KM Tools. Introduction. Communities of practice

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1 KM Tools Introduction The purpose of this note is to provide an overview of various tools that can be used for improving the sharing of knowledge and lessons. There are several inter-related tools, each with their strength and weaknesses. Identifying a common need and interest between a group of people is essential for successful knowledge management. Communities of practice Communities of practice (COP) are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (either physically or through the internet). A community interacts and is engaged in sharing experiences, knowledge, tools and templates, and practical application, among other things. A community of practice is defined by its identified purpose or reason for existence, which is continually redefined and negotiated by its members. Key characteristics of the community of practice are that the community provides a stimulating and comfortable environment in which people can learn and exchange ideas. Mastery and expertise are often the goals, as well as knowledge exchange. However, the keys to successful communities of practice are not the level to which participants master a field or subject but the level of participation of the members at the community s centre and the outcomes the community produces for the benefit of its individual members and, in an organization, for the benefit of the organization. COPs work best when there is regular communication among members and members have a sense of belonging. They help people to collaborate and learn from each other. To succeed, COPs need a coordinator, time, and a common space for resources or community events. This space could either be virtual (a website), or a physical meeting space in cases where those involved are able to meet regularly. When setting up a CoP, it is important to: Identify clear objectives for the CoP; it is important that members and visitors are clear about the purpose of the CoP. Select suitable platforms, CMS and tools that meet your CoP s needs; migrate to a new CMS, if necessary. Appoint a coordinator or facilitator for the CoP; s/he is pivotal to the effective functioning of a CoP, especially for quality control and encouraging members participation; a national focal point is also essential for country-specific sections. Use a range of tools and technologies to encourage community members to contribute and share information and experiences. 1

2 Know your community members, i.e. their work, needs, interests, areas of expertise, and offer tailored products and services to meet members needs. Respond promptly to questions and requests for technical support. Promote your CoP both online and offline. Acknowledge and promote community members contributions. Use an Open Content License such as one provided by the Creative Commons to implicitly give permissions to reproduce (or modify) materials. Strengthen the sense of community through face-to-face exchanges. Improved communication Shared repertoire Fosters learning Long-term Flexible & combinable Time intensive Facilitation Motivation 2

3 E-discussions, electronic mailing lists, electronic bulletin boards and portals An e-discussion is an electronic discussion to promote and stimulate debate on a particular topic. It is a tool for a group of people, in any geographic location, to exchange ideas and resources and is particularly useful for advancing understanding of key issues, methodologies and good practices, and identifying common obstacles and challenges. It can bring together a larger and more diverse group of people than most other learning events, and its extended duration permits a level of sustained interaction and reflection on the chosen subject that is often not possible with face-to-face meetings. E-discussions are guided by a moderator, who provides a week-by-week outline with specific subtopics and questions for discussion. Each week, participants in the e-discussion receive the questions for that week and can respond with their ideas and thoughts. At the end of an e-discussion a summary is produced that highlights some of the major findings and conclusions of the discussion. An e-discussion operates in the same way as a general discussion list, with messages being sent and received as an , rather than viewing them over the internet. They can sometimes also be accessed through a web-based discussion forum. Focused discussion Need for a good moderator An Electronic Mailing List is an interactive communication forum that takes place over . Subscribers of an Electronic Mailing List can questions and comments to the Electronic Mailing List that other subscribers can then read and respond to. It can be also be used to provide info on events, publications, etc. Inexpensive Easy to reach a large number of people People might send material that is not always very relevant Electronic bulletin boards (also known as message boards or computer forums) are communication systems online where one can share, request, or discuss information on just about any topic. While is a way to converse privately with one or more people over the Internet, electronic bulletin boards are totally public. Electronic bulletin boards operate in a very simple manner. Any person can start a discussion on a particular topic and then wait for replies. These lines of discussion are known as threads. Some threads can go on endlessly, while other posts run the risk of getting no replies at all. The longer threads tend to find people responding to not only the original post, but to the subsequent replies as well. This can often lead to some confusion, since later posts in longer threads often have nothing to do with the original subject. 3

4 People are kept informed about events and publications Content is unedited Easy access for everybody A Portal is a virtual platform that enables individuals to acquire, adapt, store, disseminate, manage and use knowledge. It is also a transformational service that encourages positive changes in knowledge processes and sharing behaviour. One of the key technological components of the portal is a content management system (CMS). A CMS is a tool that enables users to create, edit, manage and publish various types of content (such as text, graphics, video), while being guided by a set of rules, processes and workflows that ensure a coherent and validated website appearance. Everybody can contribute Perceived ownership (HQ vs field) Radio, TV and newsletters The use of radio or audio is a valuable way to share knowledge that builds on the tradition of oral knowledge exchange. It can help involve rural and remote communities, and semiliterate people, in local government capacity building activities or in awareness raising initiatives. Builds on the tradition of oral knowledge exchange Expensive TV and video is another excellent way to raise awareness about issues, though the cost of filming and broadcasting may be prohibitive. Rather than producing their own TV shows or videos, national associations or local governments may be able to access videos made by others that are relevant to members or their communities, respectively, and organize viewing forums. Excellent way to raise awareness Expensive Technology might be a constraint Newsletters are one of the most important communication tools available to organizations of all kinds. National associations can keep members (and other interested parties) informed about what is going on in the association and what is planned. They can also facilitate knowledge sharing by including stories about the good practices of members in each issue. Keep in mind that producing a newsletter can be quite expensive and may require outside financial support. That said, even if it is 4

5 only possible to publish a newsletter infrequently, the newsletter is an effective means of keeping members connected to the association and aware and informed of its activities. People are kept informed Time consuming Learning routes and exchange visits A Learning Route is a continuous process of training in the field organized thematically around successful experiences, case studies and best practices on innovative rural and local development in which local actors themselves become trainers. The learning route is a methodology developed by PROCASUR consisting in a journey of field-based training in which participants learn from concrete projects, from each other and from a wider range of partners. It is an innovative alternative to topdown learning, a programme that takes participants to a number of communities so they can directly observe and share the communities development experiences, problems and solutions. Each Route is organized thematically around experiences, case studies and best practices on innovative rural and local development. The end goal is for the local participants to become the trainers. Through workshops, interviews, conversations and other learning activities, the Route generates a space for individual and collective learning for visitors and hosts. For the final product, Learning Route participants come up with a concrete innovation plan. Learning routes can be held at national, sub-regional, regional and international level. The Learning Route methodology includes three distinct stages. Stage I - To Know. Construction and organization of empirical knowledge accumulated by local or rural organizations is made up of the following steps: Selection of the team in charge of the route's design. Identification of the training needs of the route's potential users. Selection of cases to be studied. Systematization and preparation of case studies. Selection of local and regional experts. Dissemination, call and application. 5

6 User/participant selection. Preparation for the trip. Stage II - To Know How to, Knowledge in Route comprises of the following steps: Induction workshop. Field work. Panel of experts and decision makers. Workshops for the development of Innovation Plans. Case Summary Workshop. Closing Workshop. Stage III - Can do. Implementing innovations involves the following steps: Activities to reinforce learning Innovation Plan Systematization and dissemination of the results of the Route Follow up and evaluation For more information, please visit and Similarly, exchange visits offer a bundle of benefits, well beyond just acquiring information. An intellectual and physical journey creates common understanding, relationships forged in the fun and hardships of shared experience, commitments to new approaches, and friendships as foundation for future networking. Visits allow travellers and hosts to focus time and attention on a topic, learning deeply, sharing ideas, and assessing the relevance of new approaches. Information comes alive, in dialog, detailed in response to specific queries, conversations enriched by the perspective of distance and difference. The chance to look behind the scenes, to get acquainted with real people, understanding their problems and achievements, can create inspiration to keep working and launch new initiatives. Creates common understanding Relationships are forged Allows for deeper understanding Expensive Time consuming Workshops, seminars, conference calls and videoconferences Short training workshops and seminars are important for the rapid acquisition of knowledge and skills. Training workshops are especially helpful when participants must gain technical knowledge, but they can also be used to raise awareness about an issue. More and more, training workshops and seminars make use of a dynamic learning process, in which participants interact with their peers 6

7 and share what they know. Participants learn from each other s views and experiences. While experts can be involved to impart important technical knowledge, workshops and seminars usually make use of a facilitator who guides the process and encourages participation. Participants frequently work in small subgroups of four or five people to work through the training material. When the technology is available, reliable, and affordable, conference calls and videoconferences can be a great way to connect people who work together from a distance. They tend to be most successful when there is a clear objective and a well-planned agenda, and they usually require a Chair or a Facilitator, depending on the purpose of the meeting. Rapid acquisition of knowledge and skills Networking Technology might be a constraint Needs to be well planned Needs a good facilitator Research, reports and papers Research is the systematic investigation into existing or new knowledge. Breaking the linear mould of conventional research, participatory research focuses on a process of sequential reflection and action, earned out with and by local people rather than on them. Local knowledge and perspectives are not only acknowledged but form the basis for research and planning. Many of the methods used in participatory research are drawn from mainstream disciplines and conventional research itself involves varying degrees of participation. The key difference between participatory, and conventional methodologies lies in the location of power in the research process. The results can be used to inform decision-making or influences ideas/ policies. The research can then be packaged in reports and papers in order to facilitate the dissemination of the gained knowledge. Participatory research involves community Time consuming Participatory research is more likely to reflect reality on the field Need to strike a balance between getting the work done efficiently and on time Firm methodology is needed Peer reviews and peer assist Peer reviews entail inviting colleagues who have experience with similar projects to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned before starting out. Learning routes and exchange visits are forms of peer reviews. 7

8 The Peer Assist is a tool which supports a learning before doing processes in which advice is sought from someone else, or a group that has/have done something similar. This tool encourages participatory learning, by asking those with experience in certain activities to assist those wishing to benefit from their knowledge, through a systematic process, towards strengthened mutual learning. The Peer Assist process involves the following steps: Developing a clear definition of the problem Enrolling participants Timing the meeting carefully Running the peer assists meeting Developing a set of lessons from the peer assist and noting the options. The benefits of a peer assist are: Targets a specific task or technical challenge. Gain assistance and insights from people outside the team. Identify possible approaches and new lines of inquiry. Promote sharing of learning. Develop strong networks amongst people involved. Effective peer assist meetings have six parts: The learning team presents the context, history and ideas regarding the task or issue at hand. This should occur in an open and flexible manner to allow its redefinition during the session. The participants consider the problem, and discuss issues of interest - namely, what has been covered, and what hasn t been covered. The participants consider what the learning team might need to know to address the problem and where they might find that knowledge. The participants reflect on what has been learned from the others and examine options. Again, the learning team should not be the focus here. The participants should present feedback to the learning team and answer specific questions. This should be informal and deal with what has been learned, what options are available and others experiences. The team who called the peer assist should acknowledge the contribution of the participants. Finally, all the participants should be invited to reflect on what they learned, and how they might apply it going forward. Encourages participatory learning Cost efficient Dependence on inter-personal relations Dependence on capacities of peers 8

9 Annex 1: On-going IFAD-supported KM initiatives in ESA ILEA - grant which helps projects in documenting their experiences; IMAWESA grant to strengthen thematic networks on agricultural water management; PROCASUR grant to disseminate innovations and knowledge and strengthen capacities, mainly, but not exclusively, through learning routes (three thematic themes: (i) microfinance, (ii) value chain, (iii) natural resources management); KM4DEV grant to help energize communities of practice; AGRA grant to help build leadership capacity and entrepreneurial skills of rural women; AGRA grant to extract lessons learned from on-going AECF investments AFRACA - Rural Finance grant; IFADAfrica grant focussing knowledge management in a broader sense; WISP grant on strengthening pastoral livelihoods; PhytoTrade Africa grant to support trade in indigenous natural products; Pride Africa grant to scale up experimental work on transaction security in market chains and a cashon-the-bag financing mechanism for smallholder farmers; M&E grant grant to strengthen the M&E systems of IFAD-supported projects and related Government departments; Pride Africa grant to help improve the efficiency of marketing chains by providing facilities that enable small farmers to bulk at village level NEPAD grant to enable the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency to use KM and learning to support organizational development and institutional reforms in state and non-state institutions in the agriculture sector 9

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