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The Knowledge Management Experience in the United Nations System (2011)
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The Knowledge Management Experience in the United Nations System (2011)


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This presentation summarizes lessons learned and good practices emerged from a comparative study of 26 knowledge management projects across the UN system. …

This presentation summarizes lessons learned and good practices emerged from a comparative study of 26 knowledge management projects across the UN system.

It was first presented on 2 March 2011 at the workshop: "Aligning Strategy & Practice - UNEP’s engagement in countries - Learning from MDG-F and Delivering as One". If you wish to use this presentation for any reason/purpose please contact me.

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  • 1. UN: The KM ExperienceLessons learned from 26 KM projects within the UN system
  • 2. The Source Inter-Agency Knowledge Fair on UN Effectiveness in Knowledge Sharing Turin, Nov 2010116 presented projects, 26 selected: the core of KM within the UNsystem.• 11 solid platforms (websites, repositories)• 7 liquid networks (not strictly web-based)• 8 offline activities (learning, workshops, fairs, campaigns)
  • 3. Keywords1. Needs Assessment (Demand Driven Programming)2. Commitment and Leadership from the top (Legitimacy)3. Funding4. Partnerships5. Technology6. Facilitation7. Open-Access vs. Restricted Content8. Repurposing of Knowledge9. Impact of KM
  • 4. Needs Assessment 1/9 Needs Assessment (Demand Driven Programming)See your Knowledge Sharing system through the eyes of youraudience: “Tailor your system to the context and needs of its users. Understanding your target audience is critical to designing an effective Knowledge Sharing”.
  • 5. Needs Assessment 1/9 How:“Work on specific needs assessment: discuss within specific groups and communities their business scenarios and find agreement onhow the group wants to use a set of specific tools for their particular purpose. Guide the development process of the social media platform more closely along these business scenarios”.
  • 6. Needs Assessment 1/9 Failing to consider the community’s needs is a major cause of nonsuccess in KM projects: “The formulation of top-down policies describing in detail specificworkflows for staff, mandating them to use the system, and to use ita certain way, proved counter-productive. It created natural change resistance and diverted the perspective away from the actual benefits for the user”.
  • 7. Needs Assessment 1/9 FeedbackEstablishing clear channels for user feedback is a way to integratethe demand driven approach in the long term programming.Knowledge Sharing initiatives need to be flexible, in order to beconstantly adapted to the changing needs of the community: “We are constantly evolving and adapting our services through regular feedback from agencies, teachers, students and staff. To respond more effectively to the requirements and needs of our counterparts, agency and staff”.
  • 8. Leadership from the top 2/9Goal: get a reputation of a well-known and useful tool for variousstakeholders and practitioners.How? Senior Management Buy-inIt increases legitimacy of the project and therefore effective interestand participation of all the actors involved. “Agency leadership is required. CoPs are voluntary and function successfully if they are driven by passion, including passion of the Convener”.
  • 9. Leadership from the top 2/9 “Affiliating with a respected, neutral body within the UN System produced buy-in and willingness from the highest level of the agencies and organizations it monitors, has successfully built the trust and confidence of UN specialized agencies and programmes,which have become active participants, feeding the knowledge-base with information about their activities. Therefore, the knowledge- base positioned itself as a neutral, high quality, reliable and up-to- date source of information”.
  • 10. Funding 3/9The sustainability of a KM project requires long term funding, as KMis never a one time initiative, it is a delicate process that needs to besustained over time.1. Promote funding at corporate level: It is essential to take into account the KM strategy in the annual work plan. Have a committed leadership. Adopt an aggressive resource mobilization strategy based on the successful track record of the project.2. Innovative funding strategies based on partnerships: When facing financial constraints, several projects recurred to collaboration and/or financial support from the main stakeholders, partner institutions and online volunteers.
  • 11. Funding 3/9"After three years of development, the UN (WFP) created Nutrinetplatform was successfully handed over to a regional institution,Nutrinet Foundation, who is now in charge of managing and furtherdeveloping the knowledge management system. The NutrinetFoundation is also responsible for mobilizing resources to fund it in asustainable way and so far has received more than US$200,000".
  • 12. Partnerships 4/9Almost all contributors highlighted the value of working incollaboration and openly with all the actors involved in the process: “Comprehensive knowledge sharing requires partnership building with other UN agencies and outside partners”.
  • 13. Partnerships 4/9Benefits of partnerships:1.Create synergies (unlock resources: funding, skills);2.Increase outreach;3.Reduce duplication (avoid “reinventing the wheel”).
  • 14. Partnerships 4/9 Create synergiesWorking in collaboration with other stakeholders can lead to costsharing and virtuous synergies: “Continue to build local linkages with women’s organizations andother grassroots movements. Also build greater synergies betweenexisting projects supporting women in politics from the initiation of the project”.
  • 15. Partnerships 4/9 Increase outreachInvolving other actors working on the same topics also means gettingaccess to new channels of communication to vehicle your message: “Global partnership between key organizations is one of the most important aspects of this project. Each of the 5 partners of iKNOW politics are leaders in the field of promoting women’s political participation and governance”
  • 16. Partnerships 4/9 Reduce Duplication“The notion of “not invented here” and the hesitation to engage intoa committed collaboration with other UN agencies often overshadowthe obvious benefits that a consolidated and commonly ownedapproach would have for all UN partners”.Two common anomalies lead to “reinventing the wheel” and in somecases to duplication of projects:1.“Not invented here”2.Silos Effect
  • 17. Partnerships 4/9 Not invented hereUN: There is a general sense of diffidence when it comes to adoptsolutions invented by other agencies, even if the solutions are good.Partnerships help to overcome this problem, by extending ownershipto all involved actors: “Agency mandates were perceived as threatened by the initiative.The challenge was to gain recognition of the IAU as tool / service, not a competitor. The solution was to foster greater ownership by establishing a Steering Committee and ensuring that the Unit engages in all activities in response to requests from agencies”.
  • 18. Partnerships 4/9 Silos effectAgencies are usually not comfortable having other agencies knowwhat they are doing, and how, even if they would benefit fromaccessing each other’s knowledge: “The UNCT had recognized the need to have centralized data, but what was not clear was whether they would be willing to not only provide the data required but have that data publically accessible. Agencies were not comfortable having other agencies know what they were doing and how much funding they were receiving and from whom”
  • 19. Partnerships 4/9 How to identify partners“The collective effort to network with and engage key stakeholders and partners in the design and construction of the portal was successful because the effort was based on careful research,assessment of partners’ relative interests, competitive advantages, and accessibility, and on clearly-defined channels for proposed collaboration”.
  • 20. Technology 5/9 Technology vs. PeopleFocus more attention on the “real” participant network, rather thanthe “virtual” platform and tools. Too much expectation given to thenice designs or modern tools can distract from the focus:“The final goal of technology in KM is creating links between assets,groups and people. All contents should be linked to people. People come first, technology must serve this purpose”.“Information is not the same as knowledge. The information can beshared. Knowledge cannot. Instead, knowledge is built through theinteraction of relevant people. Good documents are not enough if you intend to change behaviors”.
  • 21. Facilitation 6/9Information sharing cannot rely on spontaneous interest orcontributions from participants.To keep this kind of system alive, a basic support structure isneeded.An adequate structure would include :•Web Team (web programmer, web designer)•Facilitation Team (“knowledge brokers”)•Documentation (help modules and guidelines)
  • 22. Facilitation 6/9 Web Team“It is critical to have a competent technical web programmer whoalso fully understands the project’s mission, and who cancommunicate the relative benefits of each programming decision tothe content editors and team”.
  • 23. Facilitation 6/9 Facilitation TeamFacilitators are Knowledge Brokers, not Knowledge Producers.Duties:1. Collection, consolidation and distribution of information;2. Proactive Moderation (internal and external promotion);3. Identification and use of champions and local focal points (presence in the field is key).
  • 24. Facilitation 6/9Collection, Consolidation, Distribution of KnowledgeGood pieces of information are not enough. Information has to be“digested” by someone in the system:“Dedicated support is required to draw up the regular newsletter,summarize the contributions to queries and e-discussions and fosterengagement with network members”.“Simple, brief, and easy to read booklets should be developed totarget policy/decision-makers on technical issues regarding MDGmeasurement and tracking”.
  • 25. Facilitation 6/9 MobilizationFacilitating a network also means mobilizing members to activelyparticipate:“Get the press officers or people involved to communicate directly tothe project editors. Use direct communication channels (tel, email).Avoid sole reliance on information posted on the organizations’ andagencies’ websites. In addition, send people to cover relevantconferences”.“Define regular deadlines for sending contributions, to ensureaccuracy and relevance”.
  • 26. Facilitation 6/9 Focal PointsNominating focal points helps to anchor projects in countryprogrammes, rather than isolating them in UN Offices:“Network in 5 regional offices: the degree of awareness ofknowledge sharing in the project countries is extremely high”.“Absence of a dedicated editorial team made it difficult to guaranteequality of shared information. To overcome this challenge, eachNutrinet portal has relied on a dedicated focal point in the country”.
  • 27. Facilitation 6/9 Champions“We have found champions that push forward the continuous use ofthe platform.”“Start piloting with a group of enthusiastic users and document thelessons you learn. Particularly try to win senior managementchampions who can spread the word and serve as role model withintheir teams”.
  • 28. Open-Access vs. Restricted Content 7/9 Broad membership and open access make it possible for the community to benefit from the knowledge and resources of a greater cross-section of society.This reduces isolation and helps contrasting the negative tendency to reinvent the wheel. “It is useful to engage with practitioners and experts beyond UN agencies, notably in government bodies, civil society, academia, development partners, donors and other organizations”.
  • 29. Open-Access vs. Restricted Content 7/9 How to open?“Open to the public requires starting a change in the managementprocess within your organization which changes the mindset fromthe IT-driven paradigm “Only share what has to be shared with thosewho need to see it” to a new knowledge-driven paradigm: Restrict only content that absolutely has to be restricted; other than that share as widely as possible and appropriate”.
  • 30. Open-Access vs. Restricted Content 7/9 Problem: Copyright “The nebulous nature of information disclosure policies and concerns about providing open-access on the platform”. Solution“Engage partner agencies earlier on in the planning and designing of the project. This creates more buy-in and removes some of the copyright obstacles you might face at later stages”.
  • 31. Open-Access vs. Restricted Content 7/9 Problem: Discretion “People may not feel comfortable sharing their views publicly”. Solution“Usually this problem is due to simple lack of information. Responddirectly to these concerns. For example, design clear guidelines for what will and will not be published as open-access”.
  • 32. Repurposing of Knowledge 8/9Replication, scalability of initiatives and re-purposing of knowledgeare intrinsic objectives of KM.Producing knowledge is only an intermediate objective: knowledge isuseful when it is used, and possibly re-used.
  • 33. Repurposing of Knowledge 8/9 How to make knowledge re-usable: Flexibility“The concept has been successfully adapted to local circumstances in terms of the type of knowledge-sharing desired (e.g., CoP, programme-based network, or other configuration), the topics to organize networks around, and the operational arrangements. This flexible approach has facilitated replication”.
  • 34. Repurposing of Knowledge 8/9 StandardizationStandardization through the use of templates make it easy tocategorize and reuse knowledge. Even case studies can be used astemplates:“Collect and highlight common uses and good practices on how thesystem has been used in specific business scenarios. These can serve as templates for other users, who e.g. want to organize an event, jointly draft on a document, engage with external partners, coordinate within a project team, etc”.
  • 35. Impact of KM 9/9 Balance between sharing knowledge and getting the work doneThere is a balance between sharing knowledge and spending time onpolicy and programming. It is important to not overburdenpractitioners with too much “knowledge”: “Several agencies expressed concern that an interactive platform through which agency staff would share knowledge and engage indialogue would impose a burden on their staff rather than enhancing their efficiency and streamlining their work”.
  • 36. Impact of KM 9/9 How to evaluate impact of KM?“The value of KM can only be appreciated by acknowledging the “hidden” value of collaboration, interaction, and knowledgesharing. To overcome this limit, consider keeping track of success cases. It is vital for raising funds”.
  • 37. Thank You Davide