KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

Why should we work out loud and how to get started

with 3 comments

I recently rejoined UNICEF to head up a small team with the “modest” aim of developing an approach and systems and tools to support more effective knowledge exchange within the organization and with partners. 

One of the biggest challenges is that there is not a strong culture of sharing knowledge and experience within the organization – and most exchanges are either through hierarchical and official channels or are informal through personal networks (and largely invisible). 

As decentralized organization working globally there are often many similar parallel projects taking place in different parts of the organization – but the people working on them are often unaware of each other, or at least unaware of the opportunities for collaboration and experience sharing.

One element we want to try to introduce is the idea of “Working out Loud”.

Bryce Williams coined this term some years ago (and here is an early blog where he elaborated on the idea), Basically:

Working Out Loud   =   Observable Work   +   Narrating Your Work

I.E. i) sharing your work as go it while it is still in preparation (rather than when it is close to being finalized or already final) and inviting people to comment or contribute throughout the process and ii) talking about your work, your observations and experiences as you do it through blogging, yammer posts, twitter etc. 

The aim of this is to allow people to see and and provide inputs on what you are doing before it is fully cooked. That way you can see earlier if it will really meet the needs of those you are doing it for, and if other colleagues can strengthen your work by providing inputs and suggestions – and can help you to avoid pitfalls they can see but you can’t. Another benefit is finding other people who are working on similar projects with whom you might collaborate with (instead of duplicating their work) or learn from – or who you might be able to influence in how they go about their work. A third benefit is that it helps publicize your work and engage and interest people in it and thus make it more likely that it will be used (plus potential personal fame and fortune)

The big challenge with this is getting people started in doing this when it is not the usual way we do business. People are often reluctant to share early work when it may still be rough in terms of quality, presentation and also political correctness. There is particular resistance to doing this with external partners as there is a fear that showing anything less than thoroughly polished and fact checked material might damage our credibility and brand. 

I personally think these fears are overblown, and the benefits of engagement outweigh the risks of not appearing polished enough – especially when we are clear that this is work in progress and we are seeking feedback to make it better. Greater openness in our work also goes along with the move towards greater transparency – i.e. explaining what we are doing while we work to accompany/narrate our open data and financial information, not only in a nice glossy edited end of project donor report. 

But rather than simply making the case that this is so, I believe the only way to convince people that this is possible and highly valuable is to just do it and share what happens. Right now our team has taken the step that in our work on developing systems, tools and approaches for knowledge exchange we will practice what we preach i.e. we will do it all by working out loud ourselves – by sharing things at an early stage and sharing our reflections and learning as they happen. Apart from this we are identifying a few organizational processes (with willing process owners) that should be collaborative by nature but often aren’t (such as collecting inputs and comments on technical policy positions) to prove our point. To make this safe we are still doing this internally for the moment – but I’ll also be sharing what I can on this blog (rather than pontificating which was more frequently what I was doing on the blog before!).

Wish me luck and stay tuned as I let you know how it is going.

 

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Written by Ian Thorpe

July 22, 2014 at 3:53 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Ian, great idea. It seems that the biggest issue in getting participation in “working out loud” has to do with getting the incentive structure right. I guess it’s a little naive to hope most would offer constructive and positive comments, when as humans we are a bit prone to picking out the problems and either only mentioning/focusing on/magnifying them, rather than looking at the problems within a larger context. i think if others have a horse in the race, they will be more likely to provide comments/advice to advance the idea under consideration rather than tearing one down. In other words if you can create a community of those willing to do the same, which then gives them the right/opportunity to comment, the likelihood of generating a useful product increases and you create a culture of innovation. I guess the drawback to a system of this sort is that you might miss out on valuable input from someone outside the system. However, the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy continues to run rampant across the board and it means some resources are being wasted in duplication of efforts, etc.

    Audette B.

    July 22, 2014 at 4:38 pm

  2. […] I recently rejoined UNICEF to head up a small team with the “modest” aim of developing an approach and systems and tools to support more effective knowledge exchange within the organization and with partners. One of the biggest challenges is that there is not a strong culture of sharing knowledge and experience within the organization – and most exchanges are either through hierarchical and official channels or are informal through personal networks (and largely invisible). As decentralized organization working globally there are often many similar parallel projects taking place in different parts of the organization – but the people working on them are often unaware of each other, or at least unaware of the opportunities for collaboration and experience sharing.One element we want to try to introduce is the idea of “Working out Loud”.  […]

  3. […] I recently rejoined UNICEF to head up a small team with the "modest" aim of developing an approach and systems and tools to support more effective knowledge exchange within the organization and wit…  […]


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