A few thoughts about country knowledge management strategies
I was recently invited to participate (virtually of course) in a discussion of the UN country team in Mozambique on developing a UN Knowledge Management Strategy/Plan for the country.
They had already done a good bit of preparatory work in looking at how to develop a strategy and how others had done it, and they look to already be on a good path (with I hope more that can be shared soon). I was asked to give a few general pointers and thoughts to help them in their discussions. These are fairly generic so I’m also sharing an abbreviated version of them here in case they are of use to anyone else. There are many other sources of good information on developing KM strategies in general so these are just a few specific thoughts on doing this in a country context:
- Lots of KM strategies start out with a discussion around the correct definition of knowledge management. My tip – don’t worry about definitions – there are many out there and many discussions about them, and this discussion can be very distracting and it’s unlikely you will get all the different partners to agree as they may already have their own definitions and approaches.
- There is no “best practice” or agreed UN-wide approach to country level KM – just some good examples to look at and consider/adapt IF they fit your own circumstances – especially but not only from “Delivering as One” countries. Also depending on the priority topics you choose to work on, it’s useful to look at and build on existing agency initiatives (e.g. FAO agriculture, UNDP poverty, UNICEF social protection etc.) rather than creating something separate.
- Ask yourselves – what are the key areas in the UNDAF or National Development plan that need knowledge – focusing on knowledge as a means to achieve your programmatic goals rather than as an end in itself. Pick a few priority areas to work on rather than trying to do everything. Pick those topics that you need to work on as a team across UN agencies or with other partners. (Knowledge management is a team sport).
- Look at what knowledge is needed and by whom. Is it UN staff, government, civil society etc., who need access to knowledge. Look at what assets tare already in place and what gaps are there – how can you mobilize knowledge to fill the gaps. Only then look at KM tools and approaches, picking the ones that best suit the needs and the main partners you are trying to serve.
- Remember that there are many different types of knowledge/information/data that you might want to use – not just formal reports and research. Consider which of them are most important and which are in short supply. A non-exhaustive list of knowledge “assets” includes statistical data, monitoring data and project reports, evaluations, research (quantitative and qualitative), cast studies, personal reflections (from experience), expertise both from individuals and networks, beneficiary or partner feedback.
- Make use of existing systems and tools where possible (including agency specific tools – trying to open then up to broader participation) and build on them, only developing new ones if nothing else exists. Remember to include national systems in this.
- Remember that KM involves three main aspects people, processes and technology – you need to consider and invest in all of them together. In particular don’t over-focus on technology without considering the human aspects of getting people to use it effectively.
- Remember to focus on the use and end-users of knowledge, what they need, what format they need it in and what are their challenges in using it, not only on how knowledge is created and shared internally. Knowledge isn’t useful if it isn’t used.
- Integrate knowledge management into your programmes as a key part of the programme rather than as a stand alone activity. The means in particular building KM into project design by thinking about how knowledge is used to achieve programme goals, but also on including feedback loops from programme beneficiaries, and in ensuring that the programme includes a learning element to capture and share whatever is learned from its implementation, both within the programme, but also for the benefit of the wider organization(s) involved.
- If you are faced with “information/knowledge” overload” focus on those things which are most practical and actionable for the work you are trying to achieve.
- Remember to develop capacity of staff and partners to manage knowledge effectively in addition to developing the strategy itself. Just helping your team and partners to have better skills in capturing, sharing and using knowledge can produce important gains and create goodwill.
- Identify a few “quick wins” that everyone can agree on and that can show quick progress while you are working on your longer term perfect master plan. If you wait until everyone agrees on the broader strategy and plan you might wait a long time. Better to build some momentum and get something done.
- Similarly don’t be afraid to try something, find it doesn’t work and drop it, change it or take a different tack altogether. It pays to be a little flexible in implementing knowledge management in a complex multi-stakeholder environment unless there is a clear consensus among all on what is needed.
- Remember that in terms of external knowledge management work there are several roles an organization such as the UN can play i) a knowledge provider, bringing in the right expertise and research from the UN system ii) a knowledge broker helping connect partners with the best knowledge globally, not only from the UN but also others such as through south-south cooperation iii) developing the capacity of partners to be able to generate, access, manage and use knowledge themselves. It’s important to think about which role you seek to play based on your own priorities and capacities and also those of your partners.
- Think about what is the UN’s added value in knowledge vis-a-vis other partners. For me some of the unique characteristics of the UN are i) the normative role i.e. as the guardian of universal standards whether on human rights, health or even issues such as maritime law ii) universal presence – because we are everywhere we also have access to expertise from everywhere iii) convening role: the UN is often seen as a neutral convening power that can bring together different parts of society including government, civil society, private sector, academia and others in a way that is often difficult for governments or bilateral partners such as donors to do.
- Effective knowledge management work requires leadership and incentives. Leaders set the tone for how an office functions and their interest and their example shows whether this area is considered important for the office and what the expectations of staff are. All projects need leadership of course, but in knowledge management the attitudes and behaviours of staff are particularly important and this is very responsive to the attitudes and behaviour of management and how they hold their teams accountable for this area of work. Similarly, to get results then it is important to include monitoring of those results in office plans, regular reporting and in job descriptions and performance appraisals.
I hope these are helpful, and welcome feedback or additional tips.