KM4DEV Rome meets with Romana Benisch, UNIDO

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Romana took us through some of her research in knowledge sharing within and across the UN. She has identified a set of barriers to knowledge sharing, apparently similar among the different UN and international organizations. These relate primarily to corporate culture. Some of these are:

  • a knowledge-is-power mentality; this leads to no sharing
  • lack of servant leadership (or any leadership ...); this leads to no vision for why to share
  • lack of trust among people who work together; this alienates people and makes them huddle what they know
  • variety of national cultures; this leads to a difficulty in enabling a comfortable environment that encourages sharing and learning together
  • silo mentality; sometimes people do not want to be bothered by or challenged by learning about other approaches and things
  • lack of time; despite that people believe in it, they have no time to share or reflect
  • afraid to ask sort of mentality: this leads to bottlenecks and exclusion

In the above context, we discussed some systemic barriers to knowledge sharing within the Organizations, such as:

  • in the private sector, people are rewarded for saving money, whereas in the public sector, they are rewarded for spending them. this creates competition and aggravates silos. partnerships and cooperation are not encouraged, there are no real incentives for them
  • management is not leadership, and leadership is not management. both are important for knowledge sharing and then both should be appropriately cultivated
  • being a good manager is not necessarily only about knowledge sharing. it is mostly about staff development and human resources
  • removing all the barriers does not mean that Knowledge Sharing will work à need to have a positive influence
  • too often, there is no shared vision within development organizations, and doing too much at once. in this way, even if people want to share and learn together, they may not know in what context to do this and towards what to want to achieve
  • knowledge sharing and management is not the same as IT. this is a popular misconception to challenge and change
  • knowledge sharing and management is not part of Job Descriptions. many jobs are not conceived as having knowledge sharing as part of them --> not a problem in the way we work and the result we achieve but in the inter-organization initiatives participations (who should go to this KS/KM conference/meeting?)
  • too often, knowledge seems to be blocked in middle management
  • there is a wide-spread lack of accountability across the whole of the UN ... apart from being a serious drawback, accountability can also be an opportunity to make the right or needed change (example: if a Director or a P5 screw something up, they do not get punished, at all; if a P2 or P3 does the same, they get smacked, not more or less than this)

The way forward

  • identify, encourage and cultivate knowledge sharing champions who would be continuously inspiring the people they work with
  • change the system (i.e., according to the above) and integrate knowledge sharing as part of technical programmes
  • cultivate informal communities and relatively more formal (tied to the organisational objectives) networks
  • work to foster and eventually institutionalise knowledge sharing from the grassroots, rewards successes, identify and build on quick wins ... meanwhile, work to foster support also at the strategic and policy levels
  • recognise the importance of, after all, adopting approaches that are idiosyncratic depending on how things already work within the particular organization

If one or more of the arms of a starfish are cut, these are grown again, just by themselves. Similarly, people can form self-organising structures that speak and lead to change and renewal.

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