IFAD synthesis project: Phase Two Report
KM4Dev Futures: scenarios expressing values, composition and organization
by John David Smith, Learning Alliances /1
(This is the Executive Summary. The full report is available in two forms. The Google Doc version has functioning internal links. The PDF version is more portable.)
As a lively and long-lived community with a steady growth trajectory, this is the time of KM4Dev /2 to reflect on its values, composition, and organization. It is fortunate that a reflection process has been aided by a grant from IFAD. That grant led to several studies that have been summarized and been discussed over the last year. The present report builds on that work and lays out a framework for thinking about the future, perhaps even to "a plan" or a "business plan". Its purpose is to frame the issues so that such plans could logically follow the values, composition and aspiration of the community, not the other way around.
The report aims to enable KM4Dev leaders and members to adopt a critical distance from KM4Dev looking back and forward. It gathers and combines factual information with observations and comments from people who have been involved over many years as well as some who have just connected with KM4Dev. It focuses on the diverse, tacit and deep values that hold KM4Dev together. If it helps promote an informed, reflective and value driven debate about the future of KM4Dev it will have served its purpose.
The report uses an endogenous scenarios approach to sorting out KM4Dev's present and future. An exogenous approach would look externally to consider threats or opportunities. Instead, this endogenous approach looks inward and asks, "Who are we, what do we want, and how do we connect?" Clearly this inward looking approach reflects the environment and the work that KM4Dev members do all over the world in many different settings.
The endogenous scenarios are constructed along two dimensions that emerged in the several studies, questionnaires, and projects that were undertaken during the past year. The first dimension has to do with the nature of knowledge and therefore of knowledge management. The dominant belief in KM4Dev seems to be that human interaction is fundamental to knowledge generation so that knowledge management focuses on understanding and supporting human interaction in productive ways. A contrasting view foregrounds expertise and focuses on its representation, availability, and dissemination. The second dimension has to do with the kind and amount of organization that is necessary to accomplish KM4Dev’s purpose(s). The dominant belief in KM4Dev has been that informality and a minimum of organizational structure is the most open and flexible approach. A contrasting view argues that more organization is needed to make KM4Dev sustainable.
- In the “current identity”, contribution and participation are guided by individual need and awareness. The community is based on self-organized knowledge facilitation and learning. A recurring question is “Who knows how-to do X?” Regular episodes of face-to-face meetings and ad hoc organizing punctuate the ongoing flow of informal discussion. As suggested above, the contrasting views are part of the mix, but the current emphasis is on interaction as fundamental to knowledge generation, including informal discussions about formal expertise. In this scenario efforts to organize KM4Dev as a whole are secondary to interaction, and minimal organization is either “best” or “all we have.” The report shows how the prevailing emphasis on interaction aligns with KM4Dev’s informal structure: the interaction that is necessary to maintain that informality is a way to generate knowledge, which is what KM4Dev is all about. The uniqueness of KM4Dev suggests how this current scenario or identity might be out of alignment with the views and practices of some organizations in the international development sector.
- In a more "focused future", there is more organization but it is subservient to interaction: there are more focused conversations and organized projects. KM4Dev explores new topics and audiences and greater organization allows for advocacy about knowledge management (“KM”) or international development.
- In a "faceted future", KM4Dev would become a loose coalition of experts who work and exert their influence in the informal public venue that KM4Dev provides. KM4Dev would become a marketplace for services and might take on loosely organized classes and other activities that generate revenue: these would help make KM expertise visible and apply it in the international development sector. Individual and collective needs and offers would coexist without a highly organized framework.
- In a "funded future", a KM4Dev organization would serve the development and propagation of KM expertise. A formal secretariat with a budget and clear agenda would serve various membership levels and meet the needs of the organization's funders.
There are clearly other important dimensions that are not treated extensively, including changes in the field of knowledge management, in the organizations in the international development sector and in the sector itself. How KM4Dev is connected to funders and development organizations, the balance between people from the global north relative to the global south, and technology Infrastructure are also very important issues, as are the differences between people who are very engaged in KM4Dev compared with those who have not been involved in the past.
To stimulate conversations that metabolize or digest the choices embedded in the scenarios in this report, several strategies or activities are suggested:
- Clarify KM4Dev values -- what should be preserved and what discarded?
- Clarify linkages, sponsorship, and the neighborhood -- how is KM4Dev connected?
- Clarify governance, self-organization, leadership and coordination
- Making it personal and individual and sharing it back
- http://learningalliances.net. This work was supported by a grant from IFAD. Many, many people in the KM4Dev community contributed directly or indirectly to this report. Notable contributions are gratefully acknowledged from Pete Cranston, Howard Silverman, the KM4Dev Core Group, the IFAD mini-grant recipients (http://wiki.km4dev.org/KM4Dev_Futures:_Focused_Conversations_2014), and all the respondents to a questionnaire about people’s experience in KM4Dev (http://wiki.km4dev.org/The_KM4Dev_experience_as_a_context_for_thinking_about_its_future). As the goal of this report is to stimulate people to consider and acknowledge their own observations and feelings about the development of KM4Dev, the author offers his own observations and intuitions freely.
- KM4Dev is an abbreviation of “knowledge management for development”.