Event in Washington DC: Launch of DAI Publication on Network Centric Development

This sounds interesting… Maybe I’ll see some of you there.

The DAI invites the interested public to join them for the launching of :

“Network-Centric Development:
New Perspectives on Global Challenges

You are cordially invited to the launch event for DAI’s newest publication, Network-Centric Development: Leveraging Economic and Social Linkages for Growth. This event will bring together leading experts to discuss how network-centric approaches are spurring innovative approaches to global development challenges, and why all of us should pay attention. With the popularity of sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Devex in our own industry, we are all becoming more familiar with the value of networks in our daily lives. This discussion – hosted by DAI and organized by Devex – will explore how networks and network-oriented thinking are heralding a new era for the international development community, in everything from economic development to disease control and democratic transitions.

February 10, 2009
9:00 am – 11:00 am
Coffee and registration will begin at 8:30am with an interactive presentation on Geosocial Networking, and the event will start promptly at 9:00 am.

National Press Club
529 14th Street NW, 13th Floor
Washington, DC 20045

More info and rsvp

What if we’re not quite sure?

Normally the aim of research is to find things out and to present results that we are sure of and clear about. What a pain that reality is often so messy and opaque and no matter how well research is done, when it comes to social phenomena, different people might see them in different ways!

So what do we do (in social network mapping) if we are not sure about a link? Maybe there are opposing opinions about whether or not it exists. Or we suspect that there should be a link but don’t have enough evidence to be sure… One way of dealing with this would be only to represent those links, we are absolutely sure of. We’re on the safe side this way.

But sometimes the crux of the matter lies in the disputed, suspected, confused links, sometimes the most interesting part of the analysis is where people disagree about a link. I believe that the frustrating feeling of “I’m not quite sure about this. There is conflicting evidence. This should be here but I can’t find it…” points you towards the spot where you should dig deeper and you might come up with something new and unexpected.

What does that mean when you are Net-Mapping an especially confusing situation? You might want to visualize not only the different kinds of links (such as flow of money, flow of information) in different colors but add a visual clue for whether the link is definite or disputed. You could, for example choose dotted lines for disputed links. In the analysis you could play around with:

  • looking just at the undisputed links
  • looking at the complete network as if all the disputed links were indeed real
  • looking just at the disputed links

Do you see any patterns? Are there certain areas of the network that you need to get a better understanding of? Are there certain biases or personal interests that lead you interview partners to be unclear about specific links? Are links disputed because of a lack of knowledge on your side or because of conflicting views within the network?

I hope to try this approach with some colleagues this afternoon. If you do as well, it would be great to hear about your experience: Does it help to document and discuss the things you are not quite sure about?

“You can’t motivate anybody

[…] But motivation is something you draw out rather than put in.” (Mark McGuinness)

Another great link from Viv McWater’s blog: It’s a free e-book titled How to Motivate Creative People by Mark McGuinness. I read half of it for breakfast today and had some valuable moments of understanding better how I and other people tick. Especially usefull to me: The exploration of different kinds of creative motivations:

  • intrinsic
  • extrinsic
  • personal and
  • interpersonal

and the complex ways in which these can be combined to drive different people. And I like the way Mark explores the different motivational personalities: Not everyone is motivated by the same thing.

My resolution from reading this:

I will look more closely into what motivates the people around me and see if I can be supportive of their motivation style so that we can reach greater heights together (it’s so easy to assume other people would be motivated by the same things that get me going…)

We need your help (especially if you speak French or Spanish)

I want Net-Map to be as directly available and easy to learn for anyone who wants to understand and improve social networks as possible. One issue that limits accessibility is always language.

While the idea is quickly spreading throughout the anglophone world, there are now first applications in South America and francophone Africa… but alas, my colleagues and I so far relied on ad-hoc translate-as-you-go solutions, training an interpreter or organizing face-to-face sessions where we use our own language skills.

If we want to make Net-Map accessible beyond the few people and places that we can visit one at a time, we need translations of the basic documents such as the Net-Map manual. Neither my rusty French nor my survival Spanish are good enough for that.

Any volunteers? You’d do a great service to this community of knowledge and help us to cast the net much further. While I cannot offer monetary compensation for this, I can promise you: In the process of translating the document together, I will make sure that you learn as much as possible about how to use Net-Map and I will offer my ideas and advice for your planned future Net-Map applications. Contact me directly if you are interested (eva-schiffer@web.de).

What others write about Net-Map at the Knowledge ShareFair

Vanessa Meadu of the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi sums up the experiences of using Net-Map that IFAD staff shared at the FAO Knowledge ShareFair in Rome:

“Chase Palmieri discussed how an analysis of the IFAD Asia-Pacific network revealed a number of connections and activities that the network facilitators had not been aware of, such as new working relationships. The network managers at IFAD will use this information to help participants work together more and learn about each others’ expertise. In Ghana and Mali, IFAD used Net Map (https://netmap.wordpress.com/) to map power asymmetries in pro-poor rural water. Moses Abukari and Rudolph Cleveringa shared how the participatory tool helped reveal social structures and hierarchies in a community, which can inform decisions about who to involve in a project and what strategies to engage them…”(read more)

Very valuable about her post is that she also points out the risks of using an approach such as Net-Map with the goal of directly implementing the results (as compared to research uses). While Net-Map is meant to make implicit networks explicit, that same feature might also be perceived as (and used for) exposing people and their weaknesses and thus do more harm than good…

Look here for Nancy White’s observations from the same session, focusing on the effect that the act of knowledge sharing (supported by different methods) can have on the way we work together.

Moses Abukari writes: Sharing Net-Map among Development Practitioners

After Eva Schiffer gave a wonderful presentation of the potentials of Net-Map in development at IFAD in December 2007, I have been looking for opportunities to further promote Net-Map. In June 2008, IFAD organized a one-day knowledge event where I shared Net-Map based on an IFAD case study I did together with Eva and Jennifer Hauck in Ghana. Thanks to Eva and Jennifer, they coached me on how to use Net-Map to examine water users’ performance and map out local power asymertries  (see case study). We also used Net-Map to facilitate multistakeholders learning and sharing knowledge at an IFAD Knowledge Profiling in Ghana. The practical usefulness of Net-Map continues to excite me as a simple and low-tech tool that could help development practitioners to understand and visualize social processes in a community for instance.

Net-Mapping in Mali

In October 2008, I was in Mali with a colleague to document IFAD’s experience on Land and Water Governance through its ongoing interventions in Mali. One of the exciting things I did was to replicate the Ghana’s Net-Map experience in Mali. Thus, I used Net-Map as a PRA tool to help project staff to identify, understand,  visualize and discuss possible ways to effectively implement a “perimeter irrigation villageois” in a community. I was struck by project staff’s enthusiasm and demand to be trained to use Net-Map for project-related activities especially in Monitoring and Evaluation. My immediate response was that Net-Map training does not take much time or required advanced knowledge but that will need another planning or mission.  However, my major concern for this project staff was that they speak French and materials so far on Net-Map are English. Hence if such training should be planned, then the materials and resource (including working knowledge in French) are absolutely essential to have a greater impact of Net-Map application.

Net-Map Sharing at Knowledge ShareFair, FAO, Rome

I wish I could end my story now but this last part is very important and it is actually the reason that I want share this on the Net-Map blog.  I contacted Eva and Jennifer about two months ago informing them of the selection of the Net-Map proposal for Knowledge Share Fair event. Well, things are all set for the biggest knowledge management fair in Rome. It is taking place at the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome from 20 January 2009 to 22 January 2009. I am presenting Net-Map to thousands of people from all over the world with different backgrounds. Although, I am happy to promote Net-Map, I wish it was Eva doing this instead. The session I will be presenting together with my boss (Rudolph Cleveringa) is on Social Network Analysis (read further). I will share my Net-Map experience at the end of the fair.

Similar people – different people

Social network analysts find this again and again:

1. Most networks have the tendency to age towards homophily. That means: The longer a network is active, the more it tends to consist of similar people.

2. Heterogeneity and boundary spanning between different kinds of networks lead to innovation.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Because it is not just about networks or organisations as a whole. But also about the question: How do you as a person achieve both, feeling comfortable and broadening your horizon?

I feel drawn to people who understand me without much explaining, the typical situation where you start a sentence and the other person is nodding frantically because he or she knows exactly where you are going. And sometimes talking to people who are so similar allows you to reach out very far on very thin ice. You can think crazy stuff together because you trust each other and you can build on each others’ ideas without much effort. You can ask them for feedback and they’ll tell you exactly what you need, because they really get you.

On the other hand… sometimes you meet people where you feel like even the basic structure of their brain must be completely different from yours. Getting to understand each other can become a tough job of explaining and misunderstanding and you feel like learning a different language altogether just to make yourself understood. To work together you need to negotiate the common ground, explain your priorities and plow through the frustrations of different work styles.

But after going through all this, you might realize: They can do, see and think things that would have never occured to you. Explaining your point of view helps you understand better where you stand and maybe even reassess some of the things you took for granted.

What triggered these thoughts is my learning process towards becoming a better facilitator. In my experience, facilitators like to mix, exchange, work and learn with other facilitators (and the term “facilitator” here is a job description as much as a kind of character). But while we might get into the wildest and newest participatory ideas of productive freedom and multidimensionality, a lot of our audience might have completely different comfort zones and ways of learning and interacting.

So how do you best combine both: Learning together with the best and most creative people of your own kind and opening the doors for those who think  and work in a completely different way? I guess there are some pointers towards this in the whole field of intercultural learning – because culture does not necessarily have to be connected to different nations or language groups…

If only my ideas could spread like the common cold…

A contagious idea is something that I share with people who share it with other people who share it with other people and just like the common cold, my first cough might allow me to have an impact on people and places that I have never even seen before.

Well, you would never know if people started coughing in China just because of someone you sat next to on a plane some months back. So I’m all the more delighted if I can, every once in a while, find a trace of my work as far away as Thailand.

Have a look at the Wiki of the “ENRAP Knowledge Sharing Training” workshop taking place in Bangkok, Thailand from Nov 11 – Nov 14, 2008. I’m especially excited because I got involved in network mapping as a researcher, but I was convinced right from the beginning of it’s uses as a hands on practical tool to enhance planning processes and knowledge sharing.

Something more Philosophical

Another web-find that made me think beyond my everyday thoughts. How can it be that sometimes other people can explain to you how you think, even though they don’t even know you?

I have often marveled at people with very precise plans and goals and also felt a slightly uncomfortable pressure to set goals, because if you don’t, how will you ever know you’ve gotten there?  Thanks Dough for exploring (and thanks Viv for pointing to this page):

“We don’t need to have a plan nor a goal – only a purpose. And not as well-defined as we thought. Purpose becomes clearer in collaboration. […]

Goals are for people who need something external to tell them when they get “there.” More than that, people who need to know they’ve got somewhere (and can stop now). Some surmise that the world is – or at least can be – created to be larger every moment, more complex, more wondrous.”

The structural logic behind corruption

When discussing corruption, a lot of people from less corrupt systems talk about blatantly corrupt systems and you can hear a condescending undercurrent of: “These amoral corrupt people…” in their assessment of the situation. As if it was always the decision of this one corrupt individual to take or give bribes. And, understanding where they come from, in a less corrupt system, that might be broadly true.

My friends in northern Ghana though agreed that a road contractor who wasn’t prepared to pay his 10% to everyone involved would not get any jobs and so, by definition, not be a road contractor. They didn’t judge this as an un-ethical act but, ironically, saw the contractor who distributed part of the contract sum as following the (informal) rules.

When network mapping with a group of people involved in avian flu prevention, we talked about the question: Where in this network do people have the highest incentive to bribe? This helped us to understand that it is not the evil character of cross-border chicken traders but rather the lack of compensation for dead birds and the position of control of the border officials, that makes the cross-border trade a potential corruption hot-spot.

Regina Birner has used Net-Map to visualize and summarize her findings about corruption in the construction of small reservoirs in Ghana and in forestry in Indonesia. We had an interesting discussion this week about how you could use Net-Map as a tool to diagnose potential structural corruption hot-spots without focusing on exposing individuals and thus improve the design of programs and organizations to reduce incentives for corruption. Have a look at her case study.

Can you think of examples that you have experienced or heard about where certain structures invited corruption? What exactly could be the switches to turn for reducing the incentives for corruption in these cases?