Cooperation Offices and Networks – Networking in the far reaches of Mongolia

May 15, 2013 | bit-wartung | SDC Experiences, SDC Networks |


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The Swiss Cooperation Office (SCO) Mongolia has witnessed a clear transformation from scepticism about the networks’ usefulness towards a supportive environment for knowledge management. This change is so far one of attitude only, however, with little direct impact on operations in the field.
By Diepak Elmer, with contributions from Zayasaikhan Dugeree and Felix Fellmann
„Knowledge is King“
– but managing and sharing it across an institution and its members is a major challenge.

                                                                                                 Photo: SDC Mongolia Field Trip
When I joined the SCO Mongolia in 2011 I was positively surprised, however, about the high level of attention given by the management to knowledge networks and the increased awareness among staff regarding the importance of knowledge management.

Over the last couple of years the SCO Mongolia has seen a trend from doubt, scepticism and criticism about the “raison d’être” of the networks towards a supportive environment for knowledge management. The following visible changes could be observed:

• All NPOs, SCO management and several project staff are network members – although only 4 out of 11 consider themselves as being “active”;

• Thematic events are now held regularly, often in the form of a “Brown Bag Lunch”, in order to present a topic in-depth and share information;

• Staff responsibilities have been rearranged along thematic lines and in accordance with the domains of our new Cooperation Strategy 2013-16; and

• Staff incentives have been set in a way to encourage participation in knowledge networks, for instance by being able to attend face-to-face (f2f) meetings while having knowledge management firmly included in everyone’s annual performance assessment (MAP).

This year the SCO held two major events to promote the knowledge networks. Interestingly, a recent anonymous survey among SCO and self-implemented project staff revealed that one third still didn’t know about the networks, and that half the respondents were not members in any of them. But 91% of staff thought that networks were useful!

Photo: SDC Mongolia Staff

Given our recent history with “networking”, the SCO Mongolia embraced the opportunity to participate in the blog series “Cooperation Offices and Networks”. We even requested for the questions to be more “provocative”!

Questions and answers

1) Are the networks completely HQ-driven and hardly visible in the SCO or do you feel included and involved in the network activities?

While staff agreed that the answers to these questions varied from network to network, overall they are perceived as being rather HQ driven. At the level of the SCO, some networks are very visible, while others are hardly noticeable. Generally staff feels included whenever an opportunity to interact and engage presents itself. This is often the case, for instance, in the run-up to f2f events, when networks are generally buzzing with activity.

2) Are the networks an additional burden or a useful support for sharing and learning? Are you lazy lurkers or do you proactively contribute to the network activities?

It is both. All staff felt that sometimes networks feel like a burden (e.g. as a MAP goal), while at other times they are more than just “nice to have” but really support us in sharing experiences and learning, for instance when it comes to problem-solving type issues. And yes, we feel that half the time we are rather reactive, passive and “lazy lurkers”, and that we want to be much more proactive in future. However, the usefulness of the network really depends also on the way it manages to play its role of a “knowledge broker”.

3) Are networks a luxury occupation or does sharing and learning through networks strengthen in the end the operation? Do you observe positive change? Where and how?

This was the most debated question. No, networks are clearly not perceived as a luxury. They are seen as a necessity. A learning organisation such as SDC must have a vehicle through which it can share experiences and promote knowledge. However, all staff agreed that networks, so far, are not directly linked to our operations. In order for that to happen, networks would have to become a source of more factual, practical and evidence-based knowledge that is easily accessible to all its members.

As the debate got going, our discussion group decided to draw up some simple recommendations on how to make the networks more useful and engaging for SCOs:

1. Have a dedicated and motivated moderation of the network;

2. Offer qualified and useful services for operations;

3. Design attractive and interactive network websites / online portals; and

4. Provide professional and highly qualified inputs on specific topics (similar to “Ted Talks”).

At the end of our discussion we started to wonder why we all seemed to spend more time on social media than our knowledge networks. Hence, we were asking ourselves, how can knowledge networks become as engaging as Facebook?

This post is the second in our series Swiss Cooperation Office (SCO) and SDC networks. Read the previous post:

The Pretoria Story (by Reto Wieser)



Comments to“Cooperation Offices and Networks – Networking in the far reaches of Mongolia”

  1. Ruedi Baumgartner says:

    Thank you for sharing: Profiting of your blog for warm greetings to Felix and Deepak!

    With best wishes

    ruedi baumgartner


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