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Knowledge Expeditions

Brief Description

From tool-centric learning towards learning alliances centred on the pressing challenges faced by knowledge workers in the development community. From the KM4Dev community.

History

This approach was developed across a number of organizations and with many people (through KM4Dev) proposes an energized set of self-organising learning alliances forged from the KM4Dev community. Each alliance mounts a Knowledge Expedition, a purposeful exploration of the equipment a knowledge worker needs to respond to common development challenges. It tries to put the reader in the story of how Knowledge Expeditions came into being as a concept. And it would like to play some role in generating dialogues, which help refresh the KM4dev community and its orientation.This method can be used by others as well.

The Story So Far – “A Speed Date Leads to a New Conception”

June 2005. Geneva. Warm temperatures. Sunny skies. Fresh air. It was at the ILO-hosted KM4Dev workshop where a chance encounter took place. No, it didn’t happen during Christophe Meier’s session that brought participants together to reflect on the question: “What is love?” It happened during a round of speed dating which invited participants to mix and mingle to help them get to know each other better. While some critics of speed dating say that it is shallow matchmaking, which reinforces first impressions (see wikipedia for more), the speed dating session at the KM4Dev workshop provided the kernel of the Knowledge Expeditions Idea when it brought together Simone Staiger (CIAT) and Manuel Flury (SDC) for the first time.
Simone talked about her plans to develop a KS Toolkit for the ICT-KM program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), led by CIAT. And Manuel enthused about the future potential in the SDC & Sparknow Practitioner’s Storytelling Guide. This apparently small moment turned into a much bigger idea with lasting implications.
In the months following that fateful speed date, it became clear that a number of organisations including Bellanet, CIAT, ODI, SDC, and Sparknow were interested in exploring the possibilities for the development of a KS toolkit and in the expansion of the Storytelling guide. Concept notes were drafted, conference calls were held, enthusiasm mounted. The overlaps were clear but the fit continued to elude this newly formed and dispersed team. It wasn’t until their schedules coincided that they could meet face-to-face in Bern, Switzerland in December 2005 and truly open themselves up to the possibilities.

Concept

When the group assembled in Bern the presentations demonstrated the connection still further, and in the process a deep and energetic discussion the idea for the Knowledge Expeditions initiative was hatched. The name came later as the idea was shaped into a firmer concept.
The word “expedition” (from the Latin “expedre” – “to make ready”) denotes a shift in focus for the KM4Dev community - from tool-centric learning towards learning alliances centred on the pressing challenges faced by knowledge workers in the development community. The idea is to join together with those tacking similar question, equipped with appropriate tools (e.g. After Action Review, Peer Assist, storytelling, Communities of Practice, knowledge fairs, participatory video), and set out on what we are calling “Knowledge Expeditions.” It is our hope that this dynamic style of group inquiry might generate fresh energy and shared purpose from within the heart of the KM4Dev community. And perhaps that will invite people towards inhabiting the questions, rather than developing answers and then finding questions to fit them.


Themes

When the idea was hatched in late 2005, we tried to imagine some of the themes that people in the community might be struggling with. We came up with eight possible themes around which expeditions could be organised as well as examples of questions, keywords and KS approaches to help clarify the theme and provide a departure point for the expeditions themselves.
Theme
Fire of the Field
Question(s)
How can we bring the fire of the field into the heart of the organisation?
Keywords
Headquarters vs. regional offices, project administrators vs. field-workers, theory vs. practice, internal communication
KS Approaches
Story competition, narrative guides, ODI bridging policy and research/ fieldwork, blogs, f2f – use of open spaces

Theme
Voices
Question(s)
How can we make better use of our partners’ and beneficiaries’ experiences? How can we use innovative approaches to assist beneficiaries writing their own versions of the story, in their own words?
Keywords
feedback, partnerships, learning loops, active listening, stakeholder analysis
KS Approaches
Participatory video (documentation), participatory evaluations, innovation histories, learning alliances, ethnodrama

Theme
Glue
Questions
How can we forge the kind of lasting trusting bonds that constitute a community? How can we manage and strengthen these networks?
Keywords
trust, visioning, participation, dialogue, facilitation
KS Approaches
CoPs, CoIs, World Café, Harambee Project

Theme
Wisdom
Question(s)
How can we foster environments that support deep personal and collaborative teaching, learning and warning? How do we encourage reflection on the meaning and implications of mistakes and lessons learned and ensure this new understanding informs future policy and practice?
Keywords
adoption, lessons learned, review
KS Approaches
Narrative-based peer assists and AARs, cooperative inquiry, effective listening by leaders, learning from evaluations, open space workshops, Most Significant Change

Theme
Growth (“ripples”)
Question(s)
How can we better illustrate/qualify/demonstrate/evidence the difference we make, day in, day out?
Keywords
Impact Assessment, Scaling up and scaling out, mainstreaming
KS Approaches
Turning point stories, story competitions, “Voices of the Poor”

Theme
Memory
Question(s)
We are losing institutional memory, dinosaurs are dying, bright young things are moving on quickly. How can we ensure valuable experiences are remembered long after the event or when someone leaves?
Keywords
institutional memory, warehouses, project close-out
KS Approaches
oral history, exit-interviews, journals and logs

Theme
Change
Question(s)
Donor priorities change, projects are phased out (either as expected or before originally planned), staff leave the organisation. How can this process be managed in a positive way, one in which all concerned feel it to be a learning experience? How can lessons learned be best brought out? How can a contact with the field be maintained after project closure, to follow up on sustainability?
Keywords
project close-out, participation, facilitation, keeping in touch
KS Approaches
oral history, exit-interviews, f2f-open space, outcome mapping

Theme
Vision
Question(s)
How can we develop compelling maps to the future, working from a known past and present? How can we find out where we should go?
Keywords
strategies, planning, process reengineering
KS Approaches
scenario building, appreciative inquiry, future story

So, we imagine, experiences so far could be gathered and analyzed, tools for knowledge management, and narrative methods and approaches could be organised, tested and shared as responses to these questions.


How to use

The expeditions would work in a perpetual learning loop - meeting, learning, going out and testing, coming back to share and so on - and would be self-managed. The only condition for joining an expedition would be that members are grappling with the same challenge in your own particular context and would be willing both to share with and learn from others.
Each expedition would:
  • Set its framework (define the learning topic, formulate its research questions, review existing practices, design and adapt its approaches, methods and tools)
  • Implement action (planning, and implement approaches, methods and tools in pilot initiatives)
  • Document, analyse, and share its results in order to encourage new learning cycles to emerge.
Expeditions would self-organize around three basic roles: leaders (to guide the xpeditions either permanently or at a particular moment), teams (fluid membership, people may join or leave the team at any time, committing only as much time and energy as they can afford), and sponsors (to provide funding). The KM4Dev core group would help to organize gatherings where expeditions could come together, share stories and benefit from the collective wisdom.
The inception phase of this project would consist in three phases:
  1. Engage, and transmit our enthusiasm the KM4Dev community, first through the list, inviting interested members to conference calls or chats. Objective: feedback on the themes, the enquiry process, possible sources of funding.
  2. Use the next KM4Dev workshop as an opportunity to test the idea, and be open to new ideas and concepts that may emerge, and engage in conversations that would lay out how such an approach might work within the KM4Dev community.
  3. Finalize a project document, which would support fundraising, and be based on the community discussions and the KM4Dev workshop.

When to use




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Photo or image credits

Bev Trayner's Photostream

Page Authors

  • Allison Hewlitt, formerly Bellanet
  • Simone Staiger-Rivas, CIAT
  • Stephanie Colton, Sparknow
  • Victoria Ward, Sparknow
  • With support from Manuel Flury, SDC-Knowledge Management and Urs Egger, SKAT Foundation