Knowledge management 3: another dimension

4 min read
Image: WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya

Knowledge management is behind several elements crucial to our drive to increase our accountability to the people for and with whom we work. Guest author Pete Cranston and Aditi Chandak, WaterAid’s Learning and Knowledge Advisor, introduce the next phase of WaterAid’s Knowledge Management Review.

In 2016, we blogged twice about the WaterAid UK Knowledge Management (KM) Review. In our last blog, we shared how we searched for and communicated stories of success around learning and KM, and how to have positive conversations which will help us to learn. We have recently begun the next phase of the work – a ‘knowledge and learning accelerator project’. In this blog we introduce this project and focus on some practical ways forward for strengthening learning and (KM).

All our KM work is focused on WaterAid’s core purpose – to ‘develop new and strengthened ways of working to enable us to maximise our impact’. Improved learning and KM skills and processes are also fundamental to successful planning, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting (PMER). These are crucial elements in increasing our accountability to those for and with whom we work. Further, KM is important to build evidence for influencing and to effectively advocate, influence, and disseminate knowledge to enable sector strengthening and change.

For the next 18 months, we’re working in four countries to explore ways in which individuals, teams and leaders can embed improved learning and knowledge sharing into their everyday rhythm of business.

Individuals, teams and leaders

Synthesising findings from the review, it became clear to us that a practical way forward in which WaterAid could learn from good practice was to focus at three levels:

1. Individual

Sustainable change starts at the level of personal attitudes and actions, with individuals changing the way that they behave and act with other people. We consistently came across WaterAid staff, at all levels, who were models for their colleagues in, for example, how they consistently sought: to question; to seek learning about what works well and not so well; to engage with others collaboratively in addressing challenges and embedding learning; and to respond enthusiastically and voluntarily to requests for ideas and support.

Personal capacities, skills, learning and communication preferences, and work patterns, all influence how an individual engages with their work context. The work culture in each location influences hugely how effective individual efforts in learning and knowledge sharing can be, especially in terms of staff motivation. And, of course, commitment of resources and leadership from the top is necessary to support a minimum standard in communication and other competencies relevant to learning.

But a range of daily choices are down to individuals, for example:

  • What to prioritise
  • How much to question assumptions and current practices – be critically reflective
  • Whether to seek learning from outside the immediate context
  • Whether to make the effort to share ideas, innovations and lessons more widely

Six main themes emerged:

  • Curation – selecting and filtering, and sharing information relevant to particular projects
  • Communicating effectively with others
  • Critical reflection on current practice
  • Networking and connecting
  • Learning

Competencies describing good practice in these areas can be used as a checklist, or for staff development.

2. Team

People work in teams, whether organised by projects or programmes or by organisational structures. Presenting a vision of how the best teams in the organisation work can provide a yardstick for comparison. In this section, five themes emerged from the study:

  • Learning is at the centre of team plans and activities
  • Knowledge-sharing practice caters for individual learning preferences, enriching the global programme while capturing learning from elsewhere
  • Communication facilitates the flow of information and knowledge across the organisation
  • Partnership and networking
  • Knowledge capture

3. Leaders

Management is always encouraging and often facilitates learning activities.

The management is extremely supportive to reflect, learn and share.

These two quotes from WaterAid Bangladesh and WaterAid Madagascar staff are typical of colleagues interviewed in the KM review. They illustrate the central and unsurprising finding – that senior leadership drive and support is essential to establish and nourish a supportive learning and knowledge-sharing culture.

A further output from the review was a simple KM culture review tool for management teams to use with their staff to understand current perceptions of how the culture supports effective knowledge sharing and learning. The output can form a baseline against which progress can be measured.

Knowledge and learning accelerator project

This 18-month project gives us an opportunity to strengthen learning and KM in the selected projects of the country programme. The accelerator project aims to enable teams and staff to become more efficient and systematic in how they reflect on progress and share learning. It began with the appraisal and identified gaps which will feed into the action plan.

We will continue to blog from the project as we explore how to learn from the findings of the appraisal tool, and how best to take the recommendations forward to strengthen learning and KM in the daily rhythm of business.