The Power of Postcards

Growing up, one of the chores I associated with holidays was the sending of postcards to family and friends. With no social media or smart phones, we kept in touch via letters and cards.  Yet the postcard is still highly effective as it is a tactile, non-technological and versatile object.

Here’s a few examples of how I have used it over the past few years:

To prompt future stories

Often at big events (especially the annual corporate ‘show and tell’) delegates leave with a list of to do’s that few will get done!

At the conclusion of the annual gathering of country heads of a large global charity the delegates were given a postcard with a picture of the venue for next year’s event (in this case) Mexico City.

They were asked to write a postcard to themselves saying what they would have done by the time they arrived for next year’s gathering.

Here’s the instructions we gave them:

Its 2013 and you are in Mexico at MM13.  Imagine you are looking back on a successful year.  Write a postcard back to yourself or a friend. Describe a couple of events that took place; things you achieved; things you are proud of.


To prompt reflections

As part of an enquiry into the Evolving Role of the Knowledge Manager my colleagues and I at Sparknow wanted to get KIM professionals to chart how their working life has changed over the decade.  So we asked people at the Henley KM Forum to fill in a postcard to themselves to show what’s changed.

Here’s a great response:

Hello, we’ve almost forgotten how to pick up the phone or walk over to speak to people.  We spend a lot of time sending “texts” from our phones and reading about our friends’ activities from their “electronic” Facebook page.  It can be quite lonely at times.   Vicki.

To capture takeaways from an event

I was one of the speakers at the inaugural event in Khartoum of the Sudanese Knowledge Society in 2012.

The organiser’s challenge: how to get people to complete an evaluation without filling in a big form at the event while creating an embryonic community?

The solution: take a group picture and then send it to all the delegates as a virtual (PDF) postcard and ask them to share their takeaways from Khartoum.

Here’s the format we used for the takeaways and one of the points made::

I found strange: being asked to opine on subjects at a moment’s notice without any briefing; the sanguine acceptance of ‘Africa time’; being called an Australian; and wearing a cap and casual clothes to run a workshop (the closing session).


‘…it can be quite lonely at times’ I reflections from Henley KM’ers

‘Dear John, I never imagined 10 years ago the true impact of knowledge. The bureaucracies of the paper world are gone and communities are what deliver value at a local and a global level.  All my knowledge of technology was of only passing value. The networking skills are what are helping me thrive.’

Just one of the many postcards sent back from the future (2020) to today by the delegates at Henley Business School’s 12th meeting of their KM Forum. Putting learning at the heart of the organisation was the theme of the annual two day retreat and I was there running a Sparknow timeline exhibit that featured highlights of the evolving role of the ‘knowledge manager’ research we’ve carried out.  More of that in a future post.

This post is about the exhibit and how postcards were used as a technique to develop a delegate view on the changing environment and role of a ‘knowledge manager’.

why a postcard?

In many ways the postcard serves a powerful metaphoric role for key dimensions of knowledge management and of time:

  • It is personal/private but at the same time both shareable and publishable via a noticeboard.
  • It maintains its quality of having been individually authored, so the link to the originator stays explicit.
  • It is light, compact, and highly portable.
  • It is asynchronous, but interactive and annotatable
  • It is an ideal vehicle for messaging
  • It is time saving for the author.
  • It is an early form of multimedia, allowing an almost infinite range of attached images

Sparknow’s research into the use of postcards goes back over a decade. Victoria Ward and Professor Clive Holtham of Cass Business School and others from Sparknow wrote about the uses of the postcard in re-forming organisational time, place and meaning” for the ‘In search of time’ conference, held in Palermo in 2003. A copy of that paper and one presented in 2010 on slow knowledge can be found here.

why a timeline?

Our experience suggests people respond best when they are asked to situate comments against a time and place (and often an object or event) as a backdrop.

postcards and time lines as a combination.

The visual impact of a series of postcards on a timeline is visually compelling.


materials for the timeline

By putting up background material for the three focus points on the timeline (2002 > 2012 > 2020) we were able to provide context for the postcards people were writing; to get them thinking back from 2020 to today and then from today to 2002. We were particularly grateful to Andrew Curry and The Futures Company for letting us reference their work. Andrew wrote an interesting and thought provoking blog to accompany The World in 2020 publication we drew on to design the exhibit.


looking back from 2020

the questions posed were:

Imagine you are writing back to someone in 2012 from 2020 (or to 2002 from 2012). Tell them:

  • about your daily life
  • what’s changed about your job as a ‘knowledge manager’ and the environment in which you work
  • what kit and tools are different now from then.


looking back to 2002

and the outcomes

More than 25% of the delegates completed a postcard.  Each revealed something about the writer and their vision of the world.

A couple of revealing postcards from today back to 2002

You’re still in KM.  And for a while it’s even in your job title.  You do a lot of technology.  You spend a lot of time in “programmes” and service development, development in general, is project-based rather than continuous.  The KIM profession is government recognised, but frequently struggles to find direction and leadership.

Hello, we’ve almost forgotten how to pick up the phone or walk over to speak to people.  We spend a lot of time sending “texts” from our phones and reading about our friends’ activities from their “electronic” Facebook page.  It can be quite lonely at times.

Many felt strongly that being networked will be one of the key differentiators in 2020; that technological advances will continue to enhance our ability to work wherever and whenever we want to but that time savings (to enjoy more leisure) is a forlorn aspiration.

Few saw the ‘knowledge manager’ title as being around in 2020, it being best illustrated by this:

The Knowledge Manager is extinct. Culture and behaviors of the knowledge manager are embedded into all employees as the modus operandi.

though another said in 2020:

I am working as an advisor, consultant, advocate, counselor, co-creator. I work to Board level leadership but I roam The Organization, working to improve colleagues’ personal and group knowledge management.

Technology has simply become the channel, its just the ‘thing’.

a great piece of advice:

Try to write letters as much as possible because otherwise your handwriting will get even worse.

what would I do differently next time?

Actually not too much though I’d probably have more people versed in the material, able to explain the significance of the dates to ‘visitors’ to the exhibit. And I’d make sure I had enough people around to help put up an 18 foot poster when I arrived at the venue.

using postcards for post event evaluation

In January as avid readers of the Sparknow blog might recall, Sparknow attended the inaugural knowledge management capacity development in Africa event in Khartoum.  As part of the follow up to that event the conference chair and organiser Dr Gada Kadoda decided to use a postcard as a way of capturing some of the delegates perceptions. It showed a picture of some of the delegates on the steps of Freedom Hall Khartoum and an invitation on the reverse to submit comments and reflections.


What follows is her candid account of how the exercise went and the postcards used as prompts throughout the evaluation session which was held in Khartoum on February 25th.

In due course I will publish something on how Sparknow used postcards at last week’s Henley KM Forum and invite Victoria Ward who pioneered the use of this technique in Sparknow to post her reflections.

Evaluation of KMCA2012 Using Post Cards

By Dr Gada Kadoda

For conferences and workshops, a survey is traditionally used to measure satisfaction rates of delegates with the programme content, event organisation, etc. against set criteria and predefined scales, as well as allow for narrative comments for respondents to elaborate or make a suggestion. The results of these surveys are usually published as numeric percentages reflecting satisfaction levels along the various parameters considered in the survey. In as much as many of us are more comfortable with scales and their apparent clarity, one could argue that they avert expressiveness rendering them inaccurate to map a memory or a feeling of the past.

The speed by which we fill these surveys can bear witness to how much we engage our memory while filling the evaluation form for an eager organiser. However, a creative or participatory evaluation method like using post cards can not only measure the same parameters, but it will also empower participants by involving them into defining their own parameters and bring out their vivid memories, good or bad, of the event.

We recently used this method to collect memories about the Workshop on Knowledge Management Capacity in Africa that was held from 4 to 7 January, 2012 in Khartoum, Sudan. We distributed a send-a-postcard-to-KMCA call to our mailing list to write back to the organisers and as with post cards, senders are free to choose what they write. There was a low response rate (5%) which is in part due to delay from our side in sending out the call, a month after the end of the workshop!

Notwithstanding this unimpressive rate, in this article I will explore the parameters that came out from our use of post cards that correspond to some of those commonly used in after-event-evaluation questionnaires. Ratings can only be felt as you read through the selection of post cards quotes.

General event assessment (e.g. relevance of content, personal benefits or difficulties):

Thanks for the great job you did and KMCA2012 was very successful …” Walaa Mahdi (Graduate)

Thanks t all those behind that great event and I hope to continue and organise more helpful and full of knowledge events.” Abdelrahman Idris (Participant)

Good things about the workshop were the exchange of international students and the collaboration between professor, students and even business people, trust and joy moments between people, we open our minds to philosophy, anthropology and indigenous knowledge systems…” Tybian Zaroug (Undergraduate Student)

Now after attending this conference, I can talk about knowledge management to my friends and colleagues. In fact I realised that KM is very important to any scientist…” Samah Makawi (Undergraduate Student)

Actually I learnt a lot of things from this workshop in leadership and research and I am ready now to take bigger responsibilities, and as Mr. Paul said why not Sudan lead the world in KM, I totally support this and in our group on facebook KM friendship, we asked for ideas to be active and to establish a team work to achieve something in this country.” Iram Oshari (Paper Presenter)

The only problem that faced me all the time, it was a lot of interesting paper and presentations and we couldn’t reach them all.” Islam Elhadi (Graduate)

Programme rating (e.g. quality of content and activities, schedule and time keeping):

Thank you! It was a pleasure of mind to participate… I remember almost all the new ideas, the multidisciplinary yet united tribe of knowledge guards. What was most fascinating for me was the ideas on indigenous knowledge. What was striking, well, an anthropologist, a chemist, a philosopher and a political scientist … all using the same language … KM.” Omayma Gutbi (Participant)

I remember since we moved from Kassala and we entered the hall of friendship, the movement of the people inside the hall from session to session and the ongoing debate about the topics presented in the various sessions … I hope these efforts translate to reality to develop health, education, environment, government and business in Sudan and Africa.” Alzubair Hassan (Postgraduate Student)

Event organisation (e.g. information to delegates, quality of facilities):

Thanks for the great leadership and all your hard work, being at the airport for everyone, taking care of visas and all the other little things that made this such a success.” John Trimble (Keynote speaker)

I would like to thank you all for the well organised workshop. All activities were impressive.” Awadia Awad (Participant)

I found strange being asked to opine on subjects at a moment notice and without any briefing and the sanguine acceptance of Africa time.” Paul Corney (Invited Speaker)

 “Please make sure to document every single second during the workshop on video. As time goes, few things could be remembered, so documentation is a very crucial part for the future.” Anwar Dafalla (Invited Speaker)

Notable quotes from frequent conference goers …

A true international Conference …

My time Sudan was one of the most enriching experiences that i have had the pleasure and honor to partake of. Despite some late starts(!), the little hiccups and the waits, there was tremendous energy in the air and the people, all, including and especially the students, the faculty and the practitioners, many who were all three! The diversity of participants and thematic areas addressed in the “workshop” transformed and elevated this workshop into a true International Conference on Knowledge Transfer and Management. I learnt a lot, met many engaged and enthusiastic individuals, and was privy to participating in much intense and engaged discourse on empowering people and building Africa’s capacity.” John Tharakan (International Participant)

Exhilarating and free …

In so many ways, it was one of the most exhilarating workshops I have attended.  This was for many reasons:  the range and diversity of topics contained within a KM framework; the diversity of the participants—in age, nationality, gender, institutional affiliation and field, etc.; and the free nature of the environment.  This is in addition to some very stimulating papers.  As a Sudan Studies scholar of many years, I found I still had a lot to learn and was able to find myself in an area of study outside my field.  I was especially impressed with the presence of so many students and with their presentations the first day of the conference.  Including art and crafts was a tour de force and tied in very well with the goal of the organizer of considering all forms of knowledge and knowledge production.” Sondra Hale (International Participant)

There was even some post card poetry:

You set stone in stagnant water

You lead us in calm weather

You carried the truck and set road map for our thinking

Km is set as part our future mission and state vision” Elfatih Wadidi (Paper presenter)

Lastly …

What was “exhilarating” about using post cards is the freedom of expression it brings to the evaluation. These were personal benefit, good or bad things with event organisation, hopes for the future, etc. The post card writings space compel respondents to focus upon and articulate their main points which results in a meaningful rating. For example, a rating of high to a survey question on how well the event offered opportunities to meet people and exchange information, would miss opening minds to new interesting topics and perspectives, or a rating of low to programme scheduling would miss the “late starts, the little hiccups and the waits”.

In my view, post cards complement and do not replace the survey method and performance evaluations especially for regular events.  On the other hand, post cards are insightful and delightful. Remembering the workshop trip on the last day with as “I marvelled at crossing the desert without breaking an axle, the fun bus and singing Bob Marley” or “I will never forget Albajarawia sand under the moonlight”, bring vivid memories in all of us who were on that trip.

Thanks to Paul Corney for introducing us to this fun-to-use tool and many thanks to our delegates who sent us a post card. Thanks for your fine personal memories and articulate descriptions that we can tag to our evaluation report and own memories, it was better late than never!

Best wishes to all.

Gada Kadoda