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  • Zack Adams 5:56 am on May 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The End 

    I learned, foremost, a great deal about the realities of NGO work.  I offer the caveat that I was just an intern and worked in the headquarters office.  But, far from a romantic opportunity to do good work on conflict resolution despite the no pay, it was reminiscent of a quintessential cubical setting.  I faced a computer monitor for most of my time there, disconnected with any end product.  Part of this the hardship of intern work.  Part of it is the nature of centralized, headquarters work.  Nevertheless, the experience has reset my conception of what this particular kind of non-field NGO work will be like.  It is good to have the proper expectation.

    Additionally, this particular NGO environment seemed to reward good ideas, but also rewarded confidence of presentation.  Due partly to my position and my personality, I would present ideas sheepishly.  The manner in which I presented my ideas negatively impacted their reception despite the solid content of my statements.  I suppose this is true outside the NGO realm as well.  Confidence and content are essential to communication.

    Despite some criticisms, the internship was a positive experience.  I am better equipped now than in January to decide about pursuing the NGO field.  I gained some insights about the importance of DME and about the organizational structure of such a decentralized NGO.  I also gained some more specific skills in mixed methods research (in which I had no previous training) and in DME.  I would probably recommend this internship to other students, but with the instructions to be assertive and to be critical of the tasks and projects assigned.

  • Zack Adams 5:28 am on May 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply


    Two things that SFCG does well are embracing some newer approaches to conflict resolution and recognizing a good thing when it comes along. The first results from my surprise at the degree to which local stakeholders are involved in projects. More than eighty percent of the employees of SFCG are local nationals in the various countries of operation. One of the newest projects is a television drama called The Team. It utilizes near-universal love of football to show conflict resolution among multiethnic members of a soccer team (though, Pakistan’s version follows a cricket team). Actually, The Team is many dramas. It is produced separately in each of eight countries and addresses the unique conflict issues of each. And each is primarily written, directed, and produced by local community members. As to the second point, the fact that this program has become so successful is wonderful; SFCG is concentrating massive amounts of energy into its expansion.

  • Zack Adams 6:04 pm on May 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Mixed Methods, ,   

    I am rather close to completing the Mixe… 

    I am rather close to completing the Mixed Methods Research Module that seems to represent the primary product of my internship. The previous version (the second draft) of the module was reviewed by my supervisors and returned to me with some mixed reviews. While they felt that the structure and important touchstones of the module were present, the primary concerns seemed to be with my language choice, with the absence of examples, and with explicating some of the strategies for approaching mixed methods projects. In the ensuing weeks, I spoke with some people at SFCG who had been in the field about their experience with mixed methods design. My co-intern, a former participant in SFCG’s International Internship Program in Sierra Leone, pointed me to some documents on monitoring and evaluation for SFCG’s radio programs in that country. These documents revealed a strategy that combined qualitative research in the form of interviews and focus groups with target audiences with quantitative research that was based on the subsequent data. Perfect! So I integrated this example, along with a number of non-SFCG examples to address the second issue.

    The language concern dealt with my use of “academic” language and the probable audience. This issue vexed me. First, the academic language was partially a result of the way in which I’ve been taught to communicate formally over the last seven years and partially a reflection of the manuals and books from which I got much of my own guidance on mixed methods research. Nevertheless, I should have been conscious of my audience. Rather, it should have been made clear who the audience is. Once this was made clear, I remained in a difficult position. The audience has a range of educational backgrounds from very, very little formal education (usually for some local “Searchers” who have not been afforded many educational opportunities) to graduate-level professionals. So the question is, “how to be understood by those with less formal education, yet respected by those with more?” The question remains unanswered. I took out some more technical terminology and reworked some sentence structures, but the decisions on language use need to be discussed among the ILT team, potential users, and even the funders of the project (primarily USIP, I believe).

    Finally, the particular strategies were not difficult to elucidate. I should have gone more in-depth with triangulation, etc. in the first place. I also added some visual aids in the form of circles and arrows. Those types of visual representations of processes and designs are of little help to me personally, but may help others (and seem to be favored by my boss) with different learning styles. I have yet to receive formal commentary on the reworked module, but the preliminary response of my direct adviser was quite positive. In the time between submitting that module and receiving commentary, I began a new project working with some indicators for monitoring and evaluation. The project is so very unclear to me that I feel I’m fumbling along in the dark. I have been asked to compile indicators from various organizations into a single excel document. I am left with more questions than answers. What is the point of this document? Who will use it?

    I feel that this has been a common theme during this internship. I feel improperly oriented to what I’m doing and a bit alienated from any sort of end product. It is understandable that this would be the case in nearly any internship, especially in an NGO headquarters. But if I understand the origins, context, and implications of the work I am doing, I imagine the work I produce would be significantly higher quality.

  • Zack Adams 10:13 pm on March 28, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Same old 

    I continue to work on making a training module for mixed-methods research.  I am having to reorient my approach a bit because my audience wasn’t quite made clear to me when I started.  On creating my first draft, I received feedback about weeding out the academic language to make it more accessible.  I’m all for it!  In fact, if I could get away with shunning academic language in my academic career, I would!  The point of writing is to communicate ideas and information, yes?  So why not write so that people will understand?

    Anyway, so I tweaked my module a bit.  It’s a little difficult to know just how in-depth I should go.  There are entire courses taught on this stuff.  And I don’t feel like I should be trying to enlighten the users about the philosophical underpinnings of the mixed methods paradigm of research (pragmatism, as opposed to quant’s positivism and qual’s constructivism).  It’s also difficult to write for such a diverse audience.  Who are the workers in the field?  What is their background?  What information will be most relevant to them?

    I wanted to enlighten myself about some of this with a summer internship in SFCG‘s International Internship Program.  It would take me to one of SFCG’s twenty-two country offices around the world to do fieldwork.  But a competitive applicant field and a clerical mishap seem to have conspired against me.  There is still a little hope though.

  • Zack Adams 3:29 pm on March 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply  


    I completed a first draft of the training module on Mixed Methods Research and submitted it to my bosses a couple weeks back.  I just recently received their reviews and it seems I have some work to do.  I guess the problem I ran into was being unsure exactly who my audience is and how in-depth to make it.

    I’m no expert on research methods.  I took a Stats class last semester that afforded me some orientation to quantitative methods.  So some of this work must train me first, then I must apply some concepts of pedagogy to the stuff.  So you can see that knowing who I am talking to makes a big difference.  I was told these modules are for practitioners in the field of conflict resolution.  But practitioners can be anyone from people with an MA in IPCR here at American to people with little formal education that are trying to improve their communities.  I am used to writing in a particular style since I was an undergrad, so I must remind myself to shed the academic language.  To make these modules engaging for anyone.  It’s tough.  Not as easy and straightforward as I anticipated.  But that makes it more exciting!

    • fblume 4:16 pm on March 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      How did they give you feedback? In a meeting or in an email? Did they say what they thought was good as well as what changes they wanted?

  • Zack Adams 2:54 pm on March 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: internet, ,   

    A Brief Update 

    My internship at SFCG continues without earth-shattering developments (though I get to use my boss’ office while she’s in Armenia: fast computer and a window over Dupont Circle!).  The Knowledge Management project is proving even more difficult than I first imagined.  As I mentioned in previous posts, KM tries to deal with implicit and explicit knowledge.  Explicit knowledge is supposed to be the easy one to collect and disseminate.  While it is certainly easier, I am discovering that the great global equalizer of the internet is not quite as ubiquitous as I’d thought.  My director recently returned from Sierra Leone to  report on the utter snailpace bandwidth available at country offices in sub-Saharan Africa (where most SFCG country offices are located).  Since my thinking had been that the internet was the tool to address at least some of our KM issues, this makes me take a step back and reevaluate my assumptions about access.  It seems that we can purchase greater bandwidth, but the next greater speed comes at four times the cost.  As a cash-strapped NGO, can we justify this extra expense?  Will it improve our efficiency or outcomes enough to offset the cost?  These are, of course, salient and persistent questions for any organization’s (for-profit or not) decision-making bodies.  In the meantime, I will do some brainstorming and see what ideas I can generate…

    • fblume 4:25 pm on March 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      What’s the status with mobile phones? I know in some places where broadband is prohibitive, they use smart phones.

  • Zack Adams 7:10 pm on February 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Managing Knowledge 

    I have assumed a position on SFCG‘s Knowledge Management Working Group, which is tasked with developing a plan to manage the various forms of knowledge and institutional memory in the organization.  I’ll attempt to explain that more below.  The group is made up of two of my bosses (the Director of the Institutional Learning Team and a Senior Researcher in Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation), the Senior VP, the Executive VP, the Senior Programme Adviser, the Web/New Media Manager, the Director of Operations, the Executive Assistant, me and another intern.  I hope I’ve not forgotten anyone.  These are some of the top people in the organization (myself excluded) and I’m increasingly realizing how important this project is.

    I’d never done anything with knowledge management before.  I couldn’t have defined it a couple weeks ago.  I went to Bender Library to check out a couple books on knowledge management for organizations.  It seems that there are two types of knowledge in this instance: implicit and explicit.  The latter is in the form of reports, documents, and training manuals.  This knowledge is generated and written down and can be disseminated fairly easily.  Implicit knowledge, though, is more difficult to deal with.  It comes in the form of experience and lessons learned by individuals.  It doesn’t usually exist in a tangible form, so we have to design a means of capturing the oral tradition of the organization.

    This stuff is important because it will make SFCG much, much more efficient.  Each time someone begins employment, they are largely left to start their position from scratch.  There is little continuity between employees, which hurts the momentum of the institution.  By being aware of the enormous amount of knowledge generated by the organization in the past, we will be better able to move the organization forward.  We can do so much more to advance the cause of peace.

    • FB 1:24 pm on February 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      So, how do you think you can capture that institutional knowledge? That’s the toughest.

  • Zack Adams 6:01 pm on February 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , lingua franca, wiki   


    As the weeks have continued on at SFCG, I have become more aware of my broken language skills in (what another intern termed) “organizationspeak.” This is a made up phrase, I think, but it captures well the phenomenon. I hope it doesn’t hearken too literally to Orwell’s Brave New World. When sitting in meetings with my colleagues, I found initially that the plethora of English words carried little meaning to me. Part of it is my nascent familiarity with the organizational concept on which I’m working: knowledge management. That phrase alone carried almost no meaning to me initially. From what I gather, however, it is about trying to nurture the enumeration and sharing of knowledge across the organization. But even this carries little weight with me. What knowledge? I struggle to link the rhetoric to the real world.

    With a rudimentary notion of the task at hand, I dived into the meeting with a suggestion for a real end product of the whole knowledge management project. I was proud of my gumption. On the “action plan,” someone had typed “wiki.” I drew everyone’s attention to it. Developing a wiki for the organization would be a simple, relatively cheap task that allows for tagging and cross-referencing articles on information from anyone. It’s decentralized and simple to use so the headquarters personnel are not the only ones with the keys to it. It’s adaptable and can incorporate multimedia aspects if necessary. I pointed all these aspects out as necessary components of a knowledge management plan. Maybe, I said, a wiki is not the answer to all the problems, but it could be a major component of an end product. The silence and stares caused a bead of sweat to form across my brow.

    I’m not entirely sure if I did something wrong, or if I completely misinterpreted the project or problem. It was awkward though. I tried. Perhaps it has something to do with my use of normal English, rather than organizationspeak.

    • Marie SPaulding 6:23 pm on February 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply


      Keep using that normal English! Someone needs to protect our common language!


    • FB 3:13 pm on February 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think they were speechless because you had a great insight. Or, you stated the obvious (to them). But I’ll bet it’s the former rather than the latter. And remember, it’s good to be bilingual!

  • Zack Adams 8:49 pm on January 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: applying, , resumes,   

    How’d I Get Here? 

    In response to a comment, I’ll mention how I got here. An advertisement for an open internship in the Children and Youth program of the Search for Common Ground was sent out on the SIS listserv sometime in December (naturally, in the midst of finals and the associated confusion; I must thank fellow blogger Mohsin for goading me to apply). As requested, I submitted my resume and cover letter via email and waited. I know that positions here tend to attract some significant numbers of applicants, so I gave them some time before attempting a follow-up.

    (More …)

    • FB 7:32 pm on February 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      That’s a great story of how one door may close but another could open! Thanks for sharing it!

  • Zack Adams 6:09 pm on January 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Zack Adams’ Introduction 

    I’m a first year graduate student in the School of International Service’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution program.  I am primarily focusing on genocide and post-genocide transformative issues, but I am also interested in  refugees, internal displacement, natural disasters, and human rights.

    I’ve just begun an internship at the Search for Common Ground, an NGO that focuses on conflict transformation and peacebuilding.  I will be working in the Institutional Learning Department and look forward to filling you in on what that is…

    • Mohsin 10:09 pm on January 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Can’t wait to see updates of your work at SFCG.

      • David Fletcher 6:20 pm on January 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply


        Many AU students have interned here and many more would like to. Can you mention how you found this opportunity, how you landed it and what like best about what you are doing?


    • FB 7:23 pm on February 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      How did you get interested in these issues in the first place?

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