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Posts tagged ‘knowledge management’

Monitoring and evaluation for management

When donors think of M&E they tend to think of demonstrating influence; but when think tanks think of M&E their first concern is how this may help them improve their own internal management. Monitoring and evaluation for management ought to be the first concern of donors, but it isn't. This post presents a useful review of tools for management that think tanks could use.

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“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less”

A great comment by Anthony McL. Collins on my post on K(star) pointed to this paper on The nonsense of ‘knowledge management’ by T.D. Wilson. I do not often post a paper without providing a review it but this is worth reading it all.

Relevant to the K* discussion is his conclusion to the section related to use of the term by consultancies:

The conclusion to this brief exploration of consultancy Web sites is that ‘knowledge management’ means different things to different companies and that one or two of them that have previously dabbled with the idea have moved on to other things.

Here is Anthony’s comment:

I really like your comment “the proponents of K* have created more jargon”. In fact KM is indeed a jargon-ridden field. For a not at all new but still true and provocative view of KM, this very serious and detailed paper of 2002 by an eminent University of Sheffield professor is a must to read: “The nonsense of ´knowledge management´” :

The religious proponents of KM will be very upset, but the simple truth is that the “K” letter is really a fundamental misnomer. Knowledge is something elusive within the minds of people, while INFORMATION is what we actually manage. But it´s not nearly so engaging as a term to pontificate on and amplify as K* variants. Actually, when I first read this paper, I nearly collapsed laughing, as the frank description of what passes for KM in the world of consultants is hysterically funny, but also revealing of a sadly pseudo-scientific activity.

For a thoughtful comment on the Wilson paper “Knowledge Management in the Real World” is also worth reading:

As an aside, I am aware of a large global organization that initiated a KM program some years ago, then finally evolved the name into a KS ( =K Sharing) program, so that blogging, twittering and diverse other Web 2 social activities could be racked up as major global “KS” achievements within the program that barely achieved any KM. The fact that school children everywhere routinely do these … no further comment needed !

The Richard MacManus articule to which he refers summarises Professor Wilson’s findings of the study of KM journal articles:

  1. A concern with information technology.
  2. A tendency to elide the distinction between ‘knowledge’ (what I know) and ‘information’ (what I am able to convey about what I know).
  3. Confusion of the management of work practices in the organization with the management of knowledge.

Anyone who has worked in the sector will certainly have to agree with this first conclusion. The obsession with IT is palpable. Even the K* conference appears to have been covered by an army of bloggers and twitters.

Do read Professor Wilson’s paper -if anything for a good background on knowledge management- whether you believe it is nonsense or not.

(And, for the record, I accept the frequent misuse of the term: will do my best to avoid it in the future.)

K* (and * stands for what exactly?)

Knowledge management sounds as if we are controlling knowledge. Knowledge facilitator sounds as if we are not getting involved. Knowledge translator sounds as if we are just using google translate. Knowledge transfer? Intermediary? Etc. All that and more is the subject of the K* event being organised in Canada this week.

I’ve heard about this for some time already but am still not sure what it is supposed to be about, although every one seems to be in on it. (Even Appleton Estate rum.)

Dr. Alex Bielak is the main proponent of this idea/event and has shared some ideas on the GDNetblog. In a post titled What is KStar Initiative and why do we need it? he says:

er… he doesn’t really define it. Instead:

What was important to us was “getting on with it”, and not letting the terminology – important as it might be – get in the way

Ultimately I don’t think we should be spending a lot of time debating what we call specific elements

I am unfair. He has a video in which he tries to describe what K* is. K* is an attempt to stop the expansion of meaningless but interrelated terms to describe similar activities/roles. Instead of having lots of different groups, let’s have one, in other words. I agree with this. Jargon can be addictive. But it feels a bit contradictory that to get rid of jargon the proponents of K* have created more jargon.

I do not disagree with any of these two statements but it feels, however, that dedicating a whole conference to the concept of K* is kind of ironic -to say the least. It also feels a bit odd that one of the conference’s objectives is to help practitioners demonstrate their impact. So is it not clear that they are important yet?

But back to the concept. Alex Bielak does offer some guidance in the form of a framework (diagram) that points at what he means by K*. There is more in the Green Paper but I warn you that it is full of jargon (and, granted, lots of interesting literature). Let us see:

  • Push and pull: The framework assumes that policy pulls and research pushes. Sure, this happens sometimes but it seems to forget that the policymaking machine is full of researchers, policy analysts, data crunchers, etc. They push knowledge as much (if not more) that researchers in academia, civil society or the private sector can.
  • K* also assumes that there is a separation between producers, intermediaries, and users. As mentioned in the point above this is not always the case. In fact this is rarely the case. Professionalising K* therefore seems rather odd. It would be like professionalising research instead of professionalising economics, law, physics, geography, etc.
  • Does Policy Pull refer to policymakers asking for evidence to make decisions or for policymakers asking for evidence to support decisions already made? If the latter then maybe it should be Policy Push instead.
  • The emphasis on policy pull (see the video) is telling of the people involved in this sector. They tend to see the world in a very organised way. They come from the civil service in developed countries, or from the health sector where the idea of evidence use is already well ingrained into its DNA, and, most important, are not (or tend not to be) content experts nor influential.
  • Throughout the literature on K* and the video one can get the very clear sense that there is an assumption that knowledge moves in the direction of policy. This linear view of the world is contradictory will that K* is supposed to be advocating for. But this is the problem with attempting to model complexity -inevitably we have to simplify it.
  • I do not quite get the difference between translation, adaptation, transfer, and exchange and brokering and mobilisation. The K* community may not be too keen on definitions but these words mean different things and they need to be explained. E.g. A broker is: a person who functions as an intermediary between two ormore parties in negotiating agreements, bargains, or the like; while a translator is: a person who translated -and to translate is to turn from one language to another, to change form or condition, to explain in terms that can be understood, to move from one place to another, etc.
  • Somehow media communications (the media being a key source of information for policymakers) is left out of the K* box -and far away from policy. But the media does all these things that the * includes (it translates, it adapts knowledge, it transfers it from one space to another, it exchanges it in private and in public, it brokers access to information on behalf of the public, it mobilises knowledge, etc.). If ever there are K* professionals these are journalists.
  • Big-C and little-c communications: Again another distinction that sounds nice but is difficult to support. When an organisation communicates a brand or communicates to the general public it does more than just pushing a logo. Advertising is not about the logo but what the logo represents. Successful corporate communications are able to pass on layers upon layers of content and context information with a logo, an image, a sound, etc. Influence, particularly the influence of research, is closely linked to the perception of credibility of the organisations or individuals trying to do the influencing. Corporate communications (Big-C) are therefore critical and impossible to separate form little-c communications.

There is another worry I have. This focus on K* distracts us from the fact that this is already happening all around us. There are several institutions (and specific organisations) that fulfil all these * functions on a daily basis and by design. What we should be doing is focusing on them and strengthening their capacities rather than trying to relabel them or individuals within them.

Think tanks (if they do their job properly) act between academic and policy (and between others too). The media acts between the public and the public interest. The civil service acts between politicians and the public (including NGOs, researchers, etc.). Political parties aggregate evidence, values, interests, and other forces; then they act between politics, policy, and other actors. Etc. These institutions, whether we like them or not, are impossible to replace -unless we do away with our political systems (and in that case new institutions would be necessary).

My opinion is that if donors want to make a real difference they ought to fund these institutions and not attempt to create new ones. Fund the media (and journalism schools); political parties (and political science and public policy faculties while you are at it); fund civil service reform (and the necessary professional cadres: economists, sociologists, managers, etc.); fund professional associations and chambers of commerce (the unsung heroes of intermediaries: this is where research, policy, and practice comes together).

Above all, focus on people. When a competent medical doctor from Malawi meets a competent medical doctor from Canada and they talk about what each other knows there is not need for intermediaries. A competent engineer from Germany will have no problem sharing his or her knowledge with a competent engineer from Zambia. And a competent economist from the United States will not have any problems reading a paper by a competent Vietnamese economist. And the same is true within a country: a good economics professor will have no trouble talking to a good economics journalist, and he or she will find it easy to have a conversation with an economist in the treasury

This is what professions do: they use a common language to ensure that their members can talk to each other regardless of where they are. When the right people talk to each other they need no toolkits and not K* practitioners.

Don’t fund websites that republish what others have worked hard to produce (this is probably illegal -unless they were of course not getting paid to do it), don’t wast money on short term workshops to train people on how to use quick-fix tools or make them aware of new frameworks; don’t get too exited by new fads and all encompassing ideas (when have they ever worked?).

I won’t be able to follow the K* conference but will have a look at what it has been published after its done. I hope to learn more about:

  • What * is and is not (so far it seems like it could be everything  -is anyone not an intermediary between at least two other people?)
  • Why is this really that important that it merits a global conference
  • What roles do political parties, the media (and particularly journalists), the civil service, the private sector, think tanks, academia, etc play in all this?

Any contributions are welcome.

ICT-KM Program of the CGIAR

An excellent source of very useful information and resources for think tanks on online communications and knowledge management. CGIAR’s ICT-KM program has put together a very good page:

ICT-KM Program of the CGIAR

Particularly interesting are the “How can I…?” tutorials, including:

More manuals and resources 

Developing the capacity of your organisation: river diagram

A while ago I used this tool in a needs assessment exercise with organisations in a couple of programmes I was working in. Then last month I was asked by another programme about a tool to decide what areas to develop capacity of among a group of organisations.

The River Diagram, described here by Chris Collison  is a very useful tool that can save you expensive consultants inputs -why bring in external help if you have the skills you need right there among your own?

There are other things you will need, though. First, you will have to develop a competencies framework (a set of competency areas that you consider crucial to assess and then compare across your organisation or network). Here is a good general guide. When I was in RAPID we used this competency framework drawn from the Knowledge Management field.

Competency frameworks can be used for different aspects of the organisation. For example, you could have one for Human Resources purposes: in ODI the HR team uses a competency framework to monitor staff performance (and this is then linked to pay); the RAPID example above focuses on the KM competencies of the organisation; but we have used it to address policy influencing competencies as well; and obviously you could develop a research competency framework, too.

You use this framework to assess the current competency level as well as the desired future level. When I have used them, I tend to stress that basic levels suggest that people do things in an ad-hoc manner, always something different, never what has been proven to work best. The higher the level, then the more evidence and experience based and the more systematic the behaviours observed. To use the framework, you can, for example, highlight the statements that best describe the behaviour of your staff or other organisations more accurately. In the diagram below, yellow denotes current behaviour and blue the ideal future one. Please note that not all competencies aim to the highest level (in this case 5).

These assessments are sometimes done as self-assessments. In my experience this rarely ever works. People tend to lie. If you are doing a self-assessment then demand evidence for every statement. And if you see lots of 4s and 5s then you should take that as a sign that the information you have is not very accurate. Why would an organisation of 4s and 5s need any help?

Once you have done this for all the parties in your group you can move on to develop the river diagram as described by Chris. A flipchart will do.

Barriers to sharing from Chris Collison

Four syndromes that prevent the development of a marketplace for ideas in an organisation -only 5 minutes!

On the supply-side:

  • Tall poppy syndrome: the tallest poppy is the first to be cut off
  • Shirking violet syndrome: I am not sure I’ve got a good idea, let’s leave it to the central services people, to the experts

On the demand-side:

  • Not invented here syndrome: corporate antibodies that try to resist new ideas that come from outside the team or the organisation
  • Real men don’t ask directions: this is self-explanatory (although this also applies to women)

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Handbook on monitoring, evaluating and managing knowledge for policy influence

A manual from CIPPEC: Learners, practitioners and teachers Handbook on monitoring, evaluating and managing knowledge for policy influence (I’ve already provided the link but I think it was not working then).

Evidence based policy influence is a topic of growing interest to researchers, social organizations, experts, government officials, policy research institutes and universities. However, they all admit that the path from the production of a piece or body of research until a public policy is sinuous, fuzzy, forked. In this context, it is not surprising that the practice of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the policy influence in Latin America is limited. And, indeed, a limited development of knowledge management (KM) on the experiences of advocacy organizations in the region is also observed.

Incorporating monitoring, evaluating, and managing of knowledge between the daily practices of policy research institutes is well worth it. On the one hand, the use of these tools can be a smart strategy to enhance the impact of their research in public policy. On the other hand, can help them strengthen their reputation and visibility attracting more and better support by donors. In turn, the design of a system of M&E and the beginning of a KM culture, if approached with a genuine interest in learning, can become a valuable knowledge that bridges motivation for members of the organization.

In short, these practices can improve targeting activities, better decide where and how to invest resources, and formulate more realistic and accurate strategic plans.


Compendium of Knowledge Solutions from the Asian Development Bank

As usual a very useful resource from the Asian Development Bank.

The competency approach befits knowledge management and learning. Knowledge Solutions are handy, quick reference guides to tools, methods, and approaches that propel development forward and enhance its effects. They fit in five comprehensive areas: (i) strategy development, (ii) management techniques, (iii) collaboration mechanisms, (iv) knowledge sharing and learning, and (v) knowledge capture and storage. In general, raising organizational performance is contingent on progress in all five areas; however, the Five Competencies Framework can also help determine priorities for immediate action by selecting the area that will yield the greatest benefits if improved. Knowledge Solutions will appeal to the development community and people interested in knowledge management and learning.


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