Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • The Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has published an interesting Knowledge Management Toolkit for the Crisis Prevention and Recovery Practice Area. BCPR “is responsible for consolidating UNDP’s CPR-related knowledge and experience; providing a bridge between humanitarian response and the development work of UNDP; and acting as an advocate for crisis sensitivity in the context of development policy.”

    This Toolkit was created out of the BCPR’s commitment to make UNDP a global leader in crisis prevention and recovery by ensuring that knowledge gained throughout its network is shared efficiently to make UNDP’s response to crises more effective. The Toolkit features specific knowledge management techniques that BCPR recommends for use in preventing or responding to crises.

    The Toolkit includes a discussion of the Golden Rules of Knowledge Management, which involve asking whether content about to enter the KM system complies with the following criteria in that it is:

    - meeting demand
    - strategic
    - relevant
    - practical
    - replicable
    - accessible
    - personal
    - critical
    - followed up

    Given the urgency of the work of UNDP and its focus on crisis and recovery, the benefits of mastering knowledge management techniques are great. For those of us who work in less urgent circumstances there also are benefits to be gained from effective KM and this Toolkit helps by providing learning that has been tested in extreme conditions.

    [Thanks to the UK National Library for Health website for providing information on this Toolkit.]

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  • The ICT-KM program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research has created a Knowledge Sharing Toolkit that provides guidance and resources for organizations interested in developing knowledge sharing among their employees and constituents. Nancy White at Full Circle Associates asks that readers take a look at the Toolkit and send in their feedback. They are particularly interested in feedback from nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations and international development organizations. But even if you work outside those areas, it would be well worth your time to consider the materials provided by the Toolkit. You’re sure to find information on tools and methods you haven’t yet tried in your organization.

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  • Stan Garfield’s Weekly Knowledge Management blog highlights an interesting publication from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on the hows and whys of knowledge audits called Auditing the Lessons Architecture. When the ADB embarked on a strategy for building up its knowledge assets and developing a knowledge-sharing culture, it decided to use knowledge audits to

    (i) identify knowledge needs for policy, strategy, and operational efforts; (ii) draw up an inventory of existing knowledge products and services; (iii) recognize gaps in knowledge products and services; (iv) analyze knowledge flows within the organization and knowledge exchanges with outside agencies; (v) identify blockages to knowledge flows; (vi) create knowledge maps; and (vii) suggest agenda for organizational change.

    This booklet documents how they did it and what they discovered in the process. The lessons learned are universal and could be applied to many other organizations.

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  • Knowledge management efforts that focus solely on deploying technology to deliver content efficiently are missing a vital element: they don’t provide the means of helping the knowledge worker learn collaboratively from the experiences of colleagues. In other words, they don’t create or exploit natural learning processes within an organization that lead to the adoption of best practices and lasting cultural change.

    A 2007 study sponsored by the Swedish Agency for Development Evaluation, entitled “Knowledge and Learning in Aid Organizations” noted that

    Although the main focus remains on the development of technology for the effective handling of data, the recognition that knowledge transfer involves extended interpretation processes rather than simple information communication has led to a certain rapprochement between the knowledge management and learning organization fields. Knowledge management initiatives are increasingly seen as parts of larger organizational strategies aimed at creating climates and cultures that facilitate sharing and collective learning from experience (Pedler et al. 1991).

    [I found this study courtesy of KM4Dev, a great website offering knowledge management resources for development professionals.]

    What are some ways of exploiting the synergies between KM and learning (or training/professional development)? In the law firm context, ensuring that the firm’s professional development materials are included in the knowledge management collection is a good start. More importantly, no new best practices guide or model document should be distributed solely by e-mail. It is far preferable to tie the launch of the new KM content to a specific training session where participants can talk with the authors and each other about the document. The resulting interaction broadens and deepens the opportunities for learning and cultural change. Then periodically, sponsor a session at which lawyers can review current practices or model documents to see if they still reflect the best of the firm’s experience and judgment. Each session reinforces the learning and cultural change that should be the desired outcome of knowledge management efforts. And, along the way, the firm also creates lawyers who produce higher quality work product more efficiently.

    Purposefully marrying formal training opportunities to knowledge management content is a great way of leveraging both and creating something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

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  • What can a Wall Street law firm learn from Bolivian farmers practicing semi-subsistence farming methods? A lot with respect to using knowledge management to foster innovation and make lasting changes.

    In the case of these farmers, innovation was enhanced greatly when (i) knowledge management was the joint effort of multiple actors, including development agencies that provide knowledge and technology, farmers, financial institutions, and government, and (ii) the farmers were embedded in productive social networks.

    A 2007 study of Bolivian farmers (Hartwich, F., M. Monge Pérez, L. Ampuero Ramos and J.L Soto, 2007, “Knowledge management for agricultural innovation: Lessons from networking efforts in the Bolivian Agricultural Technology System.” Knowledge Management for Development Journal 3(2): 21-37) compared the impact on the innovation behavior of farmers of two different methods of transmitting knowledge: either by a direct one-to-one transfer of technical assistance or via a combination of multiple sources of knowledge supported by a network of technology providers, farmers and a variety of public and private sector agents. Looking at four different agricultural innovation programs in Bolivia that used different methods of knowledge management, they found that the acquisition and adoption of knowledge is not a linear process. Consequently, the programs that relied on the linear, direct knowledge transfer were less successful in fostering change. Therefore, to promote innovation and lasting change, knowledge managers need to follow an approach that combines multiple non-competing sources of knowledge with active social networks.

    The usefulness of the social networks was critical. The networks allowed the farmers to take the knowledge and technology provided and then test it against the experiences of other trusted individuals. In the words of the study’s authors, the farmers in these networks do not merely adopt the new knowledge, but they also “practice, process, improve the knowledge and adapt it to their needs and local conditions.”

    Coming back to my organization (a law firm) and yours, what does this study suggest? That merely making information and tools available via the knowledge management system may be a reasonable first step but is ultimately insufficient. This effort needs to be supported by fostering active social networks within your organization that help the individual knowledge worker take that new knowledge, test it, adapt it and ultimately improve it.

    In the context of a law firm, having great content and a slick content delivery mechanism (e.g., a Portal) is a good start. However, until that content is absorbed by the lawyers, tested in the company of trusted colleagues, and adapted to client needs, it isn’t really useful knowledge. And if we don’t have really useful knowledge to manage, what are we doing?

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