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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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Ten tips to improve your presentations

Engaging people during a meeting is one of the most difficult tasks a professional can face.

meeting on rural radio

While listening to a recent presentation, I put together some suggestions:

  1. Content is fundamental BUT the way to present it is at least as important as content
  2. VARY THE WAY to present your content to the audience. Do NOT adopt common methods but use a different style. The surprise will “shake” the audience and attract the attention, provoking emotions: this is the reason why, NOWADAYS, my suggestion is NOT to use .ppt presentations. They have been abused and, as a consequence, not able to stimulate reactions any more as the audience is TOO used to them
  3. AVOID the term PRESENTATION: it is always better “to meet people”, “to dialogue with them”, “to discuss about a certain topic” rather than to PRESENT them something, giving a clear one-way direction to the meeting
  4. Your VOICE is fundamental. The TONE and the VOLUME are key elements to engage with people in front of you
  5. Use IMAGES and CARDS as they can help to provoke emotions and reactions in the people listening to your speech
  6. Start speech with the CORE of your message, to capture the attention of the audience, and THEN provide more details and explanation of specific aspects
  7. DO NOT SIT behind you laptop during the presentation. Stand up and walk around the room. You need to add dynamism to the situation. If you have ten people sitting around a table, standing there for 1 hour or more, they need continuous stimulation to maintain their attention vivid and to the point. Otherwise you will loose their attention
  8. KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) Principle has to be always in your mind. Even if you like to talk, try to be as short as possible and keep your talking to the point (be sure with previous assessment and questions about what the exact point is)
  9. PREPARE EVERYTHING WELL IN ADVANCE and be sure that everything works in front of the audience at the right time. Otherwise you will offer a bad idea since the beginning
  10. Make your audience LAUGH. It always works

Note: if you see people yawning or leaving the room in advance, it is a clear sign that you have to go quickly to either the point or the conclusion of the speech!


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Barry Schwartz at TED

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Some inspiring points extrapolated from recent Barry Schwartz’s speech at TED:

– Human interactions involving kindness care and empathy are essential part of the job.

– Wise persons:

  • know when and how to make the exception to every rule;
  • know how to improvise;
  • are like jazz musician, using the notes on the page but dancing around them, inventing combination that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand;
  • know how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aim.

– Rules and procedures may be dumb but they spare you from thinking.