Week 2 (b) Nurturing effective COPs
What were the causes of the good (or bad) experience you encountered?
This good experience has been caused by at least two factors. Firstly, colleagues initiated and continue their interaction primarily through talking. In many other CoP experiences I've had text has lead and continued to dominate. Maybe talking makes human characteristics and emotions easier to understand across the group than writing? Secondly, each session begins with a check-in contribution by all colleagues present. Maybe everyone speaking and about a simple topic that asks all to be open helps to level-up participation and engagement before getting into the more technical discussion? (Carl Jackson)
- Relevant content suiting the purpose of the group.
- Staying objective and keeping the content shared related to poultry.
- Utilizing other platforms to help draw the audience to the group.
- Timely response to members' raised questions. (Robert Kibaya)
I’d say that our biggest challenge is how we can manage to provide the level of support that our CoPs need to be really vibrant and active – within our limited resources. It is daunting even to think about it. Another challenge is how to get and keep the support of middle managers, so that they make the space for staff to engage in communities. As I said, communities and networks have been around at IFAD for years, but they have tended to die out once resources dried up (and facilitators could no longer be hired), or when new managers came in with different perspectives and different priorities.
Our new “context” – rapid decentralization and now the COVID-19 crisis – has certainly changed attitudes in the organization about the importance of online collaboration – but we are still quite a way from a common understanding of what “good” looks like, and what is needed to make it a success. We couldn’t get people to use Zoom before the lockdown and now they are in Zoom meetings for entire days. But at the same time, the prevailing tendency is to run online meetings much like the old face-to-face meetings, which brings to mind Ewen Le Borgne’s comments in the introductory discussions: “The main issues I've encountered about collaborating and interacting online? First of all, the problems I've faced actually often resemble the typical woes of offline engagement i.e.. poor process design, poor or no facilitation nor spread of those skills in the group beyond the facilitator, poor understanding of group dynamics and group decision-making.” (Helen Gillman)
What steps did you, or a colleague, take to ensure success or overcome failure?
The check-in element was an intentional process design choice to build trust. Sustaining this element is becoming harder over time as the stock of simple topics to check-in about becomes over-used. New inspiration or a more meta-way of asking the check-in question will be needed. Leading interaction though talking was a default choice that related to platform availability and a strong spoken culture in the organisation. Finding that this worked so well has meant we've been holding back on introducing more long form asynchronous text tools than 'chat' (e.g. we've not tried co-authoring online documents or gone for a threaded discussion board). (Carl Jackson)
- Ensure access to content on the group is free and open.
- Ensure accuracy of the content.
- Ensure all content from other people before gets published on the group is critically and carefully cross-examined. (Robert Kibaya)
We are making progress, but it is very slow. We are currently providing direct support to a small number of existing CoPs. We have just joined Dgroups Foundation and we will start using the groups.io platform very shortly. We’ve also benefited a lot from the support of the World Bank team working on communities, especially the fantastic resources they have developed over the years. We are big believers in borrowing with pride – we don’t have a lot of money for our KM activities! (Helen)
What key lesson or advice can we draw from this?
We know that in person conferences and retreats (before the start and then perhaps annually) have often been traced back as the root for sustained online CoPs. Perhaps talking on voice calls for sustained number of regular sessions and using check-ins as a process design element can also be a way to ground a new CoP by contributing to the early growth of feelings of community and trust. (Carl Jackson)
- Relevant content is key and always people will direct others to your group.
- A number of mentions of your group on different platforms will increase chances of being picked by search engines and always traffic will be directed to your group.
- Quality of service and customer care is key. (Robert Kibaya)
- Conduct a capacity needs assessment and develop a capacity development action plan for operationalizing the group
- Having face-to-face encounters (and online webinars) were crucial to build trust
- Training of different national facilitators (finding CoP champions) to build capacity and create ownership of members is key to ensure post-project sustainability (don’t invest in the idea, invest in the people behind the idea)
- Growing engagement, building trust among members takes time, but when the added value and incentives are clear no monetary incentive is needed to keep the group going. Repeating/reminding members of common goal is also key.
- Having multi-sector members (producers, governments, SMEs, researchers, financiers etc.) provides new perspectives and creates new networking opportunities (led to a growth of the community)
- Regularly ask the members what they want to discuss and learn (e.g. through short survey monkey forms). If they cannot attend a live discussion, record and provide link in group so they can watch it in their own time (when internet is stable) and jump into the discussion
- Support and encourage the development of discussions and knowledge products in local language
- Actively encourage youth to participate in the discussions (bringing in fresh ideas, they are often tech-savvy and using online tools makes it more attractive to them)
- (Jana Dietershagen)
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