Making innovation systems work in practice... Published in KM4D Journal May 2011 7(1) 109-124

Making innovation systems work in practice KM4D Journal Volume 7, i...

This article by Hlamalani Ngwenya and Jürgen Hagmann presents a different dimension of the innovation systems approach, going beyond analysis and shedding light on how these processes can be facilitated in practice. This is based on 20 years’ experience with innovations systems. The focus is on the role of facilitation in triggering the changes, as well as in integrating learning and knowledge management (KM) in the innovation process.

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MODERATED CONVERSATION STARTER:

These initial reactions to the article are interesting.  I encourage everyone to post their initial reactions if they would like.  A common thread in Lawrence, Peter, Claudia, and Regi's posts is power and how it affects interaction among the relevant actors in an innovation system.  Especially, when considering the systemic approach that the authors encourage (i.e., considering both the supply and demand side of innovation and knowledge management) it seems as though "facilitation for change in innovation platform development"  requires facilitators to 1. be aware of the power dynamics within any innovation system and 2. have the capability of identifying and working with the actors in the innovation system who can help to change those power dynamics.

In my experience, power is relational. A teacher has power over her students in her classroom, but she does not have this same power over other students in the school. In organizations, managers have power over their employees, but when organizations work together that same manager is unlikely to have power over the other organization's employees. How, then, does a facilitator work with so many different organizations and power dynamics in order to facilitate change without some sort of power of their own?

To kick off this discussion I would like to pose the following question. This article stresses the importance of a facilitator to spearhead the innovations systems learning approach. In your experience, how have you seen power dynamics disrupted for more innovative dialogue between stakeholders operating within the same system (e.g., farmers, extension officers, government officials). Is it necessary to plan an intervention or can change happen organically, on its own? Is a facilitator necessary? If so, are there ideal characteristics of a facilitator (e.g., someone local who understands the power dynamics, an outside person who is not a part of the local power dynamics). What sorts of unintended consequences have arisen from the disruption of power dynamics?

Feel free to answer all or a part of this conversation starter and include references back to the original article when it is helpful to clarify a point. I will summarize the responses and post them to the KM4Dev Wiki as Peter suggests above.

Could be an interesting discussion around the "need" for facilitation.

Certainly, as you suggest, with power being "relational," people can get stuck in their roles and relations as defined by their status, job, place in the system, or whatever.  Unless one or multiple parties are willing to get "un-stuck" and step outside those boundaries, the status quo will be maintained, and innovation will be completely stymied (at worst) or minutely incremental (at best) - and absolutely not disruptive.

Facilitators can help normalize the power equation, and provide a safe harbor for exploring what-if scenarios that step outside the established framework.  In answer to your question, I do not know for certain that facilitation is "necessary," but in my experience, it certainly helps and may well be a requirement.

Gosh Melissa you raise an immense load of issues. All valid surely. Also reading Lawrence these immediate thoughts come up:

  1. A good facilitator is at most a space opener, a mediator (with care), one that can make people look out of the box. Unless a highly politically motivated facilitator, it is not primarily someone focussed on changes in powerrelations. At most the aim is to open up the space for new potentials.
  2. It would be very interesting to get both authors on board! Juergen Hagmann is close to KM4Dev (if not member); Hlamalani Ngwenya I'm not sure about.
  3. Finally I am a person that goes for integration and holistic perception, but can we try to stick to rather short contributions (maybe with links to more, where relevant). I'm just afraid that otherwise we loose the quick readers (that although reading quickly, may still have potentially highly relevant thoughts) ;-)

I just found and invited Hlamalani Ngwenya and Jürgen Hagmann ! Lets see if they feel like joining in!

Peter J. Bury said:

Gosh Melissa you raise an immense load of issues. All valid surely. Also reading Lawrence these immediate thoughts come up:

  1. It would be very interesting to get both authors on board! Juergen Hagmann is close to KM4Dev (if not member); Hlamalani Ngwenya I'm not sure about.



Peter J. Bury said:

I just found and invited Hlamalani Ngwenya and Jürgen Hagmann ! Lets see if they feel like joining in!

Peter J. Bury said:

Gosh Melissa you raise an immense load of issues. All valid surely. Also reading Lawrence these immediate thoughts come up:

  1. It would be very interesting to get both authors on board! Juergen Hagmann is close to KM4Dev (if not member); Hlamalani Ngwenya I'm not sure about.

Dear Peter,

Thanks for the invitation. I am very much interested in the on-going discussions. I find it very enriching. I can see that you have and other have raised some questions. I will make some time over the coming weekend to go through it and respond. I will also make my contributions to enrich the discussions.

Best regards

Hlami

 

Thanks for your questions Melissa. Here are my thoughts:

Power is indeed relational in terms of relations between people, but it is also a question of language. E.g. the language of international development often characterizes local farmers as “end-user”. They are expected to be receivers of help, but not creators of solutions. An important role of the facilitator is to question such expectations and give space for another language and for alternative views. I belive that the Hlami and Juergen assumed this role.

Talking about local people as creators of solutions, I consider research on resilience to be inspiring. This approach focuses on analyzing the ability of people to positively adjust to change, risk and adversity. See for example the work of my colleagues: http://www.socialresilience.ch/

Finally, I think you are right, Melissa, that facilitation is often an issue of dealing with subtle and sometimes explicit forms of power. But the capacity of a good facilitator to open space, to make people look out of the box, to leverage potential as Peter nicely said, all this requires other competencies as well. How should we call them? Maybe somebody out there has the language for this?

Great! Thanks so much for joining us, and thanks for your article obviously, Peter

Hlamalani (Hlami) Ngwenya said:

Dear Peter,

Thanks for the invitation. I am very much interested in the on-going discussions. I find it very enriching. I can see that you have and other have raised some questions. I will make some time over the coming weekend to go through it and respond. I will also make my contributions to enrich the discussions.

Best regards

Hlami

 

Claudia- great insights. I had not thought about language on all of the levels that you bring up.

Claudia Michel said:

Thanks for your questions Melissa. Here are my thoughts:

Power is indeed relational in terms of relations between people, but it is also a question of language. E.g. the language of international development often characterizes local farmers as “end-user”. They are expected to be receivers of help, but not creators of solutions. An important role of the facilitator is to question such expectations and give space for another language and for alternative views. I belive that the Hlami and Juergen assumed this role.

Talking about local people as creators of solutions, I consider research on resilience to be inspiring. This approach focuses on analyzing the ability of people to positively adjust to change, risk and adversity. See for example the work of my colleagues: http://www.socialresilience.ch/

Finally, I think you are right, Melissa, that facilitation is often an issue of dealing with subtle and sometimes explicit forms of power. But the capacity of a good facilitator to open space, to make people look out of the box, to leverage potential as Peter nicely said, all this requires other competencies as well. How should we call them? Maybe somebody out there has the language for this?

Hi Peter- I didn't mean to over whelm anyone, I just wanted to make sure anyone who wanted to might have a point in my question that could respond to.  Glad you brought the authors on board.

Peter J. Bury said:

Gosh Melissa you raise an immense load of issues. All valid surely. Also reading Lawrence these immediate thoughts come up:

  1. A good facilitator is at most a space opener, a mediator (with care), one that can make people look out of the box. Unless a highly politically motivated facilitator, it is not primarily someone focussed on changes in powerrelations. At most the aim is to open up the space for new potentials.
  2. It would be very interesting to get both authors on board! Juergen Hagmann is close to KM4Dev (if not member); Hlamalani Ngwenya I'm not sure about.
  3. Finally I am a person that goes for integration and holistic perception, but can we try to stick to rather short contributions (maybe with links to more, where relevant). I'm just afraid that otherwise we loose the quick readers (that although reading quickly, may still have potentially highly relevant thoughts) ;-)

As a facilitator, I think understanding and working with power dynamics is very much part of the practice -- and the way facilitators practice this is very diverse. Facilitators themselves hold power and, in my opinion, should be very self-aware of how they hold it.  

For example, in practicing Open Space, a facilitator does indeed "hold space" but there are elements to Open Space which implicitly recognize power. For example, "the law of two feet" is about an individual's ability to leave experiences that aren't working for them, and the responsibility to make sure something happens that is of value for themselves. At times, facilitators in Open Space have to work with this dynamic as it relates to preexisting power dynamics in the room. 

By breaking people into small groups vs plenary, you are working with power (i.e. the power of a few to dominate plenary sessions, and the practice of many to stay silent). By capturing key statements, we have a choice to attribute and create accountability or visibility for the speaker, or to weave in comments to create shared visibility of the idea vs the speaker. All of these are acts that recognize power. 

There is quite a body of literature about power in facilitation. 

I really think the ability to open space is of tremendous relevance to this conversation. I have enjoyed the reading the commentary made in reference to it. Nonaka's concept of Ba touches on the creation of space significantly.

 

A facilitator must create  an environment of intellectual stimulation and safety for ideas and tacit knowledge to be shared. Effective facilitation in my view would  diagonose and address circumstances that detract from this end.

http://home.business.utah.edu/actme/7410/Nonaka%201998.pdf

 

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