Knowledge management has in recent years become a buzzword in development circles.
What is knowledge? The Oxford dictionary defines it as “information and skills acquired through experience or education” – though I particularly like Oxford’s second definition: “the sum of what is known”.
Knowledge is a comically grandiose term to describe the information that an organization develops, accumulates and shares. Part of my work as a consultant involves the management and sharing of knowledge.
I am not merely an editor and writer. I am a purveyor of the “sum of what is known”.
In the wonderful world of international development, the ancient practice of learning and sharing what you know has become “knowledge management”. This concept has become so complex and convoluted in recent years that it is nearly impossible to describe what “knowledge” means on a practical level.
Every organization defines it differently, but I think we can all agree that knowledge management specialists use knowledge platforms to share knowledge solutions and knowledge assets in order to improve the knowledge capabilities of knowledge-deprived beneficiaries.
If you want to stop a conversation among knowledge specialists, ask them to discuss the topic without using the world “knowledge”.
What if instead of focusing on knowledge, development organizations worked harder at online library science? The tedious, grueling work of website archiving systems does not have the Socratic appeal of “knowledge management” but it is a core function of storing and retrieving the information that people need.
More importantly is the question of how development organizations deal with the information that resides in the minds of the staff, consultants and people with whom they work. This is the most up-to-date and relevant information within any organization. Most often, this information is simply lost.
In many cases, the valuable lessons that come from undertaking a development project are detailed in email messages, and phone conversations, between project officers, government officials and others. The “knowledge sharing” is done when the information is later distilled into dry, jargon-laden official reports that are published months (or years) after the information is needed.
Rather than focus on “knowledge sharing” strategies that add workload to already busy staff members, and generally result in ineffective, unread reports – why not incorporate social media use into the work programs of development professionals?
If project officers were required by their human resources work plan to have a certain number of professional blog posts, Twitter, Facebook or other social media entries per month, they would come up with relevant, valuable information to share regarding their work.
When staff members are evaluated by their supervisors in part based on their professional social media usage and expertise, there is an explosion of knowledge sharing. This is actual information sharing on a practical, meaningful level.
Can you imagine if you lived in an area affected by a development project and you could follow the project officer on Twitter? Not only would you be alerted to the official reports that are produced about the project, but you could be kept up to date in real time. In addition, the project officer would have an added tool to gauge the impact of the project on people in the area.
If Twitter entries and blog posts were a part of the job of project officers, and other development workers, and not a tedious unpaid burden added to their workload, they would actually share the valuable information in their heads.
Does the organization that you work for pay you to Tweet and blog about your valuable professional expertise? If the answer to that question is no, then you do not work for an organization that is serious about sharing knowledge.