Knowledge Management and Sharing (KMS) tools and practices, which are ways to organise and exchange knowledge in organisations, are becoming more and more widespread in the International Development sector. While evaluation and outcome-orientation became prioritised in recent decades, a wide array of mechanisms were put in place that were meant to ensure that knowledge does not get lost within an organisation, to share best practices and avoid repetitive errors. However, many KMS solutions have not been well received in organisations around the world; and the problem of engagement surfaced. There can be low user engagement with KMS, despite considerable investment in time and resources, leading to the perception that funds have been inefficiently spent. At Strhive, we are also advising multiple organisations that face engagement challenges with their KMS systems. This blog post is meant to provide an introduction to the key mechanisms that are facilitating engagement with KMS, as identified by academic research and our own experience. First, you can explore three concepts underlying KMS engagement, and then find some practical tips and tools that foster engagement.
The importance of leadership is a consistent theme throughout the literature. Two of the most prominent characteristics of leadership’s role in encouraging KMS engagement are i) being supportive of a learning environment and ii) being an example, meaning that it is crucial that management itself embraces KMS tools/practices –. In regards to i), this has several implications. A key determinant of success of KMS is when management acknowledges it as a legitimate working activity , .Leadership is crucial for granting legitimacy to learning activities and recognition to employees that are engaging in it. In addition, management’s decisions are largely responsible for the implementation of any other policy to promote KMS, which include what will be mentioned below. In regards to ii), leaders often seem to be in fact the hardest to convince to actively use KMS tools and practices . This stands in stark contrast to leaders’ responsibilities as role models or “face” of the organisation, which is important both for the external picture of the organisation as well as the internal morale.
This is especially relevant for encouraging already existing employees to adopt KMS tools/practices. As KMS can be included in the onboarding for new employees, and be naturally incorporated into work-related practice from the beginning, existing employees need some more incentives to change their working styles and habits to embrace KMS . This includes leaders that actively “walk the talk” and actively engage in, promote, and endorse KMS activities.
In our own projects, we have repeatedly experienced the considerable importance of supportive leadership. When there are dynamic, engaged KMS facilitators, and management is committed to putting KMS into practice and improving the experience, we notice a strong comparative effect.
Establishing a Common Vision and Mission
A sense of working towards a common goal is crucial in fuelling motivation, both for conventional work activities and engagement with KMS tools/practices. Especially the incorporation of KMS into mission statements, and also reflecting that in practice, is crucial to establish this sense of teamwork. This has two main reasons. Firstly, it affects the organisational climate, which is greatly conducive for KMS engagement. Aspects of social responsibility, as well as professional dedication to improvement and learning reinforce engagement with KMS . This happens both directly, and through improving the employees’ attitudes towards KMS. Secondly, working together on a common mission strengthens a sense of community, and incorporating learning and KMS into this vision allows for more legitimacy and motivation to undertake KMS activities . This blends in nicely with the importance of supportive leadership, as well as organisational climate, which I will turn to below.
Strhive has seen different shades of commitment towards KMS in the mission of organisations. Even if great ideas and enthusiastic individuals exist, as long as the legitimacy is not granted through a common vision and mission, KMS will be thwarted. Having a mission that incorporates KMS is conducive for engagement in any organisation, and especially in the International Development sector. Various interests and power dynamics that are at play, as well as a tendency to being overly focused on crises, often distracts the focus off continuous organisational improvement.
Fostering a Climate conducive of KMS Engagement
There seems to be a discrepancy between individual and organisational attitudes towards KMS . Whereas individuals in general are more than aware of benefits that accrue from KMS, this often does not translate into the organisation. An important emphasis in the literature is on organisational “ethics,” or the surrounding norms and values under which individuals undertake (or fail to undertake) KM efforts. Knowledge in organisation seems to be operating in the form of silos, where individuals in fact undertake quite productive and sustainable learning journeys, but this is not exchanged between individuals. An often-cited cause for this is a lack of productive relationships between different units of knowledge-holders . Often, the source or recipient are tied by power dynamics that are hard to ignore. A junior employee might not feel qualified enough to share knowledge to a superior, whereas knowledge shared by a superior might not be perceived as KMS, but simply as working instructions, failing to achieve its full potential. To overcome these barriers, KMS needs to become an integral part of an organisation’s practices and day-to-day activities. This is a daunting task, and requires resource investment. Key components of a conducive climate include legitimacy and support for learning activities, reward schemes, and strategizing to overcome internal barriers to KMS.
In many contexts, KMS can be perceived as a non-integral part of the work in development organisations. If KMS does not become a part of day-to-day work, and there is no stake involved, it is easy to lose momentum, or to not engage with it.
Practical Tips and Tools to Foster KMS Engagement
In this section, you can find some common practices meant to improve KMS engagement.
- In-Person KMS Events
While entailing relatively large administrative and logistical efforts, in-person events can be great to build momentum for KMS in an organisation. It brings together the sources and recipients of knowledge, breaks down barriers, and shows leadership support for KMS. It can also help to unite all involved actors under a common mission and vision for KMS.
- Habit-Building Components
It has been shown that if not incorporated in day-to-day practices, KMS often lacks engagement. By making KMS part of routinized processes, such as for instance weekly meetings, or by organising peer check-ins, it can become a part of organisational culture.
- Iterative and Continuous Feedback Processes
Since different organisations or projects have different needs in terms of KMS engagement, a context-sensitive approach necessitates the presence of continuous evaluation mechanisms. When a certain approach to foster KMS has not worked, it is important to cut the losses and try something different. Conscious inclusion of milestones and evaluation parameters in the strategy, as well as piloting are therefore needed to guarantee the success of KMS engagement promotion.
- Responsiveness to User Demands
Any KMS system can be perceived differently by different users. For each individual that is supposed to engage in KMS, the value of it for one’s work needs to be proven. By allowing users to have a stake in what knowledge is shared, and how that is done, accountability is increased and employees can feel more included.
This blogpost provided an overview of some key concepts that are underlying engagement with Knowledge Management and Sharing (KMS) solutions. We used insights from theory and practice to understand why, despite the proliferation of KMS in the International Development sector, many organisations fail to encourage engagement with it. Serious and committed leadership, a common vision and mission, as well as a conducive climate are key components of a successful KMS system. Nevertheless, context matters, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to foster KMS engagement. However, what is a commonality across all cases is that KMS engagement should be supported in a strategic and intentional way, and not be assumed at the onset of a project. At Strhive, we put a focus on holistic and reflective strategy design, in order to respond best to the needs of specific organisations, or KMS practices within them.
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