At the beginning of April, Knowledge Managers from diverse backgrounds travelled to Geneva to witness the formal inauguration of the Knowledge for Development (K4D) Partnership and to honor the UN Joint Inspection Unit’s (JIU) report on Knowledge Management in the United Nations system. There was a broad consensus that the lack of ways to measure impact inhibits the potential of knowledge management and that the community needs to raise awareness for the importance of KM in preventing reinventions of the wheel.
By Natalie Frei, SDC
Change is a matter of knowledge
Last October, the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) published a report on the state of KM in the UN system. According to JIU “knowledge is the main force that determines and drives the ability of private and public organizations to act efficiently”. The JIU concludes that KM is an indispensable tool to achieve the SDGs.
One of the biggest challenges is the fact that the impact of KM cannot be explicitly measured in terms of monetary savings:
KM prevents the waste of money, time and human resources and one cannot measure what is prevented.
UN managers’ investments in KM tend to be reluctant or to focus on quantifiable knowledge only while there are insufficient policies in place to retain tacit knowledge associated with human resources and experiences.
The authors of the JIU report were honored with the Knowledge Management Award 2017.
The Agenda Knowledge for Development
Shortly after the Agenda 2030 was ratified in 2015, a coalition of civil society organizations, enterprises and academics, initiated and led by Knowledge Management Austria (KMA), started a two-year process that resulted in the Agenda Knowledge for Development. The goals of the agenda were based on statements by knowledge managers from various backgrounds.
In order to achieve the 13 goals to strengthen the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs, the Agenda K4D demands action on the individual, private and public sector levels. Therefore, KMA decided to pass on the baton to the newly created K4D Partnership.
A partnership with many visions
At the conference, speakers from very different backgrounds shared their ideas and visions. Here, too, one of the recurring topics was the lack of ways to measure the impact of KM and the associated difficulties of funding new projects. Overall, the “culture of accountability” was criticized and several participants called for dealing more openly with mistakes.
Francesco Pisano (UN Library): “We should focus on collecting total failures because they’re dangerous and we can’t afford to make the same mistakes over and over. We can make new mistakes.”
Helen Gillman, IFAD: “The reality of working in a large development organization nowadays is a tremendous pressure to deliver, which affects learning negatively”.
Ian Thorpe, UNICEF: “Introducing a storytelling approach can lend a voice to tacit knowledge and serve as evidence of change.”
Future technology was discussed as an important factor for equal access to information in developing countries; in the future, artificial intelligence should become a public good. In operational KM, the biggest challenge is the abundance of information – filtering and prioritizing is key.
To keep up the momentum
The goal of the partnership is to keep the innovatory spirit of the conference alive and to share ideas and good practices to improve KM and raise awareness for knowledge as a key asset globally. How the K4D Partnership will distinguish itself from other partnership organizations like the Km4Dev group or Knowledge for Development without Borders remains to be seen. At the conference, most participants asserted their dedication to the cause by signing the partnership declaration but no decisions for concrete action were taken.
The JIU’s recommendations for the UN can be generalized for any organization. Apart from introducing KM strategies and policies including measures for implementation at all levels, one of the most striking items recommends embedding KM skills and knowledge-sharing abilities in staff performance appraisal systems, job descriptions and organizational core competences.
The Agenda K4D’s recommendations align with JIU’s for the most part. They stress the importance of experimenting with new technology and sharing knowledge and good practices generously.
Zef Mazi, IAEA: “Knowledge is the only thing that as we share it, we have more of it.”
Further information and related Stories
Agenda Knowledge for Development
Knowledge Management in the United Nations System (by JIU)
Knowledge Management Austria (KMA)