Monday, February 18, 2008


Click on the map to enlarge

WikiMindMap is a web-based tool that transforms Wikipedia articles into a mindmap. I haven't figured out yet how to use the tool on a different wiki, if it is at all possible.

The mindmap above corresponds to the article on telecenters in the English version of Wikipedia. I used "telecenter" simply because I am familiar with the content of the "telecenter" article on Wikipedia and I wanted to see how that familiar content would translate into a mindmap.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Trying to find the right mix of pens, notebooks, and electronic tools to keep track of projects, to-do lists, planning, random thoughts and reflections is not easy. I've never seen the world as either/or. I don't want to switch to an all digital file system but I do want the convenience of being better able to quickly find a note I jotted down six months ago without having to flip through pages and pages of a notebook.

I was focusing on personal knowledge management this week, not only as something I'd like to have a very good handle on for my own personal purposes but also as the starting point for more productive collaborative efforts and organizational KM. Somehow I ended up jumping into a discussion on the KM4Dev (Knowledge Management for Development) List, asking a question about tools that might help me address some of my personal knowledge management challenges, and ended up testing out TiddlyWiki.

TiddlyWiki is not a software per se but an html page full of code in the background that allows you to have a personal wiki on your desktop or on a USB key. All you need is a browser. It took me a good 30 minutes to figure out the key "this-is-how-it-works" principle, probably because I was looking for something more complicated. In the end, it's extremely easy to start with the basic version.

A couple of things hit me while I was playing around, figuring out how it worked and how I was going to use it for my own purposes:

1. The more languages you know, the easier it is to learn a new one. I don't know a lot of HTML but having a minimal understanding of what HTML does helps to grasp how other languages work -- without ever wanting to become a programmer or to master any of these languages. I have now experienced three different types of wikis. They each work slightly differently but once you get the basic principle, it's relatively easy.

2. Tagging is similar in some ways to coding in qualitative research. Until this week, when I used my newly created TiddlyWikis extensively for personal knowledge management purposes and for a research project activity, I had not fully understood the purpose and value of tagging. The more I experiment with new technology tools the more I am convinced that experiencing the tools, hands-on practice, is essential for people to realize and fully understand what these tools can help you with. Once I made the connection between tagging and coding in qualitative research, I was better able to integrate it into my own thinking/tagging practice.

I am now hooked on TiddlyWiki.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Portrait vs. Landscape

In the last two days, I have downloaded three documents from the web for offline reading. These were PDFs clearly meant for offline reading. All three are in landscape (horizontal) layout. Coincidence? Could it be a trend? If it is a trend, where does it come from? Could it be that our reading habits are changing -- we're scanning rather than reading -- and document layouts need to adjust to the way our eyes and brains are now handling written materials? After all, the landscape layout more closely resembles the computer screen shape and allows for a two or three column format. Of course, you can put two or three columns in a portrait layout but it's easier on the eyes with a landscape layout.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Learning from Doing - Social Bookmarking

I've just posted a short article on social bookmarking.

I'm not going to repeat here what is in the article but this is how it started out and I suspect the same happens to a lot of people: You hear a buzz about a new technology or a new cool gadget. You're not quite sure what it does, how it could help you and any time you hear about it or read about it, you're still not quite sure you're getting the full picture. The only way to get to that point where you can tell whether it's going to be useful to you is by trying it out.

And so I tried social bookmarking a while ago. The short article I posted in the Articles section of the website highlights what I've learned testing out FURL. It doesn't attempt to compare FURL to any other tool. All the social bookmarking tools sufficiently similar that you can just pick one and run with it.

And if you want to take a look at the types of resources I bookmark, check it out in my FURL Archives.

Multimedia Case Studies - NASA

NASA's APPEL (Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership) project develops case studies that "illustrate the kinds of decisions and dilemmas managers face every day, and as such provide an effective learning tool for project management. Due to the dynamic and complex environment of projects, a great deal of project management knowledge is tacit and hard to formalize. A case study captures the complex nature of a project and identifies key decision points, allowing the reader an inside look at the project from a practitioner's point of view."

This is what I want to do when I grow up. I want to create case studies based on projects, case studies that capture the complexity of real-life projects.

You don't truly learn project lessons unless you've lived through the project (and paid attention to what was going on). Alternatively, you can "re-live" the project through a well-documented case study. That's what case teaching tries to achieve in business schools, laws schools and many other places of learning. So, why are we not using this approach as much in international development?

The most powerful training I have ever attended was scenario-based. Training scenarios based in real-life situations allow you to internalize what you may have learned in a lecture setting or a manual. The most powerful job interview I have ever had the pleasure of participating in was scenario-based. Is there any better way to test someone's ability to perform the job than to ask them how they would handle some of the job's most demanding tasks? Why don't we train project managers with case studies? The answer is that we don't have that many good case studies. We write success stories to demonstrate that we've done well, not case studies to learn and share what we've learned.

Part of the challenge is that we are not comfortable discussing ongoing or completed projects in anything other than the "success story" mode. We're not comfortable talking about what went wrong and what could have been done better.

Another challenge is that completed projects are in the past. We've moved on to other projects and we're not that interested in retrospective analysis. At best, we've perhaps integrated some lessons learned from a project into the design of the next project. The lessons learned essentially stay within the team and are not shared more broadly within the organization or externally.

Try the NEAR Case Study.