Wednesday, 28 May 2014

World café, multi-stakeholder platforms and knowledge generation

What happens when you mix world café with multi-stakeholder platform (MSP)? As obvious, the outcome is an innovative and sustained effort for sharing and creating knowledge among the actors. And if you are implementing it for a certain value chain – it works wonders bringing about significant changes in the sector.

If you are new to value chain, let me first talk about it. A value chain is a set of activities and actors involved from the production till the sales. In a nutshell: from farm to fork. 

The idea of mixing world café with MSP was deduced from the innovation system (adapted from Woodhill, 2011) that brings together service providers, entrepreneurs, associations, farmer organisations, government, researchers, educators, practitioners and policy makers through interactive knowledge processes like MSPs, action research, dialogues, action groups, knowledge networks and pilots for collective action and shared understanding to bring about a situation for change in a certain value chain.

The below diagram (click the picture to enlarge) sourced from the chapter “Knowledge development, innovation and learning in value chains by Piet Visser, Melat Getahun and Mogessie Fikrie” in the book Pro-poor Value Chain Development: Private Sector-led Innovative Practices in Ethiopia edited by Piet Visser, Marc Steen, Juergen Greiling, Timoteos Hayesso, Rem Neefjes and Heinz Greijn clarifies the concept. Read the review of the book in

We tried concocting these two processes at the High Value Agriculture Project in Hill and Mountain Areas (HVAP).  The producer groups and cooperatives, traders, input suppliers and service providers were bundled into groups so that they could discuss about the opportunities and challenges in the value chain with each other.

Each group then presented the challenges and opportunities including prioritising the pressing issues in the sector that provided a platform for open dialogue among the value chain actors, enabling institutions and service providers.

Following the presentation, a world café session was organised. The traders became the table hosts and the producers went from one table to another in groups. The groups spent around 20 minutes at each table and discussed on the issues concerning both the buyers and producers. Some even came up with buy-back arrangements with the traders, while the producers and traders were seen busy exchanging the mobile numbers.  A partnership was already taking place and links were being strengthened – guaranteeing both the producers and traders of selling their products and sourcing products respectively.  Similarly, a separate table was hosted by the enablers including scientists, agro-vets and representatives from district agriculture development offices of the government. The farmers were surprised to know about the services provided by the government.

For those of you who don’t know about world café, it’s a process of holding structured conversation in groups. The individuals or groups switch the tables and the table host gives a snapshot about the previous discussion to the incoming group or individuals. At the end the table host presents on the outcomes of the discussions.  Visit the site to learn about the world café method.

The world café and MSP helped build a consensus and ownership among the stakeholders. It would obviously help bring about changes in the sector.

To know more about the sessions and quotes from the participants, read my earlier post in IFADAsia portal.

Friday, 23 May 2014

5 sure-shot ways to boost internal communications

Internal communications is not only about being social with colleagues and sharing information, but it’s about making the organisation more responsive to a constantly changing world, says

Organisations nowadays pay a fortune to establish vehicles for internal communication like enterprise social networks, intranet, content and document management tools, and video conference facilities. Apart from these, most rely on the social media platforms like LinkedIn groups, Skype, group mails, Google Hangouts and Facebook closed groups to discuss, share documents, news, knowledge, and collaborate.

As many groups you form, as many discussions you attend, perfect communication is still elusive. However, using the platforms efficiently will obviously help you better the internal communications in your organisation.

Interlinking the intranet pages
If you have offices across different geographical regions and you are using SharePoint, it’s lot easier for you to better internal communications. SharePoint integrates intranet, content management and document management.  The contents uploaded by each department or branches in their pages, if interlinked to the main SharePoint home pages, will enable you to get a bird’s eye view of happenings within the organisation. If the interlinking is done, when a news item is added in a department/branch page, it gets aggregated in the news section of the main home page. Likewise, a story appeared in the media of a particular department will appear automatically in the media section of the main home page.

The interlinking automatically updates the feeds and facilitates the sharing and communication among the departments and branches.

Rotating the facilitation responsibilities in the LinkedIn groups
Using the LinkedIn group is one of the best ways to get regular updates and participate in discussion. If the groups are closed, it gives liberty to discuss the stuffs internal to the organisation within the group.

However, there are limited discussions in the groups and sometimes the discussion continues between just two colleagues. And the daily updates from LinkedIn to the personal or official mails leads to vexation.

One quick method to get the discussions ongoing and enthuse motivation among the group members is to rotate the facilitation responsibilities. If each member of the group can take turns to post interesting stuffs and arouse interest among the members, the discussion becomes lively.

Besides, inviting some influential figureheads to the group also helps forge better and intellectual discussions, though it restricts sharing internal stuff.     

Monthly e-newsletter for updates
A monthly e-newsletter providing short snippets of what’s happening in the departments, what’s being discussed in the LinkedIn groups and what type or work is being done in the different branches, will help bring about collaboration in the work you do.

A short synopsis of what happened in the meetings will not only inform those who missed the actual meetings but will also invite interest from members of other departments, if there are certain avenues of collaboration.

Microblogging the updates
Twitter, though an external means of communication, can be a helpful medium to send direct messages (DM) to the followers on real time. Its 140 characters limit and ease to share wakes up the lazy person inside us to share the updates instantly – and it’s up to you, whether to make it public or share personally.

Short updates to group mails
The traditional and most reliable way of sharing the updates within your organisation is sending a paragraph each on the recent happenings to the concerned group mails. People who are interested in the issues will contact the respective colleagues personally and thus it will increase collaboration.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

5 team building lessons from blind cricket

(c) Suraj Gurung/NBA
George Bernard Shaw once said, “Cricket is a game played by 22 fools and watched by 22,000 fools.”

Now replace the fools with blinds and read the sentence again. And that happened last February, when I was invited to a tournament to select the team for the upcoming Blind World Cup Cricket being held in Johannesburg of South Africa this November. The only difference was the number of spectators – they were less than few hundreds. However, were mostly blind.

It was my turn to be a fool amongst them – dumbfounded to see their skills, courage and camaraderie.  

Being a communicator, I was gleaning lessons for professionals while watching the cricket.

Diversity is the key to develop a good team and succeed
Each of the two playing teams have 11 players comprising a minimum of 4 totally blind players (B1s), 3 partially blind players (B2s) and a maximum of 4 partially sighted players (B3s).

The B1 players wear a blue wrist band on the right arm, while B2 players wear a red arm band on the left arm. The B3 players don an orange arm band on the left arm. The mix of the teams motivates them to perform well. 

Likewise, if you have a team of diverse people, you will get a motley array of ideas – ranging from stupid ones to bright ones – which are a must for coming up with a winning team.

Equity motivates the team
In blind cricket, a B1 batsman has a runner and a B2 batsman has the option of a runner. When a B1 batsman scores a run, it is counted as two runs. Likewise, if a B1 player takes a one bounce catch, the batsman is given out.

The bowling is underarm and the ball has to pitch once before the mid pitch. This limits the height at which the ball will reach the batsman.

Equity, not equality all the times, motivates the team members. If the ones with less skill are prioritised to develop their skills, cohesiveness develops and everybody feels as a part of the team.  

Well informed teams perform a fair game
The ball used is made of hard plastic and filled with tiny ball bearings. It makes sound while being bowled or hit by the batsman. The bowler gives an audible signal before bowling and the batsman gives an audible signal when he is ready.

The team members should be always aware of what their mates are doing. If the members are aware of each other’s work plan, they tend to work together for complementarities, helping each other and avoiding duplication of work. The turf issues are also minimised once they know each other’s priorities. 

The feeling of oneness builds a responsible team
One thing that I rarely see these days was the coming together of the blinds, irrespective of their caste, religion and regions. There was an immeasurable joy amongst them. They had forgotten that they are living with any sort of stigma.

It was the feeling of oneness, their friends were more closer to them than their family members, relatives and society. They were happy to be in their own world – a world of people similar to them. There was no feeling of “we are less fortunate than others”. And this helped them perform better, work together and lead a life of dignity.

In a team, the members must forget their caste, religion, regions and status in the society. This allows them to develop the feeling of oneness and responsibility to the team.  

Equal opportunity to all team members is the secret to performing better
The blind cricket is a perfect example of providing equal opportunity to each team members. When a batsman is given out, the new batsmen must come from a new group (B1, B2, B3) in sequence, allowing all an equal chance to perform.

In a team, if all team members are given equal opportunity in terms of exposure, skill enhancement and recognition, the team remains a thriving and kicking bunch of outperformers.

After hearing so much about the blind cricket, you must watch in person how the game is played. I am certain this will motivate you to be a better team player. And if you watch it together with your team mates you will enthuse the motivation to outperform in each of your team mates. 

Like me, you will also differ with George Bernard Shaw and say, “Blind cricket is a game played by 22 team players and watched by hundreds of team playing aspirants.” 

If you want to know more about the blind cricket, click here for a link to the World Blind Cricket Council rule book.

Now it’s your turn to add to the list of lessons on team building gleaned from the blind cricket.