KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

Knowledge sharing as a piece of software

with 4 comments

I was recently doing some research on how different development organizations profile their knowledge management work on their public websites and trying to think how the UN might better profile its work in this area.

In a sense everything an organization puts on its website is knowledge whether it is publications, stories, policy positions, research, statistical data or even press releases. Some organizations don’t explicitly have a “knowledge” section on their website at all and don’t explain the work behind the scenes to generate knowledge and make it available, whilst others go to great lengths to stress all the different knowledge products they have produced. Still others focus both on knowledge products (research, evaluations, lessons learned, policy briefs etc.) and on the knowledge processes they manage (communities of practice, knowledge fairs, trainings, peer-assists etc.).

But I was surprised to see the approach of one very prominent development organization, well known for its work in the area of knowledge management (which shall remain nameless). It has one web page devoted to KM that is linked to prominently from across their public website, and that page features one thing. It is a description of their home-grown tool for workplace social networking/social business. If you want to access the knowledge, learn from others or contribute what you know, whatever you need it’s all there in the platform.

Bold or foolish?

(Here are some of my own views on whether or not platforms should be the main focus of KM  – one of my first posts on this blog)


Written by Ian Thorpe

June 13, 2012 at 2:30 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Ian, can you explain the bold or foolish bit? Is the foolish part about giving away everything they have learned internally to the external world for free?

    If my interpretation is correct, it continues to amaze me how prevalent this attitude is in the development sector (not saying that it is your attitude, but that your comment signals its prevalence). I have heard a number of comments recently from people suggesting they are very cautious about sharing any information as it is this information that keeps them ‘competitive’ in the space. Seriously?

    We survive on donated money. The entire foundation of everything that happens in this sector is based upon using the generosity of others’ money for the greater good, and we can’t even hold the values of sharing what we learn? How many development organizations have “gone out of business” due to sharing their learnings? Is this a real fear?

    The move by your unmentioned organization is a bold and necessary one (though I’m not sure of your reasons for not mentioning them). Best in class organizations know that they will continue to be able to generate insights and do not have to worry about going out of business if they share their results. I hope donors catch on to this quickly and maybe we’ll start to see a sector that doesn’t jealously hoard the little knowledge we have like it’s the difference between life and death.


    June 14, 2012 at 7:10 am

    • Actually my point was a different one. I agree with you about the need for development organizations to open up as you will see in my next blog post.

      The bold or foolish move I refer to is to say if you want to find or share knowledge in our organization use our software platform i.e. the focus on using one single tool (in which you heavily invest) to meet all your knowledge sharing needs. Many organizations use multiple approaches and tools which allows flexibility to deal with different needs but at the same time might dilute efforts to carry out any one approach consistently well. In this case the medium (or platform) is the message.

      Ian Thorpe

      June 14, 2012 at 8:57 am

      • Thanks Ian and sorry for the misinterpretation! Too many recent events conspiring to make my current outlook on KM in development a negative one 🙂

        We’re constantly testing things out here at EWB re: different platforms for KM things and I agree with you on the perils of investing in a single platform. At the same time if there is not the “one true way” to find info if it exists we’re finding we get into a situation where just managing the different KM channels is in itself a KM problem! Would love to hear your thoughts on that end.

        Thanks for the always thought-provoking pieces!



        June 14, 2012 at 9:06 am

  2. I suggest that it’s neither bold nor foolish. I would hope that it is simply the right approach for their organization.

    At Fluor, we have a simple mantra: KM is not about the tool. Working with others in the KM realm, I’ve seen many companies struggle with knowledge management. Too often, the focus is misplaced on the software, and not on developing the culture and processes to support knowledge sharing. Installing Sharepoint (as a common and easy target) does not give you the ability to claim you “do” KM.

    Having said that, we use a variety of tools for collaboration and sharing, but the key tools are (from the user standpoint) in one place, and under the distributed ownership and governance of communities (we call them “knowledge communities” since they don’t conform to anyone else’s definition of either a CoP or network). Having a central resource for the key tools–for us–makes it easier for employees to discover the knowledge they need.

    One of the challenges of multiple, disconnected systems is that the first decision I have to make as a user is where to look? Do I go to the wiki? The forums? The white pages? When do I use which system, and how? While this can be learned and become second nature over time, it can be overwhelming to someone new.

    Still, there are many tools in our toolkit, and the combination will continue to evolve over time.

    Jeff Hester

    June 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm

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