Nancy Dixon recently posted a comprehensive summary of research she did of eleven non-profits to find out how knowledge management (KM) was being implemented in developing countries (see A Knowledge Management Strategy for Non-Profits Working in Developing Countries). I want to bring this to your attention and provide some key findings. I hope they will entice you to see Nancy’s full post.
She first found that non-profits working in developing countries are late adopting Knowledge Management. KM is one of the longest running business initiatives, going on 20 years. The non-profits Nancy studied were at very elementary levels in their KM efforts with little strategy or staffing. Now they are starting to look into it. Despite obstacles of limited staff and access to computers, Nancy notes that have they have one very positive attribute going for them a, “willingness on the part of aid workers, at all levels, to share what has been learned with anyone who asks or anyone whom they encounter in their daily work.” Nancy has noticed this same attribute in other mission driven organizations that she has worked with, the US Army, NASA, and the World Bank. As she notes, “in such organizations, where the mission is clear and highly valued, knowledge management has been very effective.”
Because non-profits generally operate in the field with headquarters back in a developed country the ability to transfer knowledge from field to headquarters and the reserve is critical. In addition, the ability to share knowledge across organizations is important. This can include evidence-based practices and synthesized guidelines. Nancy notes that to be useful lessons from the field need to be synthesized into guidance documents rather than remain as a collection of individual lessons. Processes need to be put into place to ensure this happens.
In addition, it teams need to periodically meet together to reflect on their actions and outcomes. Nancy adds that. “the receivers and givers of lessons across a region gain the most when they are in face-to-face conversation with each other where they can ask the questions that allow them to modify each other’s lessons to fit their own context.” These knowledge exchanges need to be reciprocal. Over a period of time, people are uncomfortable if they always give without ever receiving. There is much more in the report. Hopefully, I have given you a sample that will encourage you to check it out. While the lessons are for non-profits, they apply to any field-based organization.