Knowledge Management – Attitudes – Practices
People familiar with Communication for Development (or C4D, behavioural change communication, social mobilization or the other names this discipline goes by) will no doubt have heard of KAP “knowledge-attitudes-practice”.
This is the idea that in certain areas of development (often but not only health) require changed behaviours on the part of the beneficiaries. A classic example is the need for regular hand washing with soap in order to reduce transmission of disease.
A recognition of the KAP approach is that is not sufficient to provide beneficiaries with the knowledge that washing hands reduces the spread of disease to get them to do so. Changing behaviours requires first that the knowledge is transmitted (in a way that is understandable in the local context), that people’s attitudes about the issue are changed and then finally that they adopt new, healthier behaviours and regularly practice them. Anyone who is a parent has probably also experienced this first hand when trying to persuade their children to regularly brush their teeth – and knows that it isn’t sufficient just to tell them that all their teeth will fall out of they don’t.
In the KAP model in order to move beyond transmitting the knowledge it is also important to look at the attitudes of the beneficiaries – what do they believe about the issue – are there fundamental cultural, moral, religious beliefs that affect the way people think about new knowledge they have acquired, or perhaps there are deeply ingrained habits Or perhaps there are other barriers such as peer pressure, or financial constraints that stop them applying what they have learned.
KAP is well-known and applied approach in communication for development and is used in a very broad range of areas from hand washing, use of toilets, family planning, HIV prevention, prevention of early marriage, or school attendance etc. etc.
What is a little surprising to me is that the lessons and approaches used in communication for development are not more widely applied to knowledge management and knowledge brokering work. In both cases the ultimate purpose of knowledge is behavioural change i.e. you want practitioners or policy makers to change what they do based on the knowledge you share with them so that their actions are “evidence-based” or “evidence informed”. But in a lot of knowledge work we put most of the effort into creating, documenting and then packaging and disseminating the knowledge, but rather less on understanding and influencing the attitudes and behaviours of those we hope will use the knowledge.
Too often we assume naively that if we explain our knowledge logically and clearly, or package it nicely then it will be sufficient. Yet in practice there are many unseen barriers to get policy makers and practitioners to change their behaviours and put new knowledge to work. And so an important part of the knowledge broker or knowledge manager’s work should also be around removing barriers to use of knowledge and encouraging changes in attitudes and practices. Some of this I covered in a past blog post on creating a demand for knowledge. In the context of programmatic and policy knowledge the barriers are often in the form of a lack of institutional incentives (or even disincentives) to use knowledge. These can be overcome – if you look at doctors or technology developers they need to be constantly learning new knowledge to stay in business – but in aid and public policy work this link is not so clear.
They can also be in the form of ingrained attitudes or views about an issue (such as: “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and know all I need to know to do this work”, “I don’t trust economists/sociologists (name your discipline)”, “I don’t trust the experience of my staff/beneficiaries-they don’t know anything”) or maybe even the evidence goes against their own deeply held moral or religious beliefs – policy makers are subject to the same culturally based biases as beneficiaries (you only have to look at some of the public policy debates in the USA).
We would do well to adopt some of the tools and approaches from communication for development and social mobilization and apply/adapt them when thinking about sharing and brokering knowledge both within the organization and in trying to influence partners to use it. These are not just about transferring information or giving direction, but are also about engagement of our “audience” with the knowledge to contextualize it into their own situation and worldview and incorporate their own knowledge, opinions and needs into the process. There is even a set of tools used for measuring the need for and effectiveness of communication for development work known as KAP surveys which measure both knowledge on an issue, but also attitudes and actual practices to help understand how well public health messages are getting across and the impact they are having. We might also think of looking at ways to use this same approach to measuring the effectiveness of our knowledge work to understand not only how well knowledge has been disseminated and whether people are aware of it, but also whether it is influential and has changed their behaviour (and if not why not) – that could be a good start to trying to understand how to do it more effectively.