Monday, February 14, 2011

Sharing Knowledge for Better Aid - A Knowledge Fair takes place at EuropeAid

by Gauri Salokhe, originally posted on Gauri's Blog

A day long event dedicated to knowledge management, in the format of a Knowledge Fair, took place on the 3rd of February 2011 at the at EuropeAid headquarters in Brussels. The aim of the event, as Anna Bertele, coordinator of the K-DAY (as the knowledge fair was called), explained to me, was to raise awareness on knowledge management and encouraging the culture of sharing.

She further elaborated..
We didn't know very much about the Knowledge Fair format so the Share Fair in Rome was really inspiring. Then some contacts with the KM4Dev network followed and finally on 3 February of this year the first Development and Cooperation Directorate General of the EU (DEVCO) K-DAY was organized.

The organization of an event like this was a real challenge for many reasons, the biggest of them being that we were just running into a big reorganization, including the merge of two different Directorate–Generals, the arrival of a new Director and the departure of some colleagues. Getting people on board, both as contributors and participants, wasn't easy and we had limited resources, so some sessions were more successful than others, and the lessons learned are many.

One of the best results was having our hierarchy discussing informally about opening up silos and building the new DEVCO.

Other sessions were less successful because expectations were not always met as objectives were not made clear enough. There was a high percentage of external participants from partner organizations or consultancy that drove the discussion on quite general issues while some sessions should have been focusing on internal needs of the fresh new organization. - Anna Bertele.

You can find more information about the event, on their blog:

Well done to Anna and the Team!

Friday, February 11, 2011

NRCan Knowledge Share Fair - another story of impact!

by Gauri Salokhe, originally posted on Gauri's Blog

Often I get asked, so what's the impact of all the Share Fairs (and in general the KS work I do!)? Impact assessments are difficult, especially for interactive events such as the Share Fair - how do we know who met who? what was learned that results in innovation, etc. One visible impact, however, is the adaption of the "Share Fair" format! A format that promotes networking, trust building, sharing and learning in an informal yet interactive format.

I recently read Simone's example of Central American A4N Project Share Fair – A story of impact where Enrica rightfully comments "good ideas travel", I thought of asking Simon Bridge, whom I only know through his twitter account, to tell us a little bit about a Share Fair he organized in January 2011. I was curious to know more about it as we had been "tweeting" to each other since some time about Share Fairs. Motivated by Simone's post, I asked him a few questions about the Share Fair he organized:

1) How did you come about o
rganizing the “Share Fair”?

At Natural Resources Canada we have invested significant resources into developing technological tools to share knowledge. We have internal blogs, a wiki, discussion forums, and other tools to share what we know. But sharing knowledge - our information, skills and expertise - requires more than technology. There must be a culture of sharing and trust within the organization as well.

There are also numerous communities of practice (CoP) in Natural Resources Canada - groups of individuals who share a common interest in a specific area of competence and are willing to work together. These communities exemplify the culture of sharing and trust, but in most cases, members in these communities are working off the side of their desk. They are doing work that is not part of their regular work duties, but are nonetheless contributing to the goals of the department. Within these communities there are many different models for how they manage themselves and the value they bring to the organization. As a member of several communities of practice, I felt that there was value to be gained from just bringing communities together to share experiences in how they formed, sustained themselves and, in some cases, dissolved. I wanted participants to have the opportunity to find and connect with communities, to share their knowledge and experience about being in a community, and to demonstrate the relevance of their community to Natural Resources Canada.

I first read about the idea of a share fair in a book about knowledge management. The book referred to a marketplace with booths set up by employees of The World Bank in the atrium of their building in Washington. As staff arrived at work in the morning, there was no way to avoid walking through the market and finding out about all the innovative work going on in the bank. As I researched the idea further, I came across the Share Fair Website and similar innovative events hosted by the UN, FAO and others. I felt the time was right to bring this idea to Natural Resources Canada.

2) How was the event organized?

I had no mandate or budget for this event, I just thought it was a good idea. But when I started talking to people about it, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and people were ready to pitch in with time and money. A planning team of about 20 people from the various communities of practice in the department was created. Effectively, we created a small and very ephemeral community of practice to organize the event. We wanted an event planned by communities for communities.

We followed the advice on the Share Fair website and broke the planning team into four sub-groups: Content, communications, logistics and training/facilitation. We started off with a vision for the fair based on suggested formats on the Share Fair website, but we built on peoples expertise to shape our own version of the event.

The bilingual morning session, which was also webcasted, featured a keynote presentation by Dr. Kimiz Dalkir – an expert in knowledge management from McGill University – and a panel discussion featuring three leaders from Communities active in Natural Resources Canada: Philippe Dauphin (Learning Organization CoP), Mark Kennedy (Managers’ Community) and Douglas Bastien (Web 2.0 Practitioners CoP). These speakers touched on the short-term and long-term value of CoPs and networks to both the organization and individual members – values that include improving business outcomes, developing organizational capabilities, improving the experience of work, and fostering professional development.

In the afternoon, participants broke into focused discussion groups to identify “quick wins” to maximize the value of CoPs and networks for both the department and the individual members. Quick wins were defined as things that could be done right away, with existing resources and that would have an impact in the next 6 months. Dozens of ideas were generated such as using collaborative tools and Share Fairs to share, learn and grow; incorporating CoP membership into learning plans; and telling success stories via our internal newsletter, at the management table, or via social media. Of particular note was the call by communities of practice for senior managers to more explicitly recognize the successes of CoPs and support practitioners’ participation – in essence, to create the space for CoPs to flourish.

There was also a community market place containing booths set up by CoPs to demonstrate their work and connect with staff, training sessions offered by communities, a "classified ads" wall where participants could write what they had to offer or what they were looking for, a giant calendar where communities could write down their upcoming events and a twitter wall where tweets from the event were projected.

3) What were for you the successes for the event? What would you do differently next time?

Based on feedback we received, the Share Fair was a resounding success, bringing together 80 registered participants, 16 diverse communities active in Natural Resources Canada, and four guest experts. We identified many ideas for CoPs to connect with new members, to collaborate with one another and to raise awareness about the relevance of CoPs to the department. On that last point, the Deputy Minister has since acknowledged the Share Fair and CoPs for their contribution to creating an collaborative and innovative workplace.

For me, the discussions and outcomes from the Share Fair reinforced a view that despite all the technological tools at our fingertips, public servants are, more than ever, clamouring to be connected to one another in meaningful ways. This, for me, is the longer term legacy of CoPs. They help foster a culture of collaboration by forging relationships that produce results and that integrate a diversity of experience and perspectives. They help engage employees by connecting people’s passions to their work and by fostering professional development and leadership experiences beyond the sector level. And they strengthen knowledge management by enhancing and deepening skills and expertise in the workforce and strengthening a culture of sharing that complements our wiki, blogs, forums and other knowledge sharing tools.

If there is one thing I would like to do differently next time, it would be to better involve off-site participants. Natural Resources Canada has offices across the country and there was also an opportunity to engage staff from other government departments. While we did webcast the plenary session and used twitter and our wiki to encourage off-site contributions, we still need to better engage those staff who are unable to physically travel to the event.

4) Where can we find more information?

Anyone seeking more information about the event can contact me directly by email at sbridge [at] or contact him via twitter @srjbridge!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Central American A4N Project Share Fair – A story of impact

by Simone Staiger-Rivas, originally posted on ICT-KM Blog

Six months after the Knowledge Share Fair Cali, which was held at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia in March 2010, I was contacted by Ruth Junkin, who is currently leading knowledge management (KM) activities in the Agriculture for Basic Needs (A4N) Project* that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is rolling out in Central America. Ruth, who had attended the Fair, asked if I could go to El Salvador to conduct a KM workshop for some of her project team members.

Inspiration for the A4N Share Fair

During the recently-concluded workshop, Ruth and I had a chance to talk about the Share Fair she had organized with her team at the end of last year, an event that was inspired by the Cali Fair. She told me that they used the same event design starting with the call for proposals they launched among the project beneficiaries and national and regional teams. The positive replies she received encouraged her to lay out an event design that replicated many of the sessions and ideas that she had seen working in Cali: the parallel session formats, the Fair Café, the Knowledge Tree, and getting participants to report back in plenary at “The A4N bar”.

Vibrant Marketplace

A4N Share Fair Marketplace

It was also good to hear that the marketplace exhibition was even more successful at the A4N Fair. The photo above shows the colorfulness of the marketplace and the richness of the stands exhibited by the participants.

The A4N Fair, which had more than 120 visitors and participants, resulted in many positive evaluations, confirming that the event came at the right time for a project in its mid-term. Showcasing the results in this way helped build motivation and energies.

Ruth also told me that a national project team is already planning a similar event in its country, which shows that the Share Fair journey continues on and on.

Well done A4N, and well done Ruth!

* Funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the A4N)Project represents an effort of the CRS) and its partners CARE, Cáritas, FIDER, REDES, and FUNDESA, to help 15,765 family households in remote rural areas of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to improve sustainable production and increase their incomes.