Learning and KM in the Development Sector

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Summary of discussion on Learning in the Development Sector which occurred from 20 to 25 April 2009 on km4dev D-group.

Discussants: Charles Dhewa, Ueli Scheuermeier, Amina Singh, Nancy White, Irene Guijt, Artur Silva, Hege Hermansen, Peter Bury, Pete Cranston, Frey Faust, Sam Lanfranco, Ewen Le Borgne, Atanu Garai, Joanne Fletcher, Margarita Salas and Nadejda Loumbeva.


Charles Dhewa:

Dear Colleagues, Over the past few years, development organizations have started talking so much about LEARNING - coining phrases like Learning Alliance, Learning Organisation, E-Learning, Learning for International NGOs, etc. How can we ensure that learning does not just circulate among people and organizations who already know how to learn? Of course, there is nothing wrong with attaining Masters Degrees and PhDs through learning in the development sector but, how do we ensure marginal communities most of whom are handicapped by illiteracy and use of orphan vernacular languages benefit from this learning? I hope ‘learning’ is not a scape-word for other motives. See how Climate Change has suddenly become hippy, with many organizations lining up to cash in on it as if it has just been discovered. Learning should not substitute ‘Development’ in our work (to become km4learning). If development organizations apply for funding indicating that their main objective is to learn, I doubt if many funders will accept such proposals.

Any thoughts, experiences, methods and strategies.


Hege Hermansen:

Hi Charles, Thanks for an interesting post. I do think 'learning' can be a scape goat for other motives - it can be an effective way of pushing an agenda, packaged in an acceptable way (who can publicly state that they are against learning?). I believe part of the focus on the knowledge and learning agenda is a response to previous criticism of neo-colonialism in the development sector; by reconceptualising what we do in terms of 'learning', 'knowledge "transfer"', and 'capacity development', we signal that we are talking about development that puts the recipient more centre stage (whether that is real or imagined).

There is a gap between rhetoric and practice; in one of my previous organisations there was a lot of money and efforts put into concepts of learning and capacity development, but internally in the organisation there was also an organisational culture that could work strongly against these objectives. I think one of the main challenges with learning initiatives is not that they substitute development, but that their impact is not properly assessed (e.g. reporting on progress takes the form of 'X people attended Y amount of workshops', rather than convincingly documenting that the workshops had a significant impact in terms of achieving a wider development goal).


Artur Silva:

Sorry if this is completely off the spirit of this list, but the same could be said about KM, couldn't it? Could not we say:

"How do we ensure marginal communities most of whom are handicapped by illiteracy and use of orphan vernacular languages benefit from this KM stuff?" Or "I hope ‘KM’ (or Knowledge transfer, or...) is not a scape-word for other motives". And the point may eventually not be "Learning should not substitute ‘Development’ in our work (to become km4learning)" But Learning should not substitute ‘KM’ in our work (to become learning4dev)? Just some questions... PS: This reminded me of an old article about "The Nonsense of Knowledge Management" that can be found here: http://informationrnet/ir/8-1/paper144.html .


Ueli Scheuermeier:

Charles, You're tickling me into a response - though to be honest I have too much on my plate..... How do we know we've learnt? How do we know an organization has learnt? Learnt what? I like the philosophy around "Outcome mapping" where instead of objectives and impacts they talk of "outcomes", and outcomes are defined as observable differences in behaviour - if I grasp that correctly. So having learnt something doesn't mean we now know something that we didn't know before, but that we have started to change the way we behave. I find that intriguing. And that I believe is the yard-stick we would have to apply to all these people and organizations - including ourselves - who jump on the hype train of "learning". Unfortunately of course, when we do apply that yard-stick we discover how dismal the track record of learning is.

But that surfaces a second problem. There is superficial behaviour and there is core behaviour. Superficial behaviour is behaviour that just makes the organization or us look different, but actually we haven't changed anything in the whole machinery of what we do. We still do the same things, just differently. The most superficial behavioural change is when we simply change the jargon. (The most astonishing anecdote in that regard was the social forestry guy in India who told me: "Don't worry about the villagers. If they don't want to participate, we will participate them!").

Whereas with core behavioural changes we really start doing different things instead of doing things differently. The big issue, I guess, then would be to figure out how we discern between core behavioural change and superficial behavioural change. I would challenge all the people saying they have a learning program to show how it leads to both superficial and core behavioural change in their organizations.

Am I talking any sense here?


Nadejda Loumbeva:

Quite often, donor organisations sponsor the development of information and knowledge management strategies at different organisations ... The point behind this is that, if these organisations are better at information and knowledge management, they are also better at development. However, it is difficult to learn unless you know why you are learning. Knowing why is a prerequisite for learning and this should be taken into account when grants of this sort are formulated and used.


Amina Singh:

Charles, Thanks again for bringing up yet another useful topic. And Ueli, yes you are talking a lot of sense to me! as I was reading it...I was going "exactly!".

Why this topic is so close to me is because recently I have been involved as a "learning facilitator" with some organisations...some long term, some short term engagements in Nepal. I am with you Ueli on the use of outcome mapping - I have used that to facilitate design of "learning plans" whereby learners have to be able to identify their outcome challenges ( what is it they want/need to learn to overcome challenges they are facing?) and define indicators in terms of changes in their behaviour ( or in others around them), change in action - doing different things than what they had been doing before ( double loop or triple loop learning as opposed to single loop), and then changes in relationships.

Some questions I have always been trying to understand: • Who needs to learn and why ? I find here the focus has primarily been on the learning of INGO staff who are not that actively engaged in implementing - it is the NGOs and their members having all the hands on action experience. • The context within which one is learning - in our case, in the Nepali society - what does "learning" mean and what is "knowledge" ? How does it affect "learning programmes" or organisation learning in INGOs where they have both expatriates and Nepalis ? • Who are the learners - the Nepalis or the expats ? How are the different people engaged in learning processes within organisations? How are they expected to learn? In a country like Nepal, how you learn, what you learn and to what extent that learning gets to influence the organisational learning process has a lot to do with who you are as a person. • I find that in some organisations, the learning processes, systems are all designed based on what I call western philosophies of learning - and it is assumed that the learner has the skills and attitude and that particular learning style. So if you happen to fit that profile of an "effective learner" - then you get to really participate, otherwise - the whole process becomes an uncomfortable imposition, and most likely you are marginalised in the learning process that takes place... • I feel that most donor agencies/INGOs somehow replicate the feudal system that exists in our society. The subtle assumption among Nepali staff is that the foreigner (male or female) are the authorities of knowledge - that is why they are here - because their knowledge and wisdom is superior. So who are we as the recipients to question them and what do we have to contribute to their learning? There is hierarchy of knowledge authority - the foreigners at the top, then the privileged caste groups ( Brahmins and Chetris etc)..with the marginalised people at the bottom of it - who are perhaps closest to most of the problems that are trying to be solved and actually are most learned and knowledgeable in that regard. How do we acknowledge, acquire, transfer and utilize knowledge and who's knowledge and learning? • These days every international development organisation's agenda is capacity building - capacity building for what and why? For me, the process of capacity building itself is a learning process....for all engaged in the process. I think I will probably go on and on....but my point is something related to what was discussed a few weeks ago in this forum...to do with how development aid works. I feel that unless there is a transformation there...we in the development sector will be "learning, learning, learning" but simply to continue the existing aid paradigm....

Thanks for letting me pour this out....now I am wondering if I made any sense at all with my ramblings up there...


Ueli Scheuermeier: Amina, Ah ree - your are so right about the replication of a feudal system by Donor agencies. I had been thinking very much along the same lines. In Nepal you have the caste-system as a societal model to make sense of what's going on, and true enough, the Donors and INGOs can be considered a caste "above" the Bahun. In Africa it is more difficult to nail down even though the phenomenon is even more pronounced. Unfortunately this is very difficult to bypass because Donors - by definition - are not accountable to the beneficiaries of their benefaction. This is a core problem of working with Donors and many people working in Donor agencies suffer because of it. The ethics are critically flawed (helper syndrome and all that) and the reasons are systemic and almost impossible to sort out. Most people working in Donors and INGOs become inured to this problematic and forget about it in their daily work. They have to, otherwise you can get crazy.

Personally I have discovered that the ethics of capacitation and knowledge transfer and all that works much more smoothly in open and transparent business relationships (as opposed to exploitative business mechanisms that thrive on obscurity). This is the reason I'm increasingly engaged in doing open business with rural people. The problems of "feudal" drop away and other problems appear, but those are the issues of the market place - quite a scary place if you're not used to the sharks and tricksters and gangsters who can move around there. But on the other hand, in open and transparent business the intentions of the partners are clear and mutually acceptable, the ethics are clear and the interactions are informed by understanding and accepting the motivations of your business partner. Nothing feudal there!! Real partnerships!

(Try asking single farmers why they think some people from an NGO are working with them. I do that regularly, and I get surprising answers, but only when the farmer knows I am not linked to the NGO. To get this effect you need to ask individually outside the group, because in the group they have all been conditioned by their long development experience to say the "right" things!).

Capacitation? Oh dear, have we entirely forgotten about the capacitation of villagers for doing transparent and profitable business? It's not that they're not trying hard. I don't know a single farmer who isn't making business decisions almost every day. We just don't address them as such and work with them as business partners, do we!?

KM4BIZ? As for the interaction among various knowledges that you refer to: Back in the 80s (I was in Palpa District in Nepal) and early 90s we had a great time figuring out "Participatory Technology Development" which works on the insight that when you allow local knowledges about farming to interact with globally acknowledged "science", then you get even complex innovations that really work in the village, whereas each on its own doesn't manage to go far beyond the simple stuff like a new variety. Unfortunately I have to say that the big successes we had with that have been forgotten and more or less dismantled through the science-machinery that keeps being funded by Donors.

Our different way of "managing knowledge" and achieving results was systemically undermined by the research funding by Donors that is still in place. The Donor-funded research system is maybe behaving slightly differently, but it is still doing the same things based on the same fundamentally flawed procedures as they were way back then in the 80s. I'm sorry, but I have entirely lost faith in this system to effect any change worth the money being put into it. Just an example: Watching in East Africa how now farmers are lured into becoming business defaulters due to pushing fertilizer on dubious grounds and doing too little about the marketing just drives me up the wall. And it is backed by "science" pushed by international experts that have the institutional backing to silence any criticism! Same stupid mistakes we made way back in the late 70s and 80s. THE DONOR FUNDED SYSTEM HAS LEARNED ALMOST ZERO - but there is lots of money pouring down that drain! To where.... ?

So I must say that trying to get diverse knowledges to interact and come up with innovations has been tried and it has worked, and it has again been forgotten due to the systemics and the money of the feudal system you refer to. You are so right!

So I think I very much see the points you raise and I have much the same experience. So what different things should we do? What is our core learning out of all this? My suggestion is to launch genuinely localized commercial ventures that can earn their own money without donor support to sustain themselves. And with today’s communication equipment we can connect these localized ventures and share and learn from each other. And if we do need public support or the public is interested because what we do is strongly in the public interest, fine, then we go for Public-Private-Partnerships that are NOT projects. The difference is important! (But then again "PPP" is another fad coming up, where recently I hear building contractors talking about doing a PPP when they are paid by the public to build a bridge. That's not PPP, that's a tendered public contract!.... - oh dear, where is the systemic learning?).

Okay then: Localized commercial ventures for development that are globally connected in order to learn to stay afloat and thrive. What does KM then mean in such an environment?


Amina Singh:

Dear Ueli, Thanks for your thoughts...I appreciate it very much. You said, "So I must say that trying to get diverse knowledges to interact and come up with innovations has been tried and it has worked, and it has again been forgotten due to the systemics and the money of the feudal system you refer to". Yes!! In my work, I often come across things that have been done in the past and they worked...and I find that they only remain as stories shared by some people in reminiscing the past. I remember approaching one organisation to get a fuller picture of a certain best practice and see if I could dig up some treasures, I was told "oh the person who ran that project is no longer with us." What does that say about the state of KM and organisation learning ?


Nancy White:

What does this mean for KM? Good question!! It cannot mean just archiving if we are intent on learning. Archiving is a tested and proven mechanism for organisations to successfully forget even their best ideas. Perhaps cynical, but learning, in the end, is embedded in the people. So at some point institutionalizing through KM or formal learning programs will only go so far. What are we doing to encourage a culture and practice of learning at the individual level?


Irene Guijt:

And now I’m tickled to response. I’m intrigued by the idea of core and superficial behaviour change though I confess that it sounds no different from the difference between rhetoric and practice (at least the forestry example Ueli gave was simply describing a talk without walk shift, and not even a talk shift actually!). But I don’t see any value in differentiating between ‘doing different things’ and ‘doing things differently’. This is a non-difference to me. When you do something differently you are doing a different thing so I see these as the same. Take the example of a parent learning to truly listen to their child. A deep behavioral change can mean that you still listen but you listen differently by taking more time or asking probing questions, etc. So you’re doing the same thing differently as well as doing different things (in order to do it differently). The kinds of outcomes encouraged through outcome mapping (what they call ‘progress markers’) includes a mix of doing different things and doing things differently.

I also hear a bit of cynicism in some of these comments (if I may...). We can all be cynical with hindsight about Rio 92 but it was an important event that triggered many conversations, new partnerships, more mainstream thinking about environmental limits, etc. We can always be cynical and sceptical about the extent to which change happens but I strongly believe that starting to have the conversation is also very important. The same holds for ‘learning’. We are now at least challenging organisations about their so-called ‘learning’ vision that they profess to having. We have better ideas about what ‘learning’ is and isn’t. We are developing better ways to see the effects of supposed learning initiatives (I agree with Hege though that we are weak on how this fuzzy terminology translates into knowing results). We absolutely must guard against fluffy-bunny visions and strategies for learning, but also against throwing the whole ‘learning’ discourse out the window by labeling it as a hype and thereby discrediting it.

I really valued Amina’s thoughts as I think that we do risk simply putting in place structures and processes that supposed help ‘someone’ to learn but that allows us to perpetuate more structural problems and sidestep critical questions. So this puts an onus on the ‘triple’ loop level of learning. However, what concerns me related to ‘learning’ is that we assume that there is capacity for reflective practice (it just needs a bit of training perhaps) and willingness ‘out there’ to learn. But there are SO many disincentives for learning at any of the loop levels (single, double, triple) that we do not consider when trying to shift towards ‘more learning’. The structures of aidland do not in general allow asking some of the tough questions, so the learning that happens is single and double loop at best. Back to (other) work now...


Ueli Scheuermeier:

Right Irene, You write: "The structures of aidland do not in general allow asking some of the tough questions, so the learning thatt t happens is single and double loop at best". I think you're making my point: The core behavior doesn't change, ie what is being done doesn't change whereas the modalities of doing it may change and how we talk about it. That social forester who told me "Don't worry if villagers don't participate. We will participate them" had gone through the para-military type of forest-guard training typical for these guys. Their interaction with villagers was obviously confrontational. But he sure learned the right jargon, huh? He sure learned how to play to the new fad that was ringing bells with Donors at the time. So he worked in for a social forestry effort funded by Donors. And it took the Donor-funded expert (myself) a week to discover that behind a facade of all the new language with workshops and meetings and wonderful curricula and what have you was the same old attitude and behavior towards villagers - and that only surfaced after I insisted going out on a field trip of several days into these remote villages to ask the toughh questions on the real things that were actually happening and get a feel for what's going on.

Well.... - we ARE asking the tough questions that - as you say - "the structures of aidland do not in general allow asking". On KM4DEV we are far enough out on the borders of aidland to be allowed to ask those tough questions (or so I hope). The answers to those questions should help me overcome my cynicism and disillusionement with the system in aidland - though I must admit that becoming cynical about what's happening, or not happening, in aidland does help: It helps raise the tough questions and carry them across so they get noticed!!

But do I really care about answers? Why? To improve the workings in aidland? Who understands the systemics of aidland well enough to want to apply the kind of long term systemic leverage that's required to survive a multi-million dollar repainted old steamroller that comes in with new fancy flags fluttering all around it and lots and lots of people jumping onto it? Aw, I better cut it out - cynical again. But it's one of those tough questions I'd like to know how KM can find an answer for.

But I'm not sure I can be bothered. There are better and more exciting and effective things to do..... - at least for me (such as doing business with villagers)! Good luck to those who take up the long haul challenge of doing different things in aidland (I seriously mean that, here I'm not being cynical or polemic).


Artur Silva:

That is exactly the point with "profound learning". I have just finised a book I recomend "Learning as a way of being" (http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Way-Being-Strategies-non-Franchise/dp/0787902462/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1239281373&sr=1-2),

BTW, I can not imagine someone talking about "KM as a way of being"... (That may not be actually completly true: it is true only if we continue to talk about KM as being mainly Knowledge codification, knowledge sharing, knowledge transfer, etc. In what is being called KM 2.0, maybe we can...


Atanu Garai:

An example of doing things differently (or seeing things differently) can be perhaps Bjørn Lomborg's Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World in comparison to other environmental literature. This is obviously using same datasets and literature sources, but reaching altogether different conclusions.


Peter Bury:

'plus que ca change, plus que cela reste la meme chose' 'it's the trends stupid' , humans change little or slowly in their behaviours. Have we thought about community participative gender sensitive climate change conscious knowledge management mapping for sustainability?


Pete Cranston:

Excellent Peter, but a bit careless, I feel, to miss cost-effectiveness from your list (presumably this could be one compound noun in some languages?)


Frey Faust:

Dear All, I have enjoyed reading this thread a great deal. You are extremely insightful people and I am proud to share the planet with you. Just to put my two cents in, I have a sneaking suspicion that we need waste no effort on wondering about the usefulness of learning, even if there is no immediate measurable result. History demonstrates that information exchange is the basis of all evolutionary tendency. Exclusivity is a concern, but it is also a fact that as knowledge pools and is built upon, it requires those who are dedicated and informed to carry on, and that means an elite. Even though this might be seen as unfair, there are so many ways to contribute to the human experience, and so many different kinds of knowledge, that no one person could know everything... at least not at this point.

I think this forum is simply fantastic. I for example would never find the time to study all the things many of you have dedicated a life-time to, and vice versa I am sure. But I feel that I benefit from the glimpses of so many different views and view-points, and from time to time there are ideas and suggestions that are pertinent to my work.


Peter Bury:

Development is learning and learning is development. Of course one can question honesty in objectives and attitude. KM is a young concept - and apart from the fact that humans seem to need trends - and will develop itself over time.


Sam Lanfranco:

FOOD FOR THOUGHT The knowledge management wagon increasingly seems to be sagging we'd really like to know where we might have to go to catch a new wagon to tag on. S O R R Y for that!


Ewen Le Borgne:

Hi all, A lot of different things covered in all these recent mails: 1. The learning fad (see old discussion thread summarised here: http://www.km4dev.org/wiki/index.php/What_is_KM%3F_A_fad%2C_faith%2C_or_fact %3F) 2. The neo-colonialism in imposing one knowledge reference system, the Western one. One of IKM-Emergent's objectives is precisely exploring how to make room for other 'knowledges'. See http://ikmemergent.wordpress.com/?s=multiple+knowledge and http://thegiraffe.wordpress.com/?s=multiple+knowledges on multiple knowledges. 3. The death of KM? (see this Green Chameleon video dialogue: http://www.greenchameleon.com/gc/blog_detail/dead_km_walking/) .. and there were other points mentioned in a.o. Ueli's message.

On 1: There is certainly a fad around learning right now and as usual when an area is under the spotlights, it attracts a lot of 'charlatans', or (less serious case) improvised 'experts' that are too keen on selling their old stuff repackaged with a new wrapping. But usually those fad bubbles also tend to disappear and leave way for those that are genuinely interested in the area. Once the dust is back on the ground it becomes easier to see clearly. The problem is indeed more striking when these charlatans and experts have money and power to influence the rules of the game...

On 2: that relates to the power of imposing development rules. There is nothing new here, it is the story of development too, but we have some room to play around this in a) engaging with as many people as possible (going for cooperation, which helps understand others better) and b) keeping close to our donors, engaging with them to also expose our view as much as possible and let them understand and change - obviously easier said than done but approaches such as Outcome Mapping really emphasise this kind of changes and help. Also check the upcoming KM4D journal issue (late May) which talks about KM strategies. There are, luckily, some possibilities to invite 'other knowledges' to have a say. We are only very slowly waking up to it but I bet in a few years it will not be possible to ignore this just as blatantly as now (anyway, fingers crossed on this one).

On 3: An interesting discussion that surfaces here and there, particularly in the M of KM: How can we legitimately say we are "managing" knowledge if we assume that knowledge is basically a use of information at our disposal combined with other personal characteristics (it could be experience, skills, attitude, wisdom or whatever you want to call it). Again here, the upcoming issue of the KM4D journal will present some perspectives on KM strategies, their intentions, and the various generations of KM they may refer to (with - very roughly - emphasis on 'storing/stocking' knowledge, 'sharing' knowledge or 'co-creating knowledge'). I personally also think that KM has had its days and managing it is delusional (but happy to explore this further), that learning together matters perhaps more, but indeed that even more importantly it is all applied to development, and the latter for me is all about empowerment and/through connectedness.

Very very happy to read these messages about the purpose of KM in KM4Dev! Keep 'em coming! P.S. Sorry for the long message - Twitter cannot capture every message in 140 characters, as much as I like it ;)


Ueli Scheuermeier:

I think you're right Ewen, We can't "manage" knowledge. If we were able to really manage knowledge, then outcomes would be predictable and that would defeat the intention of getting innovation out of knowledge. The best we can do is to arrange for interaction among "knowledges" to happen so that then the sparks can fly and inflame some forgotten combustible somewhere deep in our knowledges that can feed the flame and add some heat to the soup we're wanting to cook and eat in the future....

Ah.... - KM is like building a kitchen? Not cooking! Not the ingredients, not the fuel.... - building the kitchen (ie. the infrastructure and logistics) so that people can bring their various ingredients and fuels and get to cook stuff?


Sam Lanfranco:

There are so many challenges in these areas that my philosophy is that of a "resigned optimist", which means that despite the challenges we have no choice but to struggle on. I am currently reading a difficult (but provocative) book called "Coping with Facts" by Adam Fforde (subtitle: A Skeptic's Guide to the Problem of Development). It is a Kumarian Press publication. It is not an easy read (slightly convoluted writing style) but I am determined to finish it to see where he is trying to go. Part of his thesis (correct in my view) is that much of the development paradigm is based on the authority of experts backed by funding, and little is based on lessons learned from the "facts".


Joanne Fletcher:

Hi, I would like to share this article with you about behaviorism and learning – it makes interesting reading! Enjoy.


Lucie Lamoureux:

Hi Joanne, all, The attachment was too big and didn't make it bit you can download it here: http://dgroups.org/file2.axd/6f7ca219-40b8-4c9b-9a1b-160bea49094c/Behaviorism.pdf


Frey Faust:

The enemies of knowledge

I have often said to my students that I think the worst enemy that knowledge has is teachers. The misappropriation of information for the wrong motivations, transmitted superficially, debases original initiatives that might have been potential catalysts for the provocation of knowledge expansion.

As I stated in an earlier thread, I have witnessed a problematic paradox that arises between the introduction of new personel and the need to update the operating basis of my organization. I have perceived this phenomenon in many other social institutions. Even though structure is obviously necessary, formality for its own sake stifles creativity. When evolution is suffocated, that institution is doomed. It might perpetuate itself through sheer violence, but it is already obsolete and will eventually disappear.

What I believe might be a solution to this tendency, is the recognition and transmission of PRINCIPLES rather than FORMAL MODES, so that the student who appropriates the principle, finds their own mode to apply it, well informed by the successes and failures of others. This practice would at least be more in keeping with the fact that our universe is emergent, in other words that truth is not a constant, requiring a vigilant will to update and alter and transform traditions, no matter how useful they might have been at one point.


Sam Lanfranco:

I would like to follow up on Ueli Scheuenmeir's excellent recap of the ongoing problems that cause a persistent failure to learn in development agencies with one more layer of problems that has to do with poor (or the absence of) decent knowledge management.

NGO's and others with project and program funding are, of course, responsible and accountable to their funding sources. However, funding sources have accountability processes that are frequently inappropriate given the nature of the activities undertaken. As well, more often than not, the staff assigned to do the accountability audits do not have either the knowledge or the skills to assess the activities in context. At best this results in an inordinate amount of the funded organizations time, staff and resources devoted to trying to explain why the audit has failed to understand what it should understand. At worst, it delays payments to lean non-profit organizations that have no working capital, and may even prohibit them from seeking further funding until such time as the issues are resolved. Funding sources may have the finances but often they are lacking in adequate knowledge to properly administer that funding.


Ueli Scheuermeier:

Yes, you are right, this is a further - deeper and more powerful - level of the conundrum we are facing with regard to the failure of development organizations to learn: Accountabilities aligned such that the beneficiaries of a source of resources have no control over the benefactor (my definition of such a benefactor not accountable to the beneficiaries is "donor". Otherwise it would be "government"). Under normal circumstances of a developed state the citizens - through the political process - mandate the institutions of the state to take care of such issues, and control these institutions through the political process, making them democratically accountable.

This insight (preliminary as always) is why I have come to believe that KM in donor agencies and donor-funded NGOs will be a permanent uphill battle that is designed to fail to achieve efficiency in learning for effective development. The accountabilities are skewed, I believe you are entirely right. Furthermore I believe there will always be systemic resistance by NGOs and donors to become accountable to beneficiaries, the obvious reason of course being that they don't have a political mandate from the beneficiares, but more importantly because it would take away their power to impose (never mind all the talk of partnership and participation, it ultimately always boils down to who holds the purse strings). That kind of power is something no organization has ever been known to give away without a fight. - And mind you, I am talking here of the organizations as behavioural entities, not of the individuals who work there, many of whom are superb professionals often acutely aware of the problem.

What is the deeper solutions to this deeper systemically entrenched mechanism of skewed accountability? I don't know..... let me speculate:

A. We could argue that the root cause of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) problems are the failed institutions of the state that are insufficiently accountable to their citizens. Now "state" in my understanding is not only the ministries and their departments and all that. Far more important are the village health committee or the village school committee, or the "village environmental committee", etc. And that - I believe - is where one would have to concentrate: Work at the community base for building the skills and capacity to take care of public interests at that level and build the state bottom-up. That's what we might call "good local governance". (Now watch out: I'm Swiss and this bottom-up mandated notion of state, as opposed to a top-down devolved state, is something we Swiss grow up with and we have a hard time imagining anything else, but I'm aware this by far isn't the usual way this planet seems to work). Unfortunately, if I apply this model, we find way too many wrongly accountable NGOs being funded by donors (meaning the NGOs are de facto accountable to the funding sources, not to the communities they serve) to take up work that belongs into the core domains of the state - ending up being the de-facto government but with little or no local democratic accountability and control. In my observation much of this can be seen as inadvertent sabotage of the emergence of good local governance (what I call "bad donorance",  ;-).

=> So KM for development would have to provide the information exchange platforms and communicational logistics to nurture the learning of the political skills in the communities that build correct skills and accountabilities for "local good governance" in health, education, infrastructures, environment, security, etc? (All we then need to be careful about is that such village institutions may not look like anything we know in western democracies, but achieve the same criteria of good local governance, ie. effectively take care of the public interests at the local level).

B. Well, above A would probably work for domains of the state, ie. those things that nobody can refuse to benefit from, such as basic health, basic education, security in all its forms (including social and environmental security), etc. But what about the economy, or issues that are taken care of by lobby-groups and special interest groups (ie. "civil society")? I'm not sure about civil-society issues. But with regard to the economy, I would expect this:

=> KM for economic development might have to go commercial? With "state" only coming in when and where it needs to ensure the public interest of equitability and avoidance of exploitation, and sometimes maybe just to give impulses? So KM there would be market information and market intelligence platforms, plus some R&D to trigger local economic developments?

Just off the bat....


Frey Faust:

So when are we going to get rid of the debit system? Given all the information we have about technological unemployment, and the inherent corruption of the monetary system, I really honestly think it is time to do away with anything that is holding our society back from manifesting its potential.


Margarita Salas:

One of the things we do is that all projects are worked in pairs, because we feel: - It strengthens the creative process, as you have more than one perspective and someone else to bounce your ideas with. - It safeguards the organization, because if one person leaves then the other can still handle the relationships of the project and has the tacit knowledge necessary to introduce the new person to the project. - It supports the person better, because you're not on your own and if something should happen (sickness, emergencies, overload) someone else is there to help out.

I realize it might sound "ineffective" or "too expensive" but we've found it's an investment that pays off. It of course means that one is usually involved in several projects at the same time, but it also means that knowledge, relationships, mistakes and good practices are less in a silo and more in the open. My two cents.


Frey Faust:

Collaborating pairs, facilitated work groups, regular exchange forums, applied practice and direct feedback labs... in my effort, we use all of these modes. They are all good, and each has their limitation. I have observed that the first pretext for productive collaboration is mutual regard and good chemistry, not imposed idealistic methodology.