In response to Ian Thorpe’s post on professional blogging, which I also reblogged, it’s fair to ask what keeps staff from sharing knowledge and informed opinion about their profession through a blog. For sure there’s more to the ‘I don’t want to’ reason which make people remain reticent to tap away on their keyboard and hit the ‘publish’ button.
I myself only occasionally post what would count as ‘professional blogging’ on the blog community for evaluators I administer to give way to other bloggers. Most of the external writing and outreach I do go into our bi-monthly newsletter, Linkedin Group and Twitter. Yet I’ve made some observations and introspection on a few barriers to professional blogging, and I’m listing them below. While they are particular to blogging in the context of evaluation, some are also applicable to any profession in general.
1. Timing issues. In the field of evaluation, ex-post and summative evaluations are inherently conducted after the fact. They also require presentation to and approval of upper management or a higher governing board. Then they are packaged for dissemination to the wider public. By this time, information contained in the report becomes moot for project management units and perhaps worse, outdated. For the evaluators, it’s also time to move on to the next evaluation. A related barrier is that some evaluators are bound by their contracts to not share any information they are working on until the engagement is over or in some cases, not at all.
2. Fear of feedback. In my opinion, a blog that induces discussion is an effective blog. It means it is being read and subsequently stimulates interaction. Most professionals regard themselves as experts in their field, be it education, public health or the environment. When questioned, they turn hostile to feedback for they believe their level of expertise is infallible. On the flip side, bloggers who lack expertise will naturally attract corrective response. A better way to deal with feedback is to treat them as constructive criticisms for professional and even personal improvement.
3. Bureaucratic firewall. I once ‘found’ someone online who seems to be an expert in the field I am working on, so I sent her an email inviting her to write for our blog. She was very enthusiastic about the idea, but first had to check with her upper bosses to make sure she won’t be violating any confidentiality policies. After I sent a follow up email a few days later, she replied. With her permission, I’m quoting part of her reply: “I feel honoured that you ask again about the blog! But… Unforunately I think the message on my blog has be a “no”. I would have liked to just be free, sharing thoughts, tips and experiences whenever they come to my mind, but the burden of cross-checking each and everything I say across the organization is just too cumbersome and is in no proportion to the time I can actually dedicate to it.” I hope I’m not giving organizations any idea, but this tedious process that can eventually lead to censure is a perfect way to discourage blogging and bog down knowledge sharing.
4. Time. I know a few who have attempted to start blogging, they may have published a brilliant post or two. Afterwards the daily grind of work takes over. And then silence. These blogs lay somewhere in a dark corner of the internet, blogs with single entries where they cease to exist and remain forgotten forever. Unless it is your job to blog, you won’t spend your time blogging because there is lack of…
5. Incentive to share information. Incentives and disincentives are powerful mechanisms to nudge people to do (or not do) something, such as blogging. If your work does not require you to periodically share information, chances are you won’t do it. One way to address this is to explicitly state in the terms of reference that knowledge management including blogging, presenting in webinars and conferences, and other knowledge sharing platforms is part of your deliverables.
6. Locking-in knowledge and wisdom. This applies both to an organization or a development professional. This is understandable if you’re securing a trade secret, a patented product or a successful fried chicken recipe. In international development, this is antithetical where development cooperation agencies, NGO or government should ideally strive to communicate and coordinate their efforts. Some will try to maintain that intellectual edge, and tend to hoard institutional wisdom. Dismantling this attitude of knowledge monopoly is difficult to overcome and replace with building intellectual altruism, as many pioneering initiatives on knowledge management would show.
Until we overcome some of these barriers, be they organizational or the personal in nature, professional blogging will remain on the knowledge management wish list. What do you think will it take to break down these barriers?