Week 2 (d) Learning through e-collaboration
What were the causes of the good (or bad) experience you encountered?
1. Challenges that an unfamiliar concept must overcome:
- instant dismissal (“We do this all the time” “It can’t be done”), immediate and unthinking
- poor understanding of potential users (instant dismissal blocks communication with potential users)
- weak concept design (potential design partners have no interest in a concept that has no user interest)
2. The unfamiliar concept:
- In a development/peacebuilding project, let the Theory of Change (action plan, articulated in a visual chain of cause-and-effect) evolve during the first few months of a project, as project staff interacts with local stakeholders and learns what is doable and worth doing in a specific local context
- The concept builds on commonplace methods in other disciplines (qualitative causal inference, market analysis, radical innovation in business research) (John Hoven)
I fail to think of examples in my professional life where all these levels have been genuinely aligned in a very effective way. Learning is difficult because it requires discipline and a good deal of process literacy, both being unevenly present in ourselves and our human groups... But I think it's also cross-cutting groups and networks (like KM4Dev) and conversations (like this one) that are linking learning at all these levels. In that sense a key aspect of learning through e-collaboration is about cultivating safe spaces for people to come share their different and even sometimes conflictual perspectives in a 'what's your story about', a 'yes and' or 'what if' or 'how about' kind of way. A curious, open, unguided conversation about just wanting to understand these other perspectives and dimensions. So it boils down to our own behaviour vis-à-vis each other again. It goes full cycle, starting and ending there. So for me the key lesson here is to help people (individually) cultivate their own learning as the stepping stone towards all learning. (Ewen Le Borgne)
What are the indicators we hold individually and collectively in this conversation, for example, that allow us to formally or informally identify the value we are creating together? # posts? # posts we have time to read? Links we actually follow? New relationships seeded? Ideas applied? Systems impacted? (Nancy White)
What steps did you, or a colleague, take to ensure success or overcome failure?
My response (John Hoven):
- pitch the concept to a variety of user communities in papers and conferences (no impact)
- summarize the concept in a simple one-page visual (no impact)
- participate in covid-motivated Zoom meetings, listen intently for individuals with a shared interest, and connect with those individuals (This is opening doors!)
What key lesson or advice can we draw from this?
- At individual level: a curiosity about everyone and everything, a conscious effort to 'stay on top of our game' and find out what is going on in the domain we're operating in; an active behaviour of curating or processing in some form of shape the relevant information we come across; cultivating questions and progressively exploring the zones that are not clear on our map, taking the time to make all of this happen; and allowing ourselves to bounce off our own ideas and learning gems with others to get some feedback and perspectives on these. I find that blogging is an incredibly valuable activity to help us reflect individually, and bridge that individual level towards other levels and more 'social' conversations. All of the above is easier said than done. It requires discipline, but it's so much worth the effort.
- At team level: valuing learning in and of itself (e.g. adopting a 'safe fail' attitude), though with a purpose in mind (e.g. being more efficient (single loop learning), being more effective (double loop), organising ourselves to be able to continuously being more effective (triple loop) not reinventing the wheel, innovating, anticipating the future; injecting learning in most activities (e.g. having a regular routine of conducting some sort of after action review / post-mortem); organising 'structured' reflections on a regular basis; encouraging team members to share their individual learning in the team (and this is where Peter Ballantyne's example of using Yammer to work out loud really worked for our ILRI comms & KM team); encouraging short feedback loops and documenting that learning but more crucially re-injecting it back into policies, protocols, procedures, processes, activities, practices, behaviours (the agile/scrum idea); valuing, inviting and refining feedback practices among team members to accelerate that learning (and again link with individual level)... In practice I find it's often at this team level that most of the learning is taking place. How it is connected with people individually and other relevant levels above is the question...
- At organisational level: Much of the above holds true here too, with the added challenge that it's also about encouraging learning across teams. And because of the longer term that matters here much more than in a team, ideas around reviewing where the organisation stands and how the space in which it operates is evolving are crucial here. Activities such as Ecocycle Planning (Liberating Structures) or future scenario building are really helpful. And that can be organised even online though face-to-face is perhaps easier. This is also the level where organisational incentives (e.g. in job descriptions, in peoples' appraisals or reviews or conversations about 'how things are going' matter. And this is where leadership from the management (and embodying that learning attitude) is crucial alongside leadership from all other staff members...
- At wider domain / network / sector level: back in the days when I worked with IRC WASH (with Peter Bury here and several others that many of you know), we focused a lot on 'sector learning'. It wasn't much done online, apart from those communities of practice or rather mostly discussion groups we had. The bulk of it was about making important issues for the sector known (through e.g. blog posts, webinars but especially meetings and conferences) or inviting people to explore these issues together; but primarily organising that sector-wide reflection through multi-stakeholder platforms such as learning alliances and innovation platforms. And like Carl's example of mostly conversation-based communities of practice (rather than writing/reading-based), it's the synchronous conversations that really got the sector community going and learning together. Again how they reflected that back in their organisational practices is another issue. (Ewen Le Borgne)
I'd like to build on Ewen's post on learning - what he notes in the paragraph I pulled out is the importance of seeing the work. Ecocycle http://www.liberatingstructures.com/31-ecocycle-planning/, for example, allows us to visualize our work as a basis for assessment, planning, reflecting. (And it works REALLY well online.) What I think is at the heart of it is when we can see the value created in learning through the reflective and double loop learning process, we are encouraged to keep going. So thinking about the levels of value creation (a la the Wenger-Trayner value creation framework https://wenger-trayner.com/resources/publications/evaluation-framework/) (Nancy White)
- Zoom meetings with small breakout groups are an effective way to build silo-breaking connections across communities and disciplines
- Organizational action is needed to facilitate innovative learning across communities and disciplines. The private sector is doing this; government and non-governmental organizations should embrace it, too.
- Individual innovators and change agents should make a concerted effort to build silo-busting personal relationships (John Hoven)