Positive deviants and failure. Part 1

Somewhere in your community or organisation, groups of people already doing things differently and better. To create lasting change, find these areas of postive deviants and fan their flames.

At the moment, there’s a couple of  interesting discussions going on on (my favourite community) KM4Dev, and I think they’re related. They both started on 19 September: the first was initiated by Sebastiao Ferreira on learning from failure and the second by Ewen Le Borgne on positive deviants. I’m going to start with positive deviants and then look at the link to failure in a couple of blog posts because I have a lot to say on this subject…

A couple of years ago, Laxmi Prasad Pant and Helen Odame wrote a paper, The promise of positive deviants, for the KM4D Journal which had a big influence on me. I thought about this paper – like a dog chewing on a bone  – off and on for quite a while and even changed IKM Emergent’s communications strategy to reflect their insights into positive deviants. In particular, they highlighted the importance of positive deviants in the sphere of knowledge.

Pant and Odame considered that (agricultural) knowledge is managed in highly contested environments where uncertainty characterizes stakeholder interactions. One dimension of this this disorder are so-called positive deviants who act out against the structures and ‘rules of the game’ in knowledge creation, application and regeneration. Positive deviants as powerful agents of change and are, for example, able to bridge the divides between expert and local knowledge systems. However, positive deviants have not yet been recognized in terms of their potential in international development because the legacy of deviancy theory lies on negative deviants, such as addicts and criminals.

Pant and Odame argue that positive deviants initiate change in spite of difficult social and organizational  environments: full of unpredictable obstacles or interferences. Moreover, they believe that challenging the status quo is one way to harness individual creativity and innovations in spite of constraining social structures and institutional-setups. In other words, social structures impose constraints to individual agency or action, and that structure and agency are a duality that cannot be conceived separately from one another (Giddens, 1984). This resonantes with IKM Emergent which, on the one had, is trying to bring about change within development but, at the same time, is part of the strucutre which it is trying to change.

I think that the members of IKM Emergent – and those interested in IKM Emergent – can largely be identified as positive deviants. But this goes wider and I think many members of KM4Dev are positive deviants as well:

This is because positive deviants challenge existing organizational structures and institutional set-ups, and promote alternative approaches to solve seemingly intractable social problems, either playing direct role of a boundary spanner or indirect role as activists.

In my next post, I’ll be looking at the link between positive deviants and failure…

Linking knowledge domains

The new weblog on Linking knowledge domains

I’ve created a new blog on Linking knowledge domains: knowledge integration across boundarieswhich aims to act as an access point for work on cross-domain knowledge integration which I’ve been doing for IKM Emergent over the past few years in collaboration with Josine Stremmelaar of Hivos and Wenny Ho. In particular, it will link to the seminar which took place on 23-24 January 2012 in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

At the IKM table: linearity, participation, accountability and individual agency on the practice-based change menu (1)

(Originally posted on KM for me… and You?)

On 20 and 21 February 2012, the  London-based Wellcome Collection is the stage for the final workshop organised by the Information Knowledge Management Emergent (IKM-Emergent or ‘IKM-E’) programme. Ten IKM-E members are looking at the body of work completed in the past five years in this DGIS-funded research programme and trying to unpack four key themes that are interweaving the work of the three working groups which have been active in the programme:

  1. Linearity and predictability;
  2. Participation and engagement;
  3. Individual agency and organisational remit;
  4. Accountability

This very rich programme is also a tentative intermediary step towards a suggested extension for the programme.

In this post I’m summarising quite a few of the points mentioned during the first day of the workshop, covering the first two points on the list above.

On linearity and predictability:

Linear approaches to development – suggesting that planning is a useful exercise to map out and follow a predictable causal series of events – are delusional and ineffective and we have other perspectives that can help plan with a higher degree of realism, if not certainty.

Linearity and predictability strongly emphasise the current (and desired alternative) planning tools that we have at our disposal or are sometimes forced to use, and the relation that we entertain with the actors promoting these specific planning tools.

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Connecting ivory towers

On 3 July 2009, Josine Stremmelaar, Wenny Ho and I organised a workshop at the CERES Summer School oimagesn the subject of connecting ivory towers, based on our common understanding that the domains of research, policy and practice in Dutch development cooperation are  are still acting too much from ivory towers, unable to break free from domain-related dynamics and interests. We discussed the ideas that we have been developing for some time with participants of the Summer School who are researchers.

A report of this workshop appeared in in the August 2009 issue of Vice Versa, a professional magazine for development cooperation, but it is not yet possible to link to it.  I might be able to add the link at some piont in the future…

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Towards Knowledge Democracy Conference (2): Boundary work

Robert Hoppe's diagramIn the session in which Iina Hellsten and I took part at the Knowledge Democracy conference last month on Boundary work: implications for the science policy interface, Robert Hoppe made an interesting presentation on Scientific advice and public policy, expert advisers and policymakers discourses on boundary work.

Robert Hoppe identified four different models of boundary work arrangements from the academic literature: an advocacy model, bureaucracy, social engineers and learning models. You can see all the different models in the figure here on axes of divergence/convergence and science/public policy.

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Managing “le savoir”

The date is set: 5 October 2009, in back to back with the annual KM4DEV event, the first cobbles on the road to a francophone community of practice on learning for development will be paved, in Brussels the modern Babel tower! Continue reading

For Complex Development Problems: We Need Bridging Leaders

This afternoon I saw in CNN how residents in Fargo, North Dakota pulled themselves together to protect their town against rising floodwaters by piling sandbags over threatened dikes.

Knowledge management (KM) is about achieving effective group action. During crisis situations — when a common threat is publicly visible and cause-and-effect relationships are known to everyone — effective group action follows easily. In complex development contexts, effective group action can happen if there is a leader who can see (better than most people can) and lead through three kinds of complexity:

  • Dynamic complexity: when causes and effects are far apart in space and time, and therefore less publicly visible;
  • Generative complexity: when the future is difficult for most to predict, or is likely to be unfamiliar or different; and
  • Social complexity: when people who are affected or who should take action do not share similar assumptions, beliefs and interests.
    (Source: Adam Kahane’s book “Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities,” Berrett-Koehler, 2004)This type of leader is called a bridging leader. Continue reading
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