Moving people's focus away from KM "products" to KM or KS processes

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Original Message

From: Lucie Lamoureux, posted on 2012/09/10

Hi everyone,

You may recall that back in April, Nancy White started a discussion around a question posed via video by Gauri Salokhe from FAO. This was to kick off our New Discussion Series, where a KM4dev member poses a question and for two weeks we collect the responses, then ask the "asker" to react to the answers we received and then update the KM4dev wiki with this information.

For this new installment, Charles Dhewa and I have the pleasure to welcome Chase Palmeri from IFAD. A big thanks to her for doing this and to Charles for taking the video when he was in Rome! So here is Chase's question:

How do we move people's focus away from KM "products" to KM/KS processes? You can view the short clip here:

After you have a look, please reply to this message. The discussion will run until Friday Sept 21 so please chime in!

Thanks to all, Lucie, for Charles and Chase


All replies in full are available in the discussion page. Contributions received with thanks from:

Jaap Pels
Ueli Scheuermeier
Christina Merl
Tina Hetzel
Tariq Zaman
Jocelyne Yennega Kompaore
Ewen Le Borgne
Artur Silva
Johannes Schunter
Sebastian Hoffman

Related Discussions


The question posed by Chase Palmeri from IFAD in a You Tube video ( related to the difficulty to get managers and other Headquarters-based people to move their focus away from KM as a product (i.e. reports, newsletters, etc.)., to KM as a process, which was easier to do with her field-based colleagues.

Some of the main points that came out of the discussion:

  • Jaap Pels argues that the development sector is heavily focused on tangible outputs/deliverables/results in logframed world and that is isn't in the interest of organisations/hierarchies/managers to change that. To make people/managers start to value the processes, the only way is to change the 'framing of the problem' and to change the metaphors and vocabulary used, through a face to face meeting far away from the office, preferably on the ground in the neighborhood of the ultimate beneficiaries of development cooperation and to make it interesting for them, suggests to discuss around some posts by Owen Barder, Ben Ramalingam and Tim Harford (see Recommended Resources [1])
  • Ueli Scheuermeier suggests to get the desk folks in HQ to discuss THEIR practices, THEIR challenges, THEIR headaches and ways to do things (ie. how to push proposals efficiently through the bureaucratic process, how to move money reliably and fast to where it is needed, how to explain problems with partners when they happen, how to engage and interact with private sector funders, how to deal with ICT-hiccups, not what happens out there at the implementation front. Also to make sure it gets to be experienced by the intended actors that the exchange platform and the process there IS the "manual", not some document for reading up on
  • Christina Merl added that this is exactly what they are doing (or trying to achieve) in the organisational context she works with, and she wonders why organisations are always so focused on KM theory and documentation rather than listening to their practitioners and change and improve their work processes accordingly
  • Tina Hetzel never had a good answer when her former chief asked her: "How do I measure the process?" but it did help that the organizational culture at the time believed in processes rather than products. She thinks this is because of the HQ people had worked before in the field and knew about processes. So she believes we need managers with field experience, evaluation with the people/participants and managers who take this kind of evaluation the most important base and easy measurement instruments that focus on processes and learning.
  • Tariq Zaman suggested some very useful readings on the knowledge processes and measurement of knowledge processes and process oriented Indigenous Knowledge Management (see Recommended Resources [2])
  • Jocelyne Yennega Kompaore believes that KM is less a product or a process, but rather a state of mind and a personal, then a collective attitude. Products are useful but processes make it possible to come up with quality products. What makes you invest in the process, value the products and gives you autonomy in action, is what she finds most important
  • Ewen Le Borgne thinks it boils down to the same old tricks always: clarify objectives, surface expectations, show the way/lead by example, connect/engage with champions and with nay-sayers that can be convinced, find local advocates (peers from hard nay-sayers who could perhaps influence the latter on your behalf)and amplify what's going well (see his blog post and testimony video in Recommended Resources [3]). And start from managers' existing problems and perhaps use their own reasoning: what info products can we use to solve these problems? What have we tried in the past and what were the results? It's likely they will come to the conclusion that they need to look beyond products. In parallel, build a list of successful examples of KS practices, for which you need to develop a simple but strong set of feedback mechanisms online and offline.
  • Artur Silva asks, shouldn't we be discussing the question of «Moving people away from KM/KS "products" and processes towards KC/KE products and processes?» (“C” from "Creation", “E” from "Enabling").
  • Ueli Scheuermeier shares this link to "creation" and "enabling" and calls it "knowledge competence". Competence in the sense of being able to make a difference in the real world, like the difference between knowledge and doledge. He gave an example of what KC/KE is all about (see Examples in Application below [4])
  • Johannes Schunter argues that for complex problems there is not one known best practice,solutions have to be explored on the go, through a series of experimental steps (doing it!) and feedback loops (real-time evaluation and adjustment) at the end of which you arrive at a state that leaves you better off, but which you could never have figured out on your own in the beginning. This requires and environment that allows for experimentation, collaboration and the constant flow of comments and feedback which feed right back into the next iteration of doing it. It's exactly the opposite of a top-down development process where "experts" bring in the lessons and good practices aggregated long-term from other projects. Creating that environment is the challenge.
  • Ueli Scheuermeier brought us back to Chase's original challenge Chase: creating and sustaining such an environment is "the process" and the "product" here is a vibrant learning exchange and debate among practitioners but that's no good for people who have to justify the spending of money by presenting hard accounts in reports. He thinks it IS possible to draft such reports from the process described in his example, through an approach where people act as a kind of journalist, going in, talking to actors and writing up stories. Such stories make a good case but yet, when hard figures have to be used to go beyond anecdotal stories, then business plans have to be drafted to convince investors to come in (not the typical developmental report back to donor HQ at all!)
  • Sebastian Hoffman sees the focus on "KM products" mirroring a static understanding of KM whereas in fact KM/KS is a dynamic and ongoing management & organisational development project aligned to core business processes and shifting away from KM products towards KM processes would mean a change process. He says the KM software is the knowledge organisation which has in-built KM products, e.g. an assessment, a journal and the knowledge organisation must be built & mature . As soon as the KM software is the organisation itself, the focus on processes comes naturally because any organisation needs constant process improvement.

Resource person's reflection

[Chase's reflection here]

Examples in Application

Ueli's story of what KC/KE (or dolegde) is all about:

"There is this project financed by IFAD that allows farmers and traders and service providers to figure out how to move agricultural products along the value chains in a more efficient way. The interesting thing was that there was this mentored platform that allows them to share experiences and worries and even do business together when moving Maize or Beans or Sorghum or even chicken and livestock from farmers/herders all along the chain to the ultimate buyers who actually put the stuff into their mills or slaughter the animals.

What is unusual here is that there were no "experts" making instructions. All the real actors in the market knew that nobody knew how to pull this off. So everybody was relieved that they could figure this out themselves. There was no huge survey and data-collection to nail down what to do. Everybody knew that by the time you had a rough grasp of what's going on, the dynamics of the market will already have changed. What then happened is that actors in these chains started doing small little stuff in new ways, learning like crazy all the intricate and complex issues that influence their success in getting agricultural produce to good markets and good money back into farmers pockets - all the while those guys figuring it out making some money on a commission basis (de facto shifting from a buy-low-sell-high middleman business model to where they earn a commission tagged to the income of farmers).

This has been a learning process going for a few years now, whereby all the lessons were learned on-the-job doing the real thing, and shared and debated and figured out through what we came to call "peer-exchange learning".

So: Knowledge creation by the actors themselves!? And operational competence ("doledge") resulting out of the actual trying out and sharing?! All the while farmers making around 20% more from their products, buyers not paying more (due to efficiency gains along the chain) and the guys providing the service making money on a commission both farmers and buyers are happy to provide (and actually the successful ones making more than when they buy-and-sell themselves). BTW we've gone commercial with this whole thing, though keeping up the competence building is still something the system still can't finance out of its own proceeds of course. So along comes the next challenge: How to grant tax-money into commercial companies for them to learn to become successful (capacitation again)? Nobody seems to REALLY know how to do that down on the ground where it counts, so how do we learn to do it? KC again, and then KE?"

Recommended Resources

  • Complexity and development [presentation and podcast]: HeaderPeople working in development don't need to be told that it complicated, in the sense that there are lots of problems to try to solve. But there is growing interest in the idea that economic systems are complex, in a specific sense borrowed from physics and biology. Books by Eric Beinhocker and Tim Harford have popularised the idea that these processes may be at work in economics, and a new book of essayslooks at how complexity thinking might affect economic policy-making. Earlier this year, the Kapuściński Lecture considered the implications of complexity thinking for development economics and development policy. Now there is an updated version as a narrated online presentation which lasts about 45 minutes. You can watch and listen online