An Interview With Aaron Leonard on Online Communities

I had a chance to interview Aaron Leonard late last September (photo URL) just before he took a leave from his online community management work at the World Bank to talk about that work. This is part of a client project I’m working on to evaluate a regional collaboration pattern and to start understanding processes for more strategic design, implementation and evaluation of collaboration platforms, particularly in the international development context.

Aaron’s World Bank blog is http://www.southsouth.info/profiles/blog/list?user=1uxarewp1npnk

How long have you been working on “this online community/networks stuff” at the Bank?  How did your team’s practice emerge?

I’ve been at the bank 4 years and working on their communities of practice (CoP) front for 3 of those. I started as a community manager building a CoP for external/non-bank people focused onSouth-South exchange. Throughout this process, I struggled with navigating the World Bank rules governing these types of “social websites”. At the time, there were no actual rules in place – they were under formulation. So what you could do,/could not, use/ could not, pay for/ could not depended on who you talked to. I started working with other community managers to find answers to these questions along with getting tips and tricks on how to engage members, build HTML widgets, etc… I realized that my background working with networks (pre-Bank experience) and my experience launching an online community of practice within the Bank was useful to others. As more and more people joined our discussions, we started formalizing our conversation (scheduling meetings in advance, setting agendas, etc… but not too formal :).

We were eventually able to make ourselves useful enough to the point where I applied for and received a small budget to bring in some outside help from a very capable firm called Root Change and to hire a brilliant guy, Kurt Morriesen, to help us develop a few tools for community managers and project teams and to help them think through their work with networks. We started with 15 groups – mostly within WBI, but some from the regions as well. All were asking and needing answers to some common questions, “How do we get what we want out of our network? How do we measure and communicate our success? How do we set up a secretariat and good governance structure?” This line of questioning seemed wrong in many ways. It represented a “management mindset” (credit Evan Bloom!) versus a “network mindset”. The project teams were trying to get their membership to do work that fit their programmatic goals versus seeing the membership as the goal and working out a common direction for members to own and act on themselves. We started asking instead, “Why are you engaging? “Who really are you trying to work with?” What do you hope to get out of this engagement?” What value does this network provide its members?” This exercise was really eye opening for all of us and eventually blossomed into an actual program. I brought in Ese Emerhi last year as a full time team member. She has an amazing background as a digital activist, and knows more than I do about how to make communities really work well.

Ese and I set up a work program around CoPs and built it into a practice area for the World Bank Institute (WBI) together with program community managers like Kurt, Norma Garza (Open Contracting), and Raphael Shepard (GYAC) among others. With Ese on board, we were able to expand beyond WBI (to the World Bank in general). This was possible in part because our team works on knowledge exchange, South-South knowledge exchange specifically (SSKE). We help project teams in the World Bank design and deliver effective knowledge exchange. CoPs are a growing part of this business, in part because the technology to connect people in a meaningful conversation is getting better, and in part because we know how to coach people on when and how to use communities.

How did you approach the community building?

With Rootchange  we started with basic stocktaking and crowd sourcing with respect to  trying to define an agenda for ourselves. We had 4-5 months for this activity. We settled on a couple things.

  1. Looking at different governance arrangements. How do we structure the networks?

  2. What tools or instruments to use in design of planning of more effective networks.

We noticed that we were talking more about networks than communities. Some were blends of CoPs, coalitions, and broader programs. The goals aren’t always just the members’. So we talked about difference between these things, how they can be thought of along a spectrum of commitment or formality. A social network vs. an association and how they are/are not similar beasts.

We gave assignments to project teams and met on monthly basis to work with these instruments. On the impetus of consultants at Root Change, we started doing 1 to 1 consultation w/ teams. We reserved a room, brought in cookies and coffee and then brought the teams in for 90 minutes each of  free consulting sessions. These were almost more useful for the teams than the project work. Instead of exploring the tools, they were APPLYING the tools themselves. It was also a matter of taking the time to focus, sit down and be intentional with their work with their networks. Just shut the door and collectively think about what is was they were trying to do. A lot of this started out in a more organic way around what was thought to be an easy win. “We’ll start a CoP, get a website, get 1000 people to sign” up without understanding what it meant for membership, resourcing, team, commitment and longer term goals and objectives.

We helped them peel back some of the layers of the onion to better understand what they were trying to do. We didn’t get as far as wanted. We wanted to get into measuring and evaluation and social network analysis, but that was  a little advance for these teams and their stage of development. They did not have someone they could rely on to do this work. Some had a community manager but most of these were short term consultants, for 150 days or less, and often really junior people who saw the job  as an entry level gig. They were often more interested in the subject matter than being a community managers. They often tended to get pulled in different directions and may or may not have liked the work. They tended to be hired right out of an International  Devevlpment masters program where they had a thematic bent so they were usually interested in projects, vs organizing a 1000 people and lending some sense of community. Different skill sets!

We worked with these teams, and came up with a few ideas,. Root Change wrote a small report (please share) which helped justify a budget for subsequent fiscal year and my boss let me hire someone who would have community building as part of their job. Together we were working on the Art of Knowledge Exchange toolkit and the other half time was for community. At this point we opened  up our offering to World Bank group to help people start,  understand how to work with membership, engage, measure and report on a CoP. We helped them figure out how they could use data and make sense of their community’s story. We brought in a few speakers and did social things to profile community managers. Over the course of the year we had talked to and worked with over 300 people. (Aaron reports they  have exact numbers, but I did not succeed in connecting with him before he left to get those numbers!). We did 100 one-on-one counseling sessions. We reached very broadly across institution and increased the awareness of the skillset we have in WBI regarding communities and networks. We helped people see that this is different way of working. Our work coincided with build up of the Bank’s internal community platform based on Jive (originally called Scoop and now called Sparks – a collaboration for development and CoP oriented platform.) The technology was getting really easy for people to access. There was more talk about knowledge work, about being able to connect clients, and awareness of what had been working well on the S-S platform.

We did a good job and that gave us the support for another round of budget this year.  Now we have been able to shift some of the conversation to the convening and brokering role of the Bank. This coincided with the Bank’s decreased emphasis  in lending and increase in access to experts which complimented the direction we were going in.  We reached out and have become a reference point for a lot of this work. There have been parallele institutional efforts that flare and fade, flare and fade. But it is difficult to move “the machine.” It can even be a painful process to witness. I admire the people doing this, but (the top down institutional change process) was something we tried to avoid. We did our work on the side, supporting people’s efforts where possible. Those things are finally bearing fruit. We have content. They have a management system. We have process for teams to open a new CoP space, a way to find what is available to them as community leaders, They have  a community finder associated with an expert finder. Great to have these things to have and invest in, but it is not where we were aiming. We want to know the community leaders, the people like Ese, like Norma Garza, running these communities and who struggle and have new ideas to share. What are the ways to navigate the institutional bureaucracy that governs our use of social media tools? How do you find good people to bring on board. You can’t just hire the next new grad and expect it to last. There is an actual skills set, unique, not always well defined but getting more recognition as something that is of value and unique to building a successful CoP. There is new literature out there and people like Richard Millington (FeverBee) – a kid genius doing this since he was 13. He takes ideas from people like you, Wenger and Denning. There is now more of a practice around this.

While the Bank is still not super intentional on how it works internally with respect to  knowledge and process, more attention is being paid and more people are being brought in. It can be a touch and go effort. We’re just a small piece, but feeling a much needed demand and our numbers prove that. We have monthly workshops (x2 sometimes) that are promoted through a learning registration system and we’d sell the spaces out within minutes. People are stalking our stuff. It is exciting. At same time while it felt like the process of expansion touched a lot of people, convinced/shaped dialog, I also feel we lost touch with the Normas. Relationships changed. We were supporting them by profiling them, helping them communicate to their bosses, so the bosses understood their work, but not directly supporting them with new ideas, techniques, approaches.

We reassessed at end of last year. We want to focus building an actual community again. We started but lost that last year while busy pushing outwards. But we still kept them close and we can rely on each other. It has  not been the intimate settings of 15-20 or 3 of us doing this work, sitting around and talking about what we are struggling with. Like “how did you do your web setup, how to do a Twitter Jam?” So our goals this year are a combination. Management likes that we hit so many people last year. They have been pretty hands off and we can set our own pace. Because we did well last year, they given us that room, the trust.

So now we want to focus more on championing the higher level community managers. The idea is to take a two fold approach. First we want to use technology to reach out, to use our internal online space to communicate and form a more active online community. We secondly want to focus a few of our offerings on these higher level community managers with idea that if we can give them things to help their with the deeper challenges of their job, they will be able to help us field the more general requests for the more introductory offerings. Can you review my concept note?  Help me setting up my technology.

It is still just the two of us. We are grooming another person but also working with the more senior community managers will allow us to handle more requests by relying on their experience. We give them training and  in return they help w/ basic requests. This is not a mandate. We don’t have to do this. It is what we see as a way of building a holistic and sustainable community within the Bank to meet the needs of community managers and people who use networks to deliver products and services with their clients.

How do you set strategic intentions when setting up a platform?

One of the things I love most advising about CoPs is telling them not to do it. I love being able to say this. The incentives are wrong, the purpose. So many people think CoPs are something that is “on the checklist, magic bullet, or a sexy tech solution”. Whatever it is, those purposes are wrong. They are thinking about the tech and not the people they are engaging.. If you want to build a fence, you don’t go buy a hammer and be done with it. You need to actually plan it out, think about why you are building it. Why its going in, how high, … bad analogy. To often CoPs are done for all the wrong reasons. The whole intent around involving people in a conversation is lost or not even considered, or is simply an afterthought. The fallacy of “build it and they will come.” One of my favorite usage pieces is from the guy who wrote the 10 things about how to increase engagement on your blog. It speaks to general advice of understanding who you are targeting. Anyone can build a blog, set up a cool website or space. But can you build community? The actual dialog or conversation? How do you do that?

One key is reaching people where they already are – one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard and I always pass on. Don’t build the fancy million dollar custom website if no one is really going to go there. One of the things I have is a little speech for people. Here’s my analogy. If you are going to throw a party, you have to think about who you are going to invite, where to do it, what to feed them, the music: you are hosting that party. You can’t just leave it up to them. They might trash your place, not get on board, never even open door. You have to manage the crowd, facilitate the conversation unless they already know each other. And why are you throwing the party if they already get together in another space?

Coming from NGO world, and then coming to bank I saw  how easy it is to waste development dollars. It is frustrating. I have spoken openly about this. The amount of money wasted on fancy websites that no one uses is sad. There are a lot of great design firms that help you waste that money. It is an easy thing for someone to take credit for a website once it launches. It looks good, and someone makes a few clicks, then on one asks to look at it again. The boss looks at it once and that is it. No one thinks about or sees the long term investment. They see it as a short term win.

One of the things I try to communicate is to ask, if you are going to invest in a platform, do you really want to hear back from the people you are pushing info to? If not build a simple website. If you do want to engage with that community, to what extent and for what purpose? How will you use what you learn to inform your product or work? If you can’t answer that, go back to the first question. If they actually have a plan – and their mandate is to “share knowledge’ – how do they anticipate sharing knowledge. They often tell me a long laundry list of target audiences. So you are targeting the world? This is the conversation I’ve experienced, with no clear, direct targeting, or understanding of who specifically they are trying to connect with. We suggest they focus on one user group. Name real names. If you can’t name an individual or write out a description.  Talk about their fears, desires, challenges, and work environment. Really understand them in their daily work life. Then think about how does this proposed platform/experience/community really add value. In what specific way. It is not just about knowledge sharing. People can Google for information. You are competing w/ Google, email, facebook, their boss, their partner. That’s your competition. How do you beat all those for attention. That is what you are competing with when someone sits down at the computer. This is the conversation we like to walk people through before they start. The hard part is a lot of these people are younger or temporary staff hired to do this. It is hard for them  to go back to boss and say “we don’t know what we are doing” and possibly lose their jobs. There can be an inherent conflict of interest.

How do you monitor and evaluate the platforms? What indicators do you use? How are they useful?

One of the things we don’t do – and this might be a sticking point – we don’t actually run or manage any of these communities. We just advise teams. I haven’t run one for 2 years. Ese has her own outside, but not inside that we personally run beside the community managers’ community and that has been mainly a repository.

We have built some templates for starting up communities, especially for online networks with external or mixed external and internal audiences. We have online metrics (# posts, pageviews, etc) and survey data that we use to tell the story of a community. Often the target of those metrics are the managers who had the decision making role in that community. We try and communicate intentionally the value (the community gives) to members and to a program. We have developed some more sophisticated tools with RootChange, but we didn’t get enough people to use them. Perhaps they are too sophisticated for the current stage of community development. And we can’t’ force people to use them.

It would be fantastic to have a common rubric, but we don’t have the energy or will to get these decisions. We are still in the early “toddler” stage. Common measurement approaches and quality indicators are far down the line. Same with social network analysis. RootChange has really pushed the envelope in that area, but we aren’t advanced enough to benefit from that level of analysis. The (Rootchange) tool is fun to play around with and provides a way of communicating complex systems to community owners and members. What RootChange has done is is develop an online social network analysis platform that can continuously be updated by members and grow over time. Unlike most SNA, which is a snapshot, this is more organic and builds on an initial survey that is sent to the initial group and they forward it to their networks.

If you had a magic wand, what are three things you’d want every time you have to implement a collaboration platform?

If I had a magic wand and I could actually DO it, I would first eliminate email. Part of the reason, the main reason we can’t get people to collaborate is that they aren’t familiar working in a new way. I think of my cousins that 10 years younger and they don’t have email. They use Facebook. They are dialoging in a different way. They use Facebook’s private messaging, Twitter, and Whatsapp. They use a combination of things that are a lot more direct. They keep an open running of IM messages. Right now email is the reigning champion in the Bank and if we have any hope of getting people to work differently and collaboratively we  have to  first get rid of email.

Next, to implement any kind of project or activity in a collaboration space right  I’d want a really simple user interface, something so intuitive that it just needs no explanation.

Thirdly, I’d’ want that thing available where those people are, regardless if it is on their cell phone, ipad, and any touchable, interactable interface. Here you have to sit at your computer. We don’t even get laptops. You have to sit at desk to engage in online space. Hard to do it through your phone – not easy. People still bring paper and pencil to meetings. More bringing ipads. Still a large minority. A while back I did a study tour to IDEO. They have this internal Facebook like system which shares project updates, findings and all  their internal communications called The Tube. No one was using it at the beginning. One of the smartest thing they did was installed – in 50 different offices.- a big flat screen at each entrance. which randomly displays the latest status updates pulled from Tube from across their global team. Once they did that, the rate of people updating their profile and using that as a way of communicating jumped to something like a 99% adoption rate in short time. From a small minority to vast majority. No one wanted to be seen with a project status update from many months past. It put a little social pressure in the commons areas and entrance way – right in front of your bosses and  teammates. It was an added incentive to use that space.

You want something simple, that replaces traditional communications, and something with a strong, and present, incentive. When you think about building knowledge sharing into your review – how do you really measure that? You can use point systems, all sorts of ways to identify champions. Yelp does a great job at encouraging champions. I have talked to one of their community managers. They have a smart approach to building and engaging community. They incentive people through special offerings, such as first openings of new restaurants, that they can organize. They get reviews out of that. That’s their business model.

We don’t really have a digital culture now. If we want to engage digitally, globally we have to be more agile with how we use communication technology and where we use it. The tube in front of the urinals and stall doors. You’ve got a minute or two to look at something. That’s the way!

 

DevelopmentArt: clipart for use in global development contexts

Example image from DevelopmentArtIn my graphic faciltiation work, people often ask for sources of ideas for visuals. Often, when we search on the web, we find a lot of North American/European looking materials. Now there is DevelopmentArt! Check it out!

DevelopmentArt has a collection of copyright-free, downloadable, publication-quality line drawings, drawn by professional artists in Asia and Africa. Select the topic you want, browse through the thumbnails, click on the picture you want, and download it to your own computer. It’s free. All we ask is that if you use a picture, please credit the original artist or the publication it came from.

DevelopmentArt collects artwork (mainly line drawings), asks for copyright permission, and makes it available to others: extension workers, development organizations, and the like. We have a large collection, which we’re gradually scanning and putting on this site.

You can also find links to artists who can develop work just for your project!

Teaching Empathy: hey, that’s networked leadership!

IMGP3454I’m currently working with an intelligent and courageous core team working to implement a very different way of working in a very large bureaucracy. It is really HARD work, but these three people are showing energy, resilience and graceful humor. As I read this article on Forbes tonight, Teaching Empathy: The Ancient Way Is Now Cutting-Edge it struck me that the four things they suggest we teach for empathy also represent network leadership.

  1. Teach listening as a core skill and expect it as a cultural practice. Start by being an active listener yourself and give people the time they need to reflect. Time not made for someone is time wasted.
  2. Make dialogue a primary team, group or classroom practice. Dialogue opens the doors to exploration—what Peter Senge in his guide “The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook” calls “skillful discussion,” where thoughtful decisions can be made that honor all participants (or, in business, stakeholders).
  3. Identify roles, not organizational charts. When people are able to articulate their role, what they need to be successful and what gets in the way of their success, an empathic understanding is present and the beginnings of a healthy team, class or group takes shape.
  4. Lead with consistency, authenticity and honesty. Be clear as to why you are doing what you are doing. Do not lead or manage through personality but rather through articulation. To articulate is to clarify.

By networked leadership, I mean leading where you don’t always have authority. Where multiple reporting lines mess all the normal power plays up, rendering the old style of leading obsolete.

I see this team doing more and more active listening and they have refined their conversational skills to demonstrate both listening and bridge potential understanding gaps using the “what I heard you say is… ” before they add their thoughts. In an organization with a practice of “I win if I look smartest,” a lot of people’s attention is wrapped up in preparing their next statement, not listening.

In the formation of this big new plans, emphasis is placed not on large, plenary sessions to hash things out, but breaking into small conversations and building meaning outward. There is a strong invitation for others to describe what they understand and need about this big transition they are all navigating.

The new structure now distributes resources across divisional lines, so the idea of one’s formal boss is being tossed on the waves of change. The idea of roles, not organizational charts is one I want to bring up at our next meeting as a way to help with this.

Finally, this team is composed of a very senior leader, a senior researcher and a more junior staff member. I see them leading with honesty, authenticity and striving so hard for consistency. What I hope I will see soon is more and more people around them recognizing and appreciating this, so it will encourage more of the same.  I think it is possible. Hard work, but possible. And when it becomes more common, I suspect I’ll see both better results, and more joy.

I think these are four terrific things. What else do courageous, networked leaders need to know and do?

Edited PS: see also Eugene Eric Kim’s post on Balance Bikes for Changemakers. It’s all about the learning/experimenting!

Data, Transparency & Impact Panel –> a portfolio mindset?

KanterSEASketchnotesYesterday I was grateful to attend a panel presentation by Beth Kanter (Packard Foundation Fellow), Paul Shoemaker (Social Venture Partners), Jane Meseck (Microsoft Giving) and Eric Stowe (Splash.org) moderated by Erica Mills (Claxon). First of all, from a confessed short attention spanner, the hour went FAST. Eric tossed great questions for the first hour, then the audience added theirs in the second half. As usual, Beth got a Storify of the Tweets and a blog post up before we could blink. (Uncurated Tweets here.)

There was  much good basic insight on monitoring for non profits and NGOs. Some of may favorite soundbites include:

  • What is your impact model? (Paul Shoemaker I think. I need to learn more about impact models)
  • Are you measuring to prove, or to improve (Beth Kanter)
  • Evaluation as a comparative practice (I think that was Beth)
  • Benchmark across your organization (I think Eric)
  • Transparency = Failing Out Loud (Eric)
  • “Joyful Funeral” to learn from and stop doing things that didn’t work out (from Mom’s Rising via Beth)
  • Mission statement does not equal IMPACT NOW. What outcomes are really happening RIGHT NOW (Eric)
  • Ditch the “just in case” data (Beth)
  • We need to redefine capacity (audience)
  • How do we create access to and use all the data (big data) being produced out of all the M&E happening in the sector (Nathaniel James at Philanthrogeek)

But I want to pick out a few themes that were emerging for me as I listened. These were not the themes of the terrific panelists — but I’d sure wonder what they have to say about them.

A Portfolio Mindset on Monitoring and Evaluation

There were a number of threads about the impact of funders and their monitoring and evaluation (M&E) expectations. Beyond the challenge of what a funder does or doesn’t understand about M&E, they clearly need to think beyond evaluation at the individual grant or project level. This suggests making sense across data from multiple grantees –> something I have not seen a lot of from funders. I am reminded of the significant difference between managing a project and managing a portfolio of projects (learned from my clients at the Project Management Institute. Yeah, you Doc!) IF I understand correctly, portfolio project management is about the business case –> the impacts (in NGO language), not the operational management issues. Here is the Wikipedia definition:

Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is the centralized management of processes, methods, and technologies used by project managers and project management offices (PMOs) to analyze and collectively manage a group of current or proposed projects based on numerous key characteristics. The objectives of PPM are to determine the optimal resource mix for delivery and to schedule activities to best achieve an organization’s operational and financial goals ― while honouring constraints imposed by customers, strategic objectives, or external real-world factors.

There is a little bell ringing in my head that there is an important distinction between how we do project M&E — which is often process heavy and too short term to look at impact in a complex environment — and being able to look strategically at our M&E across our projects. This is where we use the “fail forward” opportunities, the iterating towards improvements AND investing in a longer view of how we measure the change we hope to see in the world. I can’t quite articulate it. Maybe one of you has your finger on this pulse and can pull out more clarity. But the bell is ringing and I didn’t want to ignore it.

This idea also rubs up against something Eric said which I both internally applauded and recoiled from. It was something along the lines of “if you can’t prove you are creating impact, no one should fund you.” I love the accountability. I worry about actually how to meaningfully do this in a)  very complex non profit and international development contexts, and for the next reason…

Who Owns Measurement and Data?

Chart from Effective Philanthropy 2/2013
Chart from Effective Philanthropy 2/2013

There is a very challenging paradigm in non profits and NGOs — the “helping syndrome.” The idea that we who “have” know what the “have nots” need or want. This model has failed over and over again and yet we still do it. I worry that this applies to M&E as well. So first of all, any efforts towards transparency (including owning and learning from failures) is stellar. I love what I see, for example, on Splash.org particularly their Proving.it technology. (In the run up to the event, Paul Shoemaker pointed to this article on the disconnect on information needs between funders and grantees.) Mostly I hear about the disconnect between funders information needs and those of the NPOs. But what about the stakeholders’ information needs and interests?

Some of the projects I’m learning from in agriculture (mostly in Africa and SE/S Asia) are looking towards finding the right mix of grant funding, public (government and international) investment and local ownership (vs. an extractive model). Some of the more common examples are marketing networks for farmers to get the best prices for their crops, lending clubs and using local entrepreneurs to fill new business niches associated with basics such as water, food, housing, etc. The key is the ownership at the level of stakeholders/people being served/impacted/etc. (I’m trying to avoid the word users as it has so many unintended other meanings for me!)

So if we are including these folks as drivers of the work, are they also the drivers of M&E and, in the end, the “owners” of the data produced. This is important not only because for years we have measured stakeholders and rarely been accountable to share that data, or actually USE it productive, but also because change is often motivated by being able to measure change and see improvement. 10 more kids got clean water in our neighborhood this week. 52 wells are now being regularly serviced and local business people are increasing their livelihoods by fulfilling those service contracts.  The data is part of the on-the-ground workings of a project. Not a retrospective to be shoveled into YARTNR (yet another report that no one reads.)

In working with communities of practice, M&E is a form of community learning. In working with scouts, badges are incentives, learning measures and just plain fun. The ownership is not just at the sponsor level. It is embedded with those most intimately involved in the work.

So stepping back to Eric’s staunch support of accountability, I say yes AND the full ownership of that accountability with all involved, not just the NGO/NPO/Funder.

The Unintended Consequences of How We Measure

Related to ownership of M&E and the resulting data brings me back to the complexity lens. I’m a fan of the Cynefin Framework to help me suss out where I am working – simple, complicated, complex or chaotic domains. Using the framework may be a good diagnostic for M&E efforts because when we are working in a complex domain, predicting cause and effect may not be possible (now, or into the future.) If we expect M&E to determine if we are having impact, this implies we can predict cause and effect and focus our efforts there. But things such as local context may suggest that everything won’t play out the same way everywhere.  What we are measuring may end up having unintended negative consequences (this HAS happened!) Learning from failures is one useful intervention, but I sense we have a lot more to learn here. Some of the threads about big data yesterday related to this — again a portfolio mentality looking across projects and data sets (calling Nathaniel James) We need to do more of the iterative monitoring until we know what we SHOULD be measuring.  I’m getting out of my depth again here (Help! Patricia Rogers! Dave Snowden!)  The point is, there is a risk of being simplistic in our M&E and a risk of missing unintended consequences. I think that is one reason I enjoyed the panel so much yesterday, as you could see the wheels turning in people’s heads as they listened to each other! 🙂

Arghhh, so much to think about and consider. Delicious possibilities…

 Wednesday Edit: See this interesting article on causal chains… so much to learn about M&E! I think it reflects something Eric said (which is not captured above) about measuring what really happens NOW, not just this presumption of “we touched one person therefore it transformed their life!!”

Second edit: Here is a link with some questions about who owns the data… may be related http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=59975

Third edit: An interesting article on participation with some comments on data and evaluation http://philanthropy.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-people-affected-by-problem-have-to.html

Fourth Edit (I keep finding cool stuff)

The public health project is part of a larger pilgrimage by Harvard scholars to study the Kumbh Mela. You can follow their progress on Twitter, using the hashtag #HarvardKumbh.

 

Guest Post: Adejare Amoo on an Industrialist’s Role in eLearning in Africa

Nancy’s Note: In June I was lucky to help facilitate a couple of events for UN University at eLearning Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. One of our panelists was the wise and warm Adejare Amoo from Nigeria. Adejare’s role was to illuminate how business can be part of innovating in eLearning in Africa. In preparation for his part in our “fish bowl” exercise, he drafted an outline that I really appreciated. Because we did not have time to cover all his points, I invited him to do a guest post on my blog. I think Adejare is my FIRST guest post since I started this blog May 26, 2004. I will also post a few reflections from eLearning Africa in a subsequent post.

As for Adejare’s post I love this line: “The higher education institutions in Africa need to follow the industrialists’ innovation concept and good practice policy, whereby they start their projects on a clean slate,  think big, start small, fail quickly, and scale fast, using ICT. Above all, the higher education institutions in Africa should adopt and adapt “open innovation policy” which has helped the industry to grow, just as it has helped most of the higher education institutions in the developed nations to use e-learning pedagogy for quality mass education production which has positively impacted their environments’ development.” Read on! And thanks to Adejare!

AN INDUSTRIALIST’S ROLE IN HIGHER EDUCATION IN AFRICA
I am an e-learning entrepreneur, a highly innovation promoted and real time evolving industry. I am based in Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa (about 150 million population). Students as well as research & development results are identified as the products and services from  Higher education institutions in Africa. However these products and services form a core input in the industrialist’s production process system. In effect, the industrialist is a major consumer of higher education products and services.

Furthermore, as a major stakeholder in higher education system in Africa, the industrialist sponsors some relevant higher education research and developments programmes, as well as some relevant higher education projects  –academic and non-academic, such as infrastructural developments. Some of the industrialist’s employees are parents and relations to the students, whose progress is of utmost importance to the industrialist’s organisation>. In addition to being a donor, the industrialist is a network builder in higher education system. As a council member, he contributes to higher education policy and practice formulation.

HOW AN INDUSTRIALIST FEELS INNOVATION IS NEEDED IN HIGHER EDUCATION IN AFRICA

Innovation has been identified as turning new ideas into beneficial and/or profitable products and services. It is characterised by information and communications technology (ICT) driven experimentations and sharing of ideas.

Higher education system in Africa is confronted with some challenges. Both the admission and carrying capacities of the higher institutions are too low to satisfy the high demand for quality mass education delivery required to develop their environment.  Most of the institutions stick to their own obsolete ideas and practices, without allowing for other innovative ideas and practices from outside their institutions.  These institutions are starved of adequate funding. In view of the self contented policy and practice in most   African higher institutions, support assistance could not be readily obtained, since the donor partners could not understand their challenges. Most of the higher institutions in Africa are yet to apply technology in their education administration and delivery. The prerequisite solution to these challenges is radical innovation.

The industrialist also needs innovation of his company’s products and services to improve on customer satisfaction, satisfactory return on investment (ROI) to the investors/shareholders, and efficient as well as  effective social responsibility performance as a corporate citizen. The stakeholders desire innovation in the company’s products and services, and which innovation must come from all the inputs in the production process. Such inputs include the identified higher education products and services, i.e. qualified manpower and research & development results.
Expressed mathematically, “Summation of innovation of process inputs equals innovation of products and services.”

INDUSTRIALIST’S GOALS IN INITIATING OR SUPPORTING INNOVATION IN HIGHER EDUCATION IN AFRICA

he industrialist’s primary goal is to achieve his organisation’s set vision, mission, and values. This is, most essentially, to be and remain no.1 profitable producer of his company’s quality products and services, as well as fulfil the company’s  good corporate citizenship responsibilities, through innovation. The industrialist also aims at achieving the planned innovation objectives and strategies for the organisation, products and services, through innovation from the higher education products and services as part of the inputs. As a corporate citizen, the industrialist needs to fulfil the organisation’s  responsibility in promoting innovation of higher education process system, plantation of entrepreneurial seeds for generation innovation, as well as promotion of the organisation’s image and network.

INDUSTRIALIST’S MAIN STRENGTH OR ASSET INPUTS TO HIGHER EDUCATION INNOVATION PROCESS IN AFRICA.
From the point of view of comparative contemporary policy and practice in the higher institutions in the developing and developed nations, it will be observed that most of the universities that make the first hundred leading universities global ratings worldwide employ the application of the above mentioned innovative characteristics, i.e.  information and communications technology (ICT) driven experimentation and sharing of ideas  in their administration and academic operations.  The ubiquitous internet technology application has facilitated sharing of ideas and good practices such that the entire world is reduced to a digital village, with respect to the higher education institutions in the developed world.  This must have been borrowed from the successful high tech companies, which believe and practice the idea that companies should make greater use of external ideas and technologies in their own business and allow their own technologies and ideas to be used by others.  (Henry Chesbrough, UC Berkeley). In Practer & Gamble (P & G)’s “Use-It-Or-Lose-It Programme” innovation strategy, after an internally generated innovation has been successfully applied within the organisation for three years, it is thrown open to other organisations that could benefit from it. The higher institutions could benefit from such strategy.

The high tech industrialists have capitalised on the above mentioned innovation driving forces to make a significant impact in the higher education institutions, most especially in the developed nations. To the industrialist, innovation is a revolution. It involves high risk taking, along with high failure probability result, and to be undertaken by all stakeholders. The industrialist considers this phenomenon as part of innovation game. It provides opportunities for continuous experimentations as well as controlled frequent and rapid changes.  For instance, Microsoft’s innovation strategy allows its employees to spend about 20% of the company’s time on controlled experimentation of their personal innovative ideas, that could positively contribute to the company’s benefits and ROI to its stakeholders. The company accepts that about 50% of such experimentations could fail. Furthermore, Microsoft provides high tech tools and equipment to some higher education institutions, in Nigeria, for their digital/computer labs. On the other hand, while implementing its “Innovation Research Programme” strategy, Hewlett Packard (HP) votes a huge amount of dollars to sponsor research projects in the higher education institutions annually and use the generated results in its products and services innovation.  In the industry, consumer generated innovation is assuming a greater trend. Similarly, the industry should generate innovation from the higher education institutions, being the major consumers of the products and service, i.e. the students and research & development results.

As the industrialist commits so much  resources into promotion of innovation in the higher education institutions, the challenge of ownership of proprietary rights of products and services resulting from such research and development activities, undertaken by the institutions, could become important and controversial issues. This is where mutual and collaborative understanding should be embraced by both the higher education institutions and the industry.

The industrialist possesses and provides financial support to the higher education institutions, through grants, endowments, foundation, donations, scholarship, sponsorship for conferences, etc. Relevant examples of such donors in Nigeria include Microsoft, HP, Intel, Nestle, Shell, Chevron, and Dangote, among others. The company possesses relevant technology and infrastructure. Provision is made for both the students and teachers to access the industrialist’s technology and infrastructures such as laboratory for research and development. Places are provided for students/teacher industrial work experience, as well as for sabbatical work experience for teachers. Collaborative exchange programme between the industrialist’s staff and student/lecturers is promoted. The industrialist is involved in higher education institutions’ social and academic extra-curricular activities, building and sustaining network between the industrial group and the higher education institutions. Promotion of socio-cultural activities engages the industrialist. The company initiates and participates in community development programmes such as health, poverty alleviation, capacity building facilities, etc. The industrialist organises competitions and quiz and also provides facilities for entrepreneurial skills acquisition to be shared with relevant students/teachers.

INDUSTRIALIST’S NEEDS TO HELP MAKE IT HAPPEN
To effect the innovation, the industrialist will require collaboration and cooperation from higher education institutions leaders and the entire institutions’ community. Collaboration and cooperation from other stakeholders in higher education innovation — parents, NGO’s, and socio- cultural organisations, will be relevant. Open access process policy and practice will enhance “open innovation”, which will involve sharing of technological developments and information, as well as ideas. High quality support/participants and manpower, with positive attitude, integrity, creativity, interpersonal relation, etc will be of mutual benefit. The industrialist will be a member of the governing council of the higher education institutions, where policy and practice are formulated. The industrialists will be represented on all relevant government’s boards and high powered policy and practice formulators, to make audible voice.

The government will provide motivation in terms of tax rebate, recognition and other incentives, which will include conducive business environment — infrastructure, power supply, transportation means, peace, safety, security, etc. Funding from equity, loan and/or grant will be highly required.

CONCLUSION

The higher education institutions in Africa need to follow the industrialists’ innovation concept and good practice policy, whereby they start their projects on a clean slate,  think big, start small, fail quickly, and scale fast, using ICT. Above all, the higher education institutions in Africa should adopt and adapt “open innovation policy” which has helped the industry to grow, just as it has helped most of the higher education institutions in the developed nations to use e-learning pedagogy for quality mass education production which has positively impacted their environments’ development.
Mine is just to provoke more contribution on the way forward to quality mass higher education delivery in Africa, using e-learning pedagogy and other information & communications technologies, for accelerated and sustainable development.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to the challenges confronting quality mass education delivery for development in Africa.

Engr. ADEJARE AMOO

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – ADEJARE  AMOO

Engr. Adejare AMOO  is a Consultant/Managing Director of CorporateMind Associates Nigeria Limited, engaged in blended education, through their website www.corporatemind-elearn.com and a learning/study centre . This is in support of accelerated and sustainable realization of the goals of the global socio-economic development programs such as MDG, and EFA. The targets of his social entrepreneurial effort cover the disadvantaged communities , such as the youths, girl child, the physically challenged, and the women , among others, in the developing nations.

He retired from Nigeria’s oil and gas industry in 2000 after 27 years work experience. He did an ICT Certificate course on e-Commerce  to support his passion for ICT in education. He is currently the Chairman of the ICT Group, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He participated in the stakeholders workshops organized by Federal Ministry of Education, Nigeria, on education reform programs in 2006 to 2010. He participated in the eLearning Conference in Paris, and in EDUCA Berlin, as well as in the eLearning Africa Conferences between 2005 and 2010.He participated in the Second Science With Africa Conference in Addis Ababa, 2010. He participated in many international online education forums and webinars, including the e-Learning Expert Online Forum 2009, organized by UNU-ViE, Bonn.

He is currently the Nigeria’s ambassador to WWW.SCIENCE-CONNECT.COM NGO. He authors and publishes the Nigeria wiki-page on the NGO’s website. He has a very strong international network. He is bilingual with proficiency in English and French languages. A youths mentor and a community leader, he is married with children. His ambition is to dedicate the rest of his life to support the less privileged  in the developing nations, using ICT.