Understanding Leader-ful Activities Over-Time in KM4Dev

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Original Message

From: Melissa Bator, posted on 2017/03/08

Hi Everyone- Leadership or leader-ful activities within an online space, such as KM4Dev, can be a difficult thing to define. Leadership is often associated with hierarchy and traditional organizations, which we know KM4Dev is not. However, this does not mean that leadership and leaders cannot or do not exist in KM4Dev. What it may mean is that a traditional understanding of leadership is not sufficient in an environment that privileges member autonomy. Therefore, I would like to kick off this moderated discussion by asking the question,

What is leadership in a community like KM4Dev? What actions and/or behaviors are considered leader-ful?

In order to help you think about this question I, with the help of my research assistant, have pulled together the different community surveys (2008-2016) that have asked questions about participation and leadership. We have also compiled a list of the different subgroups that members have created and participated in from 2008-2016 on the wiki . I encourage you to take a look.

In addition, I want to provide everyone with the definitions/assumptions that guided my own thinking connected to the survey I sent out last summer, which asked a series of questions related to members’ participation within KM4Dev (e.g., members’ average amount of time/week spent on KM4Dev activities, how members spent that time).

I understand KM4Dev to be a self-organized virtual community (SVC) of professionals, which I define as a social network made up of professionals from different organizations who share a concern, set of problems, and/or passion about their work and voluntarily come together through the use of online tools (e.g., listserv, social network site, wiki) in order to deepen their expertise and knowledge through different forms of interaction (Bohm & Scherf, 2005; Brown & Duguid, 2000; Wenger, et al., 2002). I see SVCs, such as KM4Dev, as relying upon principles of peer production to create and maintain a vibrant knowledge base and membership.

Peer production is a form of collective action based on the notion that if you open up enough different ways for people to contribute, to the largest possible population of willing participants, then it is possible to produce something out of that concerted effort, through individual self-allocation of effort. In other words, when the population of possible participants is large and there are many ways for people to be involved (i.e., modularity of task), with varying levels of effort (i.e., granularity of task), in an asynchronous environment people with different motivations and skills will be able to match themselves up (i.e., self-select) to the task that they want to do when they want to do it.

I look forward to interacting with everyone about their own perceptions of leadership and leader-ful activities within KM4Dev. -Melissa


All replies in full are available in the discussion page. Contributions received with thanks from:

Jaap Pels
Charles Dhewa
Nadia von Holzen
Martina Hetzel
Sarah Cummings
Ewen Le Borgne
William Tibben
Nancy White

Related Discussions

Important discussion for all members on leadership



Jaap Pels: Hello Melissa,

Thank you for opening the discourse. First thoughts / two cents / what pops up from my 'KM4Dev history / journey'. ​ What is leadership in a community like KM4Dev? It is something to discover with others and yourself. I found KM4Dev a place to experiment - which by itself shapes leadership; also someone's got to start the fire... Leadership in KM4Dev is a commons; no one can claim it - I think :-) Claiming leadership itself is possible in KM4Dev; I hesitate (maybe shy / lazy). Also alternate facts based leadership is also possible in KM4Dev; at least as (thought) experiment. Off course the last sentence is a joke ... or .....

Depending on what paradigm you reference, characteristics of leadership in the KM4Dev community could highlight, From a corporate narrative KM4Dev may seem to lack any leadership; that is, leadership to do business with. The latter is also difficult because KM4Dev in no Ltd and has no legal status - as far as I know. Perhaps KM4Dev leadership shows in compelling stories of people contributing for free...

What actions and/or behaviors are considered leader-ful? In extreme that would be participating itself. That can be on-line and / or F2F. Sometimes kitchen-table-talk shapes actions in KM4Dev; so be it. I enjoyed the Brighton F2F meeting where I experimented with being comfortable when uncomfortable. Leader-full is to start and compile discussion threads by email on the wiki.

But also very concrete stuff as running the KM4Dev journal, or the core-group and the KM4Dev cloud. Or organize a gig (recently Vienna, Brussels, USA and Genéva) is leaderful. I wish such would happen in other geographic area's too. Or maybe it is already happening and at KM4Dev we are not aware.

For now that's it.

All the best with your research. Cheers, Jaap

Melissa Bator Hi Jaap- It is an interesting idea that the leadership cannot be claimed in a commons such as KM4Dev, but individuals can claim leadership… perhaps through their actions? You reference organizing an event, managing the Journal, summarizing a discussion thread, and joining the Core group as concrete actions that suggest leadership. In fact, that is what the information we compiled on the Participation and Subgroup Membership wiki page seems to suggest.

There have been over 40 different face-to-face events, online events, KM4Dev.org groups, and other subgroups (e.g., CT Lab) organized since 2008. My next task is to attempt to map the membership of all of these subgroups, using the different participation lists that have been documented. Then, we will know approximately how many different members participated in these subgroups and how many different people took on organizing roles.

Your response is a perfect segue to the second part of the questions that arose when we were compiling the participation and subgroup information.

Do you have to be part of the Core group to be considered a leader or do you think leadership can be enacted in other spaces within the community? Are subgroups a potential space for leadership cultivation?

Thank you for your thoughts. I look forward to hearing what others think about leadership and leaderful activities within KM4Dev. Melissa

Charles Dhewa: Dear Melissa, For me KM4Dev has shown that leadership can be an interesting relay that cuts across gender, race, language, cultural background, timezones, etc. Although the Coregroup has some kind of gate-keeping role, almost every member can ignite a conversation or a question that get's picked by another member. The relay continues until it stops somewhere, only to be revived again in a different format. Ultimately, the fire is allowed to die down on its own. Another leadership moment has been every member's capacity to pull new members into the KM4Dev collective pool. I also sense lurking is also a leadership quality. For instance, I have found it very interesting when someone who has been a lurker for a while jumps in with incisive comments. It shows they have been honing their listening capacity before jumping in. An additional expression of leadership is when members ask questions that provoke a lot of thinking and several responses. Leading through powerful questions tends to be fascinating. Regards, Charles

Nadia von Holzen: Dear Melissa, Charles and Jaap,

Interesting discussion. What I observe is a continuum of different poles of engagement and leadership. While the lurker is observing others are leading; within km4dev there are no defined roles or levels of participation or even levels of membership and membership fees. Luckily. Within km4dev we can take a leading role on different levels (global to local) and at different moments. As Charles wrote, at one moment a member is more passive and simply following discussion threads, at other moment this same member is jumping in and igniting a discussion thread that shakes the community alive. Melissa, I think the local leadership in subgroups is interesting. Through the global community local initiatives become possible and supported and vice versa. And by the way, I'm one of the happy and inspired lurkers (and an attentive an faithful one) of the global km4dev community; and I played an active and co-leading role in the local Swiss community. Now other members step in and keep the community alive.

The beauty of km4dev is that this all is possible, and that the energy is renewed again and again. I guess this is one of the important reasons why km4dev is alive since years. And this is fabulous. Jaap, an Ltd. or any legal status would kill this most natural energy flow!

Best, Nadia

Melissa Bator Dear Charles and Nadia- I see an interesting theme in your threads, the possibilities for leadership and leader-ful actions in KM4Dev are vast, which means it is important to consider 1) leader-ful activities that are not easily seen by other members and 2) leadership that is dormant. It also seems that both of you are drawing on a relational understanding of leadership and leaderful-actions (as opposed to a trait-based or personality based). [I report what I think are the implications of this here, instead of at the end of this message, for those of you who do not have the time to read the rest of the thread.] The implications of this may be that it is very important for peer-produced communities, like KM4Dev, to pay attention to how individual, local, and global organizing interacts. For example, how can a subgroup harness hidden leadership, how might community practices (e.g., wiki documentation of community actions) encourage sub group participation, or how might subgroup practices feed into community best-practices (e.g., organization of face-to-face events)?

For example, Charles, you mention several different forms of leader-ful activities that may not be visible to other members, such as recruiting new members and active listening for future, informed participation. And, I heard a relational understanding of leadership within KM4Dev when you explained leadership as a relay between members, which emphasizes coordination and possibly interaction.

I also heard these ideas, Nadia, when you describe the fluidity of roles and participation within KM4Dev as enabling all members to be dormant leaders. For example, you mention lurkers becoming active posters (and active posters going quiet) and local subgroups whose leadership rotates as veterans step-down, allowing others to fill the coordination void. I also heard a relational understanding of leadership when you connected local subgroup leadership to global community support, and global community success to the ability of local subgroups to continue to thrive.

This inspired me to think about the data I collected to see if these ideas might be able to be quantified. In the survey I sent out to members, I asked members to approximate how many minutes per week they spent on KM4Dev related activities. I followed-up by asking members to approximate what percentage of that time was spent silently participating (e.g., watching others participate, participation that is not visible to others) and what percentage of that time was spent actively participating (e.g., contributing to an online discussion, participation that is visible to others). I also asked members if they had ever participated in a way that made them take on more responsibility than being a registered member. I have added these numbers to the wiki <http://wiki.km4dev.org/Participation_and_Sub-group_membership_in_KM4Dev#Discussion_March_8-17.2C_2017>.

Of the 189 surveys that contained this data, 85 people reported 100% silent participation. Yet, 12 of those people reported taking on more responsibility. This suggests that “hidden” forms of leadership and leader-ful actions that are not easily documented should not be forgotten. The idea of dormant leaders may be supported by looking at the remaining 104 surveys of members who report at least some active participation. Of these 104 members, 46 reported taking on greater responsibility. Many of these 46 members could potentially be called dormant leaders, or members who sporadically engage in leader-ful activities and then fall silent, as none of them are active 100% of the time they participate. This suggests that cycles of leadership and leader-ful activities probably happen at many levels which interact, including the individual, the local subgroup, and the global community level. This connects back to the implications that I describe at the beginning of this thread.

Interesting stuff. I look forward to hearing more thoughts about leadership and leader-ful actions in KM4Dev from the list.


Martina Hetzel: Dear Melissa, Nadia, Charles and Jaap, I recently get aware of this study, didn´t participate (lack of time).

Some thoughts:

  • For me the participation here depends A LOT of my actual work load and if my actual work is near the KM topic. I am listening since 2008, writing

(may be, don´t know) since 2012.

  • English is my third language - so for me it was first a language training :-) with my job topic. The language topic in a written forum is quite


  • Working from the perspective of Latinamerica (where I am) I often find many similarities to comments from members being in Africa or Asia. So its

interesting to have a "multiworld"-community what I feel is there (may be not the majority, but there are the voices from the south)

  • I think the (ex) core group members are in a leadership role. Recently I was scanning the list on the website, I know a lot of the names by the mails
  • Melissa, I don´t know why you chose the leadership focus. I think at the end in a community it comes all together. It only works because there are people writing (leading?)
  • I take topics and info from KM4Dev and "lead" the KM topic in my (quite smaller) job environments, in spanish, and in different topics, e.g.:

Environment & KM, Gender violence & KM (in the moment, Natural science & KM (the last two years). So if you focus on the "KM4Dev group" I don´t lead. But I think I lead in ways of transferring things to other groups and spaces...

  • Also a question: Is there a chart where I could see a good demographic KM4Dev overview? Ages, geography... Because I am reading about CoPs I was wondering what age average "is here".

Thanks for your support + saludos desde Quito, Tina

Sarah Cummings: Hi Melissa, Charles, Jaap, Martina and Nadia, and KM4Dev friends

I think this is an interesting and sometimes problematic issue for KM4Dev, also made more complicated by the fact that KM4Dev doesn't have a formal organisational centre.

In your original post on this subject, Melissa, you say that Km4Dev is a self-organized virtual community (SVC) of professionals. I would be interested to hear how this relates to a community of practice (CoP). Is it very different? Does this have different implications for leadership?

In terms of leadership, I think it would be helpful to identify what you think are leadership activities as everyone has mentioned. For example, is posting on the Dgroup, a leadership activity? Is lurking a leadership activity? In my mind, they probably aren't but posting (and probably other activities too as Jaap says 'Leader-full is to start and compile discussion threads by email on the wiki') does - and I think this ties in with my ideas on CoPs - give you ownership and legitimacy to take action. And when you have 'enough' ownership and legitimacy, you start to be able to (or have the potential) to take 'leadership'. In my mind in CoPs, it goes something like this: participation -> legitimacy -> ownership -> (informal) leadership. But this is a different sort of leadership than that of the core group which has the potential to be more formal. I also think that informal leadership is more internally focused while formal leadership has the potential to also be more externally focused.

I would like to illustrate this with an example which is not really meant as a criticism but rather to try to understand what happened. I joined the core group in October last year, partly out of frustration that I found it difficult to get the core group to get involved in the Vienna conference and to engage in the Agenda Knowledge for Development (but then Peter Bury as a core group member also got involved and everything worked out fine) and they needed to be formally involved because KM4Dev was presented with a prize :-). Don't get me wrong, I totally understand how this happens but it does show that formal leadership is also sometimes needed. And if you are an active member, you can take informal leadership because of the ownership/legitimacy built up over years but you can't take formal leadership which is invested in the core group.

I also think that it is not always clear how much freedom we all have to do things in the name of KM4Dev because we have a really huge amount, much more than we sometime know. For example, every active member can organise a KM4Dev meeting - at some point Jaap and I even organised micro-meetings in our own homes - and you only have an obligation to invite members via the list, you don't need to ask permission. In the past, when I was worried about taking this sort of initiative, like starting the journal for example which I did with a bunch of colleagues in 2005, I would really need to remind myself that this was OK and I would say to myself 'don't worrry, KM4Dev isn't a polit buro' (in the sense that decisions were not only made at the centre).

Whew! That was a long post!

Kind regards


Ewen Le Borgne: Dear Melissa, all,

Thank you for this very interesting conversation and the many references made by the members.

I echo what has been said and would boil it down to something quite simple: Anyone in KM4Dev who is contributing to make this community grow, build, develop, blossom is applying and showing leadership.

That means for instance:

  • Engaging in a conversation
  • Starting a conversation
  • Summarising a conversation
  • Organising an event
  • Convening a local KM4Dev group
  • Bringing new people to KM4Dev
  • Curating the wiki
  • Managing the list traffic
  • Buddying up with members to explain how it works etc.
  • Introducing KM4Dev in other circles
  • And even 'paying attention', listening to the conversations is another

prerequisite for co-creating so it's another leaderful behavior. etc. The richness of these examples is a good illustration that this community in fact has many leaders, and imho that's why it's so vibrant.

What the core group is doing is rather facilitating or managing some 'stuff' but not necessarily 'leading' because no one can claim the direction the community is going, since the community is all of us together. The only bit of leadership that core group members (like I used to be) can possibly claim is in the good practices shown e.g. when Peter encourages everyone to summarise a conversation, when Carl reminds everyone they can all contribute to moderating KM4Dev for a month etc. these are leaderful examples of stimulating co-creation.

Thank you,


William Tibben: Thanks to everyone for this stimulating discussion.

Here is an example of a lurker becoming a contributor (and perhaps a leader for a short period while you read my post!)

I have coined two terms which I think broadly describes the two different kinds of leadership that Sarah describes: thought leadership and positional leadership. Thought leadership refers to a kind of meritocracy that emerges because of people’s expertise which is evident in their contributions to discussions. The second, positional leadership, refers to those who have been conferred some formal authority within the group to carry out tasks. Ideally, thought leaders and positional leaders should be one and the same but they may not be.

I had the privilege of spending time at the Oxford Internet Institute working under William Dutton where I reviewed a short monograph by Kenneth Arrow called The Limits of Organisation which led me to identify these two forms of leadership in online forums.

The background to my internet in this area stems from my involvement in online discussions in the Pacific Island Internet Society chapter but has been extended to other ICANN related forums as wells KMDev.

Arrow’s particular approach to these issues is to consider information as an unusual economic good. This is fine because he is an economist! He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1962. As for me, I have been fascinated with his work which explores the nature of information and the strategies that humans take to deal with this unusual economic good.

I have written a conference paper on this work which sadly is behind a pay wall. I am happy to send a pre-print to anyone through email.

Tibben, W., Brown, R. B K., Beydoun, G. & Zamani, R. Is consensus a viable concept to justify use of online collaborative networks in multi-stakeholder governance?. In The 49th Annual Hawai'i Conference on Systems Sciences; Bui, T. & Sprague (Jr), R. H. Eds.; IEEE Computer Society: United States, 2016; pp 4665-4674

My research into this area languished because lack of case material. Anyone with an interest in contributing to furthering this area of research please let me know.



Melissa Bator Dear Tina, all-

Unfortunately, I have never been able to compile a full population profile of KM4Dev. This information would be great to have, however, it is not available because not every member provides profile information when s/he registers on one of the platforms. Plus, there is no easy way to combine all of the profile information from the different platforms to create a complete list of members without double or triple counting members.

You asked why I chose the topic of leadership. I decided to focus on leadership for a multiple reasons, I summarize the story below.

I collected data in my survey to answer hypotheses I created for my dissertation, but I also collected data that I thought would be interesting to explore with the community (based on what I have been reading in the literature, but also from listening to conversations at face-to-face meetings, on the list, etc.). I knew that I did not want to present my findings in some sort of data dump or formal report. I wanted to present something useful and interesting. I realized that if I only relied on my own perceptions of the questions I asked I was discounting the perceptions of the hundreds of people who read those survey questions. Therefore, I needed to make decisions on discussion topics that would be of use to the community and also provide a space for deeper probing than a simple survey question allowed.

The KM4Dev Journal call provided me with an opportunity to think about my data in the context of the Journal’s community of practice theme. The guest editors asked some interesting questions that I thought my data might begin to answer, 1) “Is there any solid operational evidence/cases/stories of CoP success, or alternatively from partial successes or failures from which we can learn (especially how these CoPs are animated/facilitated)?, 2) “Has the idea of CoPs as a conceptual framework been superseded by others?”

I am working with an undergraduate research assistant, and I believe that teams work better together and team members are more invested in their work when they are interested in the topic. She has helped me compile a lot of the information on the Participation and Subgroup Membership wiki page. She is interested in leadership. As we compiled that information it occurred to me that leadership within a peer production context was not as simple as pointing to the Core group.

However, I had a hard time answering the question “What does leadership look like or how is it defined within a peer production context?” A review of the literature showed only a handful of people looking into this, there was no conclusive theoretical definition. Then, the guest editors of the KM4Dev journal provided feedback on the submission I submitted with my research assistant pressing us to articulate our “views of leadership, not only past and present, but ideas for the future.” That cemented it, in order to answer that question I needed to start talking about leadership with others in the community so that I could start to understand what I didn’t even know I didn’t understand about leadership in a organization-less, self-organized, system. The conversation so far has not disappointed me. It has given me a lot to think about, and thank you for asking. Melissa

Melissa Bator Dear Sarah, all- You ask, is a self-organized virtual community of professionals different from a community of practice, and if so, does this have implications for leadership?

The definition that I created for self-organized virtual communities of professionals draws on the following three citations: Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. Bohm, K., & Scherf, A. (2005). Using digital communication structures to support knowledge management Professional Knowledge Management (Vol. 3782, pp. 530-541). Berlin: Springer-Verlag Berlin. Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2000). The social life of information. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School.

I utilized the community of practice, network of practice, and communication technology literature to create this definition because no one set of literature fully articulated what I saw happening within KM4Dev.

An SVC has elements of both a community of practice and a network of practice. For example, like a COP participation in an SVC is a communicative experience whereby members contribute through their interaction with the larger group and individual members . Yet, members may treat the group like a network of practice, choosing to learn by watching others interact. Furthermore, the online context of these networks allows for an unlimited number of members, as membership is not constrained by factors such as time or space. Hence, in an open membership network, where any interested professional is allowed to join, an online professional network may grow quite large. A large, open membership prohibits all members from knowing one another, but it creates the best conditions for members to sustain and grow a large resource base for members to reference because it increases the chances that participants will self-select into the most appropriate tasks.

All of this is to say, from my observations it seemed that some people experienced KM4Dev as a community and others experienced it as a network. Therefore, I thought it was important to articulate member choice (i.e., self-selection) in my definition. Ultimately, I did not see the peer production context, whereby members decide for themselves when and how they want to contribute, in a lot of the community of practice literature. It seemed that a lot of the COP literature was situated within traditional organizations and therefore carried inherent organizational/hierarchical biases and assumptions (e.g., more time spent participating is better). That is why I chose to use the term self-organized virtual community of professionals.

I won’t identify what I think leadership activities are until my summary post this weekend. I must confess I am still formulating this myself. Ewen’s response is more along the lines of what I have been thinking, and as always, is eloquently put. He writes, “Anyone who is contributing to make this community grow, build, develop, blossom, is applying and showing leadership.” Community identity, seems to be important in this definition. It may be the ingredient that turns a typical action, such as reading a post on Dgroups, into a leaderful action, bringing that topic to your co-workers and representing yourself as a KM4Dev member to your co-workers (as Tina mentioned).

Based on the above, as I read through the frustrations you experienced trying to find a "leader" so that KM4Dev could be presented with an award, I could hear an organizational bias. For example, the fact that you believe that "formal leadership is also sometimes needed" even though it ended up working out through typical peer production processes (you mention a core group member eventually came forward to organize receipt of the prize) and that you admit that you have to remind yourself that you do not need to seek permission when creating a new project, etc.

I have always suspected that some members are far more entrenched in traditional organizational structures than others on this list, which might make it uncomfortable for members used to more structured interaction spaces to find a way to "jump in". It occurs to me that it may be helpful for members to "see" how other members go about coordinating subgroup projects (e.g., create a face-to-face event, start the KM4Dev Journal, organize a wiki clean-up day). Here is how I went about creating this moderated discussion.

  1. Created a wiki page so that I could easily reference the research I might refer to within the conversation.
  2. Emailed the core group to let them know approximately when I would start the moderated discussion and how long it would take place. The goal of this email was to find out if anyone objected. For instance, I did not want to put an added burden on the volunteer moderators for the month. If they had objected, I would have offered to moderate (approve the messages that are sent in by members) the list during the discussion period.
  3. When I heard no reply back, I assumed everything was ok. A rule of thumb used by the core group is if no one disagrees then carry-on.
  4. When I was ready to launch the discussion, I emailed the Dgroups listserv and posted a new discussion as a resource on KM4Dev.org.
  5. The discussion on KM4Dev.org has not gone anywhere and I think it is because no one on that platform (who is not on Dgroups) would have any way of knowing about it. When a new resource is created the membership is not informed, so people would have to find this resource on their own. Things to think about before the next moderated discussion.

More good things to think about, thank you for sharing your stories with us, Melissa

Jaap Pels Hi Melissa, Just for the record; I remember sending out a direct message to all KM4Dev.org members (4750) to fill out your survey. But, I reckon the dGroups KM4Dev list members (some 2500?) are almost all also member of the '.org'. Cheers, Jaap

Best regards,

ir W.J. Pels (Jaap)

Nancy White Hi William, great to read you!

Thanks for sharing this perspective. I have a very specific question:

What are the assumptions behind this statement: " Ideally, thought leaders and positional leaders should be one and the same but they may not be."

And yes, I'd LOVE a prepub copy of your paper please!


Nancy W

Melissa BatorHi William-

Thank you for posting, for the first time, to a conversation I am moderating. I found the paper and will read it this evening. It has been a while since I have read Arrow, I look forward to reading your perspectives on decision making processes in online collaborative networks.


Nancy White: Today I copied all of the posts from this thread and took a read through them. WONDERFUL. So here is my (yet again) long-winded contribution. Probably a discussion killer since it is so long, but us old ladies can do that, right?

I’m resonating with this emerging thread that leadership mindsets are related to where they sit. Ewen’s most reflects my perspectives. And as Melissa noted, he said it clearly and elegantly. Bravo!

I think we have implicit expectations about “leadership” that may not be relevant to KM4Dev…

Most definitions/mindsets come from an institutional perspective:


Even while calling to move beyond organizational structures, HSD’s proposal is FOR organizations.

“This alternative moves beyond organizational structures to create structures for Adaptive Action. At HSD Institute, we believe the complexity of the 21st century requires organizations to move toward working relationships, expectations, and connections that allow employees and stakeholders to engage in adaptive networks of shared purpose and productivity.”

There are new ways of talking about different forms, with folks like Steve Waddel talking about http://networkingaction.net/ multistakeholder and global action networks (see http://networkingaction.net/networks-change/ and http://networkingaction.net/networks-change/global-action-networks/.) These are not bodies that are convened or sit within some base institution or await some formal sanction. They are the coalitions of the interested and willing. They aren’t there because of their job descriptions. Right now in the USA there are action networks emerging outside of traditional political parties who are no longer out to “fix” our governance system, but to fundamentally change their own communities in ways that often operate outside of traditional policy making. These feel like different forms.

Melissa shared her term of “self-organized virtual communities” that feels like one of these action networks. Our action is to learn, share and develop ideas and practices around KM in development. But we stray to the edges of that domain – with no stress or problems from what I can see. We morph and evolve around that purpose.

I think this has roots in our early days…

KM4Dev was born through people who belonged to organizations, and within Bellanet, a sub-part of an organization. But as I recall the history/mythology Bellanet always took a facilitative vs. ownership stance in their leadership. (There is still a remnant of the old Bellanet website here: http://www.bellanet.org/ ) As we moved through other host for financial reasons, we were really being given a service, not their own organizational agenda or leadership.

By resisting (by one set of perspectives) or failing to secure more formal funding and the governance needed to manage that (another set of perspectives), we have skated through an interesting portal to where we really have an enormous amount of freedom and autonomy to just BE.

In these days of budget cuts, emphasis on results, efficiency and impact, this feels like an enormous breath of fresh air. LIBERATING.

And thus leadership may also be liberated. You may be on the core group but until you pick up a task, you don’t really have to do anything. If you aren’t on the core group and want to do something you do. If you want to quietly “listen” by reading, you do. If you want to post 10 times in 1-2 days (oops, Nancy), you do.

We don’t need a ton of explicit, formal leadership beyond getting the basic hosting bills paid – and chipping in to pay for them. (Yes, donating is a form of leadership – it keeps the website hosted!)

We need to BE to survive… BE in any way any individual chooses to act.

For a long time I was on the core group and felt both a desire and an obligation to support this community that has come to mean so much to me and a source of valued colleagues and friends. At one point I felt I was starting to do TOO much, taking up “leadership space” that others might step into if there was a little more space. ;) When I stepped away, I was in my own trap of expectations that I thought others should do some of the stuff I did. It took me quite a while to let go of that. Then it became very freeing and I found natural moments where I could lend a hand. I did not seek nor want recognition. It felt simply like reciprocity.

Today the things I feel most moved to support are things like spreading the word about KM4Dev to new people, to continue to nurture new voices and diverse perspectives, to support gatherings where I can (like the upcoming Seattle gathering), to contribute occasionally to the discussions but also to be cognizant of my ability to take up TOO much space, to wiki garden on the KM4Dev wiki and the http://www.kstoolkit.org when I’m so moved and to stay as connected as I can to the individuals that KM4Dev blessed into my path.

My leadership is to simple BE part of KM4Dev.

Is that enough? I suspect if just 5% of our total “population” did stuff like this, we will stay alive if we find value in our connection and co-learning.

P.S. I was cleaning up files and just looked at all of the photos from our 2008 Community event in Almada, Portugal. Wow. MEMORIES!!! Maybe I'll upload them to share. Interested?

Melissa BatorHi Jaap-

Yes, I used the administrator tools on KM4Dev to email registered members on KM4Dev directly for the survey (I sent three emails between July and October 2016). In the survey, I asked members how much time the typically spent on Dgroups, KM4Dev.org, and other KM4Dev spaces. In contrast to what you posted about Dgroup members also being .org members, not everyone who was registered on Dgroups was registered on km4dev.org, and vice versa.

Of the 212 completed surveys analyzed, 54 members reporting only participating on Dgroups, 51 members reported only participating on KM4Dev.org, and 87 members reported participating on both platforms (20 members did not report).

An interesting bi-product of this conversation about leader-ful activities is my own change in perspective on how I reflect upon my own participation within KM4Dev. The survey data lead me to believe that there are many members who keep to one interaction space of the community. This meant that if I hosted this discussion on Dgroups, I would be missing the opportunity to hear from those members who are only participating on KM4Dev.org. This is why I decided to (experiment and) host this conversation on the two different platforms simultaneously.

However, while this conversation has generated many interesting reflections, questions--a community conversation--the KM4Dev.org discussion was silent. In thinking about leadership and leader-ful activity and the differences between the two different interaction platforms, I realized that starting the discussion on KM4Dev.org and starting the discussion on Dgroups was different. When I posted the initial discussion thread to Dgroups it went to everyone's inbox. When I posted the discussion to KM4Dev.org, it went to the front page of the website, but way down the bottom.

This made me think about leadership, online spaces, skill sets, and time. I don't believe I understand how to use the KM4Dev.org space to its fullest potential. My comment about sending an email out through the admin tools to inform members of the discussion space was my own reflection on how I might engage more members in the discussions I moderate (because there will be at least one more this year).

Peter, thank you for making the move on the KM4Dev.org page. Your own posting kept my post alive (on the front page), which I am sure you realize!

My final thoughts relate back to leadership and leader-ful activities given this potential stratification of members based on (online) location of participation. I looked at my data one more time. I asked members the following questions:

Most members in online communities are simply registered members. However, sometimes there are opportunities to take on greater responsibility, such as lead a community initiative, assist in the community’s moderation and administration, or organize a meetup off list. Have you ever taken on responsibility greater than being a registered member (i.e., posting to the listserv or reading others’ posts)?"

This was my attempt to write a question that would allow members to identify as being more than just a registered member, someone who identified as taking on a greater level of responsibility. Given the many reflections within this conversation thread on the range of forms leader-ful activities might take, I believe it to be a rough proxy for understanding which members self-identify (potentially) as participating in leader-ful ways and/or are dormant leaders waiting for the right moment to activate. I compared how members responded to this question with where members reported participating. Here is what I found:

Participate On: More Responsibility Simply a registered member
Dgroups (only) 14 40
KM4Dev.org(only) 9 42
Both platforms 35 50

Again, Dgroups and KM4Dev members show similar patterns. In comparison, members who participate on both platforms are much more likely to self-identify as taking on greater responsibility. I wonder if this relates to back to identity? I became an active participant within KM4Dev around when Tina became an active poster, 2011-2012, and I too watched the community reveal itself as I joined new interaction spaces (I found KM4Dev through the .org, then I contacted the Core group, then I joined Dgroups, then I went to the Rome Face-to-Face...it was enlightening). Similar to how Sarah reflected on a potential process for becoming a leader within KM4Dev, it seems possible that there are more people who self-identify as taking on greater responsibility who participate on multiple KM4Dev spaces than people who only participate on one platform because 1) there are more ways to take on more responsibility if you move beyond single platform participation and 2) participating on more than one platform makes it easier to appreciate the KM4Dev community as a whole, separate from a specific online location, which might lead people to think of their participation in a different way.

Thinking out loud. Thank you for the prompt which made it possible to present and explore more of the survey data within a meaningful context. I look forward to hearing more reflections. I will wrap things up this weekend with a summary post


William Tibben Thanks Nancy for your question.

The assumption or rationale goes something like this….

Arrow was skeptical that consensus was a practical form of decision making. In order for true consensus to be achieved two conditions need to be met: (i) full information is available to all people; and (ii) people share the same values about what constitutes the best outcome. Given that these two conditions are hard to achieve the alternative is to give people with expertise (in a particular area) to make decisions on behalf of the others. In formal organisations, these people are given authority to make decisions based on the assumption that they have the best expertise.

This is where the “Ideally” part comes in. In the case of KM4dev its reasonably obvious that a few key individuals (such as yourself) have developed a reputation for being knowledgable about certain topics. This is what I have termed thought leadership.

You also mention that you did take on formal roles which I call positional leadership. As long as these two rolls are relatively in sync all is fine. My paper details a situation in an ISOC chapter email list where the positional leaders (board members) were challenged on the basis of their expertise. Not a pretty situation! When authority gets out of sync with expertise problems will tend to arise in my view.

This understanding also explain why online forums have numerous lurkers watching on as a few knowledgeable people contribute frequently.

I haven’t validated these ideas. I am currently adding to me conference paper with a recent incident in ICANN which these ideas drawn from Arrow are useful.



Nancy White Thank you William!

In the context of decision making (and possibly aiming for consensus), that makes a lot of sense for me. In a community/network like KM4Dev, we don't have to be in consensus, or even make decisions! That may suggest leadership (and "governance") could look quite different.

It might be that for distributed leadership in online networks of practice, we look for a DIVERSITY of thought (leaders) rather than THE thought leaders, particularly if we are trying to shift from Northern-based, academically validated perceptions and experiences of expertise. I think a partially explicit value of KM4Dev is to value and recognize the expertise that sits everywhere and particularly on the ground where development practices are in play. In other words, we need representation, but not from a more northern concept of thought leadership. We seek and value it from all parts of the ecosystem. And thus representation is or we strive for it to be widely/wildly distributed and held. This would be TERRIBLY difficult for decision making, but really rich for learning!

I can easily imagine your model in the ICANN context and in ACTION networks!It actually also links to the thread on listening/observation before deciding/acting. And I think listening online can be a challenge for lots of reasons. (I.e. Why do we assume things like large group, single thread asynchronous discussions can be ideal for communication and decision making. You might want to look at the work of the folks at Trusted Sharing who are working to blend group process into an asynchronous discussion platform - https://www.trustedsharing.com/en/public/ - or maybe we can host a conversation about this with them, on their platform!) We can save that for a later thread. :) I have resolved NOT to ramble long on this post since I have abused my wordy-granny identity enough this week!

Thanks again for the article, insights and thought provoking triggers as you came out of lurkerdome and into distributed leadership!!!

Nancy W

William Tibben Ooops Should have written

"Arrow was skeptical that consensus was AN IMPRACTICAL form of decision making.

Melissa Bator Thank you to everyone who has been actively listening and to those members who posted to this thread on leadership within KM4Dev, it has helped me to approach the topic from many different angles. I look forward to continuing to think about this and working these ideas into our article for the upcoming KM4Dev Journal Special Issue on Communities of Practice.

I began this conversation by asking, What does leadership or leader-ful activity within KM4Dev, which emphasizes member autonomy, mean or look like? From the many interesting posts and my own reading, I am beginning to understand leadership and leader-ful actions as emergent and associated with a sense of connection to the larger community (e.g., identity, reciprocity). In other words, I see members potentially taking on leadership or leaderful- activities over the course of their membership as they become comfortable or uncomfortable enough to take action for themselves but also with the larger community in mind.

However, after moderating this conversation, I began to wonder if I had asked the best question about leadership. What if the question above were broken into these two questions, 1) When do members perceive themselves participating in leader-ful activities or leadership? and 2) When do members perceive other members participating in leaderful-activities/leadership?

I am beginning to think that a large part of the answer to question 1 has to do with identity, with the topic of the moment but also with the community as a whole. Identity can be associated with members being vested enough in a topic or activity to become involved (e.g., Sarah starting the journal, Nadia leading a local subgroup, William posting for the first time, Nancy spending an entire day of her week engaging with current and past KM4Dev conversations thereby keeping threads/topics alive). Identity can also be associated with the community in general and taking actions to keep it functioning (e.g., donating, moderating Dgroups, recruiting new members, actively listening).

Thinking about question 2, I began to reflect how my own understanding changed as I joined more platforms that KM4Dev inhabited online and I interacted at face-to-face events with members. I also thought back to the conversation about institutional bias of members who are embedded within organizations. It is likely that the answer to question 2 is it depends. However, this conversation has illuminated a couple of elements of participation that if absent from member contributions then that participation would be less likely to be perceived as leadership.

Several people who posted to this thread admitted that actions that are leader-ful move beyond being completely self-serving. Ewen stated, “Anyone in KM4Dev who is contributing to make this community grow, build, develop, blossom is applying and showing leadership.” And Nancy summed it up, “…leadership is reciprocity.” If this is true, then contributions that are completely self-serving are not leader-ful (e.g., posting SPAM to the listserv). This might include simply being a registered member who does not actively listen. However, the ethos or spirit of peer production spaces is not to judge this sort of participation as good or bad, instead, peer production spaces are designed to accommodate members’ participation choice at any given point in time.

This is not to only talk in positive terms about leadership and leader-ful actions within KM4Dev. This conversation has also unveiled tensions that can surface when formal leadership structures do not exist. I heard the possibility for tensions to exist within the group and tensions to exist as KM4Dev interacts with outside (hierarchical) organizations. Within KM4Dev, the members come from diverse organizational backgrounds and different experiential backgrounds, which can create different expectations when participating with others within an online distributed community like KM4Dev. In addition, when members want to interact with KM4Dev at an organizational level (as opposed to member to member) the lack of formal reporting structures can frustrate typical organizational processes that rely upon structured systems for production (e.g., tax status as a non-profit organization for a donation, public relations office for self-promotion and receiving outside requests).

What is most interesting, however, is that none of this is “set in stone” or permanent. Members constantly negotiate what KM4Dev is and what it means to be a member of KM4Dev through our interaction with each other, but also through individual member actions. Nancy articulates this when she writes about the purpose of KM4Dev, Our action is to learn, share and develop ideas and practices around KM in development. But we stray to the edges of that domain – with no stress or problems from what I can see. We morph and evolve around that purpose. This means that the problems mentioned above are only problematic if members cannot figure out a way to work through them in a satisfactory (i.e., member agreed upon or at least did not object to) manner.

I will let everyone know when we have summarized this thread to the wiki. Have a great week, Melissa