KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

Put your name on it

with 6 comments

I’ve been in a number of discussions lately with different programme sectors about how they can better document and share experience. There is both an interest from headquarters to “tell the story” of what we do and what works, and an appetite from our country offices and our partners to get more concrete examples of successful programmes i.e. not just guidance and research, but also some real case studies that show how it is done in practice.

I’ll try to write moire later on the whole issue of what approaches to use to do this, and some of the challenges  – but I just wanted to share an important quick piece of advice based on what I’ve seen.

“Put your name on it”!

Too often organizations, especially UN organizations produce case studies, lessons learned documents, stories, articles etc. without a name on them. They are produced by “the organization”, or perhaps a department witihn the organization.

A nameless article migt be fine in a donor report, or even in public awareness raising, but it has very little use as a tool for sharing practical programme experience. That’s because the document isn’t the whole picture, it doesn’t capture all the relevant knowledge from an experience, only the highlights. The experience shared is intimately tied up with the individuals who were part of the process. Adding the names of the key actors involved in a documented real life experience has several important benefits for knowledge sharing including:

1. You know who to contact for more information – often the case study or report is only the opening for learning. If there is interest to reapply the learning from the experience then you are likely to have additional questions or want to get more information and background documentation. You need a contact name to do this, and a name is much more apporachable than a generic e-mail account.

2. Given all the work pressures, and the still relatively little prioritiy given by many organizations to investing in documenting experience, giving people public visibility for their good work can be an important motivator to take the time to share. Visibility helps reward people for good work, and helps build their reputation together with that of the organization (we are an organization that does good work – because we have good people).

3. The reverse of this is that having aname on something is also good for accountability, and quality. I’m going to pay more attention to the quality of apiece of work if I know my name (and reputation) is attached to it.

4. Name and reputation is also a marker for good work. The reality is that when we read a book, a magazine article or an academic journal article we are influenced not only by the content, but also the reputation of who has contributed to it. So it makes sense for organizations to profile and build the reputations of those doing good work since it not only benefits the individual it also improves the effectiveness of the message.

Basically we should think of case studies, publications etc. not as the end of the story as regards sharing and disseminating the knowledge – but rather as the start of sharing and as a stimulus for a conversation that leads to action, whether between practitioners on how to apply the lessons from an experience, or to work with government to advocate for and then implement new policy. A pubication is a useful synthesis of evidence and experience to inform action – but it takes conversation to turn it into action, and keeping the people in the picture makes it easier to move to this next step.

Written by Ian Thorpe

June 3, 2015 at 2:26 pm

6 Responses

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  1. “Basically we should think of case studies, publications etc. not as the end of the story as regards sharing and disseminating the knowledge – but rather as the start of sharing and as a stimulus for a conversation that leads to action…” this is the statement that resonates with me – too often things are presented as “the final word” – particularly case studies. In any situation there are things that go well and things that go not so well. Using the prsentation of content as an overt stimulus for discussion is all too often overlooked. Its what engagement should be about.

    steve button

    June 3, 2015 at 2:46 pm

  2. +1 for talking about conversations. I wonder though how many of us make the space for conversations in what we define as “work”. Not making the necessary space means that there is never time to engage. Plus you will invariably find that we develop “communications strategies”, rarely “engagement strategies”.

    Makarand

    June 4, 2015 at 2:55 am

    • Fully agree. In house the discussion has thankfully mostly moved on from simply producing knowledge products to discussing how to better disseminate them, but there is still too little thought around how to use them to engage people so that the content gets put to work. Thinking about engagement from the beginning might even lead us to consider deveoping different types of products than we do now.

      Ian Thorpe

      June 4, 2015 at 5:59 am

    • I’m in the content production business, and it never ceases to amaze me that for many clients, the job is finished when the content is produced. Stating the obvious, its just the start. Having sufficient focus – and awareness of the distribution channels available – on reach and engagement is too often lacking or not considered. With the production of any content, having clear targets in terms of what you want people to be able to do with that content – engagement – is critical and needs to be, and can be, measured.

      steve button

      June 4, 2015 at 6:09 am

  3. […] I’ve been in a number of discussions lately with different programme sectors about how they can better document and share experience. There is both an interest from headquarters to “tell the story” of what we do and what works, and an appetite from our country offices and our partners to get more concrete examples of successful programmes i.e. not just guidance and research, but also some real case studies that show how it is done in practice.  […]

  4. […] I've been in a number of discussions lately with different programme sectors about how they can better document and share experience. There is both an interest from headquarters to "tell the story" of what we do and what works, and an appetite from our country offices and our partners to get more concrete examples of…  […]


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