Monday, January 28, 2008

On authentic behavior in conflict situations

This is a brief article on the conclusions from a small E-mail-group discussion that Kristel Maassen, Marieke Veeger and Peter Oomen had during the last three weeks of December 2007.


First of all we did agree that in our role as capacity building advisors in many cases we are expected or assigned to make a change in modes of conduct or ways of doing the work. If habits are changed, resistance is often felt. Especially because in many non western cultures 'change' more often is a scary, undesirable thing, while in our own culture it mostly is a positive thing. For that very reason we will often face situations that bear potential conflict.

A conflict should not be a goal in itself, but if we take our work seriously we should be prepared to deal with implicit or explicit conflict behavior and if necessary make a conflict in views, priorities or interests more explicit to help us deal with it more effectively. Sometimes this is needed to make a change that is in line with our assignment.

Before we can manage that kind of situations however, we should have a meaningful and respected position to do so. In most cultures, and especially non western cultures, one should be a respected and valued contributor to the organizations cause and group as such to be allowed to make a change. Engaging in a conflict of opinions, priorities and interests and bring about a desired solution also requires that valued membership of the group..

In order to build up a position that allows us to change habits, views, perceptions or modes of conduct, we try to be culturally sensitive, devoted, strongly committed to the beneficiary and the organization that send us over. We also make sure that an intervention that is or could be perceived as generating conflict is referable to the capacity building goals and serves 'their' process and ownership.
Once we have done all that, we still face the difficulty of the fact that we will leave after one or two years.
This makes very clear why we really need some personal credit to enter the conflict zone effectively.
Now we feel that 'authentic behavior' is an important quality of an advisor to enable him or her to do so.

Authentic behavior, meaning behavior that is:
- based on deeply felt impulses,
- connected to personal values'',
- strongly aware of situational factors,
- loyal to ones intuition, not manipulative like a means to an end.

Authentic behavior is a risky but also powerful and sometimes necessary intervention in the change processes we facilitate. It is an opportunity to enter a clarifying dialogue with the client and create stronger solidarity in achieving ownership and the projected capacity building goals.
This clarifying dialogue might even free us from the donor <-> beneficiary character that underlies so much of our work (like inequalities, blurred responsibilities etc.), or as one of us had so beautifully pointed out:

'Perhaps conflict situations could be a turn-around situation in some cases. Perhaps here, authenticity can help us. If what we say and do represents not our personal interests but our deep beliefs (at the same time leaving the decision to the people that are hosting us) andif these beliefs come to be perceived by colleagues as authentic, it will be the start of a process of change. Then conflict could lead tomutual recognition of striving for the same goal and generate energy for change'.
But then it is followed by:
"But this kind of transformative conflict probably only happens rarely and I don't think it's something that could or should purposely be created".

However, the purpose should not be to create conflict, but to expose authentic behavior. Conflict situations will then come up automatically (if implicit they can be made explicit).
Some other thoughts and positions we exchanged were:

An assignment without conflicts probably missed a few opportunities for sustainable change and sometimes an implicit conflict needs to be solved by making it explicit or even escalating it a bit, professionally though.

While usually there are several conflict situations in an assignment not all of them have a transformative or change character.

Authenticity will never be fully present, it is always mixed with professional or personalinterests, or is not immediately recognised by others as authentic behavior, but manipulative.

Exposing authentic behavior is impossible to attain 100% of time and requires lots of courage and life long cultivation

We wish the reader lots of authentic behavior and lots of good timing (paradox)

Peter Oomen, (e-mail.
Marieke Veeger (e-mail.
Kristel Maasen (e-mail.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Communities of Practice (CoP) as a strategy for knowledge management in ICCO?

Electronic means as a tool in creating a communities of practise
During 2007 ICCO provided resources to organize two E-Conferences; one on ‘capacity development & assessment’ and one on ‘value chain development’. Both events took around 7 weeks, where participants shared their views and questions through e-mail discussions groups (called d-groups in combination with skype teleconferences. These electronic exchange events provided a platform for the ICCO development & business advisors to share experiences on their field of expertise. Before the events were initiated needs assessments were conducted under the advisors. Main motive for organizing such an event, is that many ICCO-advisors work in isolated areas and very much appreciate the fact that they can dialogue with colleagues who are in the same situation.

Out of the first E-Conference a core group of advisors was formed who provide each other advise and assistance on issues on capacity development. This group is what we call a ‘community of practice’. It is a key group of people who have a common domain (in this case capacity development) on which they share knowledge and through which they are encouraged to apply their lessons for their work practice. Each two months the advisors share key questions & case studies and facilitate themselves this peer-to-peer learning process.

Lessons on capacity development & benefits – human resource development dimension
The discussions between the capacity & assessment advisors generated a diverse number of case studies, which encouraged the group to discuss issues for continued exploration. Topics were related to “how to deal with authoritative leadership?”; “how to create conditions for ownership and what exit-strategy to apply as advisor?”; “how to improve the effectiveness of juniors towards their partner organizations?”; “how to strengthen partner organizations to do more effective fundraising and taking more ownership?”; “how to balance your own ambitions with the goals of your partner organization?”. Each of the members were encouraged to apply lessons at their work which helped their partners to strengthening their capacities and improved service delivery. Some members commented that they were encouraged to read books and publications, which were recommended by their colleagues. For example the “six thinking hats of Eduard de Bono”, publications about leadership from Intrac or toolboxes for strategic planning from Civicus and Tear Fund.

Individual advisors improved their knowledge and skills

The E-Conference on ‘value chain development’ provided more in-depth information about product & market development in five different countries (Philippines, Ghana, Ethiopia, Honduras, Burkina Faso) where ICCO is working. The variety of cases provided insight on the different roles ICCO business advisors are playing in the capacity development of partner organizations in and outside the value chain. The conference helped three advisors to redefine their roles and their capacity development interventions.

Summarized the two communities that were formed during the e-exchange events generated an ‘important spin-off’ which helped a number of participants to redefine their roles and strengthen their individual capacities.

Lessons for ICCO – Organizational development dimension
The e-events generated a lot of new and useful information which supports ICCO HQ to look critically at and redefine their strategies. The Value-Chain conference showed that ICCO’s programme on value chain development as a strategy for poverty alleviation is still in its early days. The case studies showed that ICCO is accomplishing considerable results in economic development, but there is still room for progress. Thinking on chain design, role of actors, the role of the business advisor, and evidence of impact is still under development.

The cases on capacity development provided insight that the ‘problem owner’ of the capacity building intervention is not always clear. Continuous dialogue & building trust in the partner relationships show to be the best ways to capacity development of the partner organizations and ICCO. Capacity development is a two-way process which strengthens both sides.

Input from advisors provided some important lessons for ICCO as a learning organization
The variety of case studies has also provided a lot of expertise and knowledge which can be shared with new advisors who join the ICCO-cad community of practice. It supports ICCO and its advisors to have a critical look at their capacity development interventions on how to assess and strengthen partner organizations. It also gives insight in the ‘best practices’ and ‘failures’ of interventions in the past and provides a rich resource centre for the ICCO Alliance to improve their quality of support and programmes. Communities of practice are not only a tool for continuous learning, they also provide a platform for developing new and creative ideas and building institutional memory.

Infrastructure for knowledge sharing
During this conference many resources were posted at the site of ICCO at: . All the documentation on value chain development was re-ordered and stored at the Chaincapacity wiki site at: and articles were published at

All resources (publications, books, toolboxes and case studies) on capacity development were compiled at and outcomes from the ICCO-cad group discussions were published at:

ICCO’s main challenge is now to build on the social capital (the people) and technological infrastructure to keep the knowledge and experience sharing alive. Each department within ICCO has a learning facilitator who will play an important role into this process.

The 6 roles of a community of practice
The Capacity Assessment and Development group initiated a core group of people who make the group move and get together regularly. This co-ordination group fullfills both internal and external roles to sustain the community;

Internal roles
To motivate and stimulate people in discussions (facilitation & moderation);
To identify the issues
Technical support to organize the exchange (d-group discussions and skype meetings)

External roles
External links with sponsors (financial support, but also knowledge/ expertise input for discussions);
Linking with others and public relations
To identify, find and store information (at wiki’s,, blogposts) and link with other networks.

Challenges: How to create and maintain ownership for keeping up a communities of practise
Sofar the e-exchange events have generated a lot of interest and response from the ICCO advisors in the field. However, the challenge is to keep the process of continuous learning going.

Most important conditions for success in sustaining a communities of practise are:

Keep and maintain the interest from the group members in continuous learning by regularly identifying their needs and involving them in the process;
Have a co-ordination group who is responsible for the community
Provide sufficient resources and involve sponsors who support the community. Sponsors should allocate time & money to fullfill key roles of the co-ordination group & provide input of new knowledge & expertise. Sponsors should see their role as an investment which can strengthen and build their area of expertise on a specific knowledge area or domain.
Build in a component of a face-to-face meeting somewhere in the process of e-exchange so that relationships between the group members can be strengthened;
Regularly recruit and add new members to the group who bring new perspectives and ideas to the group.

Finally, for an organization who is supporting or initiating a community of practice it is important to analyse whether it is an important strategy for capacity development of its staff, itself and its partner organizations. When it has decided to support such a CoP it should nurture and feed the ‘plant’ regularly so that everybody can enjoy the smell and the colours of the beautiful flowers for a long time! The experiments that were launched by ICCO in 2007 show that ‘communities of practice’ can be an investment worthwhile.

Simon Koolwijk

Capacity Building for Networks – How can result-oriented attitudes be stimulated? How can a network be effectively strengthened?

Networking for development and capacity building programs for national and international networks have become common practice. Specific challenges occur when working with networks consisting of organizations and individuals. Especially networks that are based upon voluntary action are often less structured than professional organizations.

In this article one specific case study on capacity building for networks is being dealt with. The input is collected from discussions between advisors working in the area of capacity development in different countries in the world. This discussion group of professionals was established in order to learn from each other’s experiences and to generate best practices. Their cases are published on the web in order to share their knowledge and experiences with others.

Background and challenges of the case study
The specific network discussed in this article is an international network with coordinating offices per continent. The coordination office in Africa developed a capacity building project for the country network in Mozambique. This network consists of nine organizations and some individual members. They are all participating voluntarily, meaning that the network does not provide direct financial incentives. The goals of the capacity building project are strengthening the national network and improving the organizational capacity of the member organizations in Mozambique. An organizational development advisor was assigned to the country network.

When the project started the network was low profile and little activity took place concerning the network. During the first year of the project, activities of the advisor were focused on re-energizing the network and improving coordination between its members. Despite of efforts no real impact has been achieved. For example, even though the members of the network did agree on the need of a joint program, it has not yet been documented and formalized. During meetings responsibilities are assumed but the members hardly do what they promise. Others seem to accept this behaviour; no critical remarks are made towards each other. Now, after little more than a year, a small part of the group of members is motivated and active, some members are contributing if taken by hand, and some members are falling behind. The group has come to a point that the active ones want to move on, even when the less active are not on board.

Advocay meeting

In collaboration with one of the member NGOs, the capacity building adviser has been the one initiating and coordinating most of the activities, for example by calling and preparing meetings and drafting documents. At this point the adviser is withdrawing her coordination activities and will focus in the second and last year of her assignment on organizational capacity building of the individual member organizations. The international coordinating office is in the process of recruiting a country coordinator to support the country network, mainly in terms of fundraising. However, since this assignment will only last for one more year, questions are raised about how the network will continue. Will the coordination tasks be taken over by this country coordinator, or will the network take over itself?

The main questions to be answered in this case are: How to stimulate a result-oriented attitude within the network? How can be ensured that the capacity building program has long lasting effects?

Discussions and conclusions
A large part of the discussion between the advisers was about how to stimulate the network towards more result-oriented attitudes. Is it common to criticize each other? How about emphasising the “Who does What, How and When”? Can we change this culture of not complying with appointments and promises? The group did not answer these questions, but came to an interesting conclusion by tackling the problem from another side, based on experiences with a network in the Netherlands. This network of individuals fundraising for projects in Africa had a similar experience with volunteers that were contributing well and ones that were less active. This case showed that focusing efforts on people that were motivated and keeping the less active ones informed, instead of constantly criticizing their lack of commitment, increased the performance of the entire network, meaning that more funds were raised. By emphasising the positive and not the negative aspects the working atmosphere improved and more people became motivated.

Community leader meeting

Two other projects for network development in Africa show us very different approaches to capacity building. The philosophy for capacity building of the first network was very strict: all the initiative was left to the members. Full ownership and responsibility was in the hand of the members, but the network remained ‘low profile’ and the network was not really dynamic. In the other project the donor invested quite a lot of money to start up a secretariat and paid for a coordinator. This network was built top-down and initially there was no ownership amongst its members. Through doing activities, having a lot of dynamic meetings and enthusiasm, the network became valuable for the members and a critical mass was achieved. The challenge was to maintain the momentum and interest of the members, so that they were willing to continue the network even when the initial donor withdrew. In this case the members were willing to pay a membership fee and other donors were willing to invest in the network. The biggest hurdle for this network was to ensure that it was really based upon the needs and interests of its members.

These two approaches for capacity building raised quite some discussion. Appointing a coordinator and/or a secretariat is accompanied with the serious risk that the members become less active, expecting the coordinator to take care of everything. Another risk is that the coordination office grows into an independent organisation with its own agenda and priorities, undermining the needs of the network members and creating distance between the coordination office and the members. Therefore if it is decided to work with a coordinator and secretariat it is very important to pay attention to the ownership of the network by its members. It should also be closely monitored whether the network is operating regarding the members’ needs. Choosing a person with good facilitating skills for the role of coordinator is essential. And having the coordinator at the office of one of the members can prevent experiencing distance between the coordination office and members. Circulating the hosting of meetings amongst the members is also a way to involve everyone.

To get and keep the network going it is important to make sure the “owner(s)” of the network feels responsible for it and is willing to invest time and effort. Therefore questions should be asked like: Who started the network and why? Who are the stakeholders and what are their interests? In the case study the international coordination office is an important player, having created this network top-down. They might want the country network to function independently, but what do they do to make the network proceed?

It is difficult to generate general conclusions and recommendations from only one particular case study, but from the discussions the group of advisors came up with the following ideas:
- Build upon the energy and capacity that is already present amongst the members of the network in order to create a result-oriented and positive attitude. In other words focus on strengths, achievements, and the motivated and active ones instead of on weaknesses, failures, and the ones falling behind.
- Identify who are the actual ‘owners’ of the problem and make them responsible. Who initiated the network and who is really interested in having a network?
- Find a balance in capacity building activities. Creating momentum and quick results by a coordination office or an external advisor can be helpful, but has serious risks in terms of ownership and sustainability of the network. Continuously involving the members in defining the agenda of the network is necessary to create and maintain ownership amongst its members.

Petra Hofman