Serendipity and Instagram

Last week I shared my experiences with Instagram over the summer. It had taken me a while to put my thoughts into a post and I thought it had taken too long. Not so. It was meant to be.

This week I read an article in Flair magazine about Instagram. It featured 3 people that had started using Instagram just for themselves but for whom their use of Instagram had turned out to be a great success. The one that inspired me was Marianne Hope, who started a company as a result of her Instagram success. The company, SeeMyCity, uses Instagram for city marketing: they send a team of experienced phone photographers to a city and share the pictures with their tens of thousands of Instagram followers. At the same time, they also organise workshops for the local inhabitants, so that they can continue posting pictures of their city and thus can continue promoting their city. Tourist information centres are highly interested in this type of marketing, and the company has done assignments in Oslo, Doha and several other cities in the Netherlands and Belgium by now. See the results on Instagram.

SeeMyCity homepage photos

SeeMyCity homepage photos

This is for me serendipity: I get my thoughts together on Instagram, then I happen to read something about a completely different way of using Instagram at the moment when I am still digesting the use of Instagram in learning processes and thinking about marketing of rural women’s produce and rural tourism in Albania. Sometimes life can be so beautiful!

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And here is my baggage from 2012

One year ago, at the start of 2012,  I reflected on two main questions:

  • What are the 3 things or persons that you will definitely leave behind in 2011 and not bring with you to 2012?
  • What are the 3 things or persons that will flourish because of you in 2012?

While these questions remain useful and valid, this year I started out reflecting on what I have learned in 2012. After all, inevitably, I will bring whatever I learned with me into 2013.

What I learned in 2012

What I learned in 2012

So, what is the baggage I am bringing from 2012?

For starters, I learned about motivation. Motivation is a powerful force whether you have it or lack it. It definitely helps to have a clear vision of where you want to find yourself or your organisation at a certain moment in time from now. And it helps if you feel ownership of both that vision and the actions needed to realise it. For that matter, it is certainly helpful to have a clear view of which steps you need to take to achieve the desired situation. And to make sure that those steps are concrete and realistic and meaningful in terms of the set goal.

Personally, I have found it rather challenging to maintain a high level of motivation at certain moments in 2012. I full well knew where I wanted to end up, and I was very much aware that the only way to get there would be for me to take action. I also had a grasp of what possible steps I could take. But somehow, it was not that easy to kick my own butt and get going in the right direction.

I found that I was easily distracted by things that seemed to need more immediate attention than my own long-term goals. In other words, my actual priorities in daily life were different from the priorities my mind was set on. So while initially my plan was clear, I let life get in the way. Naturally, I would prefer to say that life got in my way but of course the simple truth is – I let it get where it got in the way. It was just easier that way, it seemed, even though it did not feel right.

Some time mid-year I realised what was bothering me and decided to create more space for myself to focus on things I had classified as important for me in 2012. I created this space by freeing up time for my focus and by setting small goals for those slots of time. A tool that helped me a lot in discovering my focus was on the wrong things and after this realisation helped me monitor if I managed to do better by myself than before was I Done This. This is a very simple tool: it sends you a daily e-mail, at a time of your own choosing, asking you “What have you done today?”. You reply to the e-mail, and your answers are collected online, and you are reminded of them via e-mail as well. After a couple of weeks I could discern a clear pattern – I had done lots, which was good to see, but most of these things were not really the things I had wanted to be doing. Nowadays I am still using I Done This, but I am reading the daily question now as two questions:

  • What is one thing that happened today that you are happy about?
  • What is one thing that made you proud of or happy with yourself today?

A simple tool, that helped me get back on track. And through that, helped me regain enthusiasm and creativity. And, ultimately, helped me get back to the core of my motivation.

Of course, a tool is just a tool. Its impact depends largely on what you do with it, and how you use it. But sometimes it can give you an insight that is helpful, that simply clicks at that moment in time, making things more clear and easier to tackle

The second thing I learned in 2012 is related to friendships. I learned it is not always easy to be a good friend. I mean, first you have to figure out what a good friend is, according to you. And then, reconsider this picture: is that just the kind of friend you want to be or also the kind of friend you want to have? Surely you know what I mean: that mantra that true friends ask those awkward questions that need asking but that none of us want to hear. It is not self-evident to speak your true mind always, and it is far from sure that you will still be friends with the person who does, after he or she has been open with you. There are times to speak up and there are times to keep quiet – and how do you recognise one from the other? This dilemma, too, is related to motivation: what is your motivation for being friends with someone? What is your motivation to say something or not to say it, after all? I have struggled with those questions in 2012 and have not found the magic recipe yet, although I feel I am getting closer.

The third main thing I learned in 2012 is that it is rather tiresome to learn about yourself. Much as I like the term personal development, it seems that the process of developing one’s skills and knowledge is far more pleasant than the process of developing insight into one’s own strengths and weaknesses, and subsequently acting upon those insights. Yes, I learned a lot about myself in 2012, and I am convinced those insights are going to be helpful – nevertheless I wish myself a quiet 2013 when it comes to personal development and hope this new year will be more focused on professional development.

In all, 2012 has had a lot to offer to me, and I think I have taken all I could handle from the opportunities it offered. The three things I took with me from 2011 – freelance freedom, social media tools and inspirational people – have all played an important role in my life in 2012 as well. I remain grateful for all of life’s opportunities and challenges, and especially for all the people that have helped embellish my year by being great friends, inspirational colleagues or enthusiastic mentors, whether in real life or online. I will put the things I have learned in 2012, most notably the above mentioned lessons, to good use in 2013 and hope these will help me be a great friend, inspirational colleague or enthusiastic coach to those that I hold dear.

I wish all of you time to reflect on what 2012 has brought and taught you and

New Year’s wish for 2013

New Year’s wish for 2013

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Change Is Never Easy But It Can Be Done

Recently, I had the great pleasure of reading the book “Switch – How To Change Things When Change Is Hard” by Chip and Dan Heath. Apart from it being very well written, and thus fun and easy to read, this book is a must-read for all of us. Not just for the so-called professionals, but truly for every one of us out here. After all, in one way or another we are all dealing with change. Changes that are forced upon us, changes that we want to see in others as well as changes that we want for ourselves and our communities and societies.

Infographic Rider Elephant Path via Visual.ly

Infographic Rider Elephant Path via Visual.ly

The Heath brothers dish out many stories about people involved in change – in different environments, on different levels and with very different goals. All of them are used to visualise different aspects of their in principle very simple framework for successful change. It consists of an elephant, a rider on top of the elephant and a path they can take. Since you all must read the book, I will not say more than this about it: change needs motivation from the heart, energy and dogged perseverance (elephant) as well as a rationale – understanding of the ultimate goal and the need for change – combined with clear thinking and analysis of the situation (the rider). It is possible to shape the path so that it is easier-going. And: small steps are all-important.

What made this simple framework so appealing to me, is that I could easily recognise my own experiences in it. I, too, have found that in order to achieve change you need to get people motivated to move and that this is more than just explaining to them why such and such change is important. Knowing is by far not enough to get into action, while at the same time not having certain background information can make it difficult to move in the “right” direction. I, too, have noticed that small steps can lead to bigger changes, and that it is important to pay sufficient attention to the value of every achievement, however small it may seem to the ambitious change-maker. I recognise these notions from my own personal life of course, but also from projects that I was engaged in professionally.

For instance, after reading this book I much better understand why the Green Agenda approach for local sustainable development that I was involved in developing is so powerful and successful in many local communities.

Some local values in a community in Kosova

Some local values in a community in Kosova

It starts out simple: bring together as many local stakeholders as possible and ask them what they value about their community. Those that have read Switch will recognise an elephant appetiser here (Find the Feeling) combined with a hint for the rider (Point to the Destination). People are invited to tap from a feeling of pride in their community and challenged to overlook problems for the moment.

Working group in Nedelisce, Croatia, explains what they have done

Working group in Nedelisce, Croatia, explains what they have done

Next in the Green Agenda method, thematic multi-stakeholder working groups are formed – each dealing with one of the selected priority values. Each group performs a thorough analysis of the value: what trends can be seen in regard of the value, what impacts do the trends have, what is the ideal situation of the value, what is the difference between the current or projected future situation and the ideal (=problem), what are (root) causes, and what could be solutions. During all these steps the groups are intensively supported. Also, groups are encouraged to break down the causes and solutions into manageable ones (proposing to build a 2 million euro sewerage system is not exactly within the reach of local stakeholders in a small rural community – at least not for starters). Again – elephant feed all around: the needed change gets down to a doable level (Shrink the Change) and the groups strengthen their common identity (Grow your People). At the same time, the rider is called upon for his or her analytical skills and powers.

The final steps in the Green Agenda method include the formulation of a strategic plan, an action plan and a monitoring plan incorporating the findings and proposals of all thematic multi-stakeholder working groups. And preparing a so-called Green Agenda document which describes these plans, and includes information about the steps taken to develop them. The document is presented at local meetings in which people can still propose changes. Finally, the document is adopted by the local authorities and implementation starts – with involvement of local stakeholders. Here, it’s easy to recognise elements of rider incentives: concrete steps are proposed and adopted (Script the Critical Moves) as well as aspects of shaping the path: local people are mobilised to get involved and become engaged (Rally the Herd), whereas adoption of the document developed by local stakeholders also changes the status of the ideas of these stakeholders and increases local ownership of local policies (Tweak the Environment).

Watermill project: realised after Green Agenda project ended!

Watermill project: realised after Green Agenda project ended!

The method as a whole also contributes to Building Habits – another way of shaping the path – as it develops ways and means of realising genuine stakeholder involvement. All the steps taken, linkages built and communication channels opened can be used in future processes as well, and in reality they are.

So quite apart from understanding why some of my worse habits are still with me, this book helped me understand more of the actual strengths of a method I have been using and propagating for almost a decade now. Understanding this better will certainly help me in developing more successful approaches to groups I work with and projects I help design. I wish you the same experience when reading this must-read book – and I hope that my small hints of the treasures you will find there are sufficient to make you curious enough to go find Switch!

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Giving Up

As some of you may already know I am crazy about watching cycling and currently happily enjoying the Tour de France. Of course I try justifying the many hours spent on watching the Tour de France and the stage aftermath in the 3 daily talk shows. Is there a link between real life and cycling? A meaningful one? I think there is.

One of the main characteristics many riders share is their stamina. Stamina to persevere under dire circumstances. And I don’t mean rain, wind and even snow whilst they are racing. What I mean is racing with a few broken ribs, a broken hip or punctured lungs. Not giving up despite feeling lousy. It seems that giving up is simply unthinkable.

Remember how Pedro Horillo fell down a ravine in the Tour of Italy a few years back. He ended up in a hospital, and when he woke up from his coma the first thing he asked for was his bike to continue the race. In the end, he never raced again as a result of the injuries sustained.

Remember last year’s Tour de France and the big crash in the first week. I wrote this about it at the time: “So you find yourself in a little ravine. You’ve broken 2 of your ribs and a shoulder blade, and have pneumothorax. But here’s the thing: you do not know this. No-one’s told you yet. So you pick up your bike, climb out of the ravine, and ride another 600 meters. And then you realise you’ve seen better days. It may not be possible to continue to Paris after all… Hat off to Jurgen van den Broeck of Belgium who lived this incredible tale yesterday.”

Remember the car that threw Johnny Hoogerland and Juan Antonio Flecha off their bikes and Johnny into a nasty fence of barbed wire. Johnny continued, 33 stitches in his legs and buttocks and all.

Remember Wout Poels, who crashed last week. He had been put into an ambulance already when he decided he could not – just could not – give up. So he climbed on his bike again. And rode 10 km. His manager did not much like the way he looked and started talking to him. 5 km later he had convinced Wout that it might be better to quit. Wout is now in ICU, with a ruptured spleen, a destroyed kidney, a few broken ribs and lung damage.

And this is just a small selection.

So what can we simple mortals learn from this heroism?

For starters – not to give up too easily. Things may not go smooth, they may be painful, they may look hopeless. But maybe if you survive this one day, the next one will be better. Maybe the next stage will give you that opportunity for success that you have been looking for. If you quit now, you will never know. So you’d better make sure that giving up is the right thing to do. The inevitable thing to do. So you should check first – are these feelings, thoughts, emotions or facts? Do I just feel shitty or do I have a punctured lung? Should I medically be in ICU or can I continue trying?

But we can also learn another thing. Sometimes giving up on something is indeed the right thing to do. It does not make much sense to stay in a 3-week race if your shoulder blade is crushed. You will achieve nothing that way, except endangering your health. Sometimes we, non-physical labourers, hang in there for longer than is good for us. We may not medically be ready for ICU but we, too, can exert ourselves too much for something that is simply not worth the sacrifice or the risk to ourselves. We, too, sometimes get lost in the mantra that we should just continue for now, that things will be better, less hectic, less frustrating tomorrow. While all along we could know that this is very unlikely to be the case as long as we do not change anything in or around ourselves.

What we can learn, too, is that giving up on one thing can create space for another. Pedro Horillo can now focus on his writing and has written a book. Bradley Wiggins crashed last year in the Tour de France and had to give up, but took his revenge in the Tour of Spain where he rode well and ended up 3rd overall.

However, this does not happen by and of itself. You first will have to accept fully that the thing to be given up needs to be given up entirely. And you have to actively embrace the new thing that comes in its place. This is not easy, certainly. Accepting that a dream cannot come true in the way you had envisioned never is. Nor is getting joy out of something that may seem second best at first. This requires practical closure as well as a versatility of mind that not all of us can find easily within ourselves. The same goes for riders. Some of them cannot let go. Let’s use those as a living example that sometimes giving up can make you more successful than hanging on. And while we are at it, let’s thank them for this lesson and for their heroism that is at the heart of it.

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Online Learning and Focus

For almost a year I have taken part in the Curriculum Social Media for Learning & Change. It’s been a wonderful ride and I am sorry to see it end next week with a final face to face workshop and closing presentations of all participants, sharing their lessons learned in applying social media in learning and change processes.

While I think I managed to get in much of the planned learning, I also learned from being a part of the curriculum and observing what happened in the internal learning environment and within the group. What I noticed is that keeping engagement and focus of participants is not easy, even if they are all highly motivated individuals and even if the three facilitators are extremely committed and observant.

Presentation of Group Assignment

Presentation of Group Assignment

It seems that 8 months is a long period to keep hard working professionals engaged, even though

  • This long period was cleverly broken down in 4 learning blocks of two weeks online learning plus one face-to-face workshop and one webinar each;
  • Learning was connected to the participants’ day to day jobs through work and reporting on real life cases in which newly acquired knowledge was applied;
  • Each of the learning blocks consisted of a variety of questions or assignments, ranging from testing a tool to sharing your ideas and experience to analysing different examples;
  • Some tasks were assigned to small sub-groups of participants leading to an online or offline presentation of results and findings.
Online Individual Assignment

Online Individual Assignment

It also seems to me that individual online learning requires a level of focus and discipline that is not easy to steer as educator, even though

  • The course facilitators used different communication tools to check up on and motivate absent participants;
  • Each block provided a variety of assignments, paying attention to different learner types;
  • The course facilitators provided rapid, constructive and positive feedback;
  • All assignments were carefully phrased and well-focused, with clear links to day to day work of different participants.

What struck me was that especially in the two final blocks not all assignments were addressed, not even by one participant. A common feature of these assignments was that they required more reading, thinking and combining of knowledge and skills than the other assignments which focused more on testing a few tools or answering a question related to your own case. In other words, these assignments required more action as well as more reflection, and in the end more time and energy of the learners. Precious time, that may be harder to assign to yourself if no-one else depends on it.

In addition, these assignments may also have been perceived as “more risky”. Learners were asked to make an analysis and propose conclusions or steps to be taken – basically for steps in the process of designing and implementing an online learning or change process. Things most or all of them do regularly, even if subconsciously. It may thus have been perceived that “getting it wrong” would reflect more negatively on the learners in their professional capacity. This perception may subconsciously have reinforced the idea that these assignments would need more thorough attention and thus more time than others.

The conclusion might be that if you want to include such more analytical and design-oriented assignments in your online course you would do well either to allocate them to one or more individual learners who then post their findings and elicit reflections and reactions from other learners, or to assign them to small sub-groups.

In all, observing the structure and implementation of the course has provided me with at least 8 lessons learned (see the bullet points above) that were implemented and one that was not. Not a bad score if you take into consideration that as active participant I learned loads of other stuff, too. Some of these other things I have shared in previous posts, and some I will still share later on this year. However, don’t think that reading my posts will get you there – if there is one lesson I learned most of all it is that you should go out there, try and err, reflect, get yourself back on your feet and continue!

Having 3 marvellous facilitators and a few active other learners around you certainly helps to stay motivated and optimistic and to get the most out of both failure and success. So if you can follow a course, you should take that opportunity. And I warmly recommend the one organised by Joitske Hulsebosch, Simon Koolwijk and Sibrenne Wagenaar of En nu online.

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What Are Your Needs

Last week I wrote about giving wholeheartedly and freely – or deciding not to give at that point in time – and tried to give some pointers as to questions you can ask yourself to check whether you can actually give freely what is being asked.

This time I want to share some thoughts about the other side – the asking. It seems this is not as easy as we may think. How often do you actually clearly ask for what you really need? The catch is of course in being clear when asking and more importantly in being clear with yourself what it is that you need, what you actually want to ask for from someone else.

So as a first step you should take time to consider what your need is. You may think this is easy. Take something in mind, and then ask yourself why you need this. What is the purpose of getting this? Then you will see that your need is not that your husband/wife does the dishes. Your need may be that the other acknowledges in actions that the household is a shared responsibility. Or your need could be to free time (by not doing the dishes) to do something for yourself (reading that book, going for a stroll). Or your need might be recognition: that the other, by doing the dishes, realises that this is a “job” and sees your investment. Or something else entirely. As you see, your real need may not be so self-evident as you may have thought before.

What is it you need?

What is it you need?

Being clear about your need will help you identify what it is you should ask for. In the above example, it is not about today’s dishes (or as happens in my household – yesterday’s dishes…). It’s very possible that the other person could do the dishes as requested and still leave you dissatisfied. It is also possible that this person could meet your needs by doing something entirely different as your needs are more about dividing tasks (and sticking to the division), setting priorities, or being seen and honoured for what you bring into the relationship. For example.

Once you’ve got this cleared up, it’s important to be clear in your request, too. Don’t assume that the other person understands things that you haven’t actually said, and will act accordingly. Invest a little of your time in phrasing your request, make sure that it is clear and understood the way you meant it to be understood. Keep it as simple as “Pass me the salt please, would you?”. And keep it positive. After all it is a request, not complaining hour. If you want someone to hear your request and fulfil it, it does not help much to start out by telling them they are not worth a shit, and never have been. At least for me that kind of opening would not be a strong motivator to give my time freely to doing the dishes … Instead I might become highly motivated to give you, wholeheartedly, a piece of my mind in return!

More on the difficult territories of phrasing requests later. For now, just try to find out the why behind what you are asking people and see if this helps to at least ask for the thing you really want – even if it may not yet be phrased perfectly! Good luck!

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Strings Attached

Most people don’t like to feel as if they are manipulated into something. When it comes to business transactions we have all learned (I hope!) to read the small print. But when it comes to personal transactions most of us are much less aware of the small print – on either side of the transaction.

More often than not it is not so much the hidden expectations of others than bother us – after all, we can easily discard those as having been unrealistic, not communicated beforehand, and simply not part of the deal we were striking. If a friend is going shopping anyway and brings some of our groceries with them, the deal is finished by us reimbursing the costs. Or is it?

Can you do it?

Can you do it?

If you look at yourself, how often is it that you give something – time, attention, assistance for instance – freely? Really without any strings attached? Of course we would all initially say that this happens all the time. Why then, are we so often disappointed with others? If we were indeed giving freely and not expecting anything in return, how come we so often feel that others are letting us down? How come we are comparing our own investments with those of the receiver and finding them at fault? When she was in the hospital for a month I called her every day, and now that I have been fired from my job she called me only once!

If we are honest with ourselves we usually do expect something in return. Perhaps not on the spot, but still there are expectations that are often not met. And that’s when they start nagging at us: Why is she not calling me now that I need her attention? Why did I recommend her for a job and helped her get it and now that she can hire others she is forgetting about me? Why did I go to such length to buy a tailor-made birthday gift and is he buying me something he should know I don’t even like? Why did I invest hours of my time helping someone with excel if they never acknowledge that it was my help that gave them the edge in the bid?

Admit it: you, too, have had such thoughts at some point! OK, I have. I admit it. But less and less.

When I have looked at those situations I have come to realise that the main question you should always allow yourself time to consider is this: do I really want to do this? And don’t automatically say yes to that, but think about these sub-questions: Is it truly my own wish to do this? Can I give this freely? Do I have sufficient time and energy left to invest in this now? Will I feel tricked if the receiver simply thanks me, and that’s that? Why would I regret it if I don’t do it?

And the killer question: what’s in it for me, right now? Not: what will be in it for me if I do this and the receiver will subsequently do this or that, but what’s in it for me giving this right now? What if the transaction ends with your part of the deal (your phone calls, your recommendation for a job, your time investment in the birthday gift or the excel crash course for instance) – what will you have gained then? Will you have honoured a value that is important to you? Will you have done something you like to do? Will you have learned something new?

I found that it really helps to take time to consider such questions before deciding to do something or not to do it at this point in time. If you can get clear why you are giving something of yourself to another before you do it, you will find that whatever happens later on you will feel less disappointed with the other and will feel fewer regrets about what you have done. I know that’s true for me at least, even if I may not yet have perfected this practice.

To put it businesslike: your return on investment will be bigger because you will invest in the things that are right for you for the right reasons. Your decision about what to do will be about you and not about the other and his or her possible actions afterwards. Those are the kind of decisions that you will not regret later on because you will be able to remember vividly the reasons for doing what you did. These are decisions that do not have small print and do not have strings attached for either party.

Set yourself and the other free by trying to give genuinely freely – and see if you won’t feel a huge difference in satisfaction, as I certainly have when I managed to be 100% honest with myself!

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Elements in Online Impressions

Recently I was part of the facilitators team of a webinar on First Impressions Online. In a previous post I described the tools we used. As part of preparations for the webinar we conducted an online survey among participants. We asked them to remember the first stage of our course Social Media for Learning & Change in which we all got to know each other online and to have one of the other participants in mind answering 4 questions.

Survey Results

First impressions: quite strong (in NL)

First impressions: quite strong (in NL)

Interestingly, people formed quite strong opinions about others without ever having met. People were described as “young and not overly confident”, “enthusiastic”, “in control all the time”, “helpful” or “not accessible, judgemental”. Photos were an important basis for these impressions for 8 out of 11 respondents. They noticed that a person was not smiling and was looking down in their profile picture, and looked at clothes, too. “Formal or informal makes a big difference”, concluded one participant. For about half of the respondents the accompanying text and/or the style in which it was written was important as well. Observations include “concise & powerful”, “phrasing used”, “judgemental”, and “lack of nuance”. Not all people that found the content of the text important also focused on its style and vice versa.

Another thing that was important in forming an impression of someone was their activity in the internal learning environment (a Ning). Respondents were impressed by the activity of others (“fast replies”, “(s)he is really into it”) and by the fact that they contributed in different places in the Ning (“replies popped up everywhere”).

Remarkable was that personal profiles did not play a role in forming a first impression of others. This might be explained by the fact that the personal profiles were located on a separate page for each participant and were thus perhaps not as easily visible as the first introductions and profile pictures that appeared on the home page.

Impression adjusted as a result of ... interaction!

Impression adjusted as a result of … interaction!

However strongly felt the first impressions were, respondents were open to adjust them and in fact did so: 64% changed their opinion about the person later on. This was mostly the result of (more) interaction online or face-to-face. More contact resulted in better understanding of the person and in a more positive impression.

Webinar

In the webinar participants mentioned that it was not easy to “reconstruct” their first impression. One of the great things about connecting to (new) people online is that you have a possibility to reserve judgement as one of the participants said. There is time to think, you do not have to react immediately but can consider the best way to answer or deal with something. You can choose how to react. This is an immense difference with face-to-face confrontations with others, where you cannot always buy time and consider the best approach.

In the ensuing conversation about how people try to present themselves online it became clear that there are many challenges. The fact that you should consider all networks as essentially “public” makes people reticent and careful – in where they are active (LinkedIn and not Facebook for instance), what they share (mostly professional information) and how they share it (no typos!). This is especially the case for those that work in bigger organisations. Freelancers seem to feel they have a bit more time and freedom, and perhaps also a bigger need to present themselves online. Many of them actively use different social media for networking and contacts. However, they make a distinction between networks they use privately and networks where they are present professionally. In these networks they of course also take into account that their clients may see their contributions and profiles. In that sense, online connections to a large extent are still extensions of offline contacts and networks. Participants also find it easier to contribute in platforms where they actually know (some of the) people offline, too, and become so-called lurkers in networks where they are less familiar with other members.

Klout: to see how you're perceived

Klout: to see how you’re perceived

Most people have an idea about the impression they would like others to have from their social media presence. But the big majority is not yet very actively developing an image for themselves. For now, they focus on trying to be as authentic as possible – not so authentic as to scare people away but also not so much focused on getting an image across that it makes one look too eager and phony, either.

Of course there are all sorts of online tools using statistic information that can help you assess how engaged people are with you online and, depending on how much credit you give these tools, how you come across online. One of those tools is Klout. However, Klout does not (yet?) use LinkedIn as a source and as such might not be much help for those that focus on this professional network only (please note: nowadays Klout does use LinkedIn, too!).

In the end you may still need to rely on people you actually know well telling you that you might do well to exchange your profile picture for one with a smile or making you think about whether or not to have the same profile picture in all your networks…

There is definitely much more to be said on the matter of how you come across online and how you can align your online image with your authentic self. For me, the webinar and preparing for it formed a good start for thinking about this, and I certainly look forward to discovering more on this subject.

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Transparency

Until recently I was 100% convinced that transparency is good. Authorities, NGOs, companies – they all should be open and transparent about what they do, how they do it and why they do it. They should allow outsiders access to key documents like strategies, internal and external evaluations and audits, and financial statements. The more others could see, check and verify, the better.

European Commission website has a section called 'Transparency'

European Commission website has a section called ‘Transparency’

For instance, I thought it was very good that the European Commission shared Commissioners’ declarations regarding past and present positions, ownerships and income. Any potential conflict of interest is thus out in the open – for all to see.

You can of course wonder about the number of people that actually do see it – but on the other hand in this day and age social media make it that much easier to gain access to information. Whether you will use the opportunity is your own responsibility and choice.

So why am I now a bit more hesitant regarding transparency being good? The reason lies in recent publications by Dutch RTL News of expense receipts of members of the cabinet and key civil servants. In itself, I think it was very good that they used the law to get their hands on those expense receipts. And it sure is a fascinating read. My imagination started to run wild when I read that someone had 64 curtains cleaned, and 12 king size towels … And I got intrigued by the fact that also ministries receive reminders of late payments – and not just once! But going through the numerous receipts (and I haven’t even tried looking at them all) it became clear that at a certain point the officials in question had been made aware of the request to turn over receipts and had taken counter-measures. Invoices became much less specified. “Cleaning June”. “Restaurant costs”. Etc. Well, that does not tell you a whole lot.

I should hope that internal expense claims are more specified and clear – I don’t know how the internal control units could otherwise check whether expenses are reasonable or not. Guessing that this is indeed the case, there is a discrepancy between transparency on the inside and transparency towards the outside.

One might think that this discrepancy is caused by a wish to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned. However, I have a feeling that it is more connected to the fact that transparency to the outside is not viewed as a real need of the institutions and persons involved. It is not considered part of their core business to be transparent. In Simon Sineks words – they do not share the same “why” for being transparent as the journalists and citizens that ask to see these expense claims.

This is different for the European Commission – an institute that is under near constant attack from public opinion as being unnecessary, needlessly expensive and intrusive. Looking at the way the Commission and the individual Commissioners are engaging with the public via social media it is obvious that there is a clear perceived need for showing what you’re about, what you’re doing, and why, and how you are going about it. They may not yet do a perfect job in this respect, but it seems to me they are putting more effort into it than the Dutch ministries are.

So the heart of my hesitation seems to be caused not so much by transparency as a concept, but more by how it is treated and perceived, how it is practised. If it does not come out of an internal need, if it is not considered to be part and parcel of who you are, it becomes meaningless in how it is applied. That’s when you start sharing documentation that cannot have any real meaning to those that go to the trouble of perusing it. That’s when you are not focused on building relations and trust, but are more concerned with keeping the outside just there – on the outside. And I don’t think that’s where you should want your citizens or supporters to be. Not as a government, but definitely also not as an NGO. You should want people to be engaged and you can achieve that by letting them in and sharing with them what you are about. Transparency may not as such be your core business, but it is a powerful tool to prove that you providing value for money, to show where you need input and to share the road you want to take.

Yes, I still believe in meaningful transparency as a tool for being accountable and for engaging the outside world. But we should all take care that it is taken seriously, applied willingly and honestly, and judged carefully.

Positive example: ministry of Economic Affairs buys @ Unicef and shares clear invoice

Positive example: ministry of Economic Affairs buys @ Unicef and shares clear invoice

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Developing Communities

Communities are formed by persons – even if they represent organisations. So if you want to support a community in its development, you have to focus on the needs of the actual people involved. This is for me one of the eye openers of the webinar Digital Habitats of Communities with Nancy White, organised by En nu online on 21 February 2012.

So what are those communities that we spoke about? A community is formed by a group of people with a common interest, value or goal, that build a joint identity. The community provides a sense of belonging and meaning, that is valuable to the members and that makes them want to contribute to the community itself as well.

Nancy White: 3 perspectives on a community

Nancy White: 3 perspectives on a community

According to Nancy White, there are 3 types of stakeholders in relation to a community: the members, the leadership and the sponsors. The sponsors are for instance the organisations that are represented in the community by certain members. While a community should focus on its members and on offering value to them, it should definitely also pay attention to the needs of the organisations behind these members.

Balancing the needs of these stakeholders and of the community itself as a whole needs a clear view on what the community is actually about – what is the reason it exists, and what is its focus at a certain moment in time? What activities can suit that focus and what tools can be used to facilitate the work of the community?

Through their research into communities and their development, White, Wenger and Smith developed the so-called spidergram. The spidergram shows 9 possible orientations of a community at a certain point in time. The spidergram is not a static “test” that you take only once and that provides a roadmap for all time. As a community develops it may shift its orientation. Another important thing to note about the spidergram is that no community scores high on all orientations at the same time, not even a very well-developed one. In that sense, the spidergram does not provide an ideal direction.

So what then does the spidergram show? It basically shows you where the community is at, at this moment. What is the current focus of the community? This in turn can help you define the activities that will deliver the most value to the community and the most suitable tools to facilitate these activities.

Example of a Spidergram filled out

Example of a Spidergram filled out

These are the questions the spidergram can help you ask:

1. Are meetings important instruments for the community to discuss and decide on common viewpoints and steps to be taken?

2. Is the community focused on developing and implementing projects – sets of tasks that are related to each other and lead within a certain time frame to certain, defined and projected output and results? Mind you, a project does not need to be an externally financed official project, internal development of a new practice can also be considered a project.

3. Does the community reach out to expertise? This expertise can be available within the community, and be accessible for instance through an internal resource directory.

4. Is there space within the community to discuss “whatever it is that we need to talk about right now”? In spidergram terms, are there open-ended conversations? Interestingly, this orientation can be strong both in new and in mature communities!

5. Is the community working on producing common content? Like developing documents together, sharing information, capturing lessons learned. Content and projects rather often form a strong starting point of communities as the activities tend to bring people together for a very clear common purpose, that can inspire them to develop into a real community.

These 5 orientations focus on activities of a community. The 4 orientations below  focus on the relations within the community and the relations the community has with the outside world.

6. Is there space for members of the community to each have their own experience – is there space for individual participation? Even though togetherness is a crucial feature of a functioning community, every individual involved will have his or her own experience from this being together, will get out something different than the others. This could also be interesting for the others – to hear a different perspective of what was gained.

7. Is there some level of cultivation of the community? Is someone taking care of the togetherness? Is someone ensuring that new members get to know the others and get to know the community? Are things that need to be shared in fact shared?

8. What is the external focus of the community, the context? Is the community engaging with the outside world, or is it focused on its own goals and activities? There is no right or wrong in being either externally or internally oriented – some communities do not need to lobby with outside stakeholders to achieve their aims, while others could not reach their goals without strong ties to external parties. When scoring your spidergram be aware that an internal focus should be scored closer towards the bulls eye, whereas an external focus should be scored more towards the outside of the “circle”.

9. Are there different relationships within the community? Meaning, do people have one on one relations with other community members or are there small sub-groups of people that share also outside of the “official community channels”? Such relationships do not harm the community, provided of course they do not focus on nasty gossip about other community members, in fact they can help forge stronger ties within the community.

Each of these orientations can be supported by the community leadership or facilitators with different online and offline tools. In selecting and applying tools you should, however, keep in mind to bring value to both the members and their organisations.

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