“Crossroads of Knowledge” labels a set of activities designed for knowledge sharing and -transfer across organisational units and functions. Valorising the knowledge and experience that a collaborator has gained over his/her lifetime and making it accessible for younger collegues contributes to securing intellectual capital through intergenerational learning. While the offer is appreciated by the participants, their number remains limited. Lack of interest?… time? …incentives? In search of answers.
„This event has become an important moment in my agenda, an enriching yet recreational break in my daily business routine. You can come in, sit there and just listen, without any pressure of preparation or competition, or you can participate actively. It is a pity there are so few participants.“ My collegue was coming out of the latest SDC-lunchevent in a knowledge-sharing-series called Crossorads of Knowledge (CoK). Another participant wrote on his feedback card: „I very much enjoyed CoK with Jean Pierre (Egger) and Denis (Bugnard). What somewhat surprised me, is the limited interest of the “younger“ ones, now that everyone talks about the role of the Programme officers. Where do they take the knowledge about that active role of a programme officer they demand? Crossroads should be mandatory for all (SDC collaborators, editor’s note) without any field experience“.
Both from his/her perspective hit a sensitive point: The low attendance to more informal (i.e. non mandatory) and cross-organisational knowledge sharing and learning events. Irrelevant issues? Too many offers? Unsuitable setting? Looking for answers.
Valorising intellectual capital through knowledge-exchange
CoK was originally set up upon a wave of retirements to secure and valorise implicit knowledge of longterm SCD-collaborators. Valorising the knowledge and experience that an individual gained over his/her lifetime and making it accessible for other collaborators shall save intellectual capital and promote institutional learning. CoK comprises two core-elements: 3-4 annual lunch-events, combined with a website documenting key-messages of the events and other related k-sharing activities. The concept of the events is simple: Two retired longterm collaborators of SDC are invited to speak on a topic of their choice. Their task is to convey key messages drawn from their overall experience gained over the years in SDC. Their story-like presentations are followed by a moderated exchange between participants and the guest speakers. As an integral part of the event, a small lunch and coffee before and after the main part invite to establish or reinforce individual contacts between actual collaborators and the former ones.
In CoK, three elements support learning: personal stories render complex issues comprehensible, particularly for non-insiders; the combination of two perspectives on the same issue triggers „out of the box-thinking“. An informal and recreational ambiance help relaxed learning and relationship-building.
Events like CoK serve more than knowledge transfer. They are about building bridges, between organisational units, thematic issues, generations. They are about broadening and refreshing one’s perspective of Swiss development cooperation by considering it through various lenses, in short: to get and think out of the box. Long term collaborators who have gained some distance to their work offer a particulary precious point of view, as they are able to reveal „the wood we are bound to overlook for the trees“.
“Crossroads of Knowledge”?
The first generation of SDC collaborators has only recently left SCD or is about to retire in the coming years. 30 years of experience would go lost with them, if there would not be processes and instruments to help transferring that intellectual capital to new collaborators. SDC has an institutional interest in knowledge transfer and exchange. Thanks to the insights of (former) collegues, gained over years of experience in SDC, the collaborators shall broaden and deepen their understanding of Swiss development cooperation, reflecting on their own perspective, attitude and routine, gain an overview of SDCs historic changes, while avoiding to re-invent the wheel.
Crossroads of Knowledge (CoK) comprises several activities fostering knowledge transfer and exchange beyond organizational, functional or thematic boundaries. A complementary website (intraweb) offers access to audiovisual coverage of the presentations, reflections and messages from the lunchevents, additional exit-interviews with retiring collegues, as well as other activities in the realm of knowledge securing.
“I would like to participate, but…”
As opposed to the original intention, today’s participants of CoK are not newcomers or juniors, but a mix of collaborators tending to more experienced development-practitioners with a personal interest in the topic of the event or a personal relation to the guestspeaker and former collegue. Those participating systematically underline the relevance of the event, and appreaciate ist ambiance and methodology. Yet, with an average of about 10 the number of participants remains small in proportion to the size of the organisation. Reviewed and personalised PR-approaches have not changed much about the fact: „I would like to participate, but…“
This symptom is not unique to CoK, but illustrates an institutional challenge: People lack time or leisure to attend activites that are not narrowly related to their primary function. And among those attending, not seldom one or the other would run off to an other meeting before term. How come?
Sailing in ballast in the name of „exchange“?
Recently trying to schedule the CoK-events for this year I had a hard time finding free rooms and dates without too many parallel „lunchevents“. Many of these are labelled „reflection-event“, „exchange“ or „brownbag lunch“. Being a popular measure to foster sharing across organisational units and teams, a high number of „brown bag lunches“ may be interpreted as a positive indicator for institutional learning at first glace. At a closer look, the participants of the mentioned events tend to be those of one single organisational unit or group, thus a more or less standard working-constellation. Work overload, incompatible agendas, short term tasks imposed from a higher instance – the arguments are diverse, the fact remains: Under the flag of „exchange“ more and more virutal work-sessions are scheduled over lunch. To the same degree, the time for leisurely (lunch-)breaks during work, the time for resourcing, developing creativity and establish ties across the organisation is being limited. The system of flexible working hours allows to use luchtime according to needs – an advantage most of us would not want to give up. If what used to be treated in standard meetings under the agenda item „discussion“, is repacked as „brownbag lunch“ or „reflection-event“ and relocated over luchtime under the flag of „exchange“ without lightening the traditional meetings, we drift away from a key target of km: sharing and learning for better performance. Making two out of one meeting, is an invitation for less efficiency; scheduling meetings over lunch leaves collaborators less time for recreation and informal exchange beyond their primary tasks. At longer term a lack of resourcing distance to ones routine may be to the the detriment of that creative learning energy that ignites innovation.
At Google, collaborators are said to have 20% of their time for informal exchange and personal projects to ensure learning and innovation. The nature of work is different, we surely get by with less. But we might not get by without. If every once in a while we review our meetings through the efficiency-lens, liberating time for effective discussion within them, and limit formal working-sessions over lunch to the inexorable, we will profit by the gained leisure for broader exchange. If as line-managers we promote participation in peer-exchange beyond functional or thematic limits, and as collaborators claim our time for knowledgesharing and learning, we gain precious time for individual as well as instiutional learning.
Dare to learn
Besides these somewhat ‚technical‘ reasons for limited participation in knowledge sharing-events, another could be rooted in subliminal institutional values. „You can come in (…) without any pressure of preparation, performance or competition.“ This sentence in my collegue‘s feedback stroke me, all the more as an other, much younger collegue – on the occasion of her first 100 days in SDC – had recently expressed that she feels being measured and judged whenever she would rise to speek or establish new contacts in the house. Both independently convey a pressure to make a mark as a specialist of the topic in discussion. Could this be part of the answer why non-specialists, juniors and new comers much less attend events on a particular thematic issues? If learning is choked down by performance, we miss another key target of the learning organisation. Learning is about listening, watching, reflecting, asking. The respective attitude needs to emerge with credit, the spaces need to be cultivated attentively.
Crossroads of Knoweldge in the SDC-Intraweb [accessible for SDC employees and authorized partners only]
50 years SDC – agenda of lunch-events: http://www.deza.admin.ch/de/Dossiers/50_Jahre_DEZA