In the first two parts of our tips & tricks series, we dove into the purpose of organisational learning. Part 1 described why it is important to think about programmatic and organisational learning for international development. Part 2 is subsequently all about different ways of approaching learning. Part 3 got us started with a more practical approach to learning by building a learning agenda.
Start building knowledge and learning practices
In part 2 of the learning series, the 3 key steps to approach learning were described, namely: (1) Capturing experiences, (2) Sharing and using experiences, and (3) Turning knowledge into action.
In this part, we now dive into the second step.
Tips & tricks to approach and structure learning
The first step to start capturing learnings that can be shared is to think about how the knowledge individuals hold in an organisation can be externalised, so that it can be shared with others. Here, we dove into the structured approach to capturing learnings through learning agendas.
Learning agendas provide us with a way to have a clear plan about where knowledge gaps exist, which hypotheses we need to investigate, and hence, what knowledge we will capture throughout a project. A learning agenda also ensures that you plan your learning activities ahead of time to regularly reflect and capture the learnings for the identified learning questions.
Assuming we have set up our learning agenda and started capturing our learning, that is an important step. A step that already has value in itself because it creates a moment to take a step back in running a project and look at how the project is panning out and if any changes are necessary to the plan. However, all the knowledge that is captured in a project can also have a lot of value for others in the organisation or beyond who work on a related topic or in a related context. Therefore, we are here looking at how these experiences can be shared.
Google Scholar’s search uses an interesting quote stating
“stand on the shoulders of giants”.
We can also apply this quote to the realm of development and humanitarian work. A wealth of knowledge already exist, developed and captured by experts all over the world. But it has to be effectively shared and accessible for other to build on. Otherwise, we risk that we invent the wheel over and over and might make the same mistake multiple times. By sharing knowledge in a project, across a project, in a whole organisation or event among organisations, we ensure that we can build on what we already know.
Taking a brief excursion to theory, we can refer back to one of the concepts mentioned in an earlier Tips & Tricks publication: The Knowledge Spiral by Nonaka. The spiral has 4 phases starting with the tacit knowledge an individual holds, how they can “externalise it” so that it can be shard with others, how it is then “combined” with other available knowledge and lastly internalised and accepted as knowledge within an organisation.
To make knowledge “shareable” we therefore had to first make sure is “externalised” and encoded in a way that it can be shared. Simply put, that means that the experiences and insights a person holds in their mind have been put to paper or verbally shared. Now someone else has heard about this knowledge or can read about it to use for their own purpose. While that might sound pretty self-explanatory, it is important to think about this process deliberately within organisations. Often, knowledge flows to share critical knowledge is hindered by, for example, project silos. Other times, there might just not be the space and time provided or the right tool to share and access knowledge developed by others.
How to: Knowledge Sharing
Step 1: As a first step to facilitate knowledge sharing, it is important to know what knowledge sits where and with whom. Therefore, it can be useful to conduct a mapping of organisational knowledge. Here, you could look at the projects in an organisation, the topics being worked on and/or the context in which different teams work. You can expand these categories by any useful cloudification of knowledge. You can then also go one step further to think about who key knowledge holders are. Here, you could consider team members that have been with the organisation for a long time working on a specific topic or country experts who know a specific local context extremely well, for example. By conducting this mapping, you can better untangle the web of knowledge to know what is available where and potentially relevant to someone elsewhere. An example would be if you have a peacebuilding project in country A and another peacebuilding project in country B, these two projects might benefit from each other’s experiences.
Step 2: Now that you have a first idea what knowledge is where ad with whom, the next step is to establish connections between the knowledge available and the knowledge needed. Hence, this step focuses on creating different avenues for sharing knowledge. While often it is reported that knowledge is shard “accidently” through so-called water-cooler conversations in the office, intentional ways should also be stablished to ensure that important knowledge is not missed by someone. To set up these intentional opportunities we can turn to offline tools and online tools.
Offline tools can be planned moments to get people together to exchange their knowledge on a certain topic. For these exchange moments, many methods and tools have been revised, including, for example, Brown Bag Lunches, Community of Practices or simple knowledge sharing sessions. When selecting the tool to facilitate these exchanges it is always good to consider the time investment and resources needed as well as available to hold them. For example, while a Brown Bag Lunch might require minimal effort in terms of organisation and logistics, a community of practice requires a more sustained and committed effort to ensure it runs effectively. Many other tools ca be found in the additional resources provided below.
Alternatively or even additionally, online tools can serve as an effective way to share knowledge with others. There are different tools available that allow you to set up a knowledge base for your organisation. Through an online knowledge base, you can organise knowledge in the organisation according to the categories you determined. When turning to an online system, it is however important to ensure that knowledge is documented in a standardised way and that it is updated regularly. Otherwise, you might risk creating a static “graveyard” of knowledge. Hence, a place where some knowledge was once uploaded but then never updated and never looked at by anyone. Creating an online knowledge repository also requires you to think about how it will be tied into workflows and existing processes.
Step 3: That leads us to the last point: Ensure that there is buy-in which includes providing the space and time needed to engage in knowledge sharing. Underlying this step is the necessary foundational understanding across the organisation that knowledge sharing is an important practice that improves the work of the organisation and individual in the long-run and is not simply a task to “tick-off”. By ensuring that this buy-in exists, there will be commitment to share knowledge, it can develop into common practice and the staff in an organisation will feel supported to take the time and space to engage in knowledge sharing with others. By setting up this foundation, you can create a meaningful way for knowledge to flow within the organisation.
Sneak-peak for inspiration: At Propel, one of our core focuses is to make sure knowledge is accessible to those who need it. One way, Propel facilitates knowledge sharing across project-boundaries at the organisational level is through the Organisational View. In the Organisational View, you can easily filter what experience and learning you want to see. Propel then provides you with an overview of what all projects in the organisation have learned about that specific topic and/or in a specific context. You can then even ask the tool to summarise the key insights throughout AI integration and have that knowledge available for you to build on.
Additional resources to check out:
- Devex: Why knowledge sharing matters for development cooperation
- ODI: Tools for Knowledge and Learning: A Guide for Development and Humanitarian Organisations
- UNICEF: Knowledge Exchange Toolbox
- Asian Development Bank: Compendium of Knowledge Solutions
Propel learning in your organisation: stay tuned for more tips & tricks for learning.