Knowledge is Everywhere. Here are Four Ways to Make It Easier to Share.
A wealth of knowledge – knowhow and wisdom – rests with the officials, professionals, practitioners and communities. The challenge is to unleash the untapped power of this information.
Recently, my daughter interviewed my 82-year-old mother for a middle school assignment on migration. My mother spoke about her personal journey through the last eight decades. She was a young girl who migrated with her family and was torn from the world she knew. She was a student in India, an economist, a homemaker, teacher, social worker and eventually a grandmother.
In about an hour, my daughter had absorbed a depth of learning that no history book could provide. She got a sense of evolution, time, sharing, mechanisms of coping with trauma, successes, failures, gender disparities, gadget-less entertainment, technological transformation and how suddenly the world had become so small.
This made me reflect on my own work in development and knowledge management, which I see as two sides of the same coin. What had happened with my daughter and mother was the transfer of knowledge through experiential learning at its best. And it was the result of just one conversation!
My mother had successfully shared knowledge. But what is knowledge? It is something that is everywhere. In my line of work, as a development professional, it is in every discussion, in every handshake, in every discipline, in every role and responsibility, in the investments we design, in our reports, research, and conferences.
More so, a wealth of knowledge – knowhow and wisdom – rests with the officials, professionals, practitioners and communities of the countries we work in. That is the untapped power of knowledge that needs to be unleashed in order to address the common development challenges that these countries face.
Why aren’t our cities livable? Why are we running out of clean water? Why haven’t we gotten rid of waste? Why are we stuck in endless traffic? Why can’t I see the blue sky anymore? Why are so many people still out of jobs? Why should I be sending my children to study overseas so far away from home? Will I lose my home in the next storm? Why are thousands subjected to terror? Why are girls meaningless in some societies? How do I care for my aging parents without dislocating them from the country they always called home?
These are challenges shared by many societies in Asia, despite the fact that the region’s countries are highly diverse with differing cultures, governance systems that constrain sustainable growth and progressive development. While the issues and challenges can be similar, knowledge solutions to help address them need to be differentiated and contextualized.
As development professionals, we spend our career sharing solutions. We need to do a better job of also sharing the processes behind the solutions. This can be done in part by getting countries to “speak” to each other through multiple platforms, including virtual ones, in order to share information on the details behind how shared problems were solved.
Here are four ways we can do a better job of that:
- We need to unlock or liberate the knowledge value of infrastructure projects, which over the years have accumulated tremendous latent knowledge. Project preparation provides opportunities to pair international and national experts to design and share unique investment solutions. These are based on rich engineering feasibility studies and valuable economic, sectoral, environment, poverty and social assessments. Innovative knowledge products gathering lessons from field operations and data analysis can be created and shared for guidance on upcoming projects within and in other countries.
- Many countries need help enhancing their own knowledge management capabilities, particularly in the area of consolidating local solutions, indigenous know how, experiences and wisdom. Working with the diverse countries of Asia, we are equipped to understand the nuances of local expressions, institutional governance, culture and communication. We can channel this into mechanisms to drive the change that countries want to leapfrog towards achieving not only their own aspirations, but international objectives as well, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and global climate commitments.
- Knowledge is known to grow through diffusion, dispersion, dissemination and demonstration. A tried and tested technique to increase the impact of shared knowledge is the train-the -trainers program. This has shown tremendous success in influencing institutions to think differently and demonstrate change. The program typically enables a core group of people to enhance their skills on addressing a particular issue and systematically share this ability within their institutions following their own institutional culture, which makes the learning more sustainable.
- Knowledge should be treated as an asset. An infrastructure project should not be seen as “complete” simply because it built a structure. As part of a “knowledge asset management” approach, the thinking that was behind the design and implementation of the project – from documents and from the minds of those involved - should also be valued and captured.
Knowledge, or more specifically the channeling and transferring of it to the people who need it when they need it, can be a powerful tool in sustainable development. Over more than 25 years of working in this area across multiple sectors, I have learned that personal growth and adapting is a way of life. That same tenet applies to the countries we serve as development professionals, applying our technical expertise and understanding to enable them to find solutions to their development aspirations and persisting challenges.
Our challenge in this fast-expanding world of knowledge is to use these learning experiences as drivers of change by transferring knowhow and experiences, building on what works and understanding better what does not and why, thereby contributing to the countries intellectual fabric by learning from the past.
In short, we need to do a better job of what my 82-year-old mother does when she shares her stories with my daughter.