IFAD synthesis project: Phase One Report

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The report is available in two forms

Details about methods are described in "Community questions and possibilities from a little data" and "Mapping a community – easy and not-so-easy".

This is the report summary

This study provides a framework for future discussions and for exploration of steps to set the future Network’s direction, both in terms of structure and possible funding strategies. It summarizes three different projects that were funded with a grant from IFAD. To put those projects in context it gathers information from community members and the community's own data sources. Email interactions with community members (both one-to-one and on the email list) combined with insights from other platforms ranging from the experimental (http://allourideas.org) to the mainstream (http://km4dev.org and http://wiki.km4dev.org) helped fill the gaps in methodology and coverage between the studies. Documentary information about the community, ranging from member lists to discussion indexes played an important role in developing a more complete picture of the community.

The three projects summarized in this report are listed on the KM4Dev Wiki http://wiki.km4dev.org/IFAD_Funded_Synthesis_Project. They are:

  • A social network analysis looking at participation and replies on the main KM4Dev email list
  • An effort to explore and spread the idea of technology stewardship
  • A member survey

The report provides an overview of the community, its activities, and membership. KM4Dev is remarkable in that it is member-driven and has been growing steadily since it first began in 2000. Growth in membership is obviously positive in the sense that it brings more people into the conversation but it also creates challenges that have not occurred before. Because it is member-driven, the conversations and participation in general have a natural ebb and flow: too much discussion can be overwhelming one week followed by a period of worrying silence. KM4Dev membership is diverse in terms of geography, demographic characteristics such as age, organizational affiliation, job title, job level, and degree of involvement. Although the membership's increasing diversity is largely positive, it also raises new challenges for welcoming new members or for assuring that their interests or perspectives are included any any leadership decisions. The community is also diverse in terms of access to and experience with technology.

Several key practices characterize the KM4Dev community's interactions:

  • ongoing discussion mainly on its Dgroup email list
  • small groups and side projects on various email lists, Skype, and other platforms
  • collecting and organizing community knowledge on its wiki
  • face-to-face interactions either at informally organized meetings or as member travel allows

The focus of this synthesis study was not academic, but was to highlight concerns, opportunities, and interventions (in the future or during the study period) that would clarify the opportunities and challenges that KM4Dev as it looks toward the future.

The first of these is coping with growth, differentiation and possible fragmentation. This is a consequence of a greater number of members. It means that welcoming and orienting new members is more challenging than before and that it may not be clear to existing members that they need to help (or that helping may be quite rewarding).

The report argues that leadership and governance in an independent community like KM4Dev has two distinct aspects. KM4Dev is a community that's permeable where the ideas and contributions of newcomers are mixed and juxtaposed with those of practitioners who have been involved in the field and in KM4Dev for more than a decade. From the other side, KM4Dev is a volunteer organization that owns servers and considerable intellectual property ranging from discussion summaries to the KM4Dev brand itself. The community and the organization have both evolved over the years and the development of one interacts with the other. As a community, KM4Dev needs to consider the risks and benefits of a more substantial organizational side. As an organization, KM4Dev needs to consider how it can meet community challenges such as leadership development, greater diversity (of interests and of needs), and a periphery that doesn't see the importance of discussions about community direction or growth. The organizations that employ KM4Dev members have an indirect interest in the KM4Dev community's survival but probably don't see themselves as particularly responsible for the KM4Dev organization. Ambiguous interests and sense of responsibility become more diffuse as KM4Dev continues to grow.

For historical reasons, KM4Dev uses three completely independent platforms for its interactions: a discussion list, a "social network and community" site, and a Wiki. Each of these plays its own role in the community's life. For example each one contributed data and context to the preparation of this report. Bridging between the three platforms is certainly an issue for some members and not for many others. The challenge that such independence presents is that each platform can feel like a world unto itself so that people see it as the KM4Dev platform. KM4Dev relies on a number of auxiliary platforms, which makes the community more complex as well as better informed about the uses of technology for knowledge sharing and management. The complexity of the KM4Dev technology infrastructure means that the community may have to have a high tolerance for usability problems that could be discouraging to people who would benefit from participation in the community.

Hangouts to reflect on the reports

Two Google Hangouts were held to reflect on the Phase One Report. Lightly edited chat transcripts, which capture some of the discussion, but were also independent streams of interaction, are on the "Talk Page".

Hangout # 1 November 26, 2013

Summary:

Question: what is the purpose of the synthesis and of the IFAD-funded reports themselves? to depict the present situation of KM4Dev and begin thinking about ways forward.

Is community growth a goal or is it sustainability? The growth in number of members has already happened. The question is: what does it mean and what does it imply? The synthesis report tries to tackle that question.

Traveling around the world spreading the KM word is something we would all like to do.

If we seek to develop a KM4Dev organization of some sort, is it to serve a community or a network? Does that make a difference? Is there passion to support more administration? How much administration is required to serve people's needs?

Do we know whether newcomers to KM4Dev are well-served and supported? Do we know how well KM4Dev serves people in specific situations (e.g., from the South, from specific types of organizations, at specific points in professional development)?

Should the KM4Dev Core group try to balance:

  • Community or network?
  • Paid (and more organisation-like) or voluntary?
  • Domain or community focus (how to balance these)?
  • Expansion in different areas / concentration?
  • Face to face or virtual?

But perhaps we could just try to ‘respond to challenges/questions’ from the community in an ad hoc way rather than think about issues that seem important to some of us but perhaps are not to others.

Community or group self-awareness: does it need to change when size changes?

Hangout # 2 - November 27, 2013

Summary:

The purpose of the report needs to be highlighted.

KM4Dev includes a wide spectrum of people, from those who are challenged by technology (e.g., session teaching people how Twitter works at the Cali face-to-face meeting) to those who like experimenting with every new technology that comes along. The CTlab project was an effort to connect the two ends of the spectrum but attracted people on the leading and exploring end of the spectrum. Many of those technology experiments lie around afterward and are confusing to people who just bump into the experiment.

Wondering what it takes to make a project like CTLab effective. How to avoid recommendations to action that are never followed up on, especially when the recommendation is “hire a consultant to do something” and there is no money. Where is KM4Dev’s “can-do” / “just do it” spirit? How can that spirit be supported?

There is a persistent existential question: what is KM4Dev? Who are “we”? Is there a “we”? There is a recurrent call for “KM4Dev.inc” (a commercial business that would source and handle funding). It would be guided by “KM4Dev.org” animating the community and providing service.

The nature of a large community like KM4Dev is that nobody can see all activity. We hear stories of lurkers that learn so much, but the community leaders will never know! Leaders have to proceed even though they are depending on a lot of guesswork. There is an existential question about leadership, as well: what is their function? A lot of people in KM4Dev don’t know that there is a Core Group.

People think they need permission to act. The core group may be too big or too separate. When they DO take action, it sometimes isn’t linked back to the mainstream or isn’t visible.