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.

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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

knowledge management in Africa: reflections on KMCA 2012

Its 3.30am and I am sitting at Khartoum airport waiting for the flight back to Heathrow at the end of one of the most exacting yet rewarding weeks I’ve had in over 35 years of working across many continents.

Sudan challenges you: its people are warm, inquistive with an insatiable desire to learn. And yet time management is a work in progress and the ubiquitous presence of officialdom and the ongoing sanctions a significant drain on effectiveness and enthusiasm.

Despite these constraints the young are vibrant, highly intelligent and moved to laughter and song with little prompting.  The society is very oral; stories are the currency of communication. External opinion is highly sought after and there is a work ethic that is both surprising and refreshing. By way of illustration:

It’s 5.45pm on the first day of Knowledge Management Capacity in Africa 2012 conference held in the Friendship Hall Khartoum.  This inaugural event on Knowledge Management which kicked off at 8am has attracted over 500 delegates and nearly 50 international participants though I am the sole European. The timing has gone awry by some distance.

I get to my feet to begin my presentation entitled “missions and knowledge production” and having summoned water bottles and moved everyone around, ask the assembled throng in the Omduran Room what they want to do.

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By a unanimous show of hands they indicate a desire to continue and we ultimately finish at 7pm in time for a Knowledge Cafe.

The audience listens attentively and I get a lot of positive feedback.

At the Knowledge Cafe I lead a ‘table’ of young Sudanese women who are keeping up the pace.  The session eventually ends at 8.30pm some 12 hours after the day began.  It is an indication of things to come over the following two days (and nights).

The Conference Chair Gada Kadoda, a woman of astonishing capacity and vision, has assembled an impressive array of speakers and presentations: from Washington to Malaysia via the UK with a big representation from Africa. I have two presentations to give and as it transpires to facilitate the closing conference session on Saturday morning before a caravan of minibuses sets off in search of the Sudanese Pyramids.

Over the next week or so I will be drawing on some of the conversations and highlighting examples of knowledge at work in Africa; for now here are some high level thoughts after 3 days of the conference.

  • Technology I the ongoing sanctions means that some of the essential foundations for a dynamic knowledge society are absent. Software and hardware are in plentiful supply but access to the latest upgrades are restricted and effective support is difficult to come by even though maintance is included in the original purchase.
  • e-commerce is constrained by the lack of an effective payment platform such as PayPal which is restricted.  While the new regulators can plan for a time when the situation returns to normality by setting up the distribution network now, it means they are unable to encourage the growth of an industry that would facilitate a faster move towards a knowledge based economy. To illustrate the importance of e-commerce, figures just released show that over 30% of all purchases over the holiday period in the US were conducted online.
  • Communications I the size of Sudan makes the laying of cable impractical; cell phone usage represents a high percentage of the communications media and some 22 million people have mobile devices (over 2/3 of the population).
  • Knowledge (and information) sharing I ‘my data is my soul’ is a phrase oft repeated. It illustrates more than any other the challenges organisations face in encouraging professionals to part with what they know.
  • Knowledge Management I is a discipline that’s attracting interest yet their are a fair share of cynics especially among those who seek substantive method and measurement. A number of prominent organizations have initiatives in train and like the citiens of many developing countries certification programmes are highly sought after. The term remains a deterrent for some and Knowledge Sharing was more readily endorsed.
  • Collaboration I group work is an accepted part of the culture and there is no reluctance to act as the spokesperson for the group or in expressing ideas and opinions. Most people have a Facebook account of sorts yet few have heard of TripAdvisor!
  • Food I plays a huge role in lubricating tongues. But everyone sits down at the first opportunity which tends to restrict conversation to those in the immediate circle.
  • Stories travel I in the past the travellers (or Bedouin) were the custodians of stories, today that role is being increasing filled by online connectivity which places an emphasis on effective means of collection, storage and dissemination.

I had the pleasure of working alongside/talking to a number of Sudanese graduates and undergraduates a number of whom presented papers on Wednesday. Two in particular interested me: one was about a process of measuring the effectiveness of km in a private company; the other an annual attempt at knowledge transfer by the students to rural areas in which they’d identified and engaged with a local stakeholder who became their voice and ears.

Perhaps though the highlight was interacting with so many people for whom the sharing of knowledge is critical for survival; where information that stays in someone’s head or laptop might save lives; where different techniques are needed to get the stakeholder buyin and ensure sustainability.

using knowledge for competitive advantage: a graphic illustration from history

It being a lovely afternoon and with a guest over from Washington DC my wife and I decided to pay a visit to the Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth where some of Britain’s most famous warships have been restored and are on display.

I didn’t expect to find such a vivid example of how the application of what you know allied to an entrepreneurial spirit can make such a difference.

Here’s the background: By the time of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 the rate of fire from a cannon on the British Fleet was every 90 secs whereas for that of the enemy it was 5 minutes; a major factor in the competitive advantage of the British Fleet and the ensuing victory.

Here’s why:

Captain Charles Douglas, commander of the 90 gun ship Duke in 1778, had such great confidence in the efficiency of the flintlock for firing guns that he equipped his ship with them out of his own purse. When Douglas became captain of Lord Rodney’s flagship Formidable (90 guns) in April 1782, he demonstrated his superior rate of fire and hitting power in the victory over the French at the Battle of the Saints in the West Indies. Douglas’s son, Major General Sir Howard Douglas, improved the gun lock system by introducing a double headed hammer to house the flint. This made it unnecessary to change flints frequently during action as this new form of hammer could be turned through 180 degrees to engage the second flint.

What that quote omitted was that the French forces were the inventors of the original flintlock and indeed had trialled (without much success) its introduction to the fleet.

On the British side this became a grass roots incremental change programme spread by word of mouth that ultimately became ‘corporate’ policy. Individual Captains’ who were often quite wealthy paid for the enhancements to the guns on their vessels and were able to see significant improvements in productivity. By the time of the great sea battles of the late 18th and early 19th century most British ‘ships of the line’ were fitted with these devices with devastating impact.

It struck me as I walked around HMS Victory that today many organisations aren’t aware  of what others in different areas of their business do and are often not involved in the redesign of process. Indeed two of the recurring comments we hear are “I didn’t know they did that” or “yet another top down HO initiative we pay lip service to”.

This example spoke to me of the value of knowledge sharing and the need to engage rather than impose change.  I hope you agree?

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‘…they must put something in the coffee…’ from KM Mid East

A quote in conversation with one of my fellow speakers at KM Mid East Abu Dhabi 2011.  We were talking about why people like working in her organisation; she herself has been there many years and now has a Knowledge Management (KM) brief.

That sense of pride was evident among many of the delegates I spoke to. It was borne out in the results of the Knowledge Survey conducted by Sparknow in advance of the event wherein the majority of people said they’d contribute for a sense of wider acheivement suggesting that monetary rewards are not motivators for knowledge sharing.

If I’m honest I was surprised by the number of people in the audience who put their hands up when I asked at the start of my address ‘how many of you are in a KM role?’ Over half of an audience of 120 plus drawn from across the region said they were.

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The event was a delightful mixture of formal and informal in a way the the Arab world excels at. Held in the splendour of the Intercontinental Hotel Abu Dhabi it brought together a mix of KM practitioners and wannabees.  The organisors will be posting speeches, videos and photos here; these are my observations on the people and customs and what might or might not work in KM.

There is great respect for the views and opinions of others and people are listened to attentively; delegates were happy to contribute personal experiences for this is very much an oral culture.  And we were reminded by one of the presenters that

the Koran pushes us for more knowledge

which would suggest KM is pushing against a door that is at least adjar.

The event was a reminder to me of how there is no one size fits all for a KM initative (KM ‘Project’ was fiercely debated and dismissed by the delegates). It was vividly illustrated a day later in a conversation I had in the offices of a government agency when it emerged that it is not uncommon for an employee to be called half a dozen times a day by his or her boss.  Contrast that to Western cultures where interactions usually take place via email or instant messaging. And the option of spending a day working at home to focus uninterrupted on a challenging issue is not one that seems to have permeated practices in the Gulf.

These were my takeaways for those running KM initiatives in the region:

  • An organisation’s culture is the sum of the culture of its individuals
  • Introducing financial incentives for sharing is counterproductive
  • The process of transferring knowledge between expatriate workers who still make up a large part of the workforce and nationall staff works best when additional time is built in at the end of a contract for that process to occur
  • More information does not make for better decisions; a case of paralysis by analysis?
  • Pictures stimulate conversation and brevity in written communication is preferred
  • Formal peer to peer dialogue usually requires approval of superiors which means informal ‘water cooler’ coversations often yield most benefit
  • Stories amplify KM and are readily understood as a way of exchanging lessons.

Here are some of the distinquished speakers (John Girard, David Gurteen, Dr Allam Ahmed, Luke Naismith plus yours truly)

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