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Need a Knowledge Management Strategy?

Considering a knowledge management/ sharing strategy for your institution? You are embarking on an exciting journey that may profoundly transform your organisation. Well, in fact I feel it has to do that – and accordingly you must be ready to engage in such a transformative experience – if KM/S should be more than just an attribute. Unfortunately I have seen many organisations, which travel down the KM road because everybody else is, because this is what one needs to do and have, because donors and partners expect it. I have seen strategies that are not even worth the paper they are written on: because they have been imposed on the organisation, because nobody has real ownership, because the organisation is not profoundly convinced about the value and necessity, let alone is it ready to truly change the way it works.

Yet, there is another way, but it demands that the organisation really commits to the process and is ready to change structures and processes, but in particular values and power relations; that it dedicates some considerable resources in terms of time, energy, staff and finances – initially it is a true investment into the future. I have never ever seen some real quick fixes and quick returns that were worth the effort – but I have seen long-term changes, that have been truly rich. This means clearly that KM/S will only bear fruit after several years of consistent and convincing practice – I believe there is not one single case that proves otherwise.

Today, after all these years, I am convinced, that KM/S can have value if it involves systemic change, that includes the whole system, where all the staff is fundamental part not only in the execution, but already in the co-creation of the way forward. At its core, KM/S is a change of attitude, and that can’t be imposed to people, nor can you “sell” it to them. Consultation and seeking buy-in is not enough, it leads to inefficiency, lacking impact, lacking sustainability, disappointment. Therefore, I would choose a highly participatory, transformative process, involving all the staff to already create a strategy – not just consulting them on their needs and ideas. With some effort, such processes can be conducted very efficiently and in relatively short time, but they request the consent of the top-management to go some unconventional roads and to trust their staff. Best of all this way starts of by practicing what KM/S preaches. There is nothing more convincing than starting KM/S in a truly lived KM/S way.

KM/S must serve the purpose of empowering people in their workplace, in creating space and freedom to discover what matters to them and how they can engage, connect and build meaningful relationships to share and improve. It is about working with the whole system, to explore it together with people and understand how to improve it. There is not much value in constructing, tightly manage, control and monitor – these approaches from the “control & command paradigm” are inefficient and with little effect and impact, and much to often even detrimental, demotivating and disengaging. Just as an illustration: today we are rapidly moving away from the idea of “good/ best practices” when dealing with complex systems or situations. They are an attempt to control and standardise processes, remnants of the old, but outdated understanding of how we can achieve efficiency and effectiveness. Today we dismiss this kind of thinking, because we have learnt, that the underlying assumptions are fundamentally wrong. Knowledge is not a “thing”, which we can “capture” and transfer from one place or person to another (a “knowledge product” is an oxymoron, a paradox itself), but it is rather a process in constant transformation. If we want to have meaningful impact, we must find ways to respect this and do justice to the complex nature of our work.

After many years of practice I don’t see much value in trying to convince people. The way is to start living and applying certain practices and through alternative ways of working evoke the curiosity, desire and vision of people to go for more. In some of the most convincing cases, staff was even not really aware that they did practice a KM/S way of working, however they did notice that things changed – and they liked it. That is for me a truly promising way to go.

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