Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Practical examples: the knowledge sharing approach of the United Nations Development Programme

In the km4dev journal there was an article by Kim Henderson on the knowledge sharing approach of UNDP based on CoPs or knowledge networks. The first CoPs were established in 1999 in some of the priority thematic areas of UNDP, currently there are 20 knowledge networks with between 300-2300 members each, corresponding to the strategic goals. Members are primarily UNDP staff, though some are open to external participants. The networks serve for sharing experiences and good practices, and for discussion of substantive issues. The networks are linked by electronic networks, but also supported by regular face-to-face meetings. One of the unique features is the use of a standardised product called the 'consolidated reply'. This reply entails supplementing each discussion with information about what is already known and published on the topic.

Subscription is voluntarily and rose slowly from 1999-2003, but sharply between 2003-2005. CoPs have improved connections between the headquarters and the field, between country offices, leveling the hierarchy and enabling inputs from bottom up into policy and practice. It is reported to be a huge shift from 1998, where staff were required to clear message content with senior managers before sending out e-mails. (I recall this too, in 1998 in Ethiopia, our secretaries were printing, stamping and filing all e-mail messages :)) to direct communication between national programme staff. The consolidated reply is reported to be a real time saver by CoP members.

Key ingredient for healthy CoPs are reported to be:
* Moderation or facilitation
* Maintaining quality
* Balancing participation with quality of contributions
* Getting to know community members
* Sequencing and managing the flow on the electronic network

You should not presume CoPs can do everything and take the place of organised project mapping or knowledge gathering. A key issue was to maintain the quality, yet if the bar is set too high, members were too intimidated to provide contributions.

Further efforts will go into ongoing translations (over five official languages), systematic collection of knowledge to complement the connecting by the CoPs, and mainstreaming knowledge management into human resource approaches such as performance assessement and career tracks. The article concludes by saying CoPs can be an excellent entry point for knowledge management initiatives within development organisation. Yet, CoPs can only take an organisation so far, and efficient systems for collecting information are required as well.

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