Tag Archives: networks

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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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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Thanks for commenting and more

Image

My icons on networks, connections and strategy

As I blog into 2012, it’s important to reflect on what I hope to achieve with my blog this year.

First, blogging is a personal practice where I reflect on work and ideas that intrigue me.  The act of blogging forces me to consolidate my thoughts, articulate them and share.  As an independent consultant, I don’t have office colleagues to do this with at the water cooler hence blogging is my metaphorical water cooler.  I hope to continue blogging and write more in the coming year.

Second, blogging is about connecting with others.  I need to connect and share with peers around the blogosphere and beyond to reinforce that despite working as a sole-proprietorship/consultant in a remote location – I am still connected!  The Internet has made working from home possible.  It has also enabled contacts and connections that I never would have thought possible 10 years ago.  Thank you to those that read, follow and link to my blog.  I particularly shout out thanks to those who commented in 2011 including Anni Holtby, Jennie Hoffman, Sylvia Currie, Beth Sanders and Isabella Mori.  Each person is someone I met outside the blog and have kept in touch with online.  I want to keep the conversation going in 2012!

Third, how are people finding my blog and how can I improve this?  The posts that got the most views in 2011 included topics of Graphic Facilitation and Planning, Collaboration, Relationship Building.  According to WordPress, I should continue to write on these topics as they have ‘staying power’.

Fourth, people find my blog with search terms such as graphic facilitation, relationship building and michelle laurie and my top five referrers include: Facebook, violette.ca (thanks), civicinfo.bc.ca (thanks to the graphic facilitation workshop I posted there), LinkedIn and kric.ca (sharing my workshop I think….).  I need to continue posting on my social networks and reach out to supporting networks.  My posts need to have tags that help people link to the posts and I should not change my name (even though I got married this past summer!).

Lastly, the infographics and metaphors used by WordPress to describe my stats were compelling.  For example: A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. My blog was viewed about 6,300 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people. They also used maps and stick people and photos to help tell me my story.  I appreciate this greatly as it engages me in the information and even enticed me to write a blog about it.  I would like to generate my own infographics in 2012 and tell more stories on my blog using metaphors to engage people.

Thanks for commenting in advance and keeping the connections going!

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Reflections of a home-based consultant living on the edge of the woods

“Be patient.  Good things come to those who wait.”

This is the Chinese fortune cookie wisdom I received Sunday night after eating out in a town nearby.  The town of 10,000 people is the hub of the region I live in which most likely has more trees, wildlife and clean running water than it does people.  Yes, I am feeling a little isolated.

My small town on the edge of the woods

I wonder if it’s the remote geography, working alone in my attic during the dark November days, or lack of strong professional networks to share the daily grind with.  Being patient is interesting advice as I have been thinking about my professional life lately and how I can enhance it from good to great as well as being less isolating.

For anyone that works on issues related to improving people, places and making positive change, you could imagine that doing this alone in your attic, mostly by typing into a computer box, could be a lonely place (despite my online friends – thank you friends 🙂 ).  Given that it’s a not so bad trade-off for living next to bears and powder skiing, I have been seeking advice lately to find that magical work-life balance.  Here are some of the nuggets that I plan to work on in the New Year:

–       Have a filter for work you take on.  Here are four criteria my inspiring colleagues at Bright Green Learning use: Impact, Creativity, Interesting, Learning.  I may add people/team to that list.

–       Network.  Go to conferences to meet people you want to work with and keep in touch with them.  This may mean dedicating two phone calls a day as follow up which is very possible (That is my brothers advice and he owns a successful HR magazine so I’ll take it).

–       Develop a local network of professionals who may also be looking for people to connect with.  I will use my community building experience to start this in 2012 with the domain being ‘professional development’ and the side benefits of deeper relationships and networking (this is an idea that has been on my mind since I moved here – time for action).

This is only the start to my 2012 ‘good to great’ list as my mind is burgeoning with ideas for connection, social media is at my finger tips and I should not forget my widespread community of friends, colleagues, alumni…who I should make more time to get in touch with.

Blogging is important to me as it is a place to reflect and share thoughts with others.  The professional world (even for someone living at the edge of the woods) has lots to offer.  So do I wait patiently for taking my professional life to the next level or work to make it happen?  Drop a line if you have a thought.  My top of mind response is that it will be a bit of both.

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Guidelines for Knowledge Partnerships

The Asian Development Bank has recently released “Guidelines for Knowledge Partnerships”, a report prepared by Heather Creech of IISD and myself.  This is a major step forward in our thinking on how to set up and manage partnerships that are primarily for the purposes of the generation and exchange of knowledge.   We built the guidelines around the OECD DAC criteria for evaluation (Relevance, Effectiveness, Efficiency, Impact and Sustainability), together with identifying building blocks and success factors.

We hope those of you currently working with partners, or building more formal networks and consortia of organizations will find these guidelines helpful.

You can download the guidelines on IISD’s website http://www.iisd.org/networks/manage/default.asp or from ADB: http://adb.org/documents/guidelines/knowledge-partnerships/default.asp

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