Looking back on what worked and what was learned by the AAP’s knowledge management component
As the AAP draws to a close and the national teams work to identify and document best practices and lessons for the future, we realise that much has been achieved. Knowledge management has become part of the routine vocabulary in many national teams. Most of them have been exposed to sharing platforms and have been trained on how to generate, share and disseminate knowledge. However, it was not always a smooth journey. I would like to take this opportunity to share the knowledge I have gained through this experience, its challenges and lessons.
In the regional project document that guided the work of the Regional Team, the AAP’s Output 5 reads: ‘Region-wide knowledge and learning mechanisms are established to raise awareness, engage stakeholders, inform decision-makers and promote exchange and cooperation between countries.’ UNDP has long been emphasising knowledge management (KM) and it seemed natural that KM be given similar standing in the AAP as other more conventional outputs. But for a programme on adaptation to climate change, it was nonetheless a bold decision for UNDP to include KM as one of five core outputs as alongside the likes of adaptation financing and mainstreaming of responses to climate change.
Putting knowledge to work
UNDP’s recently closed 2008-2011 KM strategic plan came about in recognition of the need for the agency to be better organised to respond to the needs of the very complex world in which it operates. Through its global operations, UNDP has accumulated a mass of experience, skills and knowledge that is largely unrecognised or unleveraged. Its KM strategy was meant, among other things, to capture the Programme’s many achievements and mark the way forward to share its global expertise through the collection and distribution of the enormous amount of knowledge produced and available. The approach and rationale of the AAP’s KM strategy mirrored this, albeit on a smaller scale: to provide an efficient mechanism for collecting and sharing the vast amount of knowledge that would be produced by the 20 participating African countries.
KM is often seen as a way to avoid re-inventing the wheel. In respect of this we set out to understand what the KM needs of AAP countries were and to support them to capture, share and capitalise on this wealth of this knowledge. To do this the AAP regional team launched a knowledge management needs survey and put together and implemented a support plan. The plan had four objectives: to strengthen the capacity of national team staff and partners to generate and document content; to use knowledge sharing platforms to assist adaptation practitioners at the local, national and regional levels; to disseminate national level climate change knowledge and lessons learned; and to provide technical assistance to national programmes. This regional support was intended to add value to country specific knowledge management activities and to ensure that the basic capacities to share knowledge would be created in AAP countries.
Sowing seeds in rocky ground
There were four pivotal challenges that we encountered in our journey thus far: minimal initial understanding of KM; difficulty identifying proper KM activities; difficulty embracing a culture of sharing information and knowledge; and limited budgets. I will elaborate on these with a view to identifying lessons that might contribute to any work in this area that follows.
Explaining the concept of knowledge management and why national teams should incorporate it was difficult in the beginning. KM was, and remains, poorly understood in many circles and senior management and decision makers can sometimes be found within this group. This scenario was to be expected, but responding to it was made difficult by a national programme structure in which technical support for KM activities often had to come through UNDP offices. A common outcome was the placing of KM responsibilities on communications teams or officers due to a lack of clarity on the fine, but important, line between these two work areas. Because of this, activities identified early on as KM-related were often of a mixed nature and included elaboration of communication strategies and plans, production of media briefs and press articles, support for research, climate changes awareness raising activities, creation of websites and the like. Instruction and assistance was required to draw the focus of KM activities onto building capacities for knowledge sharing, documentation and the dissemination of best practices—the core of KM project activities.
The culture of information and knowledge sharing has been an important issue at both national and regional levels. It is well known that under any circumstances information sharing within even a small team can encounter a great deal of resistance. What to expect then when the challenge is to share knowledge for use in national decision making? Well, a challenge; the challenge of instilling an often entirely new culture that values the sharing of knowledge and information. One identified way of doing this is to use performance incentives and assess the use of KM time allocated in the terms of reference of staff.
UNDP’s Teamworks was identified as the project’s electronic platform for sharing and storing information and knowledge. A user-friendly platform that was greeted with enthusiasm, its rollout nonetheless highlighted that fostering a degree of passion is a pre-requisite to the successful uptake of a new medium.
Our final widespread challenge was budgetary. KM capacity building in the form of maintaining knowledge platforms, disseminating information and knowledge and organising knowledge fairs require dedicated budgets and specialised human resources. Having national teams set aside such budget lines in the face of competing interests for the resources on hand was always difficult.
Commitment as key
It is clear that much of the work towards implementing independent KM practices among our participants lies ahead; a two-year effort can provide a fertile beginning, but cannot complete the whole journey.
To continue this initial momentum, recognition must be given to the fact that KM produces innovation and increases efficiency based on knowledge creation, sharing and dissemination. It is nowadays seen as vital in the private sector and is becoming a core element of business procedures. This approach needs to be followed by the development sector. It will not be an easy process, but understanding of KM’s acceptance and merits is a pre-requisite.
This leads to what I believe is the single factor that can make or break KM’s impact on a programme: COMMITMENT. For KM initiatives to succeed commitment must be expressed at the highest managerial levels. If senior management is not involved in deciding and pronouncing a clear KM framework and strategy then success will not happen or will fall well short of intended targets. Achievements witnessed within the AAP confirm this: strong leadership and commitment from senior management, as well as the dedicated input of the practicing staff’s time, are key ingredients for the success of a knowledge management programme within an organisation or sector.