Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Session Report: Is There a Business Case for Knowledge Networking? by Stephen Rudgard

Session: Is There a Business Case for Knowledge Networking?
Room: Flag Hall
Time: 21 January, 09:00 - 10:15

Four of the panel members represented separate virtual networks for knowledge sharing, three from FAO and one from IFAD, and the fifth panel member was a Division Director from FAO. They briefly explained the nature of their networks and how they are resourced. They noted that each network has its own business case tailored to the partners’ needs.

The panel responded to the question “What would stop happening if their networks were closed down”, saying that their networks’ outputs would have to be developed in other ways as they were essential to their organizations’ work. These alternative approaches would not be as effective or efficient at sharing information and knowledge, would take more time, and would cost considerably more. It was agreed that although virtual networks worked very effectively as mechanisms of sharing and collaborating on technical topics, they were often less successful as forums for institutional decision-making.

Panellists stated that their networks would only continue to function properly if stakeholders receive tangible benefits from the network, and if face-to-face events for stakeholders are held periodically to reinforce the virtual knowledge-sharing activities.

It was noted that it is critical to monitor and evaluate the performance of networks, with indicators that look beyond the levels of activity and engagement of stakeholders into more tangible outputs and their uptake, use, and impact.

In terms of investment and resource requirements, panellists noted that their networks had very different funding models, and that they depended to a varying extent on in-kind contributions from other stakeholders. It was concluded that the return on investment should be considered in addition to the actual costs of networking activities. In this context, it was stressed that face-to-face events which are crucial elements of successful networks often need considerable resources and represent a major proportion of the total investment.

The panel responded to the question “What is the one aspect to be considered when starting/creating a network?” as follows:
  • Establish and maintain clear objective(s).
  • Establish the benefits to be offered to the stakeholders.
  • Consider resource requirements carefully and allocate adequately.
  • Reconsider periodically the validity of the objectives and resource allocations.
  • Be prepared to adapt the process and modify the technology platform.
  • Define the timeframe of the network, and note that many successful networks are short-lived.

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