Category Archives: knowledge management

Questions and reflective practice

question

This morning I came across a resource that really resonated with me. Its geared toward visual practitioners however the idea is pertinent to all facilitators, process designers, strategists and others managing processes for change. You can view it here:

http://drawingchange.com/question-well-a-reflection-tool-for-visual-practitioners/

The question well (name of the resource) is about taking a moment to pause and reflect on the work you are doing. It poses great questions that relate to you and your work, you and your client, the client and your work and so forth. As a process facilitator, blogger and someone who works with groups on reflective practice, learning and making meaning – this resource is a fabulous start to ensuring our work is more effective. It helps us understand things from different perspective, look for areas to make change, adapt as well as reinforce where things are going well.

In addition to pointing out the usefulness of reflective practice, it also presents questions that can be applied in a variety of circumstances beyond visual work. These questions help us design better processes, engage with groups on a deeper level and build understanding amongst diverse stakeholders that are often trying to work on layered and complex challenges.

Lastly, a big thank you to the authors for taking time to pull together the resource and generously sharing their work!

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From the field: tips for policy engagement

Samoan Circle Discussion on Policy Engagement with ADB, UN-Habitat, ICIMOD and MOUD (Nepal)

I have recently been reflecting on a knowledge sharing and learning session I organized in Nepal in March 2015 on the topic of Policy Engagement. This is part of my capacity building role in the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub. A highlight of the 2 days was a panel on policy engagement which was held in a circle where those listening could ask questions by joining the speakers in the inner circle. The speakers included Dr Mahendra Subbha, Joint Secretary DUDBC from Nepal’s Ministry of Urban Development, Bhushan Tuladhar from UN-Habitat (South Asia), Mr Nand Kishor Agrawal of ICIMOD and Vivian Castro-Woolridge of the Asian Development Bank.

Some interesting points that came out of the circle discussion included:

  • In academic and applied research, framing of issue needs to be considered
  • Consider who is the best gatekeeper? Who is a good messenger?
  • Get embedded on major committees so you can take advantage of policy windows, opportunities.
  • Sell how your research can contribute to long-term change
  • Materials should be readable, use native language, have colour and a summary
  • Reach out to those that can help – i.e. media
  • Publish science, be credible but also communicate and be relevant to society
  • Its our responsibility as researchers to create demand.
  • Collaborate (public, private and academic)

At the end of the session, each speaker was asked to give one final piece of “Key Advice”. This is what they said:

  • Think design, pre-policy and disseminate
  • Advocacy, Advocacy, Advocacy
  • Never take a top scientist to a meeting – take a communications expert
  • Rephrase and repackage

What are your tips and lessons? Please share in the comments feature!

As the Khub continues on the path of research and engagement in the urban development field I am constantly reminded of this spirited discussion. I hope it has stuck in our researchers’ minds as well 🙂

I have posted presentations from the 2 day gathering online:

If interested in the session workbook, email me for a copy (michelle.k.laurie(@)gmail.com).

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Tips for Researchers Drafting a Policy Engagement Strategy

Illustration by ‘Tim Hamons’ downloaded from the FB group: Graphic Facilitation

Illustration by ‘Tim Hamons’ downloaded from the FB group: Graphic Facilitation

As part of the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub all national centres are required to draft a policy engagement strategy. This is the metaphorical bridge in the illustration above.

Researchers in the project I work with, do a policy engagement strategy for each work plan objective that focuses on making a change in the urban development sector. The purpose is to help researchers, who often are engaging in policy dialogue and change for the first time, think through their ideas more thoroughly. As well, it is a great way to stimulate discussions in the team, bring information forward and detail a plan of action for ensuring engagement of stakeholders throughout the change process (from ideation to implementation ideally). Finally, it’s essential so that the researchers can BRIDGE (see image above) the knowledge generated through their research and the change they want to see in policy and practice.

I drafted a template for this in May 2014 and we held a training. I based it on many works found on the Internet and discussions with practitioners. More information about that process is here. I received several draft strategies this week which has led to me to consider how to re-iterate some of my key points. I updated the strategy and sent some tips to the researchers as a reminder of the main ideas of the engagement strategy.

An updated version of the template is here: K-Hub-Template-PolicyEngagementStrategy_April2015updated

As a refresher, the 6 main steps include:

  • Step 1: Define the issue
  • Step 2: Articulate the goal
  • Step 3: Understand your context
  • Step 4: Identify decision makers, key actors and relationships
  • Step 5: Describe your engagement process
  • Step 6: Monitoring and learning

The tips I provided were the following:

1. Step 1-4 are background information.
  • Going through these steps helps you ensure you have thought about your issue clearly.
    • What is it is? Is it relevant? Who else is working on it? What policies exist? Who supports or doesn’t support your issue? What are the windows of opportunity to create change? What is your objective with respect to engagement? (this may be different than your work plan objective (more specific) however it may be the same as the work plan too), USE THE GUIDING QUESTIONS IN THE TEMPLATE.
  • Be as specific as possible with your identification of stakeholders to influence/engage. People are important (as well as the major groupings). This supports knowledge management – i.e. your entire team should be able to identify the different people they need to talk to (individuals matter a lot in making change). Figure out who has influence and who is keen on your ideas (or not). This helps you design your strategy for engagement. You will need different tactics to bring different people on board.
  • In addition, this document is meant to be shared with others on your team and other stakeholders of interest. Thus it should be detailed enough that people understand the issue, recognize the context/background and opportunities for change and your road map to making change.
2. Step 5. – this should describe HOW you are going to engage and how you are getting knowledge to your different stakeholders.
  • All the aspects of involving stakeholders should be in this section from the outset of your ideas/research to final product (its more than dissemination at the end!). Forming working groups, involving peer reviewers from your network – these are all ways to engage and bring people on board to your ideas.
  • You should think about big picture tasks but also communication tactics – for example, do you need to create data visualizations, work with the media, NGOs or others to make materials more accessible for others.
  • You should include time to work on key messages!
  • This section is the heart of your strategy.
  • Make sure you document your assumptions of why you think your strategy will work. This is how we learn (in case things don’t go as planned). If you recall the recent talk by John Young from ODI ( he spoke to our researchers on monitoring and learning), this section is your Theory of Change.
  • You should have a timeline here as this is a mini work plan specific to your engagement. It will overlap with your work plan. You are not starting from scratch but rather building on what you started and getting into more detail.
3. Step 6. – This is exactly what we worked on during our session on Monitoring and Learning in Kathmandu (with John Young as per above).
  • Use the work sheet from the meeting in March and detail out a few indicators (see step 6 in K-Hub-Template-PolicyEngagementStrategy_April2015updated).
  • Start with ideas from your work plan however adapt as needed. We talked about expect to see, like to see, and love to see indicators.
  • Monitoring is important as how will you know how much you have achieved and why? How will you communicate this later?
  • For long term sustainability of the K-Hub, donors want and need this information.
I really believe these engagement strategies are interesting as they tell the story of how each researcher plans to make change based on evidence. After reading a few, I realize that in effect they are a case study of each project. If we manage to write great stories (whether we succeed or not) and explain our intent, why it worked, why it didn’t work and our suggestions for the future, these could be an interesting piece of work for others in the world also working on trying to make change. Thus, the K-Hub could publish these as a joint Knowledge Product at the end of the first phase. The K-Hub could also use it for marketing purposes for sustainability of the K-Hub for the longer term.
My final message was that despite being new and perhaps daunting, researchers should take time to make these engagement strategies GREAT and continue to update them. This is valuable for the change making process as well as the wider K-Hub journey.
What do you think?

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Sense making, friend making and glaciers

About a year ago, I was asked if I could help make a traditional scientific symposium (International Glaciology Symposium on High Mountain Asia) into something different. A group of glaciologists from ICIMOD, locally organizing the international scientific symposium, and the IGS scientific steering committee, wanted people to leave saying ‘Wow! That was a great conference!”

How could I resist?

Last month, after a lot of co-designing, back and forth, and many changes up until the last moment…we did it.

Here is a bit of our story. You can also see the tweets and some images at #IGSKTM

The main areas we wanted to focus on were:

1. Sense making. 

Scientists are subjected to powerpoint presentations from morning to night, day after day. Typically there is very little time for questions, if at all. There are no discussions. Thus, participants leave a 5 day meeting possibly having seen 100’s of presentations yet having no time to digest them, let alone understand the bigger picture they might contribute to. We wanted to provide a legacy of learning – i.e. sense making of the content – for participants. They should leave remembering the key trends, patterns and emerging issues in their field of work.

After the daily keynote talk, tables took 5 minutes to create a newspaper headline.

After the daily keynote talk, tables took 5 minutes to create a newspaper headline.

Headline after a keynote in Black Carbon.

Headline from a table discussion after a keynote in Black Carbon.

2. Friend making.

Despite spending 5-6 days at a conference, often far from home, participants are rarely given the opportunity to meet and network. People who know each other typically sit together at the group dinners and traditionally the sessions have people sitting in rows (classroom style or theatre style) which doesn’t lend itself to conversation aside from one or two neighbours. We wanted to ensure that people had ample time to meet and also help those who aren’t great at networking interact with their peers. Participants at this conference would hopefully leave having spoken to many new people, have the opportunity to find others working on similar fields of interest and simply increase their contacts and network professionally.

Participants could pin where they work. The online roster was a place to see who these people actually are!

Participants could pin where they work. The online roster was a place to see who these people actually are!

People loved the poster sessions. We had a scavenger hunt at one to encourage people to find each other!

People loved the poster sessions. We had a scavenger hunt at one to encourage people to find each other!

3. Wow!

Leaving meetings tired and burnt out is not unique to science meetings. This is typical for most meeting goers and we wanted to make this one different. Rather than being tired at the end of the day, we wanted people to feel energized and excited. We strove to include sufficient content, discussion and fun to keep people going over 6 days talking about glaciers.

Here are some of the things we did to help shift a traditional scientific symposium into something people will remember:

  • Less formality
    • TV Talk show format to set the scene for the symposium (as opposed to traditional panel)
    • Seating at round tables to encourage conversing with colleagues and meeting new people (see their faces, as opposed to traditional seating in rows) [people were really shocked when they entered the room]
    • Large scale imagery in the venue to give a sense of the region despite meeting in Kathmandu (we were discussing the highest mountains in the world and we showed them!)
    • Outputs and visuals from discussions posted in coffee break areas so people could congregate around something.
  • Discussion and sense-making by participants for a greater synthesis of information
    • Tables created news headlines after key note talks [they had 5 minutes to discuss the talk, create a headline and this was followed by 10 mins of Q&A]
    • Tables worked on key questions throughout the day (after a set of science talks) that were later compiled and synthesized by session chairs and presented back to participants the following morning. [they had 10 mins after a set of talks to work on their synthesis questions as a table. Chairs created a daily summary to present in 5 minutes the following morning. They were very diligent.]
    • A full synthesis is envisaged as part of a long editorial for the Annals of Glaciology and for further communication purposes. The start was put into a press release distributed by ICIMOD following the event.
    • *Note we had to reduce the number of talks to have time for discussion (this took a lot of convincing) however we still managed to have 46 scientific talks plus 16 open space sessions (mentioned below) and the opening panel.
  • Time for conversations that matter
    • One morning was dedicated to open space, a technique where the participants create an agenda on the spot.
    • Over 100 participants proposed 16 topics which became one hour sessions (eight per parallel session).
    • Important conversations and connections were made. People’s interests and ideas were valued and appreciated.
    • Time taken at the opening session and closing session to personally reflect on what you hope to get out of the symposium and what you learned. Participants were given time to share this with a friend, the table and the room. We used a technique called 1-2-4-all.
    • Field trip midway (this is typical for and IGS and they like it…so we kept it!)
  • Networking onsite and for the future
    • A glaciologist scavenger hunt took place during the first poster session as a way to get people to learn about each other and connect with people they don’t normally talk to.
    • A map was posted where people added where they work so they could see others working in their region.
    • A roster was created where people added their name, contact email and research interests plus a photo. This will be sent out via email to help enable ongoing networking between the scientists.
    • Each day participants were encouraged to sit at new tables with new people to help change their conversations for the synthesis as well as meet new colleagues.

IMG_2674

Half a day was dedicated to  participants creating their own agenda on topics that mattered to them. Small break out sessions ensued.

Half a day was dedicated to participants creating their own agenda on topics that mattered to them. Small break out sessions of engaged people ensued.

IMG_2681 IMG_2680 IMG_2677

Some areas to consider in the future:

  • Longer poster sessions (in our case to accommodate the larger number of posters received). Perhaps timing the sessions at the end of the day would also make it easier to extend it for those who are interested. We had one at the end of the day however two were after lunch to help reduce the food coma issue. Though in retrospect people really loved the poster sessions and likely would have stayed late to continue their conversations had they all been at the end of the day.
  • Questions from science talks could be re-organized. For example rather than giving 5 mins for questions directly after speakers, let tables speak for 3 minutes after a talk to gather specific questions as a table. Then after a set of talks take 10 minutes of questions. This idea was proposed by a participant who felt the questions were not as well thought out as the synthesis which allowed for discussion before hand.
  • Include options for workshops on science communications. This is an idea being explored for future symposiums. How to make a great poster, give a presentation, get published, interact with the media and policy makers were all topics that emerged in our open space session.
  • Add a few fields to the online registration so a roster can be given out at the start of the symposium to participants to help facilitate networking immediately.

It was a very rewarding experience to work with these scientists. They have so much knowledge and energy. It was nice to be able to set the container to help great conversations happen, to make sense of the immense information presented and to suggest ways for colleagues to continue their contact after the symposium ended. Wow! That was fun!

p.s. an ICIMOD photographer was taking gorgeous photos. I will update the blog if I can get a few his.

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Blogging as Reflective Practice on this Sunny Monday Morning

I started this blog in 2007 as a way to keep in touch with a remote team while working in the field in West Africa. Over the years, I have found it very useful to reflect on my work, reflect on my learning and share interesting things that I’ve come across with the blogosphere.

Enjoying the Tien Shen Mountains July 2013.

Enjoying the Tien Shen Mountains July 2013

The last couple months have been quite the whirlwind after a relaxing summer focused on family and travel.  I gave two energizing facilitation workshops using visuals (a topic I love) and have been looking at the social impacts of a global mining company on one of their communities (really fascinating).  It’s been busy but nice to be working on subjects I care about that also contribute to making the world a better place (in my humble opinion).

I am now about to embark on a major shift in the way I work for the next 6 months.  I plan to test the boundaries of a knowledge worker by moving my office (computer + phone + brain) to Kathmandu, Nepal.  Much of the work I do requires 80% planning and 20% face-to-face.  Hence, I don’t really need to be chained to my desk in an office in Canada.  Some of the work I do is feasible from a desk in Kathmandu, for other projects I’ve recommended colleagues to take my place and I hope to make new contacts in Asia and work with them on national and regional projects.

While considering this idea of working from anywhere, I came across an advertisement for a very cool contract that could be based anywhere in the world.  This seemed to be a great opportunity to work on a topic I’m passionate about AND still be able to live in a developing country for a much-desired cross-cultural experience.  Even better, this would allow me to connect to networks in two different parts of the world (which I feel would enrich the work even more than I could from one location).   I put in a proposal and was very excited to be selected for an interview.  Wow – could this dream contract come to fruition?

Well, I spent the last few days preparing for the interview and got up at 5AM this morning, made my way to a local ‘HUB’ (shared office space you can rent for meetings) and had a phone interview with people from three different continents.  Despite my belief that I am definitely a fabulous candidate for the contract, I came away feeling that I had not quite rocked the interview.   While it’s all a bit up in the air, I am now reflecting on the process so I can learn from the experience and make sure that I rock future interviews! So I asked myself 3 questions: What did I do well? What could I improve on?  How to move forward with a positive frame of mind?

  1. What did I do well?  This is an important question as overall I am happy with the fact that I was selected for an interview amongst a global pool of candidates.  My written proposal was strong and I had a lot of experience to share.  I learned a lot about the subject matter through research online and I reconnected with several colleagues and networks around the world.  I had great conversations with a lot of great people while preparing my ideas for the interview. Preparation was very inspiring and got me excited about a potential future.
  2. What could I improve on?  Despite feeling a little blah after the interview, it’s helpful to understand why I felt this way and I have a few ideas.  The easiest thing to change in the future would be to do interviews at a reasonable hour, when all engines are fired up.  Waking up at 5AM and speaking to a group of strangers around the world via telephone was more challenging than I thought. I would have likely been more coherent and energetic with daylight and a few cups of coffee in the system.  In addition, while preparation is important, it’s equally important to listen carefully to the questions being asked.  Answers should be short and sweet (to the point).  At times, I found myself distracted by ideas I had prepared rather than speaking from the heart in the moment.  This took me on a few unnecessary tangents and I did not always deliver with confidence.  Lastly, unable to see body language and receive feedback was challenging for me as I am a conversationalist and enjoy the back and forth / group conversation rather than providing a monologue.  I could ask for SKYPE or FaceTime interviews in the future.
  3. How to move forward with a positive frame of mind? Now what?  It’s not over yet and I remain hopeful. Still, the process has taught me a few things about myself that I would like to work on in the future. The biggest one is the skill of improvisation.  Improv is a must-have for leadership, facilitation and interviews.  One of the first principles is to be prepared (which includes ‘warming up’, i.e. coffee,  sunshine and chit-chat for me).  While preparation is important, one also needs to ‘let go’ in the moment in order to be truly authentic and present. Another principle is willingness to fail and/or make mistakes as this means we are trying, taking risk and engaging with something new.  On this note, I definitely can I say I put in a good effort and am not afraid to try. There are several other principles but one for me to work on is to stay in the moment (as noted above, don’t be distracted by your prep in the interview).

It’s been helpful to reflect on my Monday morning, my experience and the future.  I am not sure what the year ahead holds however I’m certain it will be filled with fun, interesting, and meaningful experiences wherever I go.  These are exciting times and I’m happy to step out of my comfort zone, even if it is ‘uncomfortable’ (obviously!).

I’ll be sure to share a few updates from Kathmandu.

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Knowledge Management & Climate Change Adaptation

A few months ago, the KM4Dev Journal put a call out for contributions linking Knowledge Management and Climate Change Adaptation.  Given these are two of my most passionate areas of work, I could not resist.

I wrote a short story: Lessons on bridging knowledge management with climate change adaptation: a story from southeastern British Columbia, Canada.

My goal was to explain some of the jargon and get down to the basics.  You can read about it here: http://journal.km4dev.org/index.php/km4dj/article/viewFile/138/204

Comments welcome!

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My Harvest from a Think Tank on Assessing Collaboration

slide 1 IISD-whiteThe International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has worked for over a decade on research and capacity building for performance assessment and improvement of collaboration in order to help partnerships partner, alliances ally and networks work.

Our most recent paper was presented at the Canadian Evaluation Society Conference in Toronto (June 2013) via a Think Tank session and provided preliminary reflections on performance improvement and assessment of groups of individuals working together in networks and communities of practice.

The session started with a summary of our initial thinking and was followed by a World Café brainstorm to help further our collective understanding using the knowledge in the room.

My introduction covered four main points:

  1. Collaboration and knowledge sharing are increasingly viewed as essential for achieving the sustainable development agenda.
  2. Don’t get caught in the tangle of terminology between learning networks, knowledge networks, CoPs.
  3. Do distinguish between:
    1. Multistakeholder, multi-sectoral, networked governance process
    2. Relationship among group of organizations
    3. Collaboration between individuals
  4. Once the distinction made, determine:
    1. Focus and extensiveness
    2. Emergent structure
    3. Social capital
    4. Desired outcomes and value creation of the collaboration

The full presentation via powerpoint is here.

The paper can be downloaded here.

World Café is a participatory technique I use to host meaningful dialogues with groups.  You can learn about the technique here if you are interested.

The theme of our café was: Assessing Individual Purposeful Collaboration. People were seated at tables of 4-5 people and we had three quick rounds of discussion, each with a different question.  After each round, participants got up and moved tables so we cross-pollinated ideas across diverse groups of individuals.  One person remained at the table as the host and was responsible for documenting key messages from the conversation.

Visual Summary of our Think Tank Session: Performance Improvement & Assessment of Collaboration:  Starting Points for networks and CoPs

Visual Summary of our Think Tank Session: Performance Improvement & Assessment of Collaboration:
Starting Points for networks and CoPs

Key messages were then placed on a visual template and were clustered by emerging themes.  At the end of the café, we gathered around the landscape created and reviewed what we created.  The messages are highlighted below as a reminder for participants and as a way to share our learning with those who were not able to attend but are interested in this topic.

Question 1: What constitutes success in collaboration?  What are indicators of that success?

(These are the green trees on the landscape)

Themes that emerged:succss indicators

°    Relationships (sense of belonging, trust)

°    Participation (engagement, culture of knowledge sharing individuals, motivation)

°    Diversity of knowledge exchange

°    Agreement on objectives (commitment to shared purpose)

°    Sustainability

 

Question2: What are the potential challenges evaluators should be aware of?

 (These are the grey boulders in the river)

Themes that emerged:

°    Measurement:

  • Inadequate assessment tools
  • How to measure contribution, attribution and social capital
  • Agreement on what to measure
  • Nonresponse and selection bias

°    Frameworks:

  • Finding a framework inclusive of diverse groups and diverse knowledge bases
  • Changing goals and visions, shifing focus

°    Group and organizational dynamics

  • Competing agendas, conflicting interests
  • Culture that doesn’t support collaboration
  • Lack of trust
  • Changing membership, turnover

°    Capacity:challenge indicators

  • Lack of skills, time, resources

 

Question 3: What ideas do you have to strengthen this area of practice?

(These are the yellow and orange clouds in the sky)

Themes that emerged

°    Establish shared vision and measures at outset:new ideas

  • Governance structure
  • Common understanding of goals
  • Clear outputs and outcomes
  • Develop measurable indicators

°    More reflective practice throughout network life cycle:

  • Evaluator actively engagement with the network/CoP
  • Developmental evaluation techniques
  • Resources to undertake reflection (time and money)
  • Generate interest among participants

°    Measurement:

  • Use a proxy such as common elements with other CoPs, identify value-added
  • Assess the dynamics of the group (the individuals)
  • Track online data (usage/number of hits)
  • Assess for alignment of purpose vs. structure
  • Use the spectrum of engagement (observer-participant-leader)
  • Test via small group experiment/ pilots

°    Improved information sharing and networking tools:

  • Data repository
  • Open sharing

Overall, there is a need for more data collection and research on this topic.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the session and generating ideas for further study.  It was a great experience to dive deeper into the topic of  improving the performance and ability to assess collaboration with a group of such passionate people.  Please keep in touch!

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