Getting to know the guys from the elevator – First informal KM Get-Together of UN-agencies in Bonn
Don’t underestimate elevator acquaintances since they could be potential project partners.
Every morning staff members of the various UN-agencies in Bonn enter the premises and take the elevators up to their offices. And almost every morning you share the elevator with someone you don’t know. A quick and polite “good morning” and “have a nice day” seems to represent the bulk of interactions between UN staff members of the various agencies in Bonn (which include the UN Volunteers, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN University – Vice Rectorate in Europe, UN Convention to Combat Desertification)
But what if that colleague you met today actually works on a project very similar to your current task? What if she asks herself almost the same questions that you dwelled on yesterday? Might the other guy from today’s elevator ride actually be setting up the very training you are looking for?
Possibly. In some cases even likely. This simple assumption triggered a few preparatory meetings from colleagues working on Knowledge Management in different UN-agencies and finally an email-invitation was sent out to every UN staff member for an informal Get-Together on KM during the lunch break of June 16th.
More than 30 colleagues from various UN-agencies attended the 1,5 h meeting, another 20 people expressed their interest but couldn’t make it. The objectives for the KM Get-Together were simple:
- to share and discuss the different approaches to KM and Knowledge Sharing within the UN agencies in Bonn;
- to exchange information on ongoing projects, ideally to identify areas of closer collaboration.
After colleagues from UNU, UNV and UNFCCC welcomed the participants the plenary was split into three sub-groups – the organizing team chose to apply the classical Knowledge Café set-up. So the table hosts welcomed the newcomers, introduced themselves and invited the participants to discuss “What burning questions on KM did you ask yourself in the past 6 months?” The hosts facilitated the discussions and took notes on a flipchart. The conversational round lasted approx. 20 minutes. In the next round, the question “Why do you or your organization do KM at all?” triggered lively discussions. Then the participants focused on “How could we make the best out of the interagency KM community? Finally, the table hosts summarized the discussions and the plenary discussed how to take this initiative forward.
In parallel, colleagues from UNU-ViE visualized the process and the content of the discussions. The impressive results of this graphic facilitation can be viewed here:
The discussions during the KM Get-Together revealed that some work on similar projects: “What? You are also developing an Intranet with Sharepoint 2010 right now! We need to talk!”
The majority, however, expressed a general interest in KM without being involved in specific KM projects yet, but either having the mandate or the motivation to get started. It was interesting to note that the demand for a general introduction to KM and how to set the compass was very high.
After the meeting, most participants did not leave right away but went straight to the visual facilitation charts where they looked at the work in progress and engaged in further conversations with colleagues. There, attentive listeners could overhear statements such as: “This is great, for the first time I have the chance to meet colleagues from other agencies and get an idea what they are doing”
Everyone agreed that getting together and exchange experiences just makes a lot of sense. Future meetings should yield tangible results for the participants; hence the idea to set up meetings on specific topics found wide agreement. The format of these meetings, e.g. a Peer-Assist or an interactive presentation will be determined by the colleagues who have a stake in these topics.
The next meetings will focus on:
- Introduction to Knowledge Management
- Intranet design
- Legal frameworks and overview of KM in the UN System
During the meeting, the participants also filled out short questionnaires, especially to share information about professional communities they belong to, about upcoming KM-related trainings and about their areas of expertise. It’s probably a safe guess to assume that some Communities of Practice welcomed a few new members due to a simple list of network memberships that was shared with the group afterwards.
For now, the organizing group wants this initiative to remain informal and everyone was invited to join the organizing group. All in all, the fist informal KM Get-Together was a success, simply because a well-known paradigm was reconfirmed once more: we can all learn from each other and we all have something to share. Not everything went perfect and right after the meeting, the organizers sat together, did a quick After-Action-Review and identified some areas of improvement, especially with regard to the facilitation set up. Another informal meeting for everyone is planned for early-fall. This time maybe even with colleagues from other development organizations based in Bonn. The future will show to what degree people benefit from these informal exchanges and if some are willing to volunteer some time to set up future Get-Togethers. Thinking back of the great atmosphere at the first meeting, this shouldn’t be a problem for the time being.
Turns out that quite a few of the colleagues you know so well from the elevators are not only nice fellows but veritable sources of knowledge. And they might even benefit from your experience too.
The journey continues.
Benjamin Kumpf (Benjamin.Kumpf[at]unvolunteers.org)