Identifying international knowledge partnerships

With my colleagues Kerstin Tebbe and Bruno Laporte I just had an interesting design conversation for a session in which they want to help the members of a water basin commission better understand with whom they have knowledge exchange partnerships. We realized soon that this is not going to be a Net-Map session or a session of some squeezed out, shrunk down little cousin of Net-Map. So the proposed steps are the following:

  1. All 20 participants (individually) write the names of the commission’s most important and reliable knowledge partners on index cards (with thick marker and great handwriting). The cards are color-coded by categories, e.g. government on green cards, civil society on red.
  2. They put all cards on a large table and start looking for duplicates – if both of us wrote University of XYZ, we stack these cards to reduce the number of cards we are dealing with.
  3. Depending on the number of remaining cards (judgment call in the situation), they instruct the group to get up and take all cards (or only those of actors that have been mentioned at least twice), and walk to a large, sketched  map on the floor of the 5 countries involved. They distribute the actor cards on the map, according to the country the actor is located in.
  4. As this very rough geographical actor map emerges, the participants consider a number of questions: Do we have stronger networks in some countries than others? Are some colors (i.e. actor categories) overrepresented on the map – or in some countries? Who is missing? What is the difference between the stack of cards I produced on my own and the map that emerged as we started putting it all together? How can we, as a group, access this whole richness, instead of just our own little corners?

This activity is located at the start of a longer engagement to improve the knowledge exchange and management of this organization, so they don’t have to answer all the questions in the world, the goal is rather to get the conversation started, to invite the complexity into the room without being overwhelmed.

I am curious to hear what you think about this? Would it work in your context? Can you think of something which would even sharpen or further enrich the activity? Have we overlooked a critical risk? And, don’t you love the artwork above, which Tara Donovan (picture credit) created out of thousands and thousands of index cards?

3 Responses

  1. Hi Eva, I would explore this in a different way, as I think the geographical mapping alone will hit a limit.

    I would do as you mention, with participants writing down the important and reliable knowledge partners on index cards. I would then indicate the geographical regions by sticking the index cards on top of another larger card. The larger cards would be colour coded to represent geographical regions.

    I would arrange the cards in rows, based on type of actor, and put one piece of stick-putty on the back of each card. This is in preparation for the next stage.

    Then one-by-one. Participants would iteratively place the cards (on the floor, or I would stick them to a blank wall as it is faster) I would get them to place the key actor relating to the meeting first and in the centre.

    They keep adding the cards so as to form constellations – clustering the cards spatially according to the affinity that participants feel exists between them. As each card is added, adjustments often need to be made spatially to the other cards, so that the proximity between cards reflects the overall affinity. Eventually a balanced arrangement of cards emerges.

    I have run this with teams in rural S. Africa, and also with facilitators in Canada (although not with the geographical component). It gives some good insights regarding how participants perceive actors and organisations relationships across physical and emotional space.

    I also see this as a good pre NetMap exercise.

  2. Hi Eva,

    This looks like a great project. I’m working on a similar initiative with BC First Nation fisheries organizations looking to visualize current state of water resource collaboration? And how may it be improved? From the design elements identified above, it seems that a three step process may be useful:

    Step 1. Name generator survey – all participants write down their name and organization and country. And list knowledge exchange partners, with meta data: country, weak/strong relationship, affiliation, perceived network influence., etc.

    Step 2. Facilitation team develop social network map and print on posters.

    Step 3. Facilitate a conversation on the generated network map: position of individuals in the map? ideas to improve the network?

    The opportunity for informed dialogue may be richer if the data is analyzed prior to the discussion.

    Some food for thought.

    Kind regards from the Beehive SNA team in Canada.

    Nelson Jatel
    http://www.social-network.ca

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