what they were interested in learning from the World Bank at the beginning (or even before) the launch of the discussions and in setting the agenda (the questions that were asked to start up the discussions), would we have been better able to provide the list members with what they needed/wanted in return for sharing their knowledge? Alternatively, or in addition, managing the list members' expectations regarding World Bank participation in the discussions from the beginning might have helped.

It's easy to point to things one might have done better! :)

I feel compelled to note that compared to a couple of other online discussions I have facilitated for the World Bank in the past few months, this was a great success in terms of volume and quality of messages. I totally agree, however, that it lacked reciprocity in the sharing of knowledge (or even basic information).

Barbara Fillip Knowledge for Development,LLC

Ian Dickson writes > >Mike, > >Seeing as your critique is focused on World Bank participation in >e-discussions, >I thought I'd better jump in on this one. It would really be sad to have this >discussion without anyone from our side participating. > >In terms of the lack of participation from Bank staff, you are >absolutely right. >This has been a challenge ever since we started doing e-discussions and >particularly with the launch of Development Forum, our e-discussion platform. I >can think of a few reasons for this, some of which we try to address when we >help Bank staff set up their e-discussions: > >1. Fear of official misrepresentation. Solution - use nicknames and non bank addresses. Provided discussion leader knows at least some of them, he can state, for the bnefit of others, that "the bank is here and is participating, but anonymously for reasons..." > >2. Fear of intellectual inferiority. > Basically, they're afraid to look stupid by speaking up. Silence is >safer.

But this is just "KM, a people issue 101" and says much about the Banks management...

> >3. Time prioritization. Probably the most important reason is that staff don't >think that e-discussions are a productive use of their time. They have many >other pressures that have higher accountability. If you don't participate in an >e-discussion you're not going to miss a promotion.

People are ruthless with their time. (One key reason why mailing lists don't scale). However the second part can be dealt with by the bank adopting an internal practice re promotion "evidence of active participation in e-discussions will be part of the promotion criteria" (at least in some areas, esp those where the role is outward looking or communications related). > >4. Finally, many of the e-discussion we hold are to hear what others have to >say. So, perhaps we're overly cautious with getting involved for fear of >tainting the discussion. This is not an excuse, but it's a valid reason.

In which case as long as it is clear to other participants that this is the case, shouldn't be a problem.

>However, there are ways to participate and guide a discussion without tainting >it with your views. We need to ensure that people know how to do this. > >(i.e. linking more of our internally-oriented communities of >practice to external partnerships). It's a challenge. > > It's also what our platform is designed to do, (and yes, it was a challenge - 2 1/2 years of writing code...). Feel free to drop me a line. Note - am at the CNA conference in Brighton Wed-Thurs this week if any of your people are attending.

Cheers -- ian dickson

Paul R.Whiffen

I met a guy who facilitates online discussions for an element of the US Army recently and not surprisingly they ran into this kind of issue too. I quote him on a later email on how they address this:

"Officers above the Commander rank are asked to situate themselves as former commanders, rather than Generals or Corporals, etc. - in order to help create a culture of egalitarian knowledge-sharing rather than deference to the formal command-and-control structure."

Also, the organisation's Management must set the expectation on this. If staff see that they won't get rewarded for doing this (and think they are only taking a risk) many won't do it. Whatever happens at leadership level will set the tone throughout. There is one large organization out there that thrives on effective discussion in communities - it's fundamental to their operation and successful performance. The CEO recognizes it as being so important that, if individual staff members are seen as not participating, then they receive an email from the CEO that says something along the lines of "I notice you have not been contributing to our community discussions lately, how can I help you to do this more?". Not surprisingly, to receive such an email makes one radically change ones views - imagine if this happened in the World Bank!

Finally, this discussion thread has revealed the extent that such communities rely on good facilitation. They don't just exist - they need constant energizing, motivation and stimulation to constantly reinforce the right behaviours. And wrong behaviours must be quickly stamped out otherwise people won't be open and honest.

All the best,


Paul R.Whiffen Knoco Ltd

David Ennis

On the idea of working participation in online fora into people's performance appraisal can I reccomend having a look at one of the tools IBM has developed internally.

Its called the Babble interface and is basically a circle with blobs in it - depending on how active you are within a discussion your blob (representing you) moves closer to the centre of the circle. You can see dozens of discussions in this kind of schema at the same time and instantly see where a discussion is lively (lots of blobs in the middle) and where it isn't (lots of blobs on the periphery), who is being active and who is 'lurking', equally you can track how active people are in discussions over a period of time, and could use this for performance purposes - IBM do.

This doesn't help measure the quality of inputs somebody cries! - for these I guess you'd need to combine this with a rating mechanism ala Amazon or something like Ask-Me where other participants could rank how well they thought of your input (as with some Blog sites where individual Blogs become more visible on the site as a result) or some kind of a facilitator/mediator appraisal. Not sure if this gets over the internal/external divide though but certainly from a tools POV theres work happening on this stuff.

If anyone wants to find out more on Babble there's a good article in IBMs System's Journal Vol 40, No.4 2001 page 783-4 that goes through this and shows the interface. The whole chapter on 'The Knowledge Management Puzzle :Human and Social factors in Knowledge Management' is quite relevant. Direct link to this article below.

David Ennis

Michael Gurstein

I'd like to comment on the incredibly rich commentary that has evolved following my original note.

First I should say that I wasn't being specifically critical of the Bank in the context of my note, but rather raising an issue which I have had experience with in a number of contexts and with a variety of public and private institutions, that is, managing the interface between the formal and the informal, the institution and the community, the "professional" and the voluntary and so on. All of which is to say that I well understand the limitations on participation and public expression identified by several of the commentations.

The issue, a fundamental one for KM, both in theory and in practice from my experience, remains however. It is, the broad difficulty in linking formal and institution based processes of knowledge creation/sharing/learning and informal "e-community" based ones.

Communities are, as we know places for communication bounded by trust, some being more open to the outside world than others. Those participating in these informal processes do so because of an expectation that by becoming trusted members of the e-community they will in the longer run gain more than they offer and the more they offer the more they gain. Direct commercial transactions and expectations are as you know, frowned upon within e-communities.

The use of the list for the consultation was in some sense a potential breech of these protocols on both sides. On the side of the e-community host, I was allowing to be introduced into the community, processes which, while I thought would benefit the community as a whole, were not necessarily ones which would fit into normal community norms and expectations.

Rather these were part of internally determined, rule governed and formal processes of information/knowledge gathering on the part of the external institution. Of course, on the part of the e-community members they were/are seen quite differently and as simply part of an on-going informal and essentially free-form interaction among individuals sharing certain common interests.

And in our preliminary discussions we didn't' clarify the way in which the interface between the formal processes and expectations and the informal ones would be conducted and managed.

My unstated assumption was that the e-community would simply welcome new members and proceed in a more structured fashion to share (and create) knowledge as it had done for the 2 or 3 years since it was created. And the list/community did do that. What wasn't clear though, was the manner of participation/sharing/joining of the e-communty by the other party.

What I'm learning from this and particularly from the interaction concerning these matters here, is the necessity to be very clear about expectations and contributions on both sides. It is probably unreasonable to expect that officials from any agency could or would be able to freely and fully participate in the rough and tumble of a free form open-to-the-world e-community discussion.

Given this, as Barbara Fillip has mentioned, it would be well to work out in advance, the "terms of engagement" between the e-community and the "client" for the consultation which is being undertaken. What are the expectations/commitments on both sides and based on that "agreement" then I think there should be little difficulty in ensuring a reasonable return on the commitments of time and intellectual energy from both parties.

I should say that overall from the perspective of the e-community, the experience and the content of the interactions even in the overall absence of participation by the outside party was a worthwhile one.

I'm hoping moreover that it and this assessment of the process can be seen as a base for learning on both sides particularly in how to negotiate the creation of mutually beneficial structures for communication/consultation and learning between the large institutions which determine so much of our daily lives and experiences, and our on-going individual lives as citizens, community members, and individual knowledge creators.

Best to all,


Michael Gurstein, Ph.D. Visiting Professor: School of Management New Jersey Institute of Technology Newark, NJ

Tom Abeles

Hi Michael

I think we need to go back to the days before the Internet. The development banks and other quasi-governmental development organizations used to hold "workshops" where they would invite selected presenters and hold discussions. The video conference/listserv discussion mode is a brick-to-click version of this practice but much cheaper and much safer. The rationales included:

1) genuine interest in bringing information to the table, often not considered by the institution, as well as to see whether there might be some serious pieces overlooked

2) fine tune a program that was already in motion or at various stages of internal development

3) introduce the ideas and opportunities and obtain "buy-in" from other parts of the institution and the development community and to formally launch the idea at the next level.

The same sensibility that was felt, and publicly as well as privately voiced in your lists, as you state, was also present during the discussions that lead to the Development Gateway and its ancillary projects. This knowledge project was launched at the highest levels of the WB and it was going to materialize as a program, refined and redefined within certain boundary conditions. And, today, we have, not an Internet age KM system, but a simulacrum mapping bricks into clicks in form and function.

As was stated, but as a rhetorical question, in the one WB post to your lists, there is somewhere in the WB the idea that "telecenters" should be part of a developing country's national telecommunications infrastructure program and the discussions should provide the rationale and, perhaps, a role-out strategy that met country needs in economic development, education, poverty reduction......

I am not sure what lessons the WB decision makers have learned about KM as a transformational process within the institution as opposed to something which can be integrated into programs for the WB's clients. There are "stories" which their former employee has parlayed into a consulting practice; but from an operational perspective, its the old WB on Internet steroids. There has been no visible transformation as each new content area has risen to visibility.


tom abeles

Bruno A. Laporte

One of the things we have learned is that Knowledge Communities thrive when there is a certain level of trust. Trust is not something that is easy to develop and it requires long term efforts to create a safe space and to encourage people to build on each other ideas in a positive way. The strength of the Km4dev community so far has been to establish a very positive climate and to have appreciative inquiries as a basis for interaction. I sincerely hope we can maintain this. We are all in the business of change through knowledge sharing and knowledge communities and it is important to model the behavior, otherwise we will revert back to the old days of negativism and bank bashing. The business of changing organization is extremely difficult and it will take all our joint efforts to move the development agenda in a more positive direction.

On a different note, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has just ended a superb two days event, called Dare to Share 2004. This has been an extraordinary event that grouped development practitioners from NGOs, governments, bilateral and multilateral institutions. The event was extremely rich in content, as participants reflected on the role of development knowledge and the value added of knowledge communities. The event was extremely well organized, as it provided a multitude of venues to engage with development practitioners (workshops, information market stalls, short presentations, video corner, exhibition boards, story telling tent ...). Manuel Flury and his colleagues have done a remarkable job and there is much to be learned about this event. This was a real contribution to the field of knowledge for development.

Bruno A. Laporte Manager Knowledge and Learning Services


I'd like to add my thanks to those who have made thought provoking and inspiring comments on this thread so far.

Bruno's point about trust reminds me of our "virtual peer assist" about donor-led communities last year. Trust is critically important and it is very difficult for an external agent to persuade a group of people to enter into a meaningful dialogue. Face-to-face facilitators have a wide array of tools, but they are at least assured of a proportion of participants' attention. Members of an email list can be much more fickle. Attracting and retaining their attention requires approaches which can be difficult for organisations with traditional communication practices.

I enjoyed the description of Aid Workers Network as a "fractal community" and certainly we are seeing the evolution of both topical and geographic groups within the whole. Our common weekly email bulletin is a unifying factor, yet there are many other discussions between members, both online and offline, public and private. The community can be very dynamic - some conversations take off almost instantly, against all expectations. Other topics do not seem to capture people's imagination. The software platform that we are using has many limitations, but one of its strengths is that a newcomer can easily contribute to an old thread. We're still welcoming around 60 new members per week and topics often get revived in this way.

I'm not convinced that gossip is necessarily the "killer app" in a professional community - though a degree of informal communication is essential in promoting authenticity and winning trust. Certainly in Aid Workers Network we walk a narrow line between appropriate informality and irrelevant chatter. This sector in particular enjoys enormous variety of cultures and too much "gossip" wastes both technical and mental bandwidth, as well as risking the trust of participants who are used to more conservative and formal communications. However it is also important to keep barriers to participation low, so that new participants can make that all-important first contribution.

Aid Workers Network is presently hosting an online consultation about the future of Sphere project (a quality initiative in the humanitarian sector), which seems to mirror some others' experiences of processes aimed at getting practitioners' comments on policy matters. We are now half way through, and initial publicity has been quite successful at building an email list of people wishing to participate. However only a relatively small number of people have actually contributed an opinion so far. We're trying a range of different methods and I will let you know some more reflections next month.

Cheers - Mark.

Jaap Pels

Quote: ...... have been in the business of pushing information ....... This could mean turning development agencies from mainly being knowledge 'pushers' into 'pullers'; and our country 'partners' from consumers into producer/consumers .... Unquote.

Push, pull ... ? How about enabling partners to be(come) pro-sumers?

ir W.J. Pels Senior Programme Officer Knowledge Management IRC, Delft, the Netherlands

Steve Song


Before we go too far down the "debate" road, I would like to propose a moment's reflection on the mode of our interaction. Too often we get caught up in "dissecting" each other's arguments in order to "prove" that our point of view is the correct one. I am going to suggest that this may not actually be the best way of getting to where we'd like to be.

I attach, for your comment, an excerpt (in HTML) from a book called the Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision Making which compares two different modes of interaction, an Either/Or and a Both/And mode of discourse. I think it is worth asking yourself, when you contribute a message, what mode you are operating in.

I think Lulu made an excellent point just now on the fact that we all agree on a number of things and that it is worth recognising that. Further, I am going to propose that we as a community make an extra effort, when making contributions, to look for the good, the common ground, the shared meaning in our discussions. This doesn't mean that there shouldn't be a multiplicity of views. By no means. It rather suggests that we all hold a piece of the truth and that by weaving those pieces together we find deeper truths and paint a richer more accurate picture of the world.

Regards to all... Steve

P.S. I hope this message doesn't sound "holier than thou". It is a lesson that I am still taking my time to learn.

Steve Song Tel +1 613 236 6163 x2268 Fax +1 613 567 7748

"If there were only one truth, you couldn't paint a hundred canvases on the same theme." -Pablo Picasso

Dawn Nicholson

Dear Steve: The gift of " listening differently" that you and Lulu offer is one that I welcome.

As human beings, no matter who we are or where we live, or how little money or technological access we have- knowledge sharing occurs in the context of relationships of trust.

From where I sit, all I need is a good pair of shoes in order to innovate by walking around and to learn from others - and fingers to " walk "across the keyboard as I listen and learn from our global community.

Our challenge may well be to reinvent the sense of our own deep worth as human beings and to help foster the emergence of a world civilization , fulfilling both its profound promise and addressing deep cultural dislocations.

mes sentiments les meilleurs/warmest regards,

> Dawn Nicholson-O'Brien > Government of Canada/ > Gouvernement du Canada > Senior Visiting Fellow/Collaboratrice émérite > Knowledge Creation and Innovation/ > Création du savoir et de l'innovation > CCMD/CCG > Ottawa > 613-946-3073


Dawn, Steve,

Good notes in my view!

My feeling is that the NGO sector sometimes lets itself down because it doesn't collaborate very well at times. This makes the sector vulnerable to pressure from others because any entity that divides is soon defeated or at best is left behind.

I am convinced that by working together in a more cohesive / collaborative way (which still allows differences of opinion to be aired) then progress could be much more sustained and robust.

My impression is that other sectors tend to be better at this. For example, one of my managers tells the story of a conference some years ago where there was representation from all of Military, Private/Corporate and NGO sectors. At one point in the conference, all three were asked to devise a common position for themselves. The military one collaborated to come to a very swift conclusion, and the commercial one did so almost as well. The NGO one tended to descend into in-fighting and lost out to the other two as a result.

This is such a shame because I see and hear people working on fantastic causes, often on low pay and in very difficult conditions. I am constantly impressed by what people will face up to, to deliver on what they believe in (much of which is beyond me that's for sure!).

Do people want to talk about this? I have some views on this, it's taken me a while to figure it out (well, I think I have got it 50% figured out anyway!). I've learnt a lot getting here because as you can imagine the culture shift from corporate Oil and Gas to NGO / Relief and Development is rather large!

I don't just want to dive in on this one since I appreciate it's a sensitive subject too. Views on this from others most welcome - to me, this is the biggest single area there is in increasing the impact and value-added of the NGO sector (bigger than KM in my view and I don't say that very often!).

Best Regards,


Paul O'Nolan


Let's not put the oil business on a pedestal!. I worked for the same outfit you did before I accidentally fell, 13 years ago, down the rabbit hole into the parallel universe that the development business works in. Every so often I joke (or even not joke) about going back to the "real world"; I never intended to stay this long.

But how real is a world where your treasury operations often make more money than your real business? Where you can buy things at an effective 97% discount because if you don't spend the money the govt. will take it in tax? Smart people are as attracted to resources as to noble causes--and others too. If oil companies obtained their resources the way NGOs do I could see them behaving similarly. Without a significant change in the resource situation the two cultures issue you refer to is likely to continue.

The sad thing about this is that the minutest fraction of the resources routinely lost in rounding errors in the "real world" could have profound impacts in the "REAL world"

Today I was copied on an email from a well known large corporation telling someone in the REAL world that they had decided not to respond to an invitation to tender worth several $m. It just wasn't SUFFICIENTLY profitable, I'm sure (my emphasis).

The same kinds of companies think nothing of paying fortunes to put their logos on things associated with sporting events. Clearly, we need the social conscience of those who want to change the world and the business acumen of those who are accustomed to deploying resources successfully, with tangible outcomes.

(Has anyone ever come across a development organization with world class, efficient procurement?)

But how DO we make development organizations more businesslike and business organizations more socially compassionate? If the development business had heros or even MUST READ books (stories of any kind, film.. whatever) it would be easier to interest the public, and therefore business--which likes to keep in with the public.

Are there any compelling, funny, wise, laugh out loud, publicly accessible books about development? I've never read one. Nor have I in a dozen years working in international development organizations been handed something and told I MUST read it. If anyone has any book recommendations please share.

I wonder if reality TV (or should that be REALITY TV) may have something to offer? After all, life in some international organizations could make Survivor look rather dull!

Business isn't boring, but it seems development is to many people, alas.

Cheers, Paul

Paul O'Nolan, IT Manager International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) DAPO 7777, Metro Manila, The Philippines Tel. +63 (2) 845-0563 x765 or via US +1 (650) 833-6624 (direct)



Thanks. I must admit I was a little unsure about making that contribution to the list (I still think my wording was a little crass), so thanks for replying.

I certainly don't intend to put any org or sector on a pedestal - all have their strengths and weaknesses - to me, it's about taking the best of everyone (ie all orgs and sectors) and combining them to make something really special - no matter what your particular stance / perspective is.

(The development world has certainly taught me a lot about the REAL world as you put it, and helped me to see the world through different, and hopefully wiser, eyes. More than once I have visited the same country on commercial business and on development business and it is indeed a very different experience).

Anyway, as far as I can see, both the business and development worlds look to be engaging with the other increasingly as time goes on, and that can, I hope, only increase the quality of debate, understanding and learning between them and of both of them.

But before I waffle on any more, I like your point about communicating Development to "market" it. (At least that's what I think you are saying).

Could this community collaboratively create something together to do this? Has it been done already? What would it look like? Video? CD-ROM? Booklets? All of the above? Some commercial companies are regarded as "World Class" (a term that may jar a bit with some I appreciate) - could Development take the best of everything and communicate World Class development? If so, what would it look like? Or have I lost the plot completely now?!

Best Regards to all, and apologies if this doesn't add much...I promise not to send any more messages for a bit!


Manager, Corporate Knowledge Management Project

Tel 020 8943 7960 (office)

Maja van der Velden

Hello Paul, Hello All,

This is a long message, sorry! The point I would like to make - and this may serve as the summary of this message - is that we often think of the NGO sector in terms of a global, multi-cultural corporation. If we acknowledge the uniqueness and diversity of the NGO sector, we will get closer to finding the appropriate tools and strategies in support of collaboration and cooperation in the NGO sector.

The longer version of my message follows below.

Greetings, Maja

Paul Whiffen wrote:

> My impression is that other sectors tend to be better at this. For example, > one of my managers tells the story of a conference some years ago where > there was representation from all of Military, Private/Corporate and NGO > sectors. At one point in the conference, all three were asked to devise a > common position for themselves. The military one collaborated to come to a > very swift conclusion, and the commercial one did so almost as well. The NGO > one tended to descend into in-fighting and lost out to the other two as a > result.

Is it possible that your example actually points to something different, namely that methodologies and practices that work in other sectors may not be appropriate for the NGO sector? If so, the question could be: How to support collaboration and cooperation in the NGO sector? What are appropriate tools and strategies?

We have seen the successful integration of corporate sector KM in the military sector. This was due to the fact that the two sectors have much in common: each sector consists of organisations that have common goals and strategies, similar organisational cultures, and shared socio-economical and political views.

Since the 1990s the NGO sector has become a new market for organisational management consultants. Building forth on corporate sector experiences, consultants introduced methodologies and tools to 're-engineer your non-profit' or to 'manage your organisational knowledge'. Nothing is wrong with that except that the corporate assumptions on which these new tools and methodologies were built were never challenged. In other words, the common thinking is that what works in the corporate sector will also work in the NGO sector.

- In 'Knowledge Management for Development Organisations' (1), a Nokia representative discusses Nokia's organisational culture, the 'Nokia Way' and refers to a book 'The Nokia Saga'. He explains that this story helps to create a common organisational culture in a corporation with offices around the world, employing people with diverse cultural backgrounds.

- The Development Gateway (2) offers a central portal with its satellite country gateways for global knowledge sharing on development. If we had access to Nokia's global intranet, we would find a network almost identical to the Development Gateway.

Is the NGO sector another Nokia? Do we just need to find the 'story' that can help build the NGO sector's common ground so it can collaborate more effectively? Does the NGO sector need computers and Internet hook-ups to access its 'own' global portal?

I am sure we all agree that it is an oversimplification to perceive the NGO sector as a global, multi-cultural corporation, but that is often what we do when we discuss NGO sector communication, information, and knowledge needs and strategies.

The main characteristic of the NGO sector is its diversity; a diversity not only in its people and organisations but also in its organisational cultures, goals and strategies. The NGO sector operates in very politicised environments. Every decision or opinion is weighted for its internal and external implications. It is a sector where information and knowledge are sometimes issues of life and death - organisationally, culturally, and personally. It is also a sector struggling for resources. All this affects how NGOs are able to cooperate and collaborate.

Let's start with acknowledging the uniqueness and diversity of the NGO sector and make this the guiding principle for supporting collaboration and cooperation in the NGO sector. I am sure we will get closer to finding the appropriate tools and strategies.

Success! Maja van der Velden

(1) 'Knowledge Management for Development Organisations': <> (2) Development Gateway:

Hermi J. Trupke

short message concerning the similarities/differences between the commercial sector and the development world

Dear All,

just to say that I very much agree with Maja: the NGO sector consists of many "companies" just like Nokia isn't alone in the market. The same goes for public sector- (for instance UN-) development organisations - we are many "suppliers" of development services and sometimes "competitors". As to communicating what we (development organisations) do (i.e. our "products") through videos, articles etc. - yes, many development organisations including NGOs try to do it (just watch CNN from time to time or read the International Herald Tribune!). However, the fact that km4dev-list members are asking for "interesting books/articles/videos" on development seems to prove that we are certainly less effective in handling our "publicity" than the private sector..... Finally to the topic "management consultants": Having understood that there IS a difference between the commercial sector and the development sector, certain consultants are no longer simply transfering, but are attempting to ADAPT practices from the commercial sector to public and NG-organisations. However, I haven't heard of any real success stories yet ....

All these topics are extremely interesting and worth a list discussion. However, being a KM-list, I feel we should somehow try and discuss the differences/similarities between the commercial and development sectors in a focussed way and clearly related to KM. For instance: Is it a good "marketing strategy" to tell commercial sector "stories" to development people in order to increase their understanding of KM? Or should we rather make a stronger effort to collect effective up-to date "stories" from the development world?

Hermi J. Trupke Knowledge Management Facilitator IFAD - Room A 228 Tel. 0039 06 5459 2349

Charles Clift

I don't think myself this is correct. The recent example of Doha has showed the NGOs winning the argument over public health and medicines through, whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, superior organisation, networking and tactics as compared to the pharmaceutical industry who, whatever they may say publicly, lost a battle in Doha. As campaigners, NGOs are, I would suggest, far more professional than the private sector.

In addition, I have also always felt rather uncomfortable, about viewing KM as a commercial model which needs to be transferred and adapted to the development sector. I think this tends to lead to a number of deadends and failed "transfers of technology". Rather each organisation needs to think for itself what it needs, drawing as appropriate on the experience of other organisations wherever they might be. Doesn't sound very radical put like that but I think one needs to avoid an "inferiority complex" vis a vis the commercial sector. Is Nokia really that brilliant? I was frankly underwhelmed by their presentation in Brighton in June 2000.

Charles Clift (Lurked successfully since June 2000, I believe)

Roger Harris

  • Another short message concerning the similarities/differences between the

commercial sector and the development world*

I have recently observed a number of useful cross-over points between the commercial field and development that do relate to the practices and principles of KM. And they work in both directions. Ironically, corporations are being pointed to developing country communities to see how they are able to mobilise their resources into beneficial outcomes. Peter Senge's work on learning organisations is peppered with such examples of poor rural communities bootstrapping themselves into development using typically KM style approaches (but they don't call it that of course).

From my own background of helping organisations make good use of ICTs and now doing the same for Asian rural communities, many of the lessons learned by corporations are equally transferable, though yet to be learned by the development community. For example, whilst ICTs are necessary for organisational health, alone they are insufficient. Computers can not make a good manager out of a bad one, but they can make a good manager better. Likewise, they will not turn a bad development effort into a good one, but they can make a good one better. There are lots of stories about failures in the ICT/organisational literature to demonstrate how even large organisations can foul up with computers, and development organisations can learn salutary lessons from these by understanding what is required in order to be successful with ICTs.

Developing country communities and the NGOs that care for them are able to learn naturally and easily the core values that KM embodies, but there is a danger, as has happened before, that the consultants will hijack the term, wrap it around their own existing practices and market it as a new panacea. This list would do well to help NGOs in development protect themselves from such an eventuality.

BTW, I'll be describing other lessons from the corporate world for ICTs in development at the International Conference on Information Technology, Communications and Development, Kathmandu, Nov 29-30. (

Roger Harris

Roger Harris Ph.D. Tel.: 852 26986132

Paul O'Nolan


I very much agree with your second paragraph...tackling the issue from the adoption of IT / turn-key solutions always seems to fail.

It's much more about having a different outlook and from there solutions emerge by both having different types of discussion inside the organisation / community and with other organisations. The solutions are very non-radical, though I would say that the initial outlook is a little different otherwise there is a risk of ending up with the deadend solutions you mention. (Just a few weeks ago I heard of a (commercial sector!) organisation having to start again because they realised they had tackled it from the IT end rather than the people end - I have heard this kind of story a few times now!).

On the other hand, implementing it from the People / Culture end of the spectrum seems to make a very positive difference!


Paul. Manager, Corporate Knowledge Management Project Tel 020 8943 7960 (office) MOBILE NUMBER 07808 162 302 email

Michel Menou


Friday, November 16, 2001, 10:32:20 AM, Charles Clift wrote:

CC> ...snip As campaigners, CC> NGOs are, I would suggest, far more professional than the private sector. They better do, since campaigning is what brings their daily bread. They don't have any product or service established in the market to that end.

One may wonder if NGO won in Doha or if the pharmaceutical companies are operating a strategic redeployment. Probably both.

Now equating campaigning, PR and other forms of lobbying to KM is a bit inappropriate. At lest their aims are quite different, in theory,if they have natural interactions.

CC> In addition, I have also always felt rather uncomfortable, about viewing KM CC> as a commercial model which needs to be transferred and adapted to the CC> development sector. Right. If I am not mistaken the griots and Aristote are in the KM business too.

The "superior" methods of the private sector are part of the revealed truths we are supposed to believe in. As if all "organizations" were equal. As they may say in Swissair "cheese"!

Michel Menou

Paul O'Nolan


My earlier request for interesting books on development and comment on the need for these was not entirely for my own edification, though I would like it if there was a readable genre.

My bookshelf is stocked with tales of derring do and larger-than-life characters in the business world but none about development. Where are the "must read" books?

My question is what can we do to get development on the radar of popular consciousness in prosperous countries to influence govts. and people to do more for international development? This may be the most important knowledge we need to manage.

I work for an organization that has had a profound impact on food security in asia--the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)--but which is contracting and likely to contract further. It is unheard of in most of the developed world. I ride the bus to work with Gurdev Khush, one of the world's most successful plant breeders, now retiring after 34 years here. He is one of a few people I've met whose work has influenced the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people. He was profiled in a recent issue of the Korean Air inflight magazine as an influential Asian in an article that began "His name may not have passed your lips but his work certainly has." 60% of the rice grown in Asia came from varieties developed at IRRI under his leadership.

In short, this man is a hero, as are those who had the vision to enable his work. He and his colleagues would find the idea of his being any kind of scientific Mother Theresa a bit tedious but I'm convinced that if we do not succeed in getting even the most spectacular success stories of investment in international development popularly known, then the development business will continue as a marginal activity. Khush has many decorations but the institute is facing cuts from the donors who have funded it for 40 years, not because the institute is no longer needed or working, but because they have other, louder, claims on their resources. It should be unthinkable but there will be no popular outcry if they do. All of IRRI's 15 sister institutes in the CGIAR are in increasingly difficult financial circumstances. This is not a good prospect for humanity.

Imagine how often I've tried to explain what the CGIAR is to companies in the IT business. My brother in law worked for the World Health Organization for 20 years in child immunization. He never had this problem: You work for WHO? (Yes!joke). Why? Because of smallpox. Is there anybody who does not know that story? If they know nothing else, they know that, with the result (as it appeared to me) that WHO was never quite just another customer. Is there a book or a film about this famous victory? Is there a person who is a celebrated leader of that fight? Not a well known one anyway. One could take that as a sign of not needing to get the message over but I'd say it's a lost opportunity for the whole development business, given my belief that it needs heros and marketable success stories. Of course, I've remarked to my brother in law that each immunization, over in seconds, helps save the life of someone who then has to EAT for a lifetime.

That agricultural development is at the bedrock of civilization seems not to be as widely understood as one might expect, not just popularly but by governments.

People in general do not respond to statistics or logic. They respond to celebrity, to entertainment, to stories. It's true at every level. Here's a fine story about the "The BBC Soap that has hooked Afghanistan",1361,579231,00.html

It's a delightful account of how soap radio was and is used to educate millions of people while entertaining them.

Yesterday an institute I know hosted, at the govt's request, meetings of various govt. committees concerned with food production (in a poor country with a rapidly increasing population). Many senators and congressmen were expected to attend. In the end every single one had more pressing engagments in the capital and only some officials attended. If the meeting was opened by some international celebrity and an invitation was hard to get would more have attended? I'm not suggesting this should have happened, simply reflecting on reality.

We need good stories about development and celebrated achievements and people to reach popular consciousness & to inspire popular and political support and engagement. In the popular mind I'd say international development is associated with an endless stream of disasters that in the end engender fatigue and a feeling of indifference and hopelessness.

This is why, I suspect, for all the transformative power of information and communications technology, and the vast accumulation of wealth on the back of it, we have not seen very much of that wealth or energy directed to dealing with global challenges (Bill Gates is an exception). It's why, in my experience, ICT companies in the developed world often can't be bothered, even if they risk nothing but not making large profits, to be supportive. Surely these companies' attitudes reflect those of the societies they exist in.

There are moral and, of course, financial limits to what development organizations can spend on PR. But somehow we have to do a better job of making our success stories popular. How?!

Forbes Magazine produces a list annually of the richest people in the world and the movements up and down this list make popular news stories, as do the league tables of national economic success published by various groups including The Economist. It would hardly be self-serving if the development community produced some annual lists of who had done the most for development and publicised the stories.

Whether that's a crazy idea or not I'm still hoping someone will point me to some books on development that are half as readable as IT industry tales such as The Soul of a New Machine, Going Public, Startup, Burn Rate and the like.

Cheers, Paul

Paul O'Nolan IT Mgr, IRRI

Mark Borg

May I suggest three books, to start with:

Stan Burkey "People first - A guide to self-reliant, participatory rural development" Eric A. Davidson "You can't eat GNP - Economics as if ecology mattered" Wolfgang Sachs (ed) "The Development Dictionary"

However, it should be appreciated that development is a multi-disciplinary area and therefore very difficult to recommend readings without a more focussed area in mind.


Mark Borg Information Management Consultant UNDP Fiji Elections Project Elections Office Gladstone Road Suva - Fiji Tel. (679) 304640 Mobile: (679) 991681 Fax: (679) 302436 Email 1: Email 2: Website: Personal Website:



Thanks. I haven't read any of these and will no doubt find that at least one is in our library. I'm interested to know what the people on this list consider the classics or at least books they have found highly readable and perhaps even motivating. I take your point about the multi-discplinary nature of development, but a good story in the hands of a good author can be compelling in itself no matter what the subject. I ask because I am ignorant and curious; find other people's book recommendations fascinating and often valuable and because I am frequently amazed at how compartmentalized knowledge is and because I am sure that there are good stories I ought know.

I am not interested in any theoretical stuff so much as fundamental ideas and first person accounts of making a difference, of ideas catching hold (what Steve's recommendation The Tipping Point is all about). Books that make one laugh too are twice as memorable.

Mohammed Yunus has some great stories to tell. I don't know if he's written them down.

Surely, there's an "In Search of Excellent Development" waiting to be written?

Cheers, Paul

Manager, IT Services International Rice Research Institute DAPO Box 7777 Metro Manila, Philippines Phone: +63(2)845-0563 x765; Fax: +63(2)845-0606 Via USA: +1(650)833-6624; Fax: +1(650)833-6621 E-mail: or Web Site:


Anyone in search of inspirational stories about development (in this case with ICTs) will find what they need on the MS Swaminathan site at: It's not a book, but at least one of the stories is turning into a classic, having popped up in the press all over the world from time to time.


Charles Clift


Thanks. Is campaigning not knowledge management? It involves marshalling facts (or opinions or both) about the world in a particular order, networking with others on a grand scale and, sometimes the product is something which changes the world a little bit?

Charles Clift


This debate is simplified (I think!) if you treat Knowledge as a resource, exactly like Staff themselves and Money / Finances.

Traditionally, organisations have pro-actively managed the last two, but not Knowledge.

For example, for Staff themselves you have HR Director, HR team and embedded HR processes like training, recruitment, objectives / appraisals etc. For Money / Finances you have Finance Director, Finance Team and embedded Finance processes like budgets, forecasting, balancing books etc. Then, if you say that Knowledge is as equally important a resource as staff and finance, you may say that you need Knowledge Director, Knowledge Team and embedded K processes like Learning before, during & after, Communities of Practice, Staff Exit Interviews, Action Learning groups.

Any key activity (such as campaigning) then becomes an application of all these resources - Staff, Finances and Knowledge. KM then doesn't have objectives itself, but is an enabler of the key activities / objectives of the organisation or community (just like the staff and finance).



Manager, Corporate Knowledge Management Project

Tel 020 8943 7960 (office) MOBILE NUMBER 07808 162 302 email



"Everything is in everything and conversely" :-)

That one uses particular techniques or tools does not imply the activity belongs to the same field or is of the same nature as the former.

What discriminates, IMO is the purpose. One does KM when one seeks to increase learning.


Monday, November 19, 2001, 2:44:11 PM, you wrote:

CC> Michel

CC> Thanks. Is campaigning not knowledge management? It involves marshalling CC> facts (or opinions or both) about the world in a particular order, CC> networking with others on a grand scale and, sometimes the product is CC> something which changes the world a little bit?

Michel Menou

Dear ,

Monday, November 19, 2001, 4:09:25 PM, Paul Whiffen wrote:


PW> Any key activity (such as campaigning) then becomes an application of all PW> these resources - Staff, Finances and Knowledge. KM then doesn't have PW> objectives itself, but is an enabler of the key activities / objectives of PW> the organisation or community (just like the staff and finance).


What matters is not what you do but what are your goals.

KM becomes specific when the goal of the organization is to enhance learning across the board. Or else to become better.

Michel Menou

Al Alegre

Hear, hear!

The key reflection we have here is the primacy/starting point in "KM/KS" of communities of interest/communities of practice and how they become truly learning communities towards a common objective (hopefully a socially progressive one).

Al Alegre Philippines

Paul Whiffen


Agreed (I also liked Alan Alegre's note).

KM without a direct link to what the organisation (or community) is trying to achieve is of no value. Whenever I get stuck, I always return to this small framework that always gets me out of trouble (so far, anyway).

FIRST to say that Knowledge only exists inside peoples' heads, and as soon as it is portrayed in any way the resource created is Information.

THEN to say:

  1. IT enables IM (IT, after all, stands for Information Technology, and it

can be very basic if that is all that's available);

  1. IM enables KM (ie, people reading docs or using other media that are

easily available enhances their Knowledge);

  1. KM enables the Key Activities of the Organisation (ie KM is about helping

people to know what they need to know to do what matters - by learning from experience and from each other);

  1. Key Actives of the org enable (ie delivers) the key goals / objectives of

the org;

  1. Key goals / objectives enable / deliver Mission and Values.

That way, everything links together and KM is shown to be there for a reason / purpose. This framework always brings me back on course when I get lost!

It feels like we are all increasingly saying the same thing now....

Best Regards,


Manager, Corporate Knowledge Management Project

Tel 020 8943 7960 (office) MOBILE NUMBER 07808 162 302 email


Paul, Don't get too stuck on that framework. Be aware that of all the information that organisations work with, only a fraction is represented in or manipulated by IT (despite what the DBMS salesmen tell you). That is why KM that depends on IT results in sub-optimal outcomes. Also, it is true that IT can enable Information Management, but it doesn't make promises about it (again, despite what the salesmen tell you). It is possible and very easy to use IT badly. Finally, as I represent my knowledge in the form of this email (information) transmitted with technology (IT) and as you read it, does it actually enhance your knowledge? You still have choices, despite all the right components being in the right order. Roger

Michel Menou

Fritz Machkup was speaking of "living knowledge". A notion worth revisiting. The Learning Organization reciepe - like most reciepes, just building it on the go :-): IT: 5% Information: 10% Knowledge bases: 25% Processes: 10% People: 30% Fitness and Luck: 20% Michel Menou

Paul Whiffen


Thanks, appreciated. A key point is that, to us in Tearfund, IT includes things like filing cabinets and library shelves. Books and journals are Information equally as much as electronic files, so shelves and filing cabinets are IT for managing it equally much as what we in the north would term "IT". This helps to make the principle transferrable to everywhere in the world - ie, IT is whatever you have available and you can do IM and KM even without advanced IT. (This is the attraction of taking an approach that is not IT led).

I am aware of IT salesmen. I have a story to illustrate their approach. I used to work in the North Sea (oil industry) and one such salesman tried to convince me that the portable PC he wanted to sell to me had been tested underwater in a tank of piranha fish!

Your email does enhance my knowledge I would say. I still have choices, but the better my knowledge the better my choices.

So, for the moment anyway, I still finding the framework useful - because we see IT as only an enabler, nothing more.

Thanks and Regards,


Manager, Corporate Knowledge Management Project

Tel 020 8943 7960 (office) MOBILE NUMBER 07808 162 302 email

Tony Pryor

This has been a great back and forth. Does raise a couple of fundamental questions, some of which are being raised in parallel in the "Learning To Fly" email list (albeit abit more bluntly!).

The discussion helps to illustrate a problem with KM and most other such reforms. At the end of the day they are reforming internal processes, but which do not automatically improve the organization's "product". Put another way, more knowledge is better than more information, but it does not by itself lead to better decisions, nor do better decisions lead necessarily to better results. And results are NOT in terms of knowledge transferred, but rather in terms of oil pumped, children fed, roads rebuilt, people empowered, etc.

We believe that organizations can make better use of what they (and their staff) know, and that the better use of knowledge will help, which it can. But it's easy to lose sight of the overall purpose of the organization; these approaches are organizational intermediaries, but not they do not define the organization's objectives. This matters because it's important to know WHY we want to move knowledge around, for what point, and for whom. For that reason I find it difficult not to address a whole range of organizational and substantive issues along with KM, rather than talking about KM as if it were a standalone (somewhat akin to "participation", "results orientation" and a bundle of other approaches that have circulated over the years).

And therein lies the risks and benefits of embracing IT as an enabler. It's clear that IT helps certain processes, and in some areas makes possible what would have been inconceivable 10 years ago. But it can also mislead and misrepresent. Not on purpose, but I still find that the world of IT and the world of development tend to be on parallel planes; many IT folk have little feel for realtime developmental issues and activities (regardless of where they reside) while many in the development community still have severe misunderstandings as to the potential and constraints of IT systems.

There is a middle ground to be sure, and lots of intermediaries, but I tend to think best of KM and its children when pretending that computers had not yet been invented. Once the underlying issues are thought through, then the IT enabler can be a welcome surprise, rather than a skewed reflection. Tony Pryor

Al Alegre

Any other suggestions on the list for "must reads" on the topic of "learning organizations"? I would appreciate any resources you know of that would be "on the money" form our evolving KM/KS frameworks' point of view, and which concretely helped you and your organization grapple with its organizational "ghosts"....

Al Alegre

Paul Whiffen


I 10,000 percent agree with you (at least!).

- If you address KM in its full sense, it addresses absolutely everything in the organisation / community. Nothing is left untouched, including the culture. This is why, politically speaking, it can be a challenge to do it! To see KM as a separate topic is not right at all.

- KM without addressing the overall purpose of the org is pointless. In fact, the reverse is often true in my experience - addressing KM makes the org realise that it's purpose (and values) are not that clear and need clarifying. There must be a clear reason / purpose why Knowledge needs to be freed up, liberated and mobilised.

- IT can only act as an enabler (which is what it needs to do) if the IT dept / service / profession see things this way. If IT leads then this leads to problems:- IT must enable and support the purpose / "business need" of the org / community. In some places, the IT community is enlightened in this way, in some places it isn't...!



Manager, Corporate Knowledge Management Project

Tel 020 8943 7960 (office) MOBILE NUMBER 07808 162 302 email

Michel Menou

Actually the complete works of Dilbert should be on top of the list, aren't they? Michel Menou

Paul O’Nolan

Absolutely! And that brings up an important point which bears on . Dilbert is amusing because it lampoons the contradictions between what is said or professed and reality, a difference that is often clear to everybody--e.g. the difference between the official organization chart and how the unofficial one--how things really work.

I used to report to a very enlightened senior manager who kept a growing array of Dilbert cartoons on the back of his always open door (the door had to be closed for them to be seen). It was uncanny the number of times that he opened the door and pointed to some idiocy that had just been the subject of conversation.

He once suggested that the institute set up a Dilbert Committee. It was intended to be a way of dealing with certain things, hopefully in a humorous and non-threatening way, that were widely acknowledged to be absurd.

Bob Lewis who writes for Infoworld often begins his (organizational) "Survival Guide" columns with a quotation in the following form

Management speak: Translation:

Here's one picked at random

MANAGEMENT SPEAK: Must be able to overcome internal and external barriers, so troubleshooting and analytical skills are a must.

TRANSLATION: Must be able to identify and operate management hot buttons. htext=survival+guide§ion=&startcount=1

for more.

Paul O’Nolan

Mark Winslow

Paul, re: your query about whether Mohumad Yunus has written down his epic story of microcredit for development - it seems he has, and others have written about him too. The books are at, the one below has a 5 star rating: s/102-0178324-4294529


Mark Winslow

Tony Pryor

A couple of thoughts from this exchange:

1) there's alot of very solid new things to learn when we stop talking solely about "KM" and start talking about how lessons get passed, people change etc. at the sector level, without mentioning "KM". KM risks treating itself (and being treated by others) as if it were a standalone "sector", rather than as an enabler that requires the context provided by the working environment of very specific decision makers.

Personally I think the next big breakthrough in terms of KM and development would come from some sort of organized dialogue/interchange between the KM community and those who work in "sectors", especially at the operational level (including health/AIDS, environment, ag and ag research, community devel and governance, etc etc). What "sector" it is is not important; but it would open up a wide range of expertise and real-time examples from people who really are grappling with KM day to day but don't realize it.

In the case of Grameen, those working in micro-finance have been discussing the Grameen Bank story for over a decade, and opinions pro and con (even conferences pro and con) abound. By marrying the KM community with some of these sectoral communities we may in fact be able to make some significant advances, since you'd be focusing on real decisions, real users and real people being affected. (This was why I found the interchange on AIDS last year so interesting, as well as the commentary from our Somaliland colleague. It's also one of the reasons why the Tearfund material always has a ring of reality).

2) story telling is a great concept, but it does bother me in one regard - when not in Steve's hands, it sometimes gently assumes that all stories are true, or do not conflict. Much of the KM community seems to be nervous about the concepts of quality control, quality assurance, synthesis or facilitation. Yet in much sectoral work, the concept of peer review and advisory synthesis seems to be pretty common. We can all have our own opinions, and come to our own conclusions, but within a more defined community it may also be useful to integrate KM approaches with the use of facilitators, experts systems, etc.

In the case of Grameen, it's not that I think one side or the other is "right" but just that there is an ongoing debate. For these stories then to be useful, someone needs to be able to provide the context and summarized issues from that debate. Doesn't mean you need to follow the commentary, but it at least provides some sort of anchor.

One approach of course is the Harvard Bus. School "model", where the stories are genericed abit and built around a learning objective. They tell a story, but they blend in different views around a given occurrence. This though is more expensive than just assuming that KM is essentially an "open mike", but I think the value added can easily pay for itself.

Tony Pryor

Frederick Noronha

Critiques of the Grameen Bank have been around for some time now. It's just seems to be that when one Third World project becomes a big-time 'success story' in the West, very few seem willing to rock the boat. To us looking at things locally, it's strange how 'success' stories get uncritically (or deliberately) accepted. Ones which make the biggest splash are not necessary the best projects, but those who have the best packaging. We have seen such examples come up in India too. As long as the agenda-setting First World developmental community is so uncritical in accepting the current-dominant dogma, one is rather skeptical about the merits of Knowledge Management too. After all, there might be a huge gap between 'Knowledge Management for International Development Organisations' and 'Knowledge Management for Development'. – Frederick Noronha

Charles Clift

Having moved recently out of the "KM community" if I was ever in it, I find myself increasingly at odds with much of what I read. Is this a community that talks about the methodology and practice of KM? As far as that goes I have no problem. But then we start talking about a "KM community" that needs to get in touch with people doing real things in real sectors. I'm not sure this is the right approach.

Most of us have jobs doing things in particular areas of development activity - our interest in KM is a sideline based on the premise that the ideas may have something or a great deal to offer us in doing our real jobs better (is that a correct assumption?). If the issue becomes "Well, KM is great, then how do we persuade other people to do it?" then somehow we have lost the plot.

The idea is surely to move KM ideas into the "mainstream" as quickly as possible. because they are practical and valuable to those in the real world. It is not to set up as KM ideologues proseletyzing our ideas to other "sectors", thereby running the risk of generating the kind of hostility from practitioners that is counterproductive, and in some cases justified.

Maybe I am simply reflecting the dangers inherent in setting up any community: that it is implicitly exclusive. But it is something one needs to reflect on I think.

Charles Clift Commission on Intellectual Property Rights Please note that patents, amongst other things. are a rather sophisticated and ancient form of knowledge management - constituting a vast store of technological knowledge that is continually being enhanced, and is now increasingly accessible online.