Monday, February 20, 2006

Mary V. Merrill Passed Away

Ann Bain just emailed the IVMA committee to notify us of the passing of Mary Merrill. My first thought was: today is a sad day, a very sad day, for volunteerism, for us, for ME. In fact, I’ve been crying since then.

We had butted heads many times, on CyberVPM and privately. However, even in that period of time, I’ve never ceased to appreciate her sharp mind, lucidity and commitment to original thinking into this sector.

When we met at ICVA 2005, I was afraid of her. I was petrified thinking to have to present my paper in front of her, because I was afraid of her scrutiny (I’m always afraid of the people I respect, whether I agree with them or not). She looked at me for some minutes with a kind of “hmmm I wonder what a kind of animal she is” look in her face. Then, all of a sudden, she started smiling and nodding and didn’t stop. She made my day, that day. After all, you know, it wasn’t THAT easy to gain her approval (here she would dissent saying something like “Of course it is, all it takes is to have some originality” or something like that *grin*)...

We had several private exchanges since that time, always starting with some news related to volunteerism and ending up sharing something deeper. I understood that her being blunt wasn’t being inconsiderate of another person, quite the contrary. She just was honest, open, and direct. I realize, however, that some might have not had this impression because, like me before the conference, they haven’t known her (and here she’d say: “Why are you smoothing it over? Just say it like it is” LOL).

Mary was a hard worker, meticulous, exact. She was what Schon defined a reflective practitioner: a person that would reflect on her practice every day, dissecting and challenging it, thinking about how it could be better, refining it and then testing it on another reality. She would NEVER be afraid of amending her modus operandi, and that why she couldn’t stand who was afraid of making amends!!!! Mary used to read BUNCHES of research on volunteerism, to test her impressions about the profession and have an idea of where it would be going. To her, being professional meant being lucid. And she was very professional!

She was a very ethical person. She would NEVER write a person off because she disliked him/her, she had her ethical standards: if she didn’t like you but you met her standards then you would “qualify” for her help; if she liked you but you didn’t meet her standards then you wouldn’t qualify (and very likely she couldn’t like a person that didn’t meet those standards).

But Mary also was a very passionate woman, both in her private and professional life, picking up her battles (like she would suggest me to) but giving all she could to the ones she decided to choose. Whenever she was kind and full of regard for you, she meant it. She wouldn’t fake THAT under any circumstances (that’s where we butted heads… I do fake gentleness with acquaintances).

Mary has helped me many times in sorting out my ideas, understanding my feelings but especially deciding which conduct to take, even emailing back and forth during weekends. Just yesterday I was going to fire her an email about a discussion on ARNOVA group that she was missing.. :(

From today one, Mary will not be here with us. Yet, we so desperately need Mary…. Let’s all be a little more like Mary, in terms of out-of-the-box thinking, reading up research, opening up to constant review of our practices and YES, directness. That will also mean NOT rushing to eulogize her with "nice words" that are not felt deeply within. She would NOT want that, she was not a "let's-all-be-nice" person and would not want to be eulogized as such or as a sum of her accomplishments.

Au Revoir, Mary, you will be as greatly missed as greatly appreciated.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

CoP Nucleation

There are two ways of forming a CoP (I say two cause I don't believe in the third, the "built" one):
1) "spontaneously":
I don't believe it is really spontaneous, it's more like somebody is doing the work without knowing what s/he is doing... according to the Johari window, it's the state of "unconscious competence". It's is more or like the case in which an "unconscious" nucleator starts aggregating a CoP not knowing what s/he is doing:
2) "nucleated":
you follow me on this, my background is in medicine. Stones get formed in a liquid that is supersaturated with a given solute. However, supersaturation is necessary but not sufficient for a stone to get formed. It takes a little "piece of something", like a cluster of some 5-10 cells, a kidney cylinder, few bacteria. That "piece of something" in a supersaturated solution starts what is known as stone "nucleation". So, what I do in my practice is to search for the supersaturated solution (aka: a 10-20 member network among 3 or 4 departments, like Verna Allee would say) and then I search for the "piece of something" to shove into it. The piece can be my "formal/informal" leadership, but most often it is my detection of a subgroup of people that could be autochthones leaders, a topic that can create debate (and therefore emergence of a leader), sometimes shifting focus/technology attracts the "right" leader. It depends.

What you have to search for, however, is a particular kind of leader, a servant-leader (if you are familiar with Greenleaf.. if not, see here).

On difficulties in recruiting:

That might also mean a good thing, such as you nucleated a CoP with a peculiar identity, that isn't a fit for everybody under the sun. It might also mean the CoP is functional to the point that members are having productive lives without having to always resort to the CoP. However you are right, there is a danger in that and Gongla and Rizzuto in their "Where Did That Community Go? - Communities of Practice that "Disappear" described pretty well.

Volunteer recruitment (and CoP members are *volunteers*, NOT workers!) works in a different way than workforce, so one reason might be it. Have you tried administering the VFI to your CoP members and see what their motivations are? Basing on that, you might want to craft an announcement attracting volunteers with similar motivations. Dig in the work of Clary, starting from

This paper is the one that explains the connection between motivation and kind of advertisement: Clary, E. G., M. Snyder, R. Ridge, P. Miene, & J. Haugen. (1994). Matching messages to motives in persuasion: A functional approach to promoting volunteerism. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 24, 1129-1149.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Person-Centered ICT NGO Consulting

We finally have a decent model for NGO/NPO consultants in ICT that isn't keeping soft skills out of the picture!

"As a consultant, an eRider’s success depends upon the
level of trust and mutual respect exhibited in the professional
relationship with the client organization. This
relationship is of particular importance to eRiders for
two reasons. First, eRiding is a client-centered approach
in which the client is expected to play an active role.
Second, most eRider clients are not accustomed to such
a relationship."

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Happiness in America

Just today the PEW Project has released the report "Are we happy yet?".

There are some "curious" findings:
1. Married folks are happier than unmarrieds.
2. People who worship frequently are happier than those who don't.
3. Republicans are happier than Democrats.
4. Rich people are happier than poor people.
5. Whites and Hispanics are happier than blacks.
6. Sunbelt residents are happier than those who live in the rest of the country.

While it's understandable that married people are happier than unmarried (because it could mean they get more support and partnership), that people that worship frequently are happier than those who don't (denoting more hope in the former), that rich people are happier than poor (because the former have the resource to self-actualize more often), and that sunbelt residents are happier than others (because of cultural and biological reasons.. don't forget Swedish people are sadder than Moroccans, and that's because of how the light impact on our mood), two things puzzled me. Namely, that Hispanics are happier than blacks (they BOTH are discriminated!) and that Republicans are happier than Democrats (the latter are more idealistic, shouldn't they be happier??).

Equally interesting are the non-correlations:
1. People who have children are no happier than those who don't, after controlling for marital status.
2. Retirees are no happier than workers.
3. Pet owners are no happier than those without pets.

These findings debunk long-lived myths, as the ones that propose parenthood as a panacea for all evils, retirement as the solution to a stressful life and pets as source of happiness.

Did we really need a study to tell us these were false myths? ;)

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Intrinsic Motivation Is Scary

So... today I was mumbling on the responses I get whenever I speak of intrinsic motivation to be fostered and people with intrinsic motivation to be favored over extrinsic folks. I've never been able to understand why, for example, both volunteer managers and scholars alike have trouble with the whole (intuitive!) concept that intrinsic motivation is just better.

A person with intrinsic motivation finds joy and reward in his/her own work, has self-efficacy, is able to correct his/her own work unsupervised, keeps on going despite drawbacks. What's wrong in that???

It must be that people find it scary. I couldn't understand why, then all of a sudden, reading another reply to a post of mine (to my amusement, swinging from calling me a person with methodological gaps to "neo-scholastic") today, I got it.

Intrinsic people, intrinsic volunteers, intrinsic students can not be manipulated through rewards and punishments. They also self-determine their lives, and that means any mechanism of control isn't likely to "tame them" and that is precisely why these persons find the whole concept to be scary and something to be resisted (see Freud if you don't know what it is).

The problem arises when scholars defend the need to use rewards, punishments and control to "train" students into their replica, rather than embracing the universus of the whole possibilities of reasoning.

Ah, by the way, university means, in fact, "whole, entire" and hints at the openness that such environment was supposed to have.

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The Motivation of Online Students

On ARNOVA listserv, somebody doubted about the value of "online" PhD. This was my step-by-step reply.

Intrinsic motivation, according to its definition, is the “the inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s capacities, to explore, and to learn” (Ryan & Deci, 2000, p.70 --- to look up other material, most of which is online, go to their Center for the Self-Determination Theory). It means, in this specific case, that when a student is intrinsically motivated, the reason for which he engages into a given activity (in this case, a PhD course) is because s/he derives “something” out of it that is not an external reward.

If you scratch below the definition of what’s intrinsic motivation, you’ll realize (again as per Ryan & Deci, 2000, p.68) that intrinsic motivation has 3 components:

- Competence: that is, having/acquiring functional skills

- Relatedness: feeling that one’s work/skills have some kind of meaning/significance

- Autonomy: the individual has some recognized ability to act on his/her own will.

Therefore (and this is a syllogism!!!!), a student that is intrinsically motivated is a student that also is:

*competent to acquire functional skills
*feeling that his/her skills have some kind of significance
*able to act on his/her own will.

The competence/relatedness pair also is the core of what Bandura (1981, 1983, 1999) called “self-efficacy” defined, in Bandura’s own words, as “people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives”. That is, the conviction to be able to successfully control the outcome of a situation one is presented with. So we can say (with another syllogism) that an intrinsic student also has self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy affects the ability of individuals to adapt and be flexible in spite of difficult situations, BUT ALSO affects aspirations, analytical thinking, and perseverance in the face of failure (Bandura et al. 2001). This last concept is called RESILIENCE.

But self-efficacy is also linked to the locus of control concept (Rotter, 1966): the locus of control is an individual perception that control can be exerted through his/her behaviour (internal locus of control, in this case the student’s pattern of study/research) vs at bay of external forces (luck, misfortune, the professor’s will). So a person that has intrinsic motivation, and also has self-efficacy and resilience (as per previous syllogisms) ALSO has internal locus of control.


A. Because of relatedness, the student with higher intrinsic motivation would tend to think his/her work is significant/meaningful
B. Because of autonomy, the student with higher intrinsic motivation would tend to act on his/her own will
C. Because of A and B and their relationship with self-efficacy, the student with higher intrinsic motivation would tend to have more resiliency
D. Because of the internal locus of control, the student with higher intrinsic motivation would have a lesser probability of being impacted by the professor’s control and supervision
E. Because of the very nature of resilience, the student with higher intrinsic motivation would have a lesser probability of being impacted by the professor’s reward/punishment system

Online students (and a student who got an online PhD IS a successful online student --- that’s another syllogism), in a variety of settings, have been shown to have:

i. higher rates of intrinsic motivation
ii. higher focus on internal locus of control

So, NOW you can understand how conditions A to E apply to successful online students.

On top of it, we can ALSO add that:

Since intrinsic motivation vanishes with the use of external, performance-contingent rewards (Deci, Kostner & Ryan, 1999), students exposed to this method are more likely to have extrinsic motivation.

And, if you allow me to end with an opinion (as opposed to facts previously gathered and exposed), faculties might not like these students because:
*they find worth in their own works
*the usual reward/punishment and control system don’t work
*they keep on going for their own path and keep on thinking that they will eventually succeed because they believe that success lays into their merit and not on somebody’s else “grace” (therefore, supervisor has to convince through hard reasoning, NOT with a "because I say so").

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CoPs in Practice

My colleague Bhojarju posted a set of interesting questions on com-prac.

"How practically these CoPs will work ?"

They will work as practically as you make them to. Groups in general cannot be studied in a laboratory fashion, ie by randomizing a group of people, throwing them in, and see how it goes , UNLESS we are willing to obtain results that cannot be generalized, exported, replicated or even ***talked of***.

Two things are very important from a practical perspective:

1. the goals of your CoP:
supposing your CoP is already a CoP that doesn't need nurturing/cultivation, you still need to create a shared expectation of what its "acceptable outcomes" are or should be. All of it can be obtained through an initiative that generates consensus (I use dynamic facilitation) whenever the outcomes are not mandated or requested from the above, otherwise a set of outcomes has to be clearly stated and subsequently enforced (even if the set of outcomes was generated through consensus).

Remember, there is a difference between a CoP and a mess: the latter has no rules and accomplishes the outcome herraticly, the former has as few rules as possible but still accomplishes the outcomes with fair reliability.

Also remember that two different CoPs can have the same domain, even the same people, and still be very different with respect of the kind of goals they can accomplish. The key word here is the facilitator, whether conscious or unconscious, which is the person that enforces the "tone" on the kind of deliverables that are expected.

2. the values of your CoP:
Again, two different CoPs with the same domain, and even the same people, can have different values! Think of a CoP where the facilitator fosters "experts", and experts on their turn punish/reward others for thinking or not thinking like them. Now think of another CoP where the level of ownership is so diffuse that experts are silenced whenever they don't provide a rationale for their "expert opinions" and frankly laughed at when they go into the punish/reward mode. It's all the difference between a "la-la-land" CoP (that will be a CoP but won't accomplish much) and a practical CoP.

"For Example if we have a any platform say Sharepoint, will they add value in collaboration there ?"
A platform can add OR ***subtract*** to collaboration, depending on:
1. the fit between the CoP and that specific platform in terms of needs, functionalities, customization options;
2. the degree of interest in mastering the software possibilities on the facilitator's side
3. the level of ownership participants will feel toward the choice of platform

"DO they add their knowledge to KMS thro virtual or physical meetings?"
Well, I can tell you through meetings for sure. In my language, the word meeting is translated as "to move forward to another person". That is to say, a meeting will work if it is able to generate an ***encounter***.

Now, many people would say it's impossible to do it online because THEY aren't able to. But some people can have "online encounters". Others get fixated that they can't do it online, and therefore they won't, and will need a physical meeting.

Don't you ever overlook the impact that self-generated bias have one the outcome of an interaction!