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Informal chat with Etienne Wenger on Communities of Practice

Early this week I met Etienne Wenger. The occasion was an informal chat at IFAD with several people also from FAO.

Etienne talked about Communities of Practice. Here are a some notes that I took during the conversation we had.

Genesis of Community of Practice:

There is a tension between being self organized and sustain a CoP to better organize it. There is no substitute for the internal energy of a CoP. There is no substitute for the “relation” itself. A Community starts with a sort of dating. I never thought that someone can START a CoP.

Ways to stimulate CoP:

Create the activities that allow people to understand the kind of relationship they can have among them.  Allow people to talk and engage about their practices. Asking for lessons learned is not a great technique!!! It is too vague. Rather, take advantage of every chance to learn from someone else.

Steps to go through:

Every CoP has its own rhythm. A good community is good for the members, not necessarily for you. Domain discipline: what is this CoP about? Community discipline: given this domain, who are the partners? Practice discipline: on the knowledge of some practice, define the size/shape of the domain. Find your rhythm!!!

CoP and Networks:

Nothing can tell us how long a CoP will last. Often CoPs dissolve into Networks. CoP is just a name. You can call them as you like. Technically speaking there is an identity which is based on the “domain”: this produces a learning implication. In a Network, the accountability is only on the “links”.

Role of Facilitation:

The facilitation can help the Core group of a CoP. Facilitation is not a substitute for leadership. CoP without leadership is usually a failure: look for the core group. A bit of support is very useful because lives are very intense and people can be busy. I changed my mind on this point! Anyhow, you have to create value for them: what do they need?

Participants’ imagination is limited: you have to propose them some ideas. Pulling someone is better than to push him/her. Try to set up activities that create a pull for people’s knowledge. Example: a concrete case for which you need a solution. We are talking about very common sense! Make a clear distinction between energizing and de-energizing tasks for community.

Tips:

Spend your time on strategic conversation about knowledge.

Connect knowledge sharing to one strategic objective of your project.

Most of the times people working for projects are considered focus groups rather than communities.

I have to admit that I agree almost at 100% with what Etienne said!

P.S.: Thanks Roxy and Willem for creating always good occasions to share and discuss.

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FSCA-PISA Workshop on ComDev: Lessons learned 3

GROUPING BY COUNTRY: The meeting room was organized around seven tables, one per Country. The vast majority of the activities were carried out on a “National Group” basis. We had to face logistic problems as the table in the room were very hard to move and the configuration with seven “islands” could hardly be transformed during the day. Anyhow, our approach resulted to be positive and stimulated the Teamwork.

Suggestion: dedicate much attention to the facility and the logistic issues. It is a crucial point as most of the meeting rooms are equipped with very traditional furniture that does not stimulate interaction. Big round tables work as obstacles rather than platforms for communication while small mobile tables work much better.

The Mali Team

As a compensation for the logistic difficulties, we used every activity to offer the National Teams the opportunity to interact with the others, promoting discussions and sharing at different levels.
In particular, the long session dedicated to the exposition of the Case Study offered an effective occasion to interact personally and as a group with the other Teams, creating very interesting dynamics.
The use of mobile microphones helped in maintaining the sessions vivid and generate dynamism during the discussions.

SOCIAL REPORTING TEAM: The creation a Social Reporting Team wanted to be an additional prodding for the group. It responded to two main objectives:

  •   To show the potential of social media to advocate for the event during and after the event, and
  •   To integrate off-site participants into the discussions and sessions of the Workshop.

The idea of creating the SR Team was proposed to the participants few days before the beginning of the Workshop to avoid overlapping with other ongoing activities (in particular, with the preparation of the Case Study). The participation was strictly on a voluntary basis to guarantee the full commitment of the members. The SR Team gathered for the very first time Sunday afternoon, for an informal meeting, to discuss: the idea, the background, the TORs, and the tasks distribution. Three people, other than me, took part to the meeting:

  • Djalo Mamadu Aliu, from Guinea Bissau, who became the blogger on the FSCA website,
  • Bah Thierno Souleymane, from Guinea, who committed himself to audio and video interviews,
  • Oumar Ndiaye, from Senegal, who offered to dedicate to photography,
  • Luca Servo, who acted as team coordinator and photo reporter.

Mrs Fofana, from Guinea, joined the Team during Day 1, adding lots of energy and more gender balance to the group. Additional informal meetings to verify the proceeding of the job took place during lunches and coffee breaks all week long. By the end of the Workshop, the SR Team produced:

  • A blog on the FSCA website, which recorded everyday activities and the impressions of the participants,
  • A photo gallery, on the FSCA flickr gallery, registering the main moments, the portraits of the participants and the groups, and all the posters produced during the week containing the results of the Team work,
  • A podcast channel broadcasting several interviews recorded during the week,
  • A twitter flow reporting about major steps taking place during the training.

THEMATIC ACTIVITIES: The facilitation Team had the objective to promote major integration among participants. To do so, we organized also several thematic events during lunch time which were called “Cross Cutting Gatherings – CCG”. The badge provided to each participants collected a series of information (name, country, and role) which helped organizing these events. In fact, using his/her badge, it was possible to address each participant to the right table of discussions during the thematic events which were:

  1. CCG I – Initial meeting by ROLE (Tuesday, lunch) to stimulate contacts within homogeneous groups of people with similar tasks inside the projects (Project staff, NPCs/NPDs/NPMs, ComDev consultants). The Facilitation Team got this occasion to join the group of National Project Coordinators.
  2. CCG IITHEMATIC lunch (Wednesday, lunch) to offer the chance to discuss specific topics identified by the participants.
  3. CCG III – Final meeting by ROLE (Friday, lunch) to ideally close the round of contacts within groups with similar tasks. The Facilitation Team got this chance to join the group of Communication Consultants.

CONCLUSIONS: The Workshop was a great success. We were able to get participants fully involved in the activities and develop high level of interaction. The final evaluation demonstrated the appreciation for the adoption of new techniques, an informal approach and a participatory methodology.

This experience strongly confirmed our beliefs and suggestions: we highly recommend to embed the Communication for Development component in every Development project/programme and to develop such a Workshop, at least twice during the life of a project: once at the very beginning of the implementation and another one at the very end.

Lots of interaction and discussion during the FSCA workshop in Dakar

Read also:

  1. Lesson learned 1
  2. Lesson learned 2


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FSCA-PISA Workshop on ComDev: Lessons learned 2

ComDev Workshop scheduleSCHEDULE: the Facilitation Team agreed on dedicating five full days to ComDev. One can argue that it is not enough time but for us, given the background and the resources, this was a good compromise. In line with the objectives, the agenda was divided into five main Steps and several activities. Every step was described in an ad-hoc agenda which was distributed to the participants before the beginning of the Workshop:

1. BASICS (1/2 day)

  • Intro to workshop about KEY points of the week
  • Description of the OBJECTIVES of the training
  • Proposal of a people-centred approach to describe the projects through people’s perspective
  • Overview of the projects’ innovative aspects and main benefits
  • Collective reflection on the beneficiaries’ perception, expectation and participation with regards to the project
  • ComDev component-activities to date and first impressions

2. COMDEV THEORY (1/2 day)

  • Theoretical background
  • Communication planning
  • Gender and Communication
  • Methodological approaches tools
  • Tools, channels, techniques
  • ComDev strategy design
  • Monitoring & Evaluation

3. COMDEV FOR FSCA-PISA PROJECTS (2 and 1/2 days)

  • Analysis of Communication Issues in FSCA projects
  • Success vs Constrains: Identification of communication issues
  • Presentation of Case Studies
  • Matching Constraints with Solutions
  • Regional approach
  • Networking Initiatives
  • FSCA forward looking: Ideas for the future and Collaborations&synergies

4. LABORATORIES (1 day)

  • Web Lab
  • Photo Lab
  • Radio Lab
  • Video Lab
  • Mobile Telephony Lab

5. CONCLUSIONS (1/2 day)

  • Workshop Evaluation
  • Closing session

In addition, we prepared also a detailed plan for facilitators only, with more information such as: name of the facilitator, learning objectives, description and details of the activity, facilitation technique, materials and specific support required, and a long list of notes taken during the prep meetings.
These notes were very important to give a shape to the flow of the training and collect all the reflections done by the Team members during the preparatory works: I strongly suggest to collect them. It really helps keeping record of the logical evolution of the planning as you can easily lose track when the preparation takes long.

FACILITATION METHODS: we decided to adopt a specific facilitation method for each session of the training. This choice had 2 objectives: offer the participants the occasion to test the widest range of new methods, and organize dynamic sessions introducing different kind of incentives. As a result, we carried out:

  • A Chat show, with the communication consultants, to introduce the actors and their work,
  • A World café, finalized to learn more about expectations, perceptions, and participation of the beneficiaries in the field,
  • A Case Study exercise, to highlight a specific obstacle encountered in the implementation of the ComDev strategy,
  • A SWOT Analysis, to make a collective effort of analysing good and bad aspects of each project,
  • The network mapping, to graphically design communication flows inside and outside the National teams and develop a visual approach to communication,
  • The mind mapping, to discuss the objectives of the national projects and their inter-regional connections,
  • The Wall of participants, to link names with faces and put people in contact,
  • A public Rules collection, to have the participants fully engaged in the workshop,
  • A Dotmocracy, to collect a final feedback on the main aspects the workshop,
  • The Social Reporting Team, to provide direct feedback on the activities and get participants involved in the use of Social Media.

Network mapping

Moreover, in the effort to stimulate higher attention in the audience, the Facilitation Team decided to avoid powerpoint presentation. Initially, this decision provoked astonishment in the participants but it produced positive results in stimulating people’s fantasy and creativity, especially during the presentation of the Case Studies (see the photo below!).

The Team of Guinea presenting the Case Study about mangue

Introducing important tools like the Case Study exercise and the SWOT analysis were significant steps. At the end of the training, we asked for a punctual evaluation both of them, receiving, respectively, a 52% and a 70% of positive votes.

Read also:

  1. Lesson learned 1
  2. Lesson learned 3


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FSCA-PISA Workshop on ComDev: Lessons learned 1

The training on Communication for Development organized for the FSCA-PISA programme was a great success. We saw enthusiasm and a lot of interaction during the five days spent in Dakar with the seven National Teams. Now it is time to put order among all the innovations we introduced. My first notes are about the Organization and the Language issue.

The participants to the Training in ComDev

  • ORGANIZATION: the FAO Facilitation Team composed by Riccardo, Silvia, Antonello, Catherine, Elena and I worked for long time on the preparatory activities. The original idea of delivering a technical training was launched early 2010 and evolved into a broader event, aimed at discussing ComDev in general.
    The debate on the objectives took long. At the end, we decided to approach ComDev as a whole rather than focusing on a specific tool (the web, in our case). This choice answered to the perceived need to clarify ComDev concepts and details among the FSCA National teams.
    The first discussions took place before Christmas. At the beginning we defined objectives, target audience and a draft calendar of activities. Then, one meeting after the other, we got into each macro activity to define it in details, from the learning objectives to a precise timetable.

Opening of the FSCA-PISA Training on ComDev

  • 7 COUNTRIES and 2 LANGUAGES: the language issue was one of the main problem to afford. Both the organization and the content were strongly influenced by this factor, in every step of the preparation. The initial idea of having two different sessions, one for the Anglophones and another one for the Francophones, was abandoned in favour of one single workshop with interpretation provided to the two groups. As a consequence, the budget, the agenda, the schedule, the content and the logistic were deeply affected.
    I admit that this was the right choice to do: being an introductory training to a strongly participative but relatively new discipline for the participants, the one-group approach highlighted all its strengths. At the end of the event, people’s appreciation for meeting all together confirmed this idea.
    Suggestion: do not underestimate the problems and the costs due to interpretation of the workshop and the translation of the documentation. Moreover, test the ability of the interpreters and provide them the training material well in advance.

Read also:

  1. Lesson learned 2
  2. Lesson learned 3


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Here we come

We are just few hours from the official starting of the FSCA-PISA workshop on ComDev. It is night and I’m almost closing my laptop after having prepared the latest documents for tomorrow.

This afternoon, during “day 0“, the first important goal was achieved: the Social Reporting Team met to discuss our activities and share the tasks. We decided to go for pictures, podcasting and blog posts. Video is a possibility but we have to find time and support for that.

The Social Reporting Team

As you can see in the picture, the Team is officially (and initially) composed by Oumar Ndiaye (Senegal), Thierno Souleymane Bah (Guinee), Mamadu Aliu Djalo (Guinee-Bissau) and myself.

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Only few days before the FSCA ComDev Workshop!

This is the last week before the beginning of the FSCA-PISA Training in ComDev that will take place next week in Dakar, Senegal.

The FSCA-PISA Workshop Agenda

The list of tasks to complete is long at least as the list of innovations and new opportunities we are offering the participants. Among others, I would like to remember:

  • the use of several interactive methodologies to facilitate the sharing of knowledge (World Café, Chat show, Open Space, Dotmocracy, Network Mapping, SWOT Analysis, Mindmapping)
  • the six different communication labs dedicated to: web, video, photo, rural radio and mobile telephony
  • the preparation of a Case Study to identify the main issues in the Communication strategies
  • the five Cross Cutting Thematic Meetings organised during coffee breaks and lunches
  • the proposal of a Social Reporting Team to document the event
  • the video-photo coverage of the week
  • the interactive website collecting any information about the event since early this year
  • the informal approach used for the training

Sometimes all of those ideas seems old and not valuable. In reality, while preparing such an event with over 45 people involved, you realize how difficult is to adopt new approaches and what big benefits the trainees can have from them.