Friday, November 24, 2006

Knowledge management: how to know what you need to know

Time for a story of about 500 years ago.... It came back to my mind yesterday in relation to my last blogpost on Claus and culture. When I studied at the Agricultural University in Wageningen, I had the chance to go to Gem Rae, in Kenya to work for the Provincial Irrigation Unit in Kisumu. I studied smallholder irrigated rice schemes and lived with the farmers there.

One of expatriate engineers worked in Gem Rae but lived in Kisumu. One of his remarks was that he never understood why the farmers did not plant their rice fields on time, at the same time. This was one of the assumption for the design of the waterflow. Because I lived within the scheme area, interacted a lot with the farmers and did interviews, I quickly learned that their system was as follows: there are different plots, of the husband, and of the various wives (there were many polygamous households). The men, often the sons, are responsible for ploughing. They plough in the morning and have a high number of plots to plough. There is a certain hierarchy in the plots that are ploughed, the male household head first, then the first wive, the second wive, etc. Women of migrated husband often have to hire a plough team and have to wait till the team has finished all their family plots. Not hard to see that all farmers can not plant at the same time, because they have to wait for their fies to be ploughed!

I was flabbergasted that it needed my study to highlight this (amongst other things). In a way I felt that the answer to the engineer's question was lying in front of him. The engineer knowledge (design of the waterflow) did link automatically to the relevant knowledge of the farmers (rotational system of ploughing) even though they did interact. And mind you, the problem was not that the engineer were designing from the drawing boards and did not go for field visits. Yet, it wasn't easy to link the relevant sections of the two knowledge systems.

This is something I often see, though people are interacting, have meetings, the relevant links don't surface easily. This is where I see a role for learning facilitator, knowledge managers, brokers, etc.


josien kapma said...

Nice post again, Joitske, and I fully agree with you. I also know many a situation where a knowledge 'broker', a facilitator, could have an important task. The problem is 'the others' do not always see it and consequently are not easily convinced that it is worth having such a role, (let alone pay for it). I am looking for business models for this knowledge brokering role, (the word business model implying that it should not be the the overriding donor paying for all), and would love to hear others' experiences.

Joitske said...

Hi Josien, thanks for your comment. I notice I have blogposts which are important for myself personally and when I don't get comments, I assume they are not resonating with others.

I'm interested in the knowledge brokering business model too! We are going to do some brainstorm here in January about business models in development cooperation, will keep you informed!

PS how is your blog??