Saturday, October 01, 2016

USAID and NASA - A Tentative Comparison of Industry Trends and Current Knowledge Management Challenges

The table below doesn't claim to be a thorough comparison of USAID and NASA.  It's a quick glimpse at key characteristics that impact current knowledge management challenges, inspired by the SID - Future of AID session earlier this week and about 10 years of practical experience in both of these worlds.

This deserves much more reflection and more than a blog post and table.   It could be a full book, but I can't answer the "SO WHAT?" question.  I keep coming up with new mini-insights that need to be connected somehow to build the bigger puzzle. All I'm really saying is that the two agencies are not that different and key knowledge management challenges are common across industries even if NASA is perceived as being well ahead of USAID from a Knowledge Management perspective.

US Government Agency / Industry
USAID / International Development
NASA / Aerospace
Global Economic Development, Poverty Reduction
Science & Exploration
Programs and Activities implemented to achieve the goal
Broad commitment to SDGs, Country strategies, sector-specific programs, individual projects
High-level strategies in each key space science domains (astrophysics, heliophysics, earth science, etc..); programs and individual missions
Implementation Models
Public private partnerships; contracts and grants with implementing non-profits and for-profit private sector organizations

International collaboration: working within the United Nations system
Increased emphasis on private sector involvement; continued partnerships with industry as contractors and academia as partners/contractors; partnerships with other countries’ space programs

International collaboration: Space Station
Changes in the industry
New entrants:
·        Countries like China and India, operating under different models, different rules.
·        Private sector investors
·        Large individual donors and corporate donors
New entrants:
·        Countries with new space ambitions
·        Private sector taking over roles previously owned by government (transport to Space Station, launch services, etc…)
 Rapidly changing global economic and political environment; need to explore new implementation models.  NEED TO ADAPT FASTER, THEREFORE LEARN FASTER.
Rapidly changing technological innovation and implementation models. NEED TO ADAPT FAST, THEREFORE LEARN FASTER.
Key differences
Measuring success (‘IMPACT’) is a perennial challenge.  Scaling and replicability become difficult because there isn’t enough attention paid to “HOW” the activity was made to be successful.  Little emphasis on understanding the complex set of factors leading to success.  (See previous post)

Very little rigor in program and project implementation. (subjective judgment here, based on personal experience/perception)

What’s needed: Adaptive management, CRITICAL THINKING
Measuring success has never been an issue.  Success and failure are very clear and visible.  Identifying technical failures is a challenge when it happens on orbit, but the biggest challenge is identifying AND CORRECTING organizational failures.

High degree of rigor in project management (increasing rigor on cost and schedule dimensions), sometimes to the point of being a serious burden and impeding innovation.

What’s needed: Tailored application of project management “requirements”, CRITICAL THINKING
Knowledge Management Challenges
·        High turnover, shuffling around the same top contractors, same group of consultants (small world)
·        High barriers to entry (perhaps that’s changing with the emergence of new actors)
·        Generalists vs. specialists and the need for a holistic approach to problem solving, multi-disciplinary approach.
·        North-South discourse/issue, reinforcing impact of information technology
·        Absorptive capacity, perceived weakness of local knowledge capture/knowledge transfer.
Confusion around M&E, Knowledge Management and communications/PR resulting from the incentives structure (see previous blog post). 

DIFFICULTY IDENTIFYING REAL LESSONS, SPECIFYING “SUCCESS FACTORS”, INCLUDING CONTEXTUAL FACTORS.  NEED TO LEARN TO ADAPT AND INNOVATE.   Learning from flawed data on impact studies is… flawed.  Need to come up with something much more forward looking, agile and adaptive.
·        Retiring, aging workforce with critical experience-based knowledge is leaving
·        New entrants/partners are not using tested/proven approaches, steep learning curve, yet that’s how they can take risks and innovate
·        Need for insights from other fields, increased openness to insights from non-technical fields
·        Perennial challenge of cross-project knowledge transfer (“we are unique” mentality) and knowledge exchange across organizational boundaries.

This was a case where an insight map didn't seem to fit the purpose, yet I bet it would help me to connect the dots a little better. 

I had previously written about the two organizations:  Foreign Assistance Revitilization and Accountability Act of 2009, August 11, 2009.  A great deal of USAID's current focus on Monitoring, Evaluation, Knowledge Management and the CLA (Collaborating, Learning and Adapting) model emerged out of that 2009 legislation.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Social Impact Consulting

For almost a year now, I have been planning an exit from my full time job to re-enter consulting.  The date has been fixed for a while and with that deadline in mind, my thinking and planning have accelerated. To avoid developing an overly rigid plan based on unfounded assumption, I am focusing on developing a one-year plan around an overall project which I call my YOL, short for Year of Learning.

[I've previously blogged about the job transition from a knowledge transfer perspective.]

As I continue to take MOOCs, read, write and allow ideas to percolate, I have been able to draft a business plan that I can keep tweaking as time passes.    This Year of Learning is meant as a way to allow myself to experiment with various consulting models, different types of services, etc... and different markets.

A key element of that experiment will be to provide Knowledge Management support to individuals, groups and organizations working on social causes.  Perhaps it's a form of social impact consulting.  The idea was in the back of my head for a while when I was thinking in terms of potential clients and customers, but it crystallized this past week as I was viewing the videos for "Devenir Entrepreneur du Changement," a very good MOOC in French from HEC and Ticket for Change (offered on Coursera).

One of my goals will therefore be to test various social impact consulting models.  For example, would virtual coaching of social entrepreneurs make sense?  Could I provide one specific project with ongoing advice, KM and M&E support?  Could I provide a KM and M&E course or collaboration space for social entrepreneurs?

Social impact consulting isn't a new concept.  Consulting for any organization working in international development may be considered social impact consulting.  Many corporations have social responsibility programs.  Working with or for such programs may count as social impact consulting.  Those may well be key potential clients/customers for me in the future, but the true test of social impact consulting would to provide direct support to social entrepreneurs and non-profits operating on the ground, whether domestically in the US or globally.

And of course, there's a map for this....

Social Impact Consulting, Map # 22

I've also posted the map in its html version (with working hyperlinks) in my new space for insight maps. Check it out here.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dealing with Complexity in Knowledge Management

This week, two LinkedIn posts and conversations and one MOOC made me reflect upon the way we deal with complexity.  This week was all about knowledge, the complexity of the world we live in and more specifically the complexity associated with knowledge capture and knowledge transfer, and the hidden dangers of simple solutions.

  • Nick Milton's post, "When "Copy Exactly" Pays Off in KM" discusses one possible strategy for going from development to large scale production from a knowledge transfer perspective.  The argument is that if you don't fully understand a complex system but you know that it works, don't mess with it.  If the black box works, don't open it up to try to understand how it works.  Just find a way to replicate the black box.

    This may work in a very narrow range of contexts. I just helped write a lesson learned in a very different context that suggested something completely different:  Beware a calling something a "rebuild" or a copy and assume the copy will be cheaper to build because we now know how to build it. Obviously, context is critical. I'm talking about rebuilding an instrument for a space mission.  Nick was talking about mass production of computer chips.

    In yet another context, international development, the idea of piloting an activity somewhere on a small scale and then implementing a "copy-and-scale" either in the same country or elsewhere is going to raise a few red flags.  Any push to scale or repeat in another geographical, economic, political and cultural context will likely require some "adaptation" when transferring knowledge.  In an international development context, I'd be very weary of replicating something just because it works somewhere, without understanding why / how it's working.

  • In another LinkedIn conversation, Chris Leljedal asked about best practices for collecting tacit knowledge from retiring employees. Of course, there are a number of ways to do it and again, the context is going to be critical in deciding what approach is both feasible, practical, and likely to yield the best results.  I would like to argue, however, that it would help to step back, pause for a second (or two) and ask a few other questions.

    For example, how did these retiring employees share their knowledge throughout their careers? The image that is perpetuated of "knowledge walking out the door" is a little misleading in my view.  Hopefully these retiring employees did not work in isolation and they've shared their knowledge through ongoing interactions with colleagues and through the normal workflow.  Putting the emphasis on trying to capture critical knowledge before employees leave is the wrong approach. There's nothing wrong with giving retiring employees an opportunity to celebrate their career and tell a few good stories as a way of transferring some last minute career lessons, but it's too little too late if the knowledge hasn't circulated through the organization already.

    This is where knowledge management meets human resources and talent management, where you can deal with the immediate threat of knowledge loss due to retiring employees with a relatively simple set of KM best practices, but the better option would be to look at the broader, more complex issues associated with long-term knowledge acquisition and knowledge retention through a human resources perspective in addition to the KM perspective.    I'm sure someone would also come in with an IT solution but I won't go there.

  • Finally, the MOOC I was keeping up with this week was "L'avenir de la décision:  connaitre et agir en complexité" (Translation: The future of  decision-making:  Knowing and Acting in Complexity).  The key insight I gathered was that we shouldn't ignore complexity and come up with simplistic solutions just because it's difficult and we shouldn't thrown the towel either.  We need to recognize complexity, accept it, but don't let it paralyze you.  Move forward with simple, short- and medium-term practical solutions based on realistic expectations and humility and keep trying to understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together (the complexity behind everything).  (see my puzzle post of late August and whether it ties in)

Monday, September 05, 2016

Improvements on the Horizon - Interactive Maps

Until now, I've always posted maps as static images.  While seeing a static map is better than just reading a description of a map is an improvement, it's still a long way from the enabling the viewer to truly understand the power of interconnected maps.  Until now, my inability to post interactive maps (i.e., maps that visitors can click on and navigate across) was a key challenge that forced me to post simple, individual maps that were disconnected from each other.

I'm excited by the improvements that are coming.  I'll be leveraging the mapping tool's cloud capability, which will allow me not only to build maps in the cloud, but also to publish clouds directly to the web for easy sharing.

As a first step, I've posted one map as proof of concept, which has already given me some idea of the limitations of the approach and some of the possibilities.

Here is another approach, posting the map to a Google Site open to the public but with my domain.

Much more to come....