web 2.0 for development

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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.


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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KM4DEV 2010

The blog of the KM4DEV 2010 annual meeting has just been launched.

Follow the activities of the next gathering of KM4Devers in Cali, next May 2010.


In order to register, please fill out the form that is available at: before May 14.

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AMARC Asia Pacific 2nd Regional Conference Begins

Very positive impressions after Day one of the AMARC Asia Pacific 2nd Regional Conference that has just started this morning in Bangalore, India.

After the morning Plenary sessions dedicated to the topics of main interest for the members as “Airwaves for Sustainability and Justice” and “Radio friendly legislation in Asia Pacific“, the afternoon was divided into several workshops.

I joined the one about the idea of creating a regional news agency to serve AMARC members but not only. During the discussion, the need of stronger networking among members was clearly stated by the majority of the participants: knowledge sharing is a main issue also in this context.

I think we, at FAO, have the knowledge to provide a major support both on the idea of setting up the news agency and on the side of increasing networking activities.

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Time for mapping

These days I see a lot of maps coming out of the Web. I suspect that, being so complex and full of millions of items, design and graphic art is the way to try to represent it at best. And, being myself a “visual” kind of person, I like this way to represent things more than others.

So, have a view of this maps which represents the Champions of the WWW

and the main Online Communities at the moment.

online communities

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KM4DEV meeting in Zeist

Two weeks ago some of the members of the km4dev list met in Zeist, The Netherlands, for a three days workshop. I was there and it was a very interesting meeting.

People with different background and from very different contexts met and spoke freely about many different topics on knowledge management. You can see the results and the proceedings in the two different blogs: the km4dev 2007 and the Knowledge expeditions. You can also see images and video on the meeting on flickr and youtube.

I found this event interesting for different reasons:

– many people, with very different experiences, could gather and discuss best ways to manage such a cultural issue as knowledge management. At first, KM appears to be something related to technologies and tools but it is NOT. In my experience KM relates much more with the cultural side of our daily activities rather then to our technical skills. So, it is much more difficult to address and obtain results that it seems at the beginning;

– it was a very informal meeting with people sharing and proposing different approaches, topics and tools. The agenda was full of activities everyday: to give you an example, just have a look at Nancy’s pictures about her minicourse on graphic facilitation! It was clear that there is always something new to learn and test; that you always have to find a new way to stimulate your “public” and need a lot of energy and enthusiasm to keep on doing this kind of job!

– the face to face meeting was a very good occasion to reinforce the existing network. Most of us did not ever meet vis-à-vis but only virtually, on the internet. For example, I finally met with Petr Kosina after having spent an entire month together last year for the training on online facilitation. As a result, now we know each other “better”, we trust more than before and we feel free to ask each other for suggestions, hints and support. And this is VERY important.

Is there still need to look for more example of the fact that creating TRUST is the KEY to success networking?

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Going online today

Do you want to create a multimedia presence on the Web?

Go for it: it has never been so easy!

Ok, here are the steps:

  1. create a BLOG on WordPress, the place where you are going to take note of your thinking, day by day, experience after experience;
  2. open a PHOTO ALBUM on flickr, as images are very useful to illustrate your thinking and ideas;
  3. record and publish PODCASTS with Odeo, as you may want to use other form of communication to express your ideas and/or record the experiences you have;
  4. select some nice MUSIC on radioblogclub, to make your blog more warm and open to your readers;
  5. write down your MEETINGS on Google calendar, to have a plan of your activities and share them with other colleagues, friends, visitors;
  6. locate your POSITION on Goggle Maps, as positioning on planet Earth is a warm sign for your visitors;
  7. collect your favourite LINKS on, to share your browsing experience with other surfers;
  8. take notes of your ACTIVITIES on zohoplanner, to organize your job, your hobbies and your activities;
  9. select your favourite VIDEOS on youTube, if you want to keep track of your favorite shows;
  10. MASH all these things UP!

mash up


Define your target group and its needs

Starting a new online community is a hard job. Before doing anything else, I always suggest to ACCESS your TARGET AUDIENCE. Spend your time on this exercise because it is very, very important. This is one of the key to avoid further problems. It is the prerequisite to analyze the needs of your future users and find the best way to address them. If you want more suggestions about it do Lesson 2.1 of the IMARK e-learning module on Building online communities.

After that, it is much easier to verify the NEEDS of the group. If you know what kind of people you want to address then you can discover their needs. And this is the best way to create a useful service and a long life community.

We have to start from people’s practice, from their habits, from watching what is going on among potential members. We have to discover who they really are and what they need. In this way, it is easier to understand what kind of use they do of a network and understand the key of success.

Then, we can think about consolidating the system and make it grow. Not before. Relationships among users have to be real and well established before thinking about enlarging the volume and the possibilities of a network. The chart describe this process:

Correct approach

On the contrary, most of the people willing to create a new network are focused on the idea itself. Their will to make it real is so strong that they loose contact with their potential group of users and do not focus on their needs. The focus is on “planning” rather than on the “practice”.

As a consequence the group has very few possibilities to grow and be successful and is likely to be abandoned pretty soon after its creation. The managers spend their time thinking and not watching what’s going on. They tend to be sure that their creature will be accepted by the end users but this is not sure at all. In this case, the risk that the process of consolidation does not take place is very strong. If users are not so fascinated by the new network, they won’t repeat their experience and the new “house” will be empty in a while. Consolidation of the relationships among members won’t take place and the network will fail pretty soon.

Wrong approach

So, the lessons learned are:

  • Observe people and their habits;
  • Assess your group;
  • Assess people’s needs;
  • Spend time on creating relationship among users.