web 2.0 for development

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The Spirit of the Share Fair 2011

Today the Second AgriKnowledge Share Fair starts.

Before anything else, we, the Steering Committee, think the Spirit of the participation to this event to be crucial.

Interview with Willem Bettink - one of the organizers of the #sfrome

I like very much Willem’s description of the spirit of the Share Fair 2011.

The first and main aspiration is to “have a lot of fun”: we need to chill out, talk to other people, get out of our daily routine and breath fresh air to bring innovation and new idea in what we are doing

This is the spirit we want and need to transmit to all the participants and to our institutions, in general. If people will come out of the the week with this spirit permeating their job, then our work can be considered successful.

Let us know this spirit is able to conquer your soul and your job.


Internet and the new way of thinking

It’s a long time I have the impression that my mind is changing the way it “works”.

In other words, I feel like the tools I use to do my job, and Internet in particular, are modifying the way my mind process information and manage knowledge. So, reading, writing and, consequently, working approaches have been reshaped. Here are the main differences I perceived between today and the past:

  • Reading, that is one of my passions, has been transforming, both in type and quality. Since I was in the high school, I considered myself a good reader because of the large amount and variety of books I read. Today, I see a tendency to focus mainly on a certain kind of readings: shorter, lighter, faster. This attitude is probably due to a specific moment of my life: I spend much time in my office, reading documents and absorbing a lot of information. As a result, in the rest of my life of reader I may need something very different. This explanation I gave to myself is true for sure but maybe not exhaustive. In fact, I perceive that also some other factors influence my choice.


  • The way I approach writing is also changed. I remember when writing essays at school. Few minutes to make up my mind on the topic and some hours to squeeze the brain to get everything on paper: funny and exhausting at the same time! Today, I spend more time on the preparation of a document rather than on its production. And this process sees a different level of mental concentration: it seems like my brain is working HORIZONTALLY (more than an issue at the time, all of them in parallel) rather than VERTICALLY (one issue at a time, one after the other). Experience and different needs influence the process but they are not alone.
  • As a consequence, also my working approach has been changing during the years. Since 1996, when I was entering data for a website of ENEA (the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment), I got the impression that many things changed in the way my mind is managing information. The process my neurons follow to approach, manage and store bits evolved. Today it resembles the combination of a puzzle, linking together bits and pieces of information, most of which are already existing inside or outside my brain. It seems to me that I’m more involved in the “connection” rather than the “production” of pieces of knowledge.

Trying to visualize these processes, I see the PATH of my mind, that once was linear, becoming more fragmented, like a game of connecting pieces of information that are not necessarily distributed one after the other.

So what?

I’m using my personal experiences to introduce the point highlighted in an interesting article called Is Google making us stupid?. The question Nicholas Carr is rising is: “are our metal habits changing?“.

I tried to give my personal  answer to this question putting together different consideration like:

– the title of the article can be misleading (the focus is on the Internet and NOT on Google),
– someone, like Stowe Boyd and Kevin Kelly, do not agree with Nick’s ideas,
– some else, like Scott Karp or Bruce Friedman had similar experiences to those described in Carr’s article,
– there are many points of contact with what we discussed at the KM4DEV meeting in 2008, and
complexity is becoming one of the key of my everyday job (have a look at the image with the list of groups connected or related to the KM4DEV group),

At the end, I agree with most of the thesis proposed in the article.

After this reading, I consider the reflection OPEN and the topic far from being cleared. First of all, I don’t even know if we have to talk about a PROBLEM or just a CHANGE, a CULTURAL change. For sure, we have to consider the long list of dichotomies emerging from this new approach (faster but lighter, larger but less in details, etc.) and see if, at the end, PROs are bigger then COUNTs or not.

Secondly, how deeply the “age” can influence mental processes? When I was young, I completely focused on “creation” of knowledge, without external points of reference whom to look at for help. Today, after more than ten years working, I can both create and “manage” knowledge, having better results in terms of global experience.

The analysis is just started and time will say if this change was deep and real or just an adjustment to the need of the moment.

p.s.: I found great comfort in realizing that OUR brains are changing, and not only mine!

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Prodding from the Share Fair 09

Thanks to Nadia Manning-Thomas, my friend in the KM4DEV list, for this interview to Geoff Parcell, who opened the Share Fair 09 with his keynote.

When asked about the highlights of the Fair, Geoff, who is in charge of the knowledge management for the WHO, UNDP, the World Bank and the Swiss Development Agency, noted:

An additionally exciting part of the event for me was being able to witness the overall chaos and energy in the Atrium.”

I felt exactly the same. It is definitely true that there was a wind of emotion and energy across the “Atrium” of FAO. This place, a very large hall with a glass cover and lots of plants, is usually silent and not living. There are occasions across the year, with the Committee on  Forestry, Fishery or Agriculture, when life comes to the Atrium but still, it does not become vital. It’s just movement, passing by, crossing the space with no or few occasions for real INTERACTION: to meet, sit together, talk and share.

For sure people have energy also in those occasions BUT is not easy to show off. Maybe, because people are very much willing to say or show something, rather then to meet someone or hear something. Geoff’s interview was titled “Time to make connections – not collections” and this can make us reflect!

Geoff’s interpretation of the future for international organizations, like FAO and the other Rome-based UN Agencies, is another good point to reflect:

All of the organizations involved in this Share Fair can no longer think of themselves as the authority on food and agriculture. People will get information wherever they can. And especially with new and advancing technologies, information is now available in many more ways than it has been before.

Regarding this, last November, when the Cultural Change Team initiative was launched at FAO, I wrote some notes on the problem of “Changing”. Now, I see Geoff’s position and mine are very similar, at least when we both agree that International Organizations have to get into a new perspective, where facilitation of international projects is a key point and becomes a powerful condition.

Essentially knowledge management is an attitude change from ‘we are the experts, telling others what to do’ to ‘let’s look at what’s going on and see how to support those efforts.’ The problem is that people feel threatened by change.

What they don’t realize is that it can be a very powerful thing to facilitate processes rather than dictating or leading them.

The point for us now is to find the way to spread this message and help people not to feel threatened by this occasion and future perspective.



CHANGE seems to be the KEY word all over the world these days.

FAO dialogue of the Reform processAt FAO, two main events just took place last week. The Organization is undertaking a deep and serious process of internal restructuring. After the IEE (Independent External Evaluation) report, which suggested many and different changes in the strategy, the approach and the structure, now it is time for implementation. It will officially start after the approval of the action plan by the member states, late this November. As you can see in the picture, all of us were invited to attend a presentation meeting organized by the Senior management to illustrate the guidelines of the FAO Reform.

Cultural Change TeamAt the same time, in parallel and due to this process, a new ad-hoc tool to promote change has been created in the house: the “Culture Change Team” is in charge of taking care of this change-of-mentality process. The first public appearance was the convocation of a voluntary gathering called Open House session, which I attended last Tuesday.

The meeting was very informal and easy, with a short introduction of the Team, which is composed by 15 people, both from headquarters and Regional offices. Second step consisted in an invitation to comment and complement in a proactive way the draft list of vision statements prepared by the Team. Lastly, a longer World Cafe session allowed people to gather in small groups of 5/6 persons to discuss for some 25 minutes how we would like the culture of FAO to be. Each group’s final report was publicly illustrated to the assembly.Cultual Change Team

In the meanwhile, the issues of change, reform and new culture are being addressed more and more also in the web Forum on the Intranet which is, I think, a good sign of commitment and willingness by people involved in the process.

Still, scepticism persists. It is clear and widespread. The question “Is this the real time for change?” came clearly out during the presentation meeting. Again TRUST came out to be the fundamental factor upon which collaboration is built. If people do not trust the leaders, than their actions, whatever they are, will be unlikely to be successful. In this regard, I can say that many colleagues, not “trusting” this trend, choose not to join the presentation meeting which had been organized by the Senior management to illustrate the guidelines of the FAO Reform.

The FAO culture people wantTo me, this need of reorganization is deeply connected to a wider change the entire world faced in the last decades, where two key factors mainly changed: transportation and communication. In my vision, in a world where space and time ceased to be strong barriers, an international organization committed to eradicate hunger and poverty in the framework of the United Nations, as FAO is, and which is fundamentally based on knowledge to achieve its goals, has to find in the worldwide scenario a completely different role from the past. In my opinion, it has to move from “supporting” Governments in the management of development activities, to “facilitating” the interaction between Governments and local/regional/international actors to work jointly on development projects.

ChangeIn a nutshell, in the future I see FAO as a facilitator of processes, at local level, and as a supervisor for strategies, at regional and international level.

As a consequence, the range of activities, skills, tools, methodologies and even type of knowledge the organization has to use have necessarily to change considerably in the near future.


TRUST and TIME: the crucial factors of online communities

The 3rd workshop on online communities just finished and Nancy and I are here collecting the experience and trying to find out what was good and what wrong (if any!). Personally, I’m very positive after this training as I see many people really interested in what we are proposing. And we are not talking about a transitory phenomenon but we are showing the next step of the Net: Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, just wrote an article on the Economist, highlighting the value of online communities.

What’s always clearer to me is that, talking about online communities, we propose something more than just “discussing”. We offer people, whoever they are, the idea of CHANGING the way they approach the others, they get in touch with other people and colleagues, they work and share their knowledge. In few words, we propose a CULTURAL change whose main point is: TRUST the others and keep in touch with them. UHHHHHHHHH: what a change! It is so hard to change. It is so much harder to do it fast and in our offices.

The other main point which came out from the workshop is: TAKE YOUR TIME. It is going to take lots of time to get into this new mood, get the habit to it, learn how-to do it, learn new tools, etc. So, the paradox is that, even if the Internet is so fast, we really need to take time to get used to it.

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Learning Log – Week #2: Organizational change

“We may be trying to facilitate collaboration and networking, but we may not be operating in an organizational culture with this competency. When we fail, we often blame it on the technology. If we look closer, it can often be related to our organizational culture. So looking at initiatives that reinforce the value of and skills to network in ANY environment is important for online success.

The introduction of a “network way of thinking” (many to many, peer to peer and often around and between our traditional top down systems) which is enabled by internet technology actually is about organizational change. It asks us to change the way we work, the way we think, the way we lead and manage. But it is often surfaced as an issue of technology and cost savings.

In reality, it is about deeper changes and if we don’t pay attention to those deeper changes, the online stuff may not work.”