Monday, April 18, 2005

ICT, its challenges to organizational practices and nonprofits

Just today I found in my emailbox the Nonprofit Times newsletter. One of the articles in it was a book review of Carol Barbeito's Human Resource Policies and Procedures for Nonprofit Organizations.

I did NOT read the book. However, I care to comment on the rendition of it that was in the newsletter because:

  1. it might be what the book actually says
  2. even if the book says something different, the attitude that shines out of such review is revealing of something "more".

Quoting the NPT newsletter:

"Among the items that Barbeito said should be spelled out:

  1. Use of the Internet is for nonprofit use only, and the organization may monitor members' use of the Internet to ensure that it is being used for stated purposes only.
  2. Users must abide by all existing federal and state laws regarding electronic communication. This includes, but is not limited to, accessing information without authorization, giving out passwords or causing a system to malfunction.
  3. No advertising, either for profit or for campaigns for political office, is allowed.
    Users must not use language that is abusive, profane or sexually offensive.
  4. Email is not guaranteed to be private."

Point #1. This create a legislative problem, ie: definition of organizational purposes. Plus, I am not sure AT ALL that personal communications can be PROHIBITED, being them a human right (that cannot be violated by any person, policy or even law -- See Universal Human Rights Declaration, Article 8). Personal communications could be restricted, in space and time, to something like "no more than such and such minutes (or percentage of time) a day/week", but not prohibited (this is illegal even when done to people in jail!).

Point #2. Organizations must abide to all laws as well. And especially a nonprofit, if not for reason of ETHICS at least for reason of convenience, should not violate Human Rights Declaration.

Point #3. The first lines only apply to those nonprofit whose tax-exempt status would be jeopardized by "siding" with a political candidate. As far as the rest of it, referring to abusive language, it is already a law and need not be re-stated as a policy (I suspect this reiteration is put in place in the perception it could avoid lawsuits... false twice, first because some stupid people will always sue another even when having no grounds to, second cause it is the actual breaking of the law that puts you at risk, and your statement of compliance does not change this fact).

Point #4. Email IS private and failing to consider it as such is in overt violation of the Universal Human Rights Declaration, Article 12.

But aside from the legislative aspects, from these suggested policies we can see how the new technologies are dealt with through OLD paradigms: prohibitions, limitations, negative rulings. NO mention of exploiting existing and newly formed social networks for organizational purposes, NO mention of fostering trust among staff and volunteers through new ICT management solutions, NO mention of organizational change due to a more open, networked, organization.

NO WONDER there are only TWO academical works on knowledge management applied to nonprofits EVEN IF the field (KM) is old of at least a decade!!!!

As in the article I commented about yesterday, we can either try to "improve" old practices with as less change as possible OR we can try to make our organization innovative and sustainable. We can legitimately decide to go for no/few changes, but without forgetting how it is adaptability to change that not only denotes intelligence but also overcome challenges, ultimately.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Leadership - Commented Article

In John D. Smith's community of practice group, Jen Hunter posted a very interesting link to the Berkana Institute. I dare to comment one of the many articles written by Margaret J. Wheatley, namely Supporting Pioneering Leadersas Communities of Practice.

Margaret on practices:

"We are living in a period when many of our fundamental beliefs and practices no longer serve us or the greater world. Worse than that, they are causing great harm and disabling us from being effective sponsors and facilitators of healthy change. I believe that the longer we continue to use familiar Western beliefs and practices, the more impotent we become to create the world we want."

It's not a case if Asian Tigers are taking over, in fact. It's a whole new concept of management, a whole new concept of productivity, and a whole new concept of working. It's a sustainable one, in that it encompasses community needs and gains.

Margaret on beliefs:

"We wove the following beliefs into our practices: that humans are motivated by selfishness, greed, and fear. That we exist as individuals, free of the obligation of interdependence. That hierarchy and bureaucracy are the best forms of organizing. That efficiency is the premier measure of value. That people work best under controls and regulations. That diversity is a problem. That unrestrained growth is good. That a healthy economy leads naturally to a healthy society. That poor people have different motivations than other people. That only a few people are creative. That only a few people are willing to struggle for their freedom."

Beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies. By supposing people to be greedy and individualistic, a company selects that kind of persons. It's even inconsistent cause it's all about giving incentives to ego and then b*tching about how employees only think about their personal rewards!

Margaret on leaders:

"There are many brave pioneers experimenting with new approaches for resolving the most difficult societal problems. These new leaders have abandoned traditional practices of hierarchy, power, and bureaucracy. They believe in people's innate creativity and caring. They know that most people can be awakened to be active in determining what goes on in their communities and organizations. They practice consistent innovation and courage-wherever they see a problem, they also see possibility. They figure out how to respond. If one response doesn't work, they try another. They naturally think in terms of interconnectedness, following problems wherever they lead, addressing multiple causes rather than single symptoms. They think in terms of complex global systems and yet also understand this world as a global village."

This doesn't just explain why new paradigms usually are born in Asia, but also why KM inNPOs has been implemented in Asia first too. Societies like Asians and Mediterraneans, all geared on communication and sharing are THE places where to implement KM solutions.

Margaret on challenges:

    • New leaders must invent the future while dealing with the past
    • It is difficult to break with tradition
    • Supporters want them to look familiar
    • There is no room for failure
    • We want them to fail

The thing I find the most challenging is when you pioneer "invent" something new, show it and the Old Boys look at you saying "you have no data". To which I reply "You have stagnant mistakes, and no vision at all". But somehow they prefer to repeat the existing rather than trying something new.

This, too, is about crushing the ego. In order to be a pioneer, you (generic) need to be able to make mistakes and learn from them rather than be defensive of your work. But Westerners, raised to value ego, find excuses over excuses to claim their work remarkable even when it is not. The world will belong to Asians and Mediterraneans, sooner or later, because they have the cultural capability of correcting their mistakes.

Furthermore, most of such "scholars" are completely uneducated in philosophy of science and think that when you (generic) contest their results you have to prove yours valid rather than theirs wrong. Amazingly uneducated folks.

Margaret on scientists:

"Thomas Kuhn described the behavior of scientists when confronted with evidence that pointed to a truly new world view. (see The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1996, 1974) When the new evidence clearly demonstrated the need for a change in paradigms, scientists were observed working hard to make the evidence conform to their old worldview. In defense of the old, they would discard or reinterpret the data. (This was always done unconsciously.) And in the most startling instances, they actually would be blind to the new information-even with the data in front of them, they literally could not see it. For them, the new did not exist."

This fits with the constructivist approach to learning: in order to learn you (generic) reinterpret new knowledge in light of your (previous) mental models. That basically implies: if your mental models aren't flexible, you're toasted. And that also explains how scientists, that are supposed to be able to criticize theories (theirs own included), if they aren't flexible enough to self-criticize, they can't accomplish much as far as science is regarded.

Margaret on learning and Freire:

"When people understand the forces creating the adverse conditions of their life, and how they might change those forces, they become eager and rapid learners. They are capable of learning sophisticated skills that far surpass traditional assumptions about their intellectual capacity. And they learn these skills faster than anyone would have thought possible."

This is, basically, why support groups do work and also why communities of practice generate new knowledge. Sharing generates new understandings, that are shared, and that generate more knowledge.

Without loosening the sense of ego there is no leadership, no KM, no learning, no sustainability, no CoP. It's all about building some schemes, calling them "best practice" and refusing to hear anything else.