Monday, June 30, 2003

"Bridging the Divide: Distance Learning Options for International Organizations" by Charles Dufresne and Lynne Bethke of Interworks.

Interworks provides training, including distance learning, focused on humanitarian emergencies, peace building and sustainable development. The article itself is short, 4 pages, and doesn't say much, but I suspect it was meant for an audience that had no clue about the international digital divide and its impact on distance learning options.

"Designing the Blend for Audiences in Developing Countries" by Maureen Miller of the World Bank Institute.

This short paper provides an overview of how World Bank Institute/Global Development Learning Network courses are delivered through a blend of face-to-face facilitated activities in distance learning centers and videoconferences providing links across countries and continents.

Both papers were presented at the 2002 Distance Teaching & Learning in Madison, Wisconsin. The 2003 conference will be held in August.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Poverty Reduction Learning Network

I came across the site of the Poverty Reduction Learning Network today... something I should have come across sooner.

"The goal of the PRLN is to create an effective and inclusive learning community, which will facilitate the acquisition of the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are required for the attainment of the international development targets in Eastern and Southern Africa. The PRLN is being designed to support the learning needs of personnel in central and local government (including politicians), civil society (particularly service-oriented NGOs) and donor agencies, as well as anyone else who has an interest in eliminating global poverty."

This vision statement doesn't spell it out but the PRLN is primarily about distance learning. The initiative is still in its early stages and the first courses are planned for September 2003. The focus seems to be on establishing a network of learning centers that will provide a locally adapted curriculum to tackle poverty reduction. It's not clear yet what technologies will be used but the intent is to offer a formal degree, a Masters degree.

The planning documents make a lot of references to consultations with stakeholders at the country level as well as the need to have a consortium of donors to fund the full project. Clearly, there are related initiatives already operational (African Virtual University, Global Distance Learning Network) so .... there is going to be a need to coordinate and not duplicate, as usual....

I also learned a new acronym: SDMPs (Service Delivery Managers and Professionals)

Monday, June 23, 2003

Cookbooks and Toolkits

I have just now realized that it is totally unfashionable to produce "reports". We should now produce toolkits and cookbooks. Presumably, a toolkit provides many tools that can be used depending on what we need while a cookbook provides more specific recipes for success. Both (I think) are meant to make knowledge products more digestible. I suspect that it might even be useful to go a step beyond and transform some of these knowledge products into training kits meant for self-learning or for use in training-of-trainer initiatives.

Here's an idea... what if the self-paced version of the ICTs for Development course CD that I am currently preparing also included advice for teachers or trainers on how to use the materials for face-to-face training? That would expand the possible uses of the CD.

That's what Richard Heeks seems to be doing with a lot of his papers, spelling out questions that educators can use to stimulate discussions with students around the issues addressed in his papers.
Going back to books and finding the time....

I've been away from books for too long, spending too much time in front of the computer searching the web. While I usually find what I need, there is something about reading a book that makes the experience qualitatively different. In addition, finding time to read a book is part of an experiment I am doing to 'find time' for things that matter.

Here's what I picked up at my local library: "Big Vision, Small Business: 4 Keys to Success without Growing Big" by Jamie S. Walters

I never really wanted the company to expand, so what I really needed is to be inspired to stay small and yet "grow". There is more than one way to "grow" and many ways to define success. Small IS beautiful indeed. I discovered that I am a microenterprise. This may sound a little odd but I had a vision of the microenterprise as a woman in Bangladesh who got a small loan from the Grameen Bank and started raising chickens that she then sells for a profit. That's the danger of associating a word with one specific context rather than sticking to its strict definition.

Realizing that I am a 'microenterprise' also made me realize that there are lots of resources available from my county, state and at the federal level here in the US to help me if I need help.

What's important for a small business owner is to develop a clear vision. When I created "Knowledge for Development" almost a year ago, I wrote a business plan. I didn't really need to since I was not trying to apply for a business loan but I kept reading everywhere that I should have a business plan so I wrote one. Following the constrained framework of a traditional business plan resulted in something that was totally uninspired and certainly failed to inspire me. What I really had in my head was a vision of what was needed and what I could do to fill that need. That vision has evolved over the past year and I suspect that it will continue to evolve.

I really enjoy being a microenterprise and I don't expect to even become a small business with employees in the near future. However, because most of my work happens in the virtual world, there are some drawbacks to my current set up. I need to create opportunities for increased face-to-face interactions with the networks I work with. This would be the first step in creating new opportunities for collaborative work. That's it... stay small but build strong collaborative flexible arrangements with organizations or individuals who have complementary skills and interests.

There is a small chapter in the book dealing with time. I think discussing time and time management really deserved a much bigger section. Managing one's time to the point where we never say "I don't have time" is an important part of being or feeling successful.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Some thoughts about leaders.....

This is about two topics I have been working on:

1. eGovernment and more generally the role of governments in facilitating the effective deployment and use of ICTs in developing countries

2. learning leaders, or the role of management and leaders within organizations in nurturing and facilitating organizational learning

In "Leaders and Facilitators: The New Roles of Government in Digital Economies," Bruno Lanvin writes about the changing roles and functions of governments in supporting the diffusion and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). In the old paradigm, the government was a major producer and buyer of ICT and ICT-related products. In the new paradigm, the government is a leader and facilitator.

On the functional side, governments can use ICT in the delivery of government services and to improve interaction with citizens (e-government, e-administration and e-governance). When governments became leaders in the use of ICTs, the beneficial impacts on the overall diffusion and use of ICTs in the country could be significant.

Some of the existing literature on eGovernment warns, however, that models designed in the West may well fail in other settings. Richard Heeks in particular, notes that eGovernment models designed in the West have failed in Africa because they failed to take into account African public sector realities (See the eGovernment for Development Site to learn more about Heek's analysis and in particular the "design-reality" gap analytical framework).

Beyond promoting eGovernment, governments can also promote the use of ICTs in important fields such as health and education, where ICT applications can improve performance and help address critical development challenges.

Beyond becoming leaders in eGovernment, governments have important roles to play in setting up the right kind of regulatory and policy environment for the private sector to play its role. Whereas in the past, the government monopolies were in charge of building and operating the telecommunication infrastructure, this role is increasingly played by the public sector.

As leaders, governments must set priorities and innovate with regards to ICT deployment and utilization. As facilitators, governments must provide the proper legal and regulatory environment for ICT-related infrastructure and utilization to flourish.

How is that in any way related to leadership in learning within organizations? I see two connections: First, both are about change and the ability to adapt to new circumstances. Second (and more obvious), both are about leadership.

A quote from the wonderful "Development and the Learning Organization", a collection of papers recently put together in a book:

"..learning organizations are staffed by learning people and are led by learning leaders.. organizational learning cannot happen without individual learning."

That may sound obvious but when people talk or write about Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning, a lot of emphasis is put on "the organization", often missing the point that learning starts at the individual level. To become a learning organization, each individual within that organization must realize his/her potential as a learner. I am not talking about formal learning here but rather about a positive attitude towards learning. Leaders in learning organizations must make sure that individuals are encouraged to be learners and encouraged to participate in knowledge creation and knowledge sharing.

So, leaders must set the priorities, create the right environment, and be models themselves. That applies both to government leaders and leaders in learning organizations.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Informal Learning - the other 80%", by Jay Cross, May 8, 2003

The author of this paper argues that formal learning in the form of classes, workshops and online events is the source of only 10 to 20% of what we learn at work. Most of the paper is about the benefits of informal learning and highlights reasons why we seem to pay much more attention to formal training which is apparently much less effective.

Here's one part I found particularly interesting:

"Perhaps more importantly, how peole learn varies as they master a subject and what they already know. A novice needs familiarity with the basics and conceptual understanding. An apprentice needs foundation skills and practice. A seasoned professional needs to keep up with changes in his or her discipline. A master needs recognize when it's time to innovate and be open to inspirations. Everyone needs to keep up to date with changes."

Perhaps I am completely off track but what I have been trying to improve over the past few years is an "ICTs for Development" course that tries to address the learning needs of such a diverse group of learners, from the novice to the seasoned professional. In theory, the seasoned practitioners could share their knowledge with the novices. The novices would ask questions and perhaps even challenge accepted "truths" of the seasoned professionals... Given the flexibility in the assignments and the ability to audit the course, everyone should be able to find what they need, whether it's just a network of people working on similar issues or resources such as articles and reports, or whether what they need is a thorough review of the state-of-the-art in this field.

I've thought about delivering two different courses, one for novices and one for advanced professionals. Then two problems would arise: 1) How do I decide in which group each potential participant belongs; 2) we would be missing out on opportunities to share knowledge across participants.

Also, it seems that informal learning would fit nicely both within personal knowledge management and communities of practice.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The Future of Information and Communication Technologies for Development, by Carlos Braga, John A. Daly and Bimal Sareen (May 2003).

The paper reviews some of the ongoing ICT technological trends that are closely related to the basic dimensions of the digital divide. I wanted to take a peak at what is likely to happen in this field from a technology perspective even though I do not claim to understand all of it. I'll skip what I didn't really connect for me and focus on what I got:

Some of the new technologies that are reaching the market have significant potential for improving access and use of ICT in developing countries. The authors highlight 4 "stepping stones":
1. Low-cost devices, including thin clients and handheld computers adapted for rural conditions, limited power sources and difficult climates.

2. Low-cost software (Free/Open Source Software), which is becoming more and more relevant for developing countries as they develop the technical capacity to utilize and build upon open source software.

3. Wireless solutions to leapfrog infrastructure bottlenecks, and allow rural areas to connect to the urban telecom infrastructure. Wi-Fi is mentioned as one technology that could help address rural connectivity bottlenecks.

4. Content localization, relevance and search technologies. Ongoing research is being done to develop a Universal Networking Language (UNL). This new "language" would help convert web content from one language to another. [This is not the same as computer translations]. Some initiatives are also underway to help developing countries build locally relevant content. See for example the Open Knowledge Network. Finally, there are ways to enhance access in low-bandwidth area by adapting the content, using web-to-email tools and linking the Internet to more traditional means of communication such as radio.

Friday, June 06, 2003

"New Courses"

I am definitely moving towards teaching more courses online, both through Knowledge for Development, LLC and through other institutions. I talk about new courses so much that my husband has completely lost track of what I am doing. Luckily, I haven't. So, here it is:

- Multicultural Foundations of Education, online course at Our Lady of the Lake University in Texas. This course is part of an Online Master Technology Teacher Program. I like the idea of working with graduate students in an academic environment, the fact that I will be using WebCT and will be able to concentrate on content and interaction and not have to worry too much about access issues. The graduate students are dispersed around Texas, not around the world. I like the idea of exploring with them the meaning of multiculturalism in the context of US classrooms.

- Knowledge Networking for Development, online through Knowledge for Development, LLC. I have been trying to find the time to develop this course for several years and it's finally moving forward. This is the heart of what Knowledge for Development, LLC is about and something I am quite passionate about... The most interesting thing about this course is probably the way I am developing it. I am working on what was supposed to be a skeleton of content that would be improved with content developed through the pilot session over the summer. One of the key differences between this type of course and the Multicultural Foundations of Education is that one has been taught multiple times in different institutions and is a standard course while the other does not exist anywhere yet (as far as I know). Certainly, it is much more difficult (though perhaps more interesting) to create a completely new course than to pick up what others have done and add/twist/shape.

- ICTs for Developing Countries: This is the new version of the course I have taught since 1999. Still taught with a CD-Rom and email, but I am working on a completely revised CD and new approach to assignments and discussions. Experimentation is the name of the game with this class... and lessons learned from these experiments can now be integrated into the Knowledge Networking course.. and to some extent into the Multicultural Foundations course. I am also developing a self-paced version of the course (on CD).

- UNDP's ICT4D module: That's an internal training module I will be facilitating this coming fall for UNDP staff. The challenge there is the time constraints (2.5 weeks online) and volume of participants (more than 100). See the outline on UNDP's Virtual Development Academy site.

I look forward to all of these and more to come....

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Social Network Analysis
Dave Pollard's Blog, "How to Save the World".
"Social Networks, Social Software, and the Future of Knowledge Management."

"Social networks can provide the essential context needed to make knowledge sharing possible, valuable, efficient and effective . What are 'social networks'? They are the circles in which we make a living and connect with other people. They transcend strict delineation between personal and business (there's often overlap between the two). They transcend organizational boundaries and hierarchies (we often trust and share more with people outside our companies, and outside our business units, than those inside, and often get better value from the exchange to boot)."

I particularly liked the diagram showing the social network crossing company boundaries, linking communities of practice and linking individual blogs.

1. Social Capital
According to the World Bank, "social capital refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society's social interactions. Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable. Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together."

I'm not an expert in social capital but I wonder if social network analysis can be applied to social capital in development contexts. Are there existing methodologies to map social capital at the community level?

It would seem that social capital (social science field) and social network analsis (business/KM) are very much related and could learn from each other.

Social Capital: The New Driver for Corporate Success in the Knowledge Era, Laurie Lock Lee
"Social Capital is a term generally associated with the social sciences in a social context of local communities, through to global economies. Simplistically, Social Capital is about "connections", both at a personal and/or organisational level. In this session I will introduce the topic by putting forward a case for Social Capital being considered the leading contributor to intangible market values in private sector firms and marketplaces. In the corporate context, Social Capital could be seen as how well connected staff are within and outside the firm and how well connected the firm itself is seen within its marketplace i.e. alliances, joint ventures, mergers & acquisitions etc.. "

2. Interactions in online learning environments
How can we use social network analysis to map interactions in online learning environments so that we can visually see who is interacting with whom? Perhaps the ability to visualize ongoing interactions could help the facilitator to foster increased interactions among specific individuals or better target interventions meant to increase interaction. Core participants would be visible, the interactions of the facilitator with core and non-core participants would be visible, etc....