Only Human: The Challenge of Intentional Knowledge Management

Corinne FarrellThe last week was a bit of a whirlwind, as I spent Thursday and Friday in Washington, DC at the KM Impact Challenge unConference. There, I shared CapacityPlus’s experiences measuring the success of the HRH Global Resource Center.

I left the conference holding a stack of new contacts’ business cards and brainstorming uses for network analyses. I said to myself, on Monday I’ll tell my colleagues all about the unConference. Then my return flight was delayed. I got home late, rose early, spent hours at the emergency room with my three-year-old getting stitches, cleaned my house, came to work on Monday, filled out an expense report, wrote a trip report, sorted through 400 unread e-mails, and my “to do” list exploded.

Knowledge versus time management
My enthusiasm for sharing hasn’t waned, but it’s buried beneath heavy and competing demands on my time. As a knowledge management (KM) practitioner, I ask others to spend time sharing knowledge on a daily basis:

  • Record data
  • Share results
  • Archive documents.

Today, I am a victim of my own systems. My own griping underscores the value that KM can bring to the table. All organizations and projects use, capture, and share knowledge—they’re doing KM already. But without the intention to prioritize knowledge management, KM doesn’t happen systematically. It happens, but it gets buried in the day-to-day.

Furthermore, the knowledge that is shared becomes skewed. Personal habits, over-packed calendars, and a tendency to share only the positive aspects of our work influence what knowledge becomes more widely available. For instance, my flight arrives early—sure, I’ll write that blog. My flight arrives late—forget it. That worked well—promote it! That failed—forget it ever happened!

Word cloudKM systems
When KM systems are articulated and participation expected, they’re harder to ignore and should provide better results. Every KM practitioner has heard the question, why KM?

Why indeed. In the development context, we have an increasing bank of anecdotal evidence to support KM’s effectiveness, including the 47 case stories gathered and synthesized for the KM Impact Challenge, but we must do a better job of strengthening and sharing this evidence-base.

Measuring KM isn’t easy
Beyond web statistics, it can be difficult to count knowledge’s use or effects, but we can assess our KM practices. It is imperative that the KM community continue to demonstrate the value of KM.

To that end, I was particularly inspired by these three techniques presented at the unConference:

  • Participatory and iterative monitoring and evaluating methods, like the Most Significant Change Method, can help to reveal the hard-to-predict and quantify impact of knowledge and learning initiatives.
  • Organizational network analysis provides unique tools for visualizing, describing, and diagnosing information flow, partnerships, and other typically hidden relationships.
  • Innovative mobile data capture methods, such as EthnoCorder, combine mobile technologies with videos and surveys to facilitate on-the-spot data capture and tagging without the need for an Internet connection or a time-consuming coding process.

KM is about learning from what is already known, making informed decisions efficiently, and performance. Yes, it’s about knowledge capture, synthesis, sharing and use, and those frameworks we KM people like to share and talk about—but most importantly, in the health context, it’s about improving and saving lives.

Related items:


Photos by Jennifer Solomon. (Photo 1: Corinne Farrell, Photo 2: Word clouds displayed at the Capacity Project final event, Washington, DC)