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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Welcome, Bernike

This post is to give a warm welcome to Bernike Pasveer of the European Centre for Development Policy Management who is going to be blogging with us here on The Giraffe.

Complexity Theory, Development and IKMemergent.

I was at an IDS seminar last Friday – “Knowledges, Capacities and Learning for Development: Insights from Complexity approaches”.  If the title is alarming then this ODI paper is an excellent primer, “Exploring the science of complexity Ideas and implications for development and humanitarian efforts”. An even shorter introduction comes from this post by Duncan Green, Head of Research at Oxfam who wrote a summary introduction to the ODI paper.

Ideas from complexity theory have permeated everyday discourse – see the butterfly’s wing and the hurricane – but so far I have never made the time to understand more. This is a two part blog entry. This post captures some first reactions – mine to Dave Snowden (who introduced and led the morning session) along with three short video reactions from participants.

I’ve read Dave Snowden’s work but this was the first time I have seen him perform. He has a rock-star style, as befits his KM guru status, full of anecdotes and one liners: the guru comes through in the principles, axiom-like, with which he peppers his delivery (if you tire, you can spot them because most of the audience start writing quickly: people stop taking voluminous notes quite early – he is very fast and the content is dense). He is also intensely human, which is why I chose this picture of him. He lodges his slides on his site, and like most of us, I suspect, has a set that evolve slowly over several events. This one seems to be close to the version we heard at IDS.  The slides are interesting in themselves, and capture a lot of his ideas, but not the performance of the day.

He has developed a body of work that I think is exceptionally broad and deep: his politics (I declare an interest here) are old left  but he works for British and US intelligence, military and business clients (“development consultants are those prepared to live with low margins”); he is a convergent academic, whose first degree was in Physics and Philosophy, and whose work now ranges across natural science, informatics, IT, social science and development – to name those I can distinguish; he has developed, with colleagues, methodologies for introducing to organisations and groups the ideas and implications of complexity (some of which we experimented with at the seminar); he has spawned a sophisticated software tool – sensemaker – that crunches and displays patterns derived from analysis of metadata associated with narrative fragments of sense making (signified – tagged – by the providers). These patterns display – numerically and, far more impressively, graphically, correlations that – it is claimed – illustrate culturally specific clusters of meaning, value and judgement. He is also sharing much of his materials and ideas at a site designed to be an Open Source, collaboratively developed resource. 

While I reflect on implications for IKMemergent, here are three interviews with seminar participants all involved in KM4Dev. These are provided in the spirit of the Snowden style – as narrative fragments to aid sense making. They are, typically, lightly constrained by a simple common framework – the question, “what does this mean to KS (and in one case, to KS and Oxfam)”. 

Ewan Leborgne, from the IRC, talks about the Cynefin framework, which is summarised here:




Snowden’s work is driven by the principle that the sense making must be participative, that providers of content must be engaged in the generation of the analytical frameworks with which we – the audience – can be helped to make our own sense of their contributions. So I invite Ben, Ewan and Jo to help us by providing some tags – filters, with which to interpret what they are saying here.

Welcome to Hugo

We now have another new member of our blog: Hugo Besemer. A very warm welcome to you too – we look forward to blogging with you!

More on the ‘Changing role of knowledge for development’

Last month (December), I posted a blog item about the conference on the ‘Changing role of knowledge for development.’

At that moment, Dr Ncayiyana’s presentation was not online but now it is, together with the other keynote presentations. On the subject ‘Knowledge for development: perspectives from Southern Africa’, he says a number of things which resonate with what IKM Emergent is trying to achieve:

Lessons learned

  1. Knowledge purveyors and the recipient community must have common objectives
    There can be a world of difference between what the purveyors of knowledge, that is, those bringing knowledge for development, think the community needs, and what the community itself believes it wants.
  2. Development requires multi-sectoral knowledge
    Health-related knowledge by itself will not achieve optimal impact on development without knowledge transfer in other sectors. Development is a symbiotic process requiring multi-sectoral input.
  3. Knowledge means change, and change is not always welcome
    Knowledge transfer is intertwined with change, and the benefits are not always immediately apparent to the recipient community. People tend to resist change, particularly where it clashes with traditional community values.
  4. Knowledge transfer is a two-way street
    Knowledge transfer is a two-way street. The purveyor of knowledge must be prepared to learn about the community from the community.

What role for knowledge institutions in the North to influence development in the South?
North can support South in the critical processes of:

Acquiring knowledge
Absorbing knowledge
Communicating knowledge

  • Share knowledge with the institutions and communities in the developing nations to support the acquisition of existing knowledge
  • Assist in human capacity development through fellowships and postgraduate training of scholars from the South to enable institutions in developing nations to be in a position to absorb the shared knowledge [fellowships, postgraduate qualifications]
  • Assist in the establishment or enhancement of an appropriate infrastructure (ICT, computers, library facilities) for the communication and exchange of knowledge from North to South, but also locally within the affected developing community. [MUNDO-Fontys project to establish a wireless ICT network in Tamale]

To sum it all up, knowledge institutions in the North can best assist by assuming a mentoring and nurturing role while being careful not to create a relationship of dependency and an attitude of entitlement.

Welcome to Lucie!

Lucie Lamoureux, facilitator of the influential KM4Dev community has now joined our blogging team. We would like to wish you a very warm welcome, Lucie, and are looking forward to your blog entries!