Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We must look beyond our ‘Ivory Tower’ to achieve effective knowledge sharing

Post by Andrew Clappison, originally posted on CommsConsult’s blog

There are multiple audiences and nodal points in which knowledge must travel to reach its end game, but these points are often not covered in an interconnected way. This is one of the key messages I have take from the AgKnowledge Africa event currently taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Knowledge sharing theories often talk about the need for intercultural communication, but in practice we often follow a different path.

Let’s be honest, effective knowledge sharing can be difficult, with lots of different factors to consider. We need to firstly make knowledge understandable, to make sense of what it is telling us in our native languages. Then we have to think about how we can pass knowledge on to other people within different cultures and societies and through their languages. If this is not complicated enough we also have to think about the resources we hold, the tools at our disposal and the relationships we have formed to help make knowledge travel.

Knowledge sharing is potentially expensive, and donors are not always fully committed to it, and don’t always understand why it’s important. We need put pressure on donors to support knowledge sharing activities. Yet, we can’t simply expect their support, we must also be able to show the value of what we do, and the ‘impact’ it has.

There is a two pronged battle to be fought. Firstly, we need to look more closely at networks and how knowledge travels across them, we need to understand the importance of human relationships, but we also need to think more about non-human actors and influences (i.e. technology and geography). There has been a big discussion at the AgKnowledge event about the use of social media tools, such as blogging and twitter. These tools have enormous potential, but we must also continue to look at better ways of face to face communication and other traditional knowledge sharing activities.

Secondly, in order to continue to support for knowledge sharing from donors, we need to develop more effective ways of monitoring and evaluating our work, and showing the impact it has. This is more relevant than ever, given the increasing pressure on aid budgets post the global financial crisis. But, this is not just an exercise purely for donors; we can all learn and improve outputs a great deal from assessing the projects we work on. Be innovative here and allow your monitoring to work with your projects and not against them.

We have a long way to go to bring all the elements together, to have a truly interconnected system of knowledge sharing. Owen Barder, in yesterday’s opening session warned us that ‘we will never be able to give people the knowledge they need, in the context and place that they require it’, but he did not dissuade people from trying, and this is the important element. We need to keep trying, we need to build capacity, and we need to continuously think of ways of reaching our audiences more effectively.

Louise Clarke in the Knowledge Management Impact Assessment session at the AgKnowledge event currently underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia talks about a new initiative called the Knowledge Management Impact Challenge. This initiative aims to bring into focus effective Knowledge Management assessment practices via anonline platform.

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