Tag Archives: collaboration

Making sure your research doesn’t sit on the shelf: my recent experience in South Asia

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Getting your research into action!

Earlier this year I joined the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub (K-Hub) made up of research institutes located in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka (one in each country), as their knowledge management specialist. The K-Hub  is funded by the Asian Development Bank for three years and has some additional funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (specifically on the topic of innovative sanitation). It’s an exciting initiative that I’m looking forward to working with. What exactly will I do?

My role is to help the research centres have more impact with their research.  There is often an underlying assumption that good information will lead to good decisions. In reality, decision-making is a process and researchers have a role to play beyond producing information (creating a report does not mean you have influence!).  The people I’m working with are experiencing a shift from being predominantly researchers to ‘influencers of change’.

Our internal K-Hub journey started with a capacity assessment, followed by a group training on how to influence policy and practice for researchers. Each institute is now developing a work plan to guide efforts in their respective countries.

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NIUA from India presenting their stakeholder influencing map

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ITN-BUET from Bangladesh working on their influencing strategy.

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NIUA from India group discussion on influencing strategy.

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University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka developing their influencing strategy. The workshop was in Sri Lanka so many team members participated!

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Institute of Engineering from Tribuvan University in Nepal and their government partner are working on their influencing strategy. They came on board just before the meeting so only 2 members were able to participate on short notice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The training we undertook in May 2014 introduced a process to help the researchers consider from the start how their findings might be used, and how to build bridges with others so the priorities they identify can become the priorities of their governments and practitioners.  Given there are similar efforts being undertaken around the world (building capacity for influencing policy/practice), I wanted to share our process so far including the methodology we are working with.

 

There are many ways to go about this (see note below) and after reviewing a lot of material generated by others combined with my own experience, I narrowed it down to six steps:

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 influence story

Step 6: Monitoring and learning

Each step is part of a thinking process to remind researchers about WHY they are undertaking the research and that research is only part of the influencing process.  Indeed, we need to build evidence however we can also play a role in helping knowledge to be used to make change happen. You can find the six-step process described in detail (with activities to help you think through the step) in the attached guide (TrainingWorkbook_SL May 4-5-Final Formatted). I view the guidebook as a living document to be updated based on the experience of our K-Hub. Feel free to send me comments as well! The accompanying power point is here: K-hub_Training_May4-5_Final

While obvious for some, planning for change (i.e. outcomes) is quite challenging for many people. Project design (including research) based on outputs and activities has been acceptable practice for a long time.  No one asked why are you doing this research or this project?  What difference will it make? What change will you contribute to and how? Given this is a different way of thinking for the K-Hub researchers I don’t expect the shift will happen in a day.  However, I will be satisfied with my contribution when I hear the researchers talking about changes they want to contribute to, people they need to network with and why their strategy is working (or not) rather than reports and seminars. We have two to three years…

 

NOTE:

In developing the methodology, I reviewed numerous resources on line. Some of these resources are listed at the end of the training manual however many more were consulted, particularly on the theory behind influencing policy and practice.  I also interviewed three practitioners who provided me invaluable advice.  Thank you Enrique Mendizabal (onthinktanks.org), Nancy White (fullcirc.com) and James Georgalakis (http://www.ids.ac.uk/person/james-georgalakis) for generously sharing your ideas.

 

These musings are my personal reflections and I will be sure to keep reflecting (and updating you) on the process over the next two years. Webpages with project information are being developed by the K-Hub and will be shared when available. The ADB project page is http://www.adb.org/projects/46465-001/main

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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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Prepping for a Think Tank Presentation

I am preparing for the Canadian Evaluation Society Conference June 11 in Toronto, Canada.  I am presenting a paper I co-authored with folks from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) on Performance Improvement and Assessment of Collaboration: Starting points for networks and communities of practice.  I chose a Think Tank, rather than a standard presentation, because we are only at the start of our understanding…so why not use the knowledge in the room to help advance our collective thinking?

tangle

When researching the paper, one of the first challenges we came across was distinguishing between all the types of collaboration.  In general, it’s a tangle of terminology.

However, the first lesson to share from our research and consulting is that the fine distinctions between these terms are of limited value in determining how to improve performance and how to help organizers and participants account for the time and resources invested in the collaboration.  Rather, as a manager or evaluator, one should focus on key attributes that are critical to designing for and assessing performance.

I won’t share the whole paper here but in summary, the paper focuses specifically on collaborations of individuals seeking knowledge and support for purposeful individual or collective action (CoPs, knowledge networks, campaigns and so forth):

preferred revised imagePerformance improvement of these collaborations focuses on determining:

 – Whether there is sufficient social capital for participants to exchange information, learn from each other and work together; 

– Whether individual participants believe and can demonstrate that their knowledge and skills have benefitted from the time invested; and

– Whether there has been progress in advancing solutions toward a shared challenge.

We suggest that four areas to explore in strengthening performance assessment and improvement of networks are:

  1. Focus and Extensiveness;
  2. Understanding of Structure and the Evolution of That Structure over Time;
  3. Social Capital; and
  4. Activities, Outcomes and the Concept of Value Creation

We also suggest a few tools that might be relevant for assessing networks, however this is really my question for the group of Evaluators, among a few others:

  • What tools are you using to assess networks of individuals collaborating?  
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the tools?
  • What new ideas do you have to strengthen this area of practice?  
  • What are the potential pitfalls that we as evaluators should be aware of?

What might be a good question or two for a Think Tank on this subject?  Do you have an idea to share?  I would love to hear your thoughts and welcome your advice as I prepare the session.  Once again the paper can be found here.

Thank you in advance!  I will be sure to share the outcome with you after June 11th!

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Sustainability: Rear View Mirror and Crystal Ball

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at the 5th Building Sustainable Communities conference that reflected back on Rio (1992) and looked ahead to Rio+20 in terms of sustainability.  Given I am usually making presentations for others or coaching clients on messages for their presentations, I was excited to write my own talk.

Sustainability is at the core of my work in terms of the ultimate impact I hope to achieve.  However, my day to day reality often manifests as bringing people and their institutions together. The main message of my 10 minutes was that collaboration (the power with) is a key ingredient to address the sustainability challenges ahead. The slides are posted on slideshare.

I decided to use a mix of hand-drawn images (via my iPad) and photos from real places where I shared field experiences from Guyana, Senegal and British Columbia.  I received great feedback after the session on the visuals and the stories I shared (thanks to those who shared your thoughts, always appreciated!).

Some of the tactics I used included starting with a personal story, asking compelling questions, simplified design with hand-drawn images, and aiming to inspire others to make the changes I believe are necessary.

My final questions for participants to ponder included:

What are you currently working on that could be enhanced by collaborating with others?  Where could you achieve more if the scale at which you work was enlarged?  Where can you achieve more together than alone?

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Reaching out via Twitter

In the last couple months I have come across an info graphic on Twitter that is definitely worth sharing.  Thanks to @SocialBttrfly for reposting yesterday.

As a recently new ‘tweeter’ (6 months) these stats are helpful in understanding the power of Twitter and how to harness that power.  I have learnt:

  • Tweet between 9-11am or 1-3pm
  • Tweet on Tuesdays for maximum viewing
  • I am not alone on Twitter, 1 billion tweets go out every week
The info graphic is useful as while I am experiencing the power of Twitter by crowd sourcing information, sharing ideas and learning about new things via my networks and their networks, not everyone is convinced.  The info graphic may help boost confidence in your skeptics.  Yep – it’s a fast and fun tool for communication, outreach and learning.  How can you argue when someone is joining Twitter every 5 seconds? I admit, its a bit distracting.  Still, give it a try and share your twitter handle!  @MKlaurie is now going back to work 🙂

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I am tweeting!

A quick hello to say I am now tweeting thanks to the fine folks from #NV11 and #OCE2011 such as @bxmx and @ToriKlassen.  I am still learning however so far I have been using tags such as:

#adaptation – climate change adaptation 

#KM – knowledge management

#NV11 – Northern Voice

#Etug – another great event that was in Nelson and used graphic recording

#rosviz – a graphic facilitation workshop I host in Rossland July 13-15

It’s still new but looking forward to ongoing tweets!  You can follow me at @Mklaurie

I will post more as I learn more.  So far there have been benefits particularly around crowd sourcing knowledge, sharing quick information and event specific information (real time sharing).  If you have a specific use or learning about tweeting, please let me know via the comments below.

 

 

 

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What is collaboration?

Have you ever collaborated with someone yet didn’t feel like it was quite collaboration?  Perhaps you received a contribution or a comment or an input that was interesting yet didn’t make a substantive difference to the end product?  I feel the word collaboration is used loosely and should be reserved for times when all contributors are needed to create the outcome.  If this isn’t the case, maybe the input should be labelled differently such as contribution, cooperation, or commenting by colleagues.

This blog post from Cloudhead is a good start on differentiating terms we use in the world of working together:

“When collaborating, people work together (co-labor) on a single shared goal.
Like an orchestra which follows a script everyone has agreed upon and each musician plays their part not for its own sake but to help make something bigger.

When cooperating, people perform together (co-operate) while working on selfish yet common goals.
The logic here is “If you help me I’ll help you” and it allows for the spontaneous kind of participation that fuels peer-to-peer systems and distributed networks. If an orchestra is the sound of collaboration, then a drum circle is the sound of cooperation. ”

I would add to this that “To Collaborate” is to contribute to an end goal in a way that could otherwise not be reached without that collaboration.  Hence, collaboration can help create efficiencies of work (rather than increase work load) and bring new ideas to the end product which often means a stronger more robust product as well.

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