KM4Dev Futures: Ideas for improving Core Group succession management

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Ideas for improving Core Group succession management in KM4Dev

This piece is a result of a review and brainstorming exercise by Jasmin Suministrado1 and Benedict Rimando2

1 Core group member since 2011, and Knowledge Manager at the International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland

2 Community member since 2013, resource person in the focused conversation on “Transboundary Learning and Innovation”, and consultant on peacebuilding and knowledge management

A community-wide Important Discussion for all Members on Leadership based on this document was held in February, 2014:

I. Why this topic?

The core group plays an important role in the leadership of the KM4Dev community and ensures its effective functioning. However, the processes and systems for encouraging community members to be a member of the core group, and for initiating new recruits into core group life, are quite random and not as institutionalized. On the one hand, this can affect the enthusiasm and performance of new core group members, who may feel a certain lack of direction and guidance. On the other hand, it can impact on the effectiveness of the core group, as its success in fulfilling its mandate relies on whether and to what extent its members can deliver individually and as a group.

II. What do we aim to achieve?

This piece seeks to examine the core group succession issues of the KM4Dev and explore options for improvement. Through a review of existing documents and resources, conversations with other core group members, and a series of brainstorming sessions, we aim to answer the following key questions:

  1. What resources have already been developed in KM4Dev to frame core group succession and Initiation?
  2. What activities or interventions can systematically be done to ensure the community understands the role of the core group and to entice interest from community members to join?
  3. What system and methods can be put in place to welcome new core group members so they clearly know their roles, they have an increased sense of belongingness to the core group, and they feel motivated to perform?
  4. What existing resources, documents or archives need to be shared to new core group members? What resources or aids still need to be created?

III. How do we examine the issue of core group succession: Proposed framework

We reviewed some literature on succession planning and management, both those coming from the private sector and related leadership topics in communities and networks (such as the notion of distributed leadership), to get a better sense of how to approach the topic. Putting together what we found relevant to the KM4Dev community, we arrive at a succession framework as presented in Figure 1.

The framework illustrates how succession starts with building awareness about the Core Group among community members, which is a pre-requisite to a matching of needs and opportunities, which is needed before an individual becomes a CG member, after which the new recruit is initiated into CG life, executes his/her functions, and eventually and at an opportune moment withdraws and/or renews his/her involvement with the core group and the community. Recognizing these stages and how it contributes to a well-functioning and vibrant community is important. Also, each stage is a learning opportunity so feedback and evaluation is a key element all throughout.

The framework presents two perspectives in succession management – the perspective of the individual, a community member who is a potential core group member; and the perspective of the core group. For us, it is useful to expose these two perspectives because in reality, both have roles to play and while there may be differences in their views, it is in the convergence of their objectives that succession management is most successful.

Figure 1 on succession management.png

IV. How is succession management done now and what are the issues arising from it?

Figure 2 presents an overview of the current set-up and processes, the available resources, and an initial assessment of issues per stage. Overall, we observe that succession management is not a deliberate and pro-active function that the core group does, except from invitations extended publicly primarily during face to face events. In many cases, becoming a member of the core group is a decision done by the individual after probing with some core group members and going through a certain level of internal matching of his/her needs and what a core group membership can provide.

Figure 2 on succession management.png

We found some resources in the wiki that can inform the community about the core group and opportunities for leadership, though these will be found only by those who actively seek it (“pull” rather than a pro-active “push” from the core group). These include:

o Dgroups login page
o Notes of core group meetings last updated 26 May 2013
o Terms of reference of a Core Group member finalized 11 October 2011
o Links to individual pages of the Core Group members

Mainly because having more volunteers is always better (as some volunteers can become inactive when they get busy with their full time jobs), there are no criteria for accepting or rejecting core group applicants. Perhaps because of the way the “recruitment process” is currently structured, the need for this is almost non-existent, as the demand to join the core group has not been so high. It can become an issue when there are huge numbers of aspiring members, especially if the core group revisits the optimal structure and composition of the group. Some of the questions that can trigger a need to come up with some kind of selection criteria for the CG are:

  • Is there an optimal number of people in the core group?
  • Is there a mix of skills, experiences, backgrounds, expertise that should comprise the group?
  • Are there other functions that the core group should be doing that it is not yet doing now?
  • Are there functions that the core group is currently performing that it should not be performing (e.g., should some coordination work be done by another entity or an individual)?

In the ideal scenario, admitting members to be part of the core group is based on an assessment of gaps, and the ability of a candidate to fill a gap is one criterion to be accepted. Having an assessment system requires though that there are parameters against which to assess, and this brings us back to the questions listed above.

Once a member joins the core group, he/she gets added to the dgroups and start receiving emails sent to the core group, as well as reminders to fill in a doodle poll to indicate availability and preferences for mailing list moderation. There is no orientation pack as such, and the most comprehensive written resource to guide the new core group member is the Terms of Reference with links to other useful resources (mainly on how to moderate the mailing list). Perhaps the most valuable resource available to the new core group is the core group itself, who can easily be reached for guidance and assistance via email. This can be considered a strong feature of the community though there are instances when email communication may not be the most optimal method to bring newcomers up to speed with core group work. For instance, the complex technology set-up of the community (given that it operates in different systems) can be thoroughly confusing, and may be more effectively learned by a new comer via walk-throughs or a more detailed IT systems guide.

The integration of new core group members into the existing group is an important stage in the succession management process. This does not just refer to acquiring the skills and the knowledge to effectively perform core group tasks well, but also to interpersonal relationships that need to be nourished and deepened. In a few core group meetings, it has been acknowledged that strong ties and trust were key factors contributing to good working relationships and a better sense of togetherness, cohesion, and belongingness in the core group. This facilitates better coordination, easier communication, and faster resolution of looming issues, among others.

There may be other methods to tighten the core group, but meeting face to face is clearly at the top of the list. However, opportunities for face to face gathering is often tied to bigger (and funded) knowledge sharing events that may not be regularly organized. If the core group indeed sees value of having regular face to face activities, then the question of how when (how frequent), where, and how (considering funding constraints) need to be discussed further.

Leaving the core group is a normal stage in the process. In the current set-up, this stage simply involves sending a notification email to the core group. When this will happen cannot be anticipated, as there is no fixed term (duration) of a core group membership. Whether there should be a fixed duration for serving in the core group, with perhaps the possibility of renewal, is a question that can also be examined. Will having a decision point to withdraw or renew allow for better reflection from core group members on the benefits and areas of improvement of being in the core group? And in the process of identifying and later on acting on improvements, will this increase core group effectiveness and prevent core group members from resigning pre-maturely, as potential triggers related to core group work are spotted and resolved early on? Regardless of the question of “term”, the withdrawal stage is one that lends itself nicely to gathering feedback and evaluation. Areas of improvement for both the community and the work of the core group can be gathered during a debrief session with withdrawing members.

V. How can we improve succession management at KM4Dev?

The following mindmaps offer some ideas on how we can improve succession management at the core group, with each mindmap focusing on one stage in the proposed framework, as presented in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3 on succession management.png

Some of these ideas are more feasible and applicable than others; some have already been identified in the current discourse while some are new; some may be conflicting and may not go well with another, though many can be combined if we want to achieve the best results.

Together, the ideas can serve as starting point for further brainstorming and discussions with the community and the core group.

Mindmap 1. Ideas for awareness building

Mindmap 1 on sucession management.jpg

Mindmap 2. Ideas for matching needs and opportunities

Mindmap 2 on sucession management.jpg

Mindmap 3. Ideas for recruitment and application

Mindmap 3 on sucession management.jpg

Mindmap 4. Ideas for initiation

Mindmap 4 on sucession management.jpg

Mindmap 5. Ideas for integration and performance

Mindmap 5 on sucession management.jpg

Mindmap 6. Ideas for withdrawal and renewal

Mindmap 6 on sucession management.jpg

Annex 1. Outline version of the mind map of ideas for improvement

Awareness building (1)
Reinforce the visibility of the moderator role
Email about any recent CG meetings
Introduce CG moderator for the month
Provide a summary of topics covered in past month
Monthly newsletter featuring CG activity
CG upcoming activities
Summary of past activities
Featured CG or community member
Regularly featuring the CG via email
Put a link to the CG page in wiki
Feature one CG every defined period
Introduce newcomers
Beginning of year visibility
Soliciting new activities from members
Gathering feedback
Sharing community plans for the year
Annual end of year look back with community facilitated by CG
Feature a summary of milestones
Inform about key discussions
Elicit key effects/results/impacts from community
Matching needs and opportunities (2)
Regular assessment of CG gaps
Need to define criteria for CG membership
Include gaps assessment as part of end of year CG activity
"Do you want to be CG" regular campaign
Regular campaign messages via email
"Leadership" month to actively search for new CG
Video/multimedia on why it's cool to be a CG
System for spotting potential CG member
Include as part of end of year CG activity
List possible candidates
Make an explicit task of the CG
Make use of assessment of CG gaps as basis
Aid/template for aspiring CG
Help individuals match own needs and CG opportunities
Facilitate making their desires and intentions more explicit
Recruitment and application (3)
Revisit process for application
CG to define coordinator for recruitment
List documents that applicants will provide
Expression of interest to be in CG
Areas of CG work he/she can take on
Updated personal information page in wiki
Define criteria for acceptance/rejection
Match candidate fit with CG gaps
Ensure right mix of CG expertise
Maintain Ideal number of CG
One-on-one discussions with potential candidates
Personal invitation to potential CG members
Conversation on what to expect
Have a call for application of new CG members
Basic information kit
What is the CG (CG page)
Who are the CG members
Initiation (4)
Formalizing engagement
Define duration of CG membership
Sign the ToR
Announce new member to community
Welcome kit for new-comers
Include existing resources
Shared facilitation guide
Summarization guide
Work plan for the year
Draft new resources
Technology/systems guide
Who's who in core group?
Buddy as standard practice
Identify available mentor
Debrief in 1 month
Define how buddy system operates
Welcome session with new-comers
Ensure maximum participation of all CG members
Possibility to include as part of regular call
Clarify assigned tasks/areas of responsibility
Present workplan
Technology orientation
Walk through on technology
Possibility to be done by buddy
Integration and performance (5)
Regular F2F
Thinking together
Need to address financial constraints
New CG to lead segment of CG work
Regular reflection
Self reflection
Happy with my contributions?
What can help me do better?
Does it continue to benefit me to be in CG?
As a core group
Happy with CG work?
What needs improvement?
How can we help each other?
What external help do we need?
Single person coordinating the work
Explore possibility of coordinator on an annual rotating basis
Study the possibility of paying someone
Initiate innovations
Make use of insights from regular reflection
Involve community when applicable
Withdrawal and renewal (6)
Debrief session with term-enders
What worked?
What can CG improve?
In working as a group
In the work it should do
Option to renew CG membership
Renew core group
Withdrawal triggers revisiting CG gaps assessment
Picking up improvement ideas from debrief sessions
Option to force resign members at end of the term and rejoin after x period
Chance to revitalize
Be an active observer as community member & give new insights upon rejoining CG