Talk:What does the term "landscape of practices" evoke for you in your own KM4Dev work?

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Jim Tarrant, Tue 12/17/2013 11:28 AM

In ecology, each landscape has a unique structure and internal relationships. So, there are categories of landscapes (desert, forests, mixed-farming, urban, etc.) and within each category the stocks (resources, ecological communities, infrastructure, etc.) and flows are all very different. So, I think the KM landscape of practices would also necessarily be very context dependent (e.g. the mix of KM practices for large institutional landscapes might be very different than for social landscapes faced by community organizers). However, just like all landscapes are mediated by water to varying extents (even deserts), so too actual communication forms are present in every form of KM in some way. Maybe I am making just an extended here metaphor but facilitation is about eliciting communication and, hopefully leading to knowledge sharing. So facilitation, whether technology-mediated or face-to-face seems pretty fundamental to KM, at least to me.

John David Smith, Wed 12/18/2013 12:00 PM

Maybe facilitation is the main river through the valley – that touches a lot of different parts of the landscape?

Etienne Wenger-Trayner (re-posted by Bev), Wed 12/18/2013 2:37 PM

(This message hasn’t shown up, so sending it again. Apologies if it comes twice for some)


Fully agree that facilitation is a key element. Perhaps facilitation is too weak a term, actually. We see it as a type of leadership on the part of people who not only enable the flow but also reconfigure the landscape by opening new spaces for learning. We call these people "systems conveners” because they convene these spaces at leverage points in the system.


Florencia Guerzovich, Wed 12/18/2013 6:07 PM

Hi all,

I agree with Bev. Facilitation of flows of knowledge is too weak a term for the task at hand in managing a complex landscape (or even identifying its plausibility).

As Bev and Etienne say in the draft, one key is to acknowledge and work with the political nature of the landscape to nurture new practices. I am not talking of politics and power for their own sake (or because I am a political scientist).

To reshape in complex knowledge systems, we need to have a deep, practical grasp of e.g. : - a broad range of actors (incentives, motivations, capabilities), - institutions, - their (actual, plausible, explicit and implicit) relationships and - the processes of resource mobilization that link them, could link them, keep them apart or could strengthen the boundaries that divide them.

Only then, one can at best, spot/acknowledge and nudge new collective action/ practice among unusual suspects in a way that is helpful for a handful of our partners and creates a public or club good for many more.

This grasp of political causes of behavior, and learning, in one's landscape seem also crucial to navigate the critical reflection that can follow from landscape work (and we encourage). Comparison within and across boundaries is a powerful tool for the negotiation of the "new" landscape. In my practice(s), it is also painful, risky. It is very difficult to make it happen, especially when it matters most, because stakes are high. A systems convener has to be purposive about enabling this critical reflection, and reigning it in. He has to lead (sometimes have the guts to lead by example) this deeply political process.

Convener may sound weaker than facilitator. At face value systems convener may take some cues from facilitators' playbooks. However, I agree, the systems convener job, Bev and Etienne characterize, has a different quality than a facilitator.


Florencia Guerzovich @guerzovich

John David Smith, Wed 12/18/2013 9:41 PM

Florencia, your post makes me wonder: how is it that someone comes to be able to do such work? What does the trajectory look like? How trained, supported, or legitimized? The characteristics on pp 30-34 seem pretty extraordinary to me:

  • On a personal mission
  • Passionate and strategic
  • Mavericks at the edge of their own organization
  • Upbeat and persistent

John ____________________

Charles Dhewa, Thu 12/19/2013 1:35 AM

I am in the middle of searching for equivalent words to 'facilitation' in some of the local languages I work with. It looks like the search will continue for a while!

Facilitation will only go so far. To get people with different world views seeing the same thing may require generations of facilitation efforts - more than the lifespan of development projects/programmes. I have a couple of examples on this.

Of interest to me as well is the effect of facilitation to the facilitator. Such experiences will probably open another interesting angle to KM.

I just hope the word 'facilitation' is not on the verge of becoming a cliche due to over-use/misuse.



Peter J. Bury, Thu 12/19/2013 3:19 AM

Hi John, Bev, Etienne

The question is maybe not obvious to all. I mean, I do a lot around and in the field which I label loosely "KM4Dev". Spontaneously landscapes of practices woud refer to me to both the various types on KM4Dev I'm involved in and the various channels, tools and methods. And indeed in each of most contexts the collaborative KM4Dev work involves more than just one landscape (but would I call it that? I never have) used by all or only some of those involved in the context.

So... tell me if I'm right... to project this on the large group of people and their activities in KM4Dev the landscapes would refer to both the various constellations in which all these people (inter)act and the various activities and channels they undertake and use: Journal, dGroup, Ning (groups), LinkedIn, Facebook, Wiki, Face to face and more...

To me KM4Dev's prime purpose remains to - in a 'development' context - capacitate those involved in having Overview, Access and know-how how to make good use of relevant Knowledge (sources) and Information.

Knowledge should not be shared persé, it should be known, accessible and if required provided by a how-to make good use of it, those that search and need it.

More later, Peter

Peter J. Bury aka @profbury in Italy and on Google+ about me

Eibhlín Ní Chléirigh, Thu 12/19/2013 3:19 AM

Greetings everyone,

My name is Eibhlín Ní Chléirigh, and have just joined the group recently. I am based in Ghana and have been involved in KM and Communication for Development (Public and Private sectors) in West and East Africa for some time - especially looking at barriers to Knowledge Creation and Sharing. With regards to the question What does the terms 'landscape of Practices' evoke; my immediate thought was of Nonaka's idea of 'Ba' - a shared space for emerging relationships. The relationships - the human interaction - enable the sharing and creation of knowledge. The knowledge is created through individual experience and also discussion and reflection on the experiences of others. The 'Ba', like a physical landscape, is dynamic and changes through the dialectic of changing environments, individuals, technology etc.

In most places I have worked, I've not seen a functioning 'Ba' - the landscape of practices - the relationships (overly hierarchical, lacking respect for individuals, tension between local staff and expatriate staff, lack of transparency, lack of deference to expertise) prevented any really exchange of experiences. At best information was shared - but rarely were questions asked or opinions offered.

In the few cases where I have seen it at work, it has been in a collegiate environment - where individuals age or rank are unimportant and their skills and knowledge paramount. A level democratic landscape I suppose - a bit messy but fertile with questions, disagreements, solutions, developments, linkages, mistakes. So for myself, A landscape of practices describes the relationships in a given context and the quality of the human interaction.

Interesting discussion!

Eibhlín Ní Chléirigh

Paul Mundy, Thu 12/19/2013 3:20 AM


Forwarding the message below about practice briefs on innovation platforms by the International Livestock Research Institute. These briefs were produced through a writeshop in Nairobi in May.

Best wishes to all for the festive season

Paul Mundy development communication Skype: paulgwmundy

FYI: Innovation platform practice briefs Sat Dec 14, 2013 6:31 am (PST) . Posted by:

"Ann Waters-Bayer" annwatersbayer

Dear all,

Last May, just before the workshop on Agricultural Innovation Systems in Africa, ILRI/CPWF held a writeshop on innovation platforms. Some of the "practice briefs" that came out of that writeshop can now be found on the CGIAR website:

Innovation Platform practice briefs Innovation platforms are widely used in agricultural research to connect different stakeholders to achieve common goals. These ‘practice briefs’ are intended to help guide agricultural research practitioners who seek to support and implement innovation platforms. A contribution to the CGIAR Humidtropics research program, the development of the briefs was led by the International Livestock Research Institute; they draw on experiences of the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, several CGIAR centres and partner organizations.

One example is attached: "Developing innovation capacity through innovation platforms"

Cheers, Ann

International Farmer Innovation Day 29 November !!

Dr Ann Waters-Bayer ETC Foundation PO Box 64, 3830 AB Leusden, Netherlands T +31 33 432 6000 F +31 33 494 0791 E W S ann-waters

Paul Mundy, Thu 12/19/2013 3:20 AM

Facilitation depends on the situation: different skills are needed to manage a meeting, teach a course, run a programme, etc.

This book focuses on the role of the facilitator in innovation platforms: Suzanne Nederlof and Rhiannon Pyburn, eds. 2012. One finger cannot lift a rock: Facilitating innovation platforms to trigger institutional change in West Africa. Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam.

See for more, or download from

Best wishes Paul

Paul Mundy development communication Skype: paulgwmundy

Valerie Brown, Thu 12/19/2013 3:20 AM

Re facilitation - I have given the word up - has come to mean just keeping the show on the road, not real change. Advocate, mentor, coordinator, activist - whatever suits the occasion seems to suit the more serious role of midwifing, brokering, introducing transformational change.


Nancy White, Thu 12/19/2013 7:55 AM

I'm not sure this is related, but I was just reading an interesting article on disintermediation of development

Looking a bit more broadly than KM4Dev and looking at the 'development sector' more widely, it seems the landscape could be significantly disrupted if we look beyond the traditional funding and control mechanisms of development (i.e. World Bank, UN, "donor" nations' aid agencies and other large donors, and mechanisms, etc.). The landscape would change a lot of countries "traded" for the expertise they wanted. I wonder how this would impact learning? I think the ideas the author put forth in the article fly past some practicalities that would require us to drastically rethink how the "business" of development operates, but I sense it would really change the learning landscape and introduce an interesting network of actors who match, broker (all the words Valerie used...)

To pull this idea back to the level of KM4Dev though is more difficult for me. I am still struggling to understand the framing of landscapes of practice in our own context. Are we talking about our landscapes from a community perspective? Or a from the knowledge management for development field? (Which I think I'd contest in some ways. But I'll save that for later.) Are we talking about development? I need a little grounding. So from throwing a big theoretical idea at the start of this post, I return to the ground. The soil. What is the soil of this conversation?

Waving from the short days of Seattle


Jaap Pels, Thu 12/19/2013 7:55 AM

Wise soul :-)

Jaap Pels, Thu 12/19/2013 7:55 AM

Ola All, It is a nice #metaphor, a #landscape. I remember being used a garden and gardener as #facilitator as metaphor. Also there is the habitat allegory use in 'Digital Habitats'. I remember 'landscaping of KM tools' by Binney and 'Landscaping WASH (techniques / policies / practice)' by IRC. And I am sure we will discover #patterns, #narratives and networks of gardens, habitats in the practice landscape. However, I go with Peter; development comes first and than KM4. So, practice might be the #KM4Dev community but the landscape is about #development. Cheers, Jaap

Jaap Pels, Thu 12/19/2013 7:55 AM

On #facilitation

The French use '#animateur / #animatrice' and I like it. Its physical and using brains - from #learning by hart to improvising!

IT develops in the physical* - we just believe its digital :-) - and thus blends with the world of the physical animateur / animatrice. Also, when talking 'traveling #practice landscapes' - I think that real #development happens in the physical.

As for brains we are in a crisis regarding 'building' the world based on logic and science linearity and rigid #global (/international) #admin institutions. Development builds on #communication.

We still operate national and national development institutions are also under pressure shaped as #budgets and #transparency; #philanthropy as the revenge of #consumerism.

  • The most precious data is on geo-location or devices (like humans / phones) changing or frequenting geo locations generating NSA patterns

Ian Thorpe, Thu 12/19/2013 9:46 AM

Hi Nancy

I think the linked blog asks some useful questions about the future of aid and development – but I doubt that the role of development intermediary will go away, rather it is likely to be transformed into one where acting as matchmaker, broker or relationship advisor will become a more dominant role for the big aid/development players. In this model instead of big agencies deciding what knowledge and expertise developing countries need and who gets to provide it they will instead be helping facilitate more “demand-based” support and playing less of an “expert” or “decider” role. Even then the big players will continue to have an important role to play in funding knowledge exchange for some time since even with increasing incomes in developing countries, many development projects which need access to external expertise will also need access to external finance to enable the expertise exchange to take place.

The challenge for existing development organizations is whether they can adapt rapidly enough to fulfil this new role or whether they risk to become irrelevant. This new role will rely a lot on organizations (and individuals) developing skills in knowledge exchange, brokering, facilitation, partnership building etc. in a flatter way but I think KM4Dev activities will go from strength to strength, even as they evolve.



Florencia Guerzovich, Thu 12/19/2013 9:46 AM

Dear Nancy

The role and power of funders is a key point, agreed. At the same time, I'd be more nuanced, not all donors (or departments/staff within them) have/use/would use the same types of tools. mechanisms in supporting KM, donor-grantee relationships vary a great deal in a landscape. I'd dissagregate them carefully for any dev effort.


Florencia Guerzovich @guerzovich

Florencia Guerzovich, Thu 12/19/2013 9:46 AM

Hi John,

It's a great question and I agree that the characteristics are quite rare - which is why I suspect Bev and Etienne say they hope the book will help system convener feel that they are not lone crusaders.

I am thinking as I write in haste, so apologies if not fully clear.

My less than systematic sense, is that a SC goes through a long-term personal deeply embedded collective trajectory. The trajectory can be aided/mentored/supported along the way through specific needs-based skill training. I don't think it can be fully engineered through training because it relies on competences and connections. Factors that undermine that connectivity or the deployment of the competences seem more problematic to accomplish the transformation that the lack of one skill or another, among the many different skills a SC needs along the way.

In my case, I see the trajectory as part of a multi-generational mentoring process that mixes different insights from a range of practices and disciplinary academic work. These groups are key source of insights, legitimation, support (and checks on wacky, or say untimely ideas).

For instance,

  • inter-disciplinary academic training can help with abstraction, system and comparative thinking. It also help to remain curious, ask relevant questions, and having a really thick skin to take tough, persistent critics as constructive (even if they don't sound constructive) and answer the questions. That is elementary, high-school, college, masters and a PhD (with a peculiar kind of dissertation). Many more years than anyone would care to count.
  • Practice can teach a SC by doing, e.g:
  1. tips about daily navigation of the landscape (the nitty gritty political dimensions I highlighted in my previous email) or the power of knowledge to change practice in the real world.
  2. My mentor used to say that many times the job is to enable successful failures. I'd try to learn with and through others (smarter than I) about the relevance of managing success, failure, and risks proactively - this matters because you need to put yourself and be perceived as putting yourself in many others' places. Your colleagues can be risk averse.
  3. Also, backlashes can be quite problematic. From experience, in my landscape, I'd say you get opportunities like this every 5-10 years. When a window is not used/closes down, it can be over for a long time. Practice and the competence to listen many voices, and synthesize them to read what's on the air in your landscape can help come to open the window, coming to terms with letting it go, or trying to find a new position for the action before all is lost.Again, do you have the competences and are allowed by your context to exercise them?
  • People in the middle of both practices can help showing different ways to weave different practices and to be the insider outside. Both trajectories and how you choose to bridge them could help or hinder legitimacy vis-a-vis different, but key stakeholders in ones' practice(s).

And the academic/practitioner divide is one of the many ways in which you have to cut my landscape to understand it (and I did not even throw in the funders' roles).

An interesting point to make is that the example of systems conveners that come to my mind are not and would never label themselves as KMs, I am not sure they have ever read about knowledge accumulation or other theoretical KM issues we care about. I can think of public intellectuals, development practitioners, and professors unafraid to really do what it takes to shape the practice in their disciplines. All of them used knowledge production / consumption for long-term landscape transformation - a means among many others towards a bigger picture vision/change. I see them mentoring other systems conveners to continue their big job, hiring facilitators, spoke persons, experts in a sub-field, and delegating a discussion about tech features of Dgroups, yammer and Ning to others in the team (unless it has real strategic implications for the bigger picture project). Again, you need to learn to spot others' talents, understand the diversity of skills that could help out, get the resources to lure them to help and trust them - else the job is really impossible :-) I suspect Training in executive leadership / management, that could help strengthen a person's toolkit, I doubt it can transform a person into something she is not (e.g. changing what McKinsey calls a taker manager into the giver manager, or the leader you need to pull this off).

Anyway, not sure I answered the question, hope it provides additional food for thought.

Best Florencia

Florencia Guerzovich @guerzovich

unafraid to look at complex systems and bridge across practices, question the status quo (of which you are an active member), and build transitions managing risks very actively.

Could you design a training module for some of the features this mindset requires? Abstract thinking, curiosity and courage to think out-of-the box and big but be overly cautions about what could backfire on you, frustration with the status quo without losing hope that we can do better, asking right and tough questions (even to yourself), translating across practices so that a range of people truly believe that you understand what they are going through, sometimes extrapolating across practice when no one quite understands what you are doing ...

Re: trajectories. One thing I'd point to is that some of the people that I've found good mentors/training for these qualities are not necessarily systems conveners or if they are they may not consider their main job to reshape KM in their landscapes. Some of them are public intellectuals, others are people with a foot in practice and a foot in academia. Many would feel lost with the technical talks around platforms.

Jaap Pels, Thu 12/19/2013 9:46 AM

Hello Nancy,

Exactly as I reacted, first comes development (the landscape) and then the KM4 practice :-)

Also, the development sector pumps around a lot of money - also direct transfers - and thus attracts 'non development focussed' people who like to admin money and admin flows and take a cut :-( Overhead (sic!) is sometimes 90%; only a dime on the dollar really reaches out to the ground. Development seems like warfare where the bulk of the cost is for protection and logistics.... I nowadays calculate with a 40 to 60% overhead!

Cheers, Jaap

Tina Hetzels, Thu 12/19/2013 11:39 AM

Hola everybody,

I perceive in international development cooperation a phenomenon: organizations (politics universities etc.) are inventing concepts which always in theory have a very good essence. But the essence (in my observings) never arrive ground and change common practice.

May be people adopt words, but structures and reality do not change. In stead of trying that the great concepts arrive ground, organizations (politics etc) are inventing new concepts.

Would be interesting to invent a word for the phenomenon. Two different worlds moving in different speeds and they dont meet and each one is generating its own reality, its own landscape.

May be the reason is that applying concepts would imply real change - its much more easy inventing greater, newer concepts and seeing development as a separate sector instead of looking at economic sector (moving the world) with development glasses.

Examples of the phenomenon are the words "impacts", the paris declaration, environmental topics...

When I read the question about comunities of practice I felt the same. I would love to see communities of practice functioning in development on ground. I dont know any. So I cant skip to another concept. What I see as common practice is so much competition between institutions, projects, people...

These are my thoughts about it.


John David Smith, Thu 12/19/2013 11:40 AM

Hi Jaap,

Your reference to warfare made me get out my copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War ( I’ve often thought that there are useful analogies between a learning campaign and warfare. I think Sun Tzu uses the landscape metaphor and then proceeds to catalog landscape types in Chapter 9 – Moving the Army:

  • Crossing the mountains
  • Crossing the water
  • Crossing salt marshes
  • Crossing plains

In looking up this list, I ran across advice on how to keep the feudal lords busy (although nothing specific about how to starve them of their overhead habit) and this little tidbit:

And so it is said:
 Know the other and know oneself
 Then victory is not in danger
 Know earth and know heaven.
 Then victory can be complete

John ____________________

Philipp Gruenwald, Thu 12/19/2013 12:17 PM

Hello all,

A very interesting conversation. A conversation that is overdue in my eyes.

I would like to remind you off the discussion that Lata started on this a few weeks back (keyword “are we listening?”). How do the issues raised in that discussion fit in here!?!?!

K4D (sector level/macro) and KM4Dev (organisational level/meso) struggle with the same issues as so many other transfer focussed activities that made the aid and development sector what it is today. I feel that we have to talk about the HOW (rather than the what). In that sense, I do not mind the term ‘facilitation’ because every term that is different from our mainstream “management” approach is a welcome addition to thinking differently about the HOW. (I do NOT think that this is what is usually understood as management: “If by “manage” we mean to care for, grow, steward, make more useful, then the term knowledge management is rather apt.”)

Some ideas on HOW to help in a different way exist for a good while. Even though we talk about participation for decades now the original proponents all state that this is mere rhetoric and that the underlying principles are far from applied in organisations (and even less so at a sector level). Listening, responsiveness, and such like seem crucial to this debate and valuable contributions have been made (

The issue is: how do you plan and manage listening and responding? How do you professionalise listening and responding?

Currently, I do not believe that that is possible. There will never be a SECTOR (as such) that genuinely listens and responds. To have a sector you have to have many organisations with overheads. Overheads need paying (fixed costs) even when you are not being asked for help. Which Western funder would be up for that? Which Western society would think that this is a great idea (if you could GIVE stuff and knowledge instead)? So, who is going to pay Western salaries for (listening and responding) services that most people in developing societies would rather source locally (supporting local development, lower carbon emissions, less dependencies, language barriers, community, etc.)?

How would (societal) development look without globalisation? How would development look in the absence of the nation state (and the inherent politics)? How do we implement glocalisation? How can we become truly responsive to need (rather than upward accountability)? How can development become an issue of “learning not earning” (Ackoff)?

How can our community contribute, in a meaningful way, to change? How would KM4Dev (community) look when understood as a social movement (rather than a community and/or institution)?

As I said, this is an important and interesting discussion. It is great to see so many people involved in discussions of such fundamental questions?!

Best wishes, Philipp

Ernesto Sirolli, Thu 12/19/2013 1:15 PM

Dear all

Thank you for copying me in this conversation. Philipp asks a great question : "how do you plan and manage listening and responding? How do you professionalise listening and responding?".

I believe that the answer is simply to train people to listen AND THEN go and find the appropriate K4D to satisfy the specific request. The model that I propose is like the university extension model developed in the USA by the Land Grant Universities.

In their model the Know How (KH) is within the university and they use an Agent (A) to extend the KH to the clients (C )


KH  →  A  →  C

My model has the same three elements but the direction of the arrows is different

KH  ←  A   ← C

The Agent in my model is the Facilitator who lives in the community, is a local, understands the language and culture and is trained to be a generalist in a particular field ( health,education,entrepreneurship, housing, energy etc.). The Facilitators listen to local needs and go to the sources of KH to find the most appropriate (available, free, commercial , per profit, non per profit, philanthropic etc) resources for their clients.

The training of the Facilitators is very simple and the costs very low since they are paid in local currencies. The results are infinite better that those of University Extension Agents who notoriously complain about having "all this knowledge and nobody' comes to get it!"

The only reason my model is difficult to implement is because of cultural bias. Some of us still struggle with the concept that the client is capable of understanding what she wants. The Director of the Clinton Giustra Foundation told me that the Peruvian community leaders were too uneducated to decide what to do with their mining royalties….so he was going to decide what to do with their $500 million dollars instead.

Love to answer questions.

Ernesto Sirolli

John David Smith, Thu 12/19/2013 1:42 PM

Just think, if this is good, imagine what the webinar on Friday December 20, 2014 at 1600 UTC with Etienne and Bev on Adobe Connect will be like! This is the first in a series of contributions to “Augmenting KM4Dev Strategy Options” that are funded by the IFAD grant.

Social learning theory has evolved over the years - from the early studies of apprenticeship, that was the foundation for communities of practice - to recent work on convening complex learning spaces across a landscape of practice. Etienne and Bev Wenger-Trayner review this evolution with stories from their current work.

There will be a bit of optional pre-reading posted here: . The session will be recorded so that if you have to miss it that page will have a link to a recording.

I hope you’ll put the webinar on your calendar now! We will hold the Adobe Connect equivalent of a fishbowl conversation, where 5 or 6 are on video/audio and the rest of us observe and participate via the chat. If you want to jump into the fishbowl, you “raise your hand” and the facilitator will move you into the fishbowl. If you think you might be interested in being “in the fishbowl” please plan on showing up 10 minutes before the session starts as we will start on time and there will be no trouble-shooting support during the call. Finally, if you would like to be in the fishbowl from the beginning, please RSVP to me at john (dot) smith (at) .

I’m trying to keep up with this burst of conversation, and accumulating it over in a summary page on the Wiki. At the highest level our conversation looks like this:

  • Starting with the question of facilitation, what it means, what the alternative labels are
  • Talking specifically about a “systems convener” and what that might be, how develop
  • Now the conversation is branching into the landscapes in which we work, so we are talking about development intermediaries and their resistance to change, about development on the ground, about the role of universities and other outsiders, about directed listening and … to be continued

John ____________________

Pete Cranston, Thu 12/19/2013 3:10 PM


Fabulous exchange again, great question: John, your war connection takes me straight to "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable", variously attributed.

Which links to what is both a nice and uneasy slipperiness about the metaphor in 'landscapes of practice', in relation to KM4Dev: landscapes are part of a territory and isn't much of the difficulty in the territory of 'Development' that the features of the landscapes are constantly changing, illustrated well, and dizzyingly, in the film, "Inception", as well as in the kind of questioning Nancy's opened up.

So, as in war, is the task to think about and plan for a set of scenarios, trying to evolve practice adaptable to different possible landscapes?

And while I like a lot Ian and others' characterisations of evolving roles for those working within Development, however you define it, where do we find the edge, the leverage point that enables us to be more than passive observers of changing landscapes, to which we can only respond and within which power relationships remain unchanged? Can 'landscapes of practice' contain advocacy and campaigning practice, for example, which posits alternative future landscapes and seeks to make them real? And is KM4Dev a place to gather around practice that challenges power inequalities within Development and enables or supports transformation?

And isn't that facilitation?



PS Charles, and others thinking about roles, you're marked now for a contribution to the KM4 Dev Journal edition on Facilitation!

Etienne Wenger-Trayner, Thu 12/19/2013 9:19 PM

Yes, Peter, we use the term landscape to talk about communities/networks, the activities they are involved in, and the channels they use. We emphasize the existence of various related practices and the boundaries between them. So indeed, knowledge cannot be shared “per se” but in the context of learning spaces where it makes sense with regards to the practices involved.


Jaap Pels, Thu 12/19/2013 9:48 PM

Hi Pete, Quote" And is KM4Dev a place to gather around practice that challenges power inequalities within Development and enables or supports transformation?" I think so because KM (Or KS) is about language, access and power. Best Jaap

Florencia Guerzovich, Thu 12/19/2013 9:48 PM

Hi Pete

"Can 'landscapes of practice' contain advocacy and campaigning practice, for example, which posits alternative future landscapes and seeks to make them real? "

yes, but I think a distinction is useful - what is the new you are trying to change in the landscape, what is the ambition that weaves us togethe? Take the same group of advocates and you can pose them two very different value proposition that are transformative:

ARe you creating joint practice to change how we think, do, support, and evaluate our advocacy because we can get better at what we do? Your phrase seems to suggest that the aim is to change the behavior of others that shape our landscape?

The challenges are quite distinct. Self-reflection about what we learn and do to bring about individually and collectively is a different ask. It requires a degree of ripeness, ownership of collective problems, and incentives that I've found to be tougher to nurture than when we are trying to work together and build common knowledge to point to (change) the behavior of others outside the practice. I'd be careful to conflate both.


Florencia Guerzovich @guerzovich

Jaap Pels, Thu 12/19/2013 9:48 PM

Hi Martina, Have a look at Best, Jaap

Etienne Wenger-Trayner, Thu 12/19/2013 9:48 PM

HI Flo.

So true about the work being painful and risky. Systems convening is a little like falling in love: if you are going to do it, you have to be ready to be hurt because you invest yourself in something you do not have full control over. And the politics of the process make is almost certain that there will be wrinkles and resistance and conflicts to rock your personal investment.


Beverly Wenger-Trayner, Thu 12/19/2013 9:48 PM

The reference to facilitators in a landscape of practice is an interesting one.

Sometimes I’m asked to come and facilitate an event. Often, because of my track record, it’s to facilitate an event where people are trying to cultivate a community of practice.

One of these such events was to facilitate a meeting of Public Accounts Committees (PACs) from Eastern and Southern Africa - it was a community of practice made up of two different networks of Members of Parliament who work on Public Accounts Committees (concerned with the use - or misuse - of public finance management). I think I did a pretty good job of facilitating the event. Indeed, I was asked back to facilitate more meetings.

For me, however, things got interesting when we moved from thinking about a community of practice of PACs to thinking about the landscape in which those PACs were operating. In the PAC landscape are the Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) who provide the audit reports on government spending - it provides the information that PACs should be investigating. After it’s been investigated the Media can help make noise about the findings of the PACs. Likewise with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) who can use the information to rouse members of the public. Not to be forgotten in that landscape are the PAC Clerks - the people who provide legal and other support to PAC members and represent the institutional memory of PAC activity as MPs come and go.

Once we started looking at the landscape then my role went from facilitator to support for someone who we call the “systems convener”. He was someone looking at the whole landscape and possible interventions in that landscape. His aim was not simply how to cultivate one community of practice within that landscape (even though that was seen as a particularly important intervention). What kinds of interventions could lead to a different kind of conversation between the SAIs and the PACs? (SAIs tend to write lengthy reports with very technical language that MPs don’t have time to read). What kind of intervention would help Clerks gain enough confidence to develop their support to MPs which didn’t entail chasing after their lost property? (PAC members can confuse the Clerk as a personal assistant rather than a technical one).

The systems convener is looking at different locations in the landscape where an intervention could increase the learning capability of the whole system.

So you see, while the facilitator might be thinking and doing a good job of facilitating (listening and responding to) any one thing in the landscape, the systems convener (in our language) has a wide-angle lens as they think of ways to reconfigure or reshape that landscape to generate new types of learning partnerships that will make gains for the whole landscape. His or her job is to both listen and respond to practice AND also to change existing practice.

There are some people who seem to do this instinctively. Wherever they are sitting they see a bigger picture. And they can hardly stop themselves from connecting different people from across the landscape in their effort to generate different kinds of conversations. Even when it’s difficult.

In our session tomorrow we want to share some language about landscapes of practice and this systems convening role. It seems to be increasingly important and we’d love to hear stories of people’s experience with it.

Speak soon - here or in Adobe.


Nancy White, Fri 12/20/2013 8:04 AM

Hm, the role sounds similar (but from a different motivation) as a network weaver or maven.

Nancy White, Fri 12/20/2013 8:05 AM

Hi All

Here is the direct URL if you want to jump in and join us. (I hope this gets admined quickly!)

Jaap Pels, Fri 12/20/2013 9:13 AM

Hi All,

Happy to read Bev chipping in that 'language' has to be shared. #KM is about language (Bev), power (Pete) and access (IT issues)

Cheers, Jaap

Etienne Wenger-Trayner, Fri 12/20/2013 9:48 AM


We would actually completely agree with Pete that issues of knowledge are about power as well as language (which is also related to power) in that in a landscape, the ability to define what counts as competence in a practice and what counts as knowledge in the broader landscape is very much about power.


John David Smith, Fri 12/20/2013 10:34 AM

Hi everybody,

We just had a really interesting discussion in the Webinar about Landscapes of Practice and Systems Convening on Adobe Connect. The session recording is available at least through March 2014 for those who missed the event or had tech difficulties. (If someone could pull the audio portion of the Adobe flash recording and post it to the wiki, it might make a nice artifact… hint. hint.)

Bev and Etienne will post their slides on their project page and the chat transcript (cleaned up a bit) is already posted on the “Talk page”

John ____________________

Please take a look at the KM4dev Knowledge Base wiki, where

Camilo Villa, Fri 12/20/2013 2:30 PM

Hello my friends,

I love metaphors and I cannot avoid sharing with you how I see my facilitation work.

I'm not a particular good fan of football games but I do enjoy watching from time to time some nice matches. In the Colombian team, some years ago there was a player called Pibe Valderrama. He was number 10, which means he played in the middle field. He was an artist with the ball, somehow he had magic in his way of playing. Watching him was an spectacle.

Being in the middle field means that we use to be in the center of the field, ready to send the balloon the perfect spot where a team mate would make a goal and also to be ready to stop an attack right from the beginning of the move. He rarely made goals but he was behind many of them.

When facilitating I consider learning as the goal and I don't make them... it's up to the other players to make learning happen. And I stop those moves that would send the conversations out of the field.

So, I consider myself the number 10 in the conversation field and creativity and beauty should always be part of the choreography, with humour and, of course, listening to my intuition.

If you want to enjoy with Pibe's touch take a look at this video:




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Etienne Wenger-Trayner, Fri 12/20/2013 2:30 PM


I am not sure how flexibly Nonaka would be willing to use the concept of ba, but I agree with you that it is unlikely that a landscape of practice acts as a ba, given all the hierarchies, institutionalization, boundaries, and tensions that are likely to be part of a landscape. Perhaps it may be more realistic to think of creating a ba locally, within a landscape of practice, as a space where people can think deeply together.

But it is an interesting question, whether a full landscape of practice can act as a ba. This would be a very high aspiration, I believe.


Beverly Wenger-Trayner, Fri 12/20/2013 2:30 PM

Hi Nancy

I’m not sure if the systems conveners I know would identify with either of those.

A systems convener has legitimacy in the field and uses that legitimacy to configure new types of learning spaces. S/he is not an expert who wants to pass on their knowledge (a maven). S/he is someone who is able to spot where different expertise lies in the landscape and thinks of ways to engage people in new types of conversations across the boundaries (including silos) of their different types of expertise. All this in the service of moving forward the field.

I’m sure some systems conveners are also network weavers, but not necessarily vice versa. S/he spots the different practices across the landscape (whether or not they manifest themselves as networks) and thinks strategically about what kinds of convening interventions would leverage the learning potential of the whole system.


Camilo Villa, Fri 12/20/2013 3:03 PM

Hello again,

Some years ago I was engaged in a research aiming to understand how learning and local culture are connected.

I used the CoP approach and combined it with the sociological approach from Pierre Bourdieu and his notion of field that was directly articulated with the notion of practices.

So yes, to me CoPs are landscapes of practices that are embedded in larger cultural frameworks. Some practices belong to the community itself while others belong to the context.

I believe that practices are the key to understand and describe culture, they are the visible entry points to grasp what lies below. And, at the same time the golden treasure or the barrier to enhance or to change.

For instance, I really like from this community (KM4Dev) the practice of summarising conversations by the one who raised the question as a way to feed our wiki. That's a treasure :)

Thanks for bringing this topic to the scene. Hug,



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Beverly Wenger-Trayner, Fri 12/20/2013 3:18 PM

Hi Peter

Do people here think of Knowledge Management for Development as a field?

If it was, you might start to map it by thinking of the key stakeholders, their enterprises, the types of connections between them, and the significant boundaries. (I’m sure that Eva’s Net-Map tool could be adapted for that).

You might then think - what kind of intervention can I make in this landscape to develop the learning capability of KM4Dev (as a field)? Where could I strategically open a new learning space (or leverage an existing one) that would bring together a new configuration of people into a learning partnership - in the service of developing that learning capability? That learning space might look like a conversation, a meeting, a joint activity, a community of practice, a network. The systems convener does not see the learning space as an end in itself but, rather, as something that could trigger a new configuration of players in the landscape.

The channels of communication of those different enterprises in the landscape may be helpful in thinking through how and where to create a new learning space, but I would be cautious about letting the tools frame the stakeholders and their enterprise.

In a landscape view of knowledge the knowledge resides in the landscape, spread across the people, their lived in experience, and the artifacts they create. As Etienne said, what counts as knowledge is an issue of the power of certain practices - to have their competence or output recognized as knowledge.

And knowledgeability is another conversation to have!


Jaap Pels, Fri 12/20/2013 4:21 PM

Hi All, Bev just gave the third useful dimension to think about the practice landscape being 'access'; next to language and power. Cheers, Jaap

Jaap Pels, Fri 12/20/2013 4:21 PM

Hi All, So not Ba but a 'knowlegde gravity field' with attractors and black holes. Cheers, Jaap Please take a look

Etienne Wenger-Trayner, Fri 12/20/2013 10:16 PM


Your analysis of culture in terms of practices seems right on the mark.

Yes, communities of practice definitely exist within a broader context, but it is also the case that collectively they produce that context. The only danger in seeing them as embedded in a cultural context is to appear to give this context a kind of independent existence.


Camilo Villa, Sat 12/21/2013 7:56 AM

Indeed, Etienne, but that would depend on the scope of the community. I mean, a worldwide one as KM4Dev is less related to a local culture and its practices belong more to a working field.

Instead a community with local producers would be largely influenced, determined by the context.

I would say that the more global it operates the less embedded in a particular culture and more shaped by its own practices.

And it is even more complex as we belong to different communities and therefore we wear a different shirt within each of them. So it is even more difficult to draw borders and define who is defining who...

And yes, context has not an independent nature, it's a more dialectic phenomena. Some practices might belong to the context while others are a creation of the community and they influence and blend in a particular way for each case.

The notion of landscape, that I like very much, brings the conversation to a more "ecological" approach. And when we look at nature what we see is a highly complex system with many connections and interdependences. You can track some relations, some flows of energy, some concentrations of ... or the lack of... But, overall, it is a living been, growing, dying, changing, moving, creating seeds, well: LIFE!

Have a happy day,



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