KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

Doing the job, or getting the job done?

with 3 comments

I got a bit of stick from some commenters on my recent bleg post looking for interns/volunteers to supplement the work of my under-resourced team.

One commenter remarked: “This is a shame! UNICEF should shape up and: address their internal budgeting, or stop claiming they practice knowledge management, or just pay people that work for them”

I don’t think it is that easy, for UNICEF or for me.

Our small Knowledge Management team is trying to introduce new ways of working, new tools and new techniques across the organization to help it become better at capturing, sharing and using knowledge in its work. This is not only for our own internal benefit but also to help the governments we support and the countries we work in make better use of knowledge for children.  The potential is huge, the challenges daunting and the resources we have to do it are  extremely limited.

I do believe that our team is massively under-resourced for the challenges we face and the expectations that are placed  on us from the organization. And I’d like for this to be changed and that there would be a better understanding of what it takes to do KM work well, and greater recognition for what we do.

But at the same time, we are in a period of fiscal restraint across the organization – there are multiple emerging priorities competing for limited funds, and an emphasis to focus our efforts on strengthening country operations rather than new headquarters functions.

So it’s highly unlikely we will get the kind of resources we need to do the kind of things we really need to do. This might be because we’ve not made a strong enough case for the value of what we are doing (and we’re certainly working on it), or it might be that there are just too resources to go around for an organization like ours to deal with the vast array of issues and situations we need to deal with.

So what should we do? I can see two possible paths:

1. “Doing the job” –  Do what we can with the resources we have (and no more). This means budgeting our activities carefully and only doing those for which we have an adequate budget, enough time and clear demand from our management. We still get to do things that are valuable and help the organization, but we don’t kill ourselves in the process. We fill in our plans and spreadsheets, report our results, get paid and go home to our families – doing a good job –  but not changing the world, because we don’t have the resources to do that. Of course this means that we also don’t do anything new, unless we have a clear request to do it with an adequate budget to go along with it.

2. “Getting the job done”:  try to do whatever can reasonably be done to move things forward despite the constraints. Try new things to see if they work, try to persuade the organization to do things that you think will make the organization work better, even if people are resistant and don’t initially take to them. Try to mobilize resources wherever you can including getting volunteers, interns , free trial-software, borrowed equipment. Try to bring in knowledge through external networking, try to build internal support through relentlessly engaging with people and also helping them with things that are “not your job” and are not “in your budget” but where your expertise can help. Work late. Take risks. Fail. Succeed.

I think in a large aid organization you might just be able to get away with either path. But which one do you want to do? and which one will the organization be thankful to you for in the long run?

I think despite the challenges, if you believe that what you do can make a difference, then you do what you can to get the job done (or you get another job).


Written by Ian Thorpe

February 2, 2011 at 4:56 pm

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. it’s easy to point the finger (at UNICEF, at the UN), but let’s remember that these institutions are a result of the countries that make the UN, and for the most part, the trend is to increasingly decide FOR the UN where you want your money to go (less core resources and more earmarked ones), according to each country’s priorities. And lets face it, nobody wants to pay for HQ, for security, for training, for knowledge management, …, and everyone like to send money to the big current stories (Haiti, Pakistan, soon Egypt), and the field. It’s the same with M&E, everyone wants it, nobody wants to pay for it.

    So we need to start taking responsibility, making our governments accountable and advocating for what we think is important.


    February 4, 2011 at 10:39 am

  2. Hi Ian. I’ve got a bit of crowdsourcing/ KM/ Open Data background – anything I can do to help, just ask. BTW, are you part of the RapidFTR crowd?


    Sara Farmer

    February 8, 2011 at 6:38 pm

  3. […] supplement the work of my […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: