The combination of seeing a lot of chestnuts for sale over the past few weeks (the season of roasted chestnuts on the street in Switzerland is here) and thinking about the importance of our corporate intranet has me realising yet again that what is ‘old’ is not necessarily bad.
As it happens, our intranet affectionately known as Pamoja (from Swahili, meaning ‘together’), is not so old. We did a redesign and shift of platforms in 2012, so Pamoja will be three years old this coming February. Still, our new Knowledge and Learning strategy for the coming several years is being created as we speak, and it includes a strong endorsement for greater use of Pamoja.
In one way, I think “Should we really be promoting the idea of uploading more documents and having more collaboration spaces on Pamoja?” in a strategy that’s supposed to be pushing the boundaries of how we work in development? Even the word intranet these days sounds like it should only be used in hushed tones and in quiet corners. Certainly not in public. Why?
I guess part of it is the feeling that a newly minted strategy about knowledge and learning should be talking about social media, mobile communications and the like rather than stale old corporate dinosaurs. The strategy does promote the idea of using social media, and of tapping into the massive increase in connectivity represented by mobile communications for our internal collaboration, not only for projects.
But it also sticks to the idea that if we collectively (and there are about 1500 of ‘us’ in Helvetas in 30 countries, not including our partners) use Pamoja in a more integrated way, we will all know a LOT more about what others in the organisation are doing, and we will see opportunities for us to exchange in different ways of looking at similar problems, and interesting tools that are developed in one place, but could be used in other places.
We do see some of this going on already, not only because of Pamoja, in fact often having nothing to do with it, but I’m convinced that as we all become more comfortable working in virtual environments in addition to the more physical project environments most of us are used to, we will discover new ways to collaborate together, new ways to help each other stay up to date on whatever topics we are most interested in, and new ways to appreciate our common goals.
That’s another thing that we often don’t talk about: the sense of identity, the building of trust that are key elements of having a shared space in which we don’t just do mechanical things like uploading or downloading documents, but we share our insights, we (eventually) ask ourselves searching questions, and we (hopefully) come out on the other side with a little more knowledge, a little more understanding of the diversity and complexity of our world and our respective places in it.
Ok, so I’ve gone a bit far down the road from using an intranet to experiencing transcendental understanding of the world. At the end of the day, we’re all busy people, and we’re all trying to find better ways to do what we do, and to work with our key partners. But I’ve seen enough examples of people who did not know each other before, or at least not well, discover a common interest by sharing a tool or a manual or an idea, having a light go on in their heads and becoming truly excited by something new, to really believe in the potential of a reasonable level of virtual interaction.
The bottom line in all of this? Sure, to get things going from a relatively low level of activity to one where people can easily see the benefits for them to participate means a lot of hard work at the beginning and behind the scenes, but before long those benefits start staring you in the face every time you login. That’s what we want for Pamoja, and that’s what we refuse to give up on, at least for another few years.