What is it?
In order for staff to collaborate, learn, and adapt effectively, there needs to be a culture in place that supports openness to new learning, processes that help capture knowledge and bring evidence and institutional memory to bear in decision making, and resources to support the planning, facilitation, and execution of these activities.
By creating and implementing effective processes to capture, distill, and share knowledge - especially institutional memory - within our organizations, we can ensure the best use of an expansive knowledge base that is built over time and is often forgotten about. A critical part of organizational growth is institutionalizing the processes (source, capture, distill, and share) that help individuals, teams, and programs to manage knowledge, preserve institutional memory, and incorporate them into decision making.
When we source and capture knowledge, we are making determinations - either implicitly or explicitly - about whose voice matters in decision-making. It is then important to include and value a variety of voices when documenting knowledge. Distilling and sharing knowledge ensures that the right information gets to the right people at the right time and in the right format so that it can be used to inform current and future programming.
Guidance and Tools
Need help getting started?
Consider using the CLA Maturity Tool to explore how your team approaches knowledge management and institutional memory.
- Keep it simple. Start small and think about your priorities so you can be strategic. Effective knowledge management seeks to get the right information to the right people at the right time and in the right format. Be sure to keep barriers low and establish systems that easily facilitate this, such as easy-to-use templates, a knowledge management platform, or making space to share knowledge in regular meetings.
- Develop a knowledge-sharing mindset. We learn continuously throughout the day, but how often are you prompted to share that knowledge? Consider asking questions like: Who else needs to know this? Have I shared this with them? Where should I share it? Where can this be stored so it is easily accessible by others? Challenge yourself to think broadly about sharing knowledge beyond your team; think about your office or organization and the wider development community.
- Set clear expectations that everyone is responsible. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you don't have time for knowledge management or the responsibility is assigned to the KM specialist and therefore not your job, but everyone is responsible. If you don’t manage your knowledge effectively, you will spend time correcting for problems that could have been avoided by making decisions based on past experience and the best knowledge available. If you are in a management role, focus on people, setting clear expectations. Don’t assume teams know how to manage knowledge effectively. Provide guidance and training when appropriate.
- Be inclusive about sourcing institutional memory. Institutional memory can be found in a variety of positions within an organization. When seeking to source, capture, and share institutional knowledge about USAID’s work, institutional memory may come from outside your organization and from more than just local country staff.
- Dedicate resources for knowledge management in everything you do. Don’t let it be an afterthought. Reinforce a knowledge-sharing mindset by setting aside time in daily/weekly schedule to document and share tacit knowledge you think others may need. To reinforce the practice of managing knowledge, allocate space in the budget and the schedule for capturing lessons-learned and applying what you learn along the way.
Making the Case
Evidence shows that knowledge sharing is positively related to reductions in production costs, faster completion of new product development projects, and improved team performance. Among the factors that aid knowledge sharing, researchers emphasize trust; higher levels of trust among colleagues leads to higher levels of knowledge sharing.