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Community Contribution

Strengthening Knowledge Retention and Transfer During Staff Transitions

Aug 05, 2021
Adrián Rivera-Reyes

USAID’s workforce is highly mobile, with Foreign Service staff in particular transitioning fairly frequently from post to post. Yet the Agency lacks a systematic process for capturing and transferring knowledge from outgoing staff to incoming staff. Consequently, during staff transitions, knowledge of our programs and their histories, underlying rationales and relevant relationships are lost, often leading to systems being reinvented and decisions overturned, resulting in loss of programmatic momentum, disruption in key relationships, and confusion and anxiety among staff -- particularly Foreign Service Nationals, whose deep technical and contextual knowledge is often overlooked. 


In late 2019, USAID/South Sudan reached out to the new Agency Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning (KMOL) Team to collaborate on developing a pilot model to address this problem. Throughout 2020, the KMOL Team worked closely with USAID/South Sudan to co-create processes and tools for knowledge retention and transfer to ease staff transitions and retain the knowledge that is one of the Agency’s most valuable assets. The Knowledge Retention and Transfer model includes processes, tools, and implementation plans (organized by function and against the mission calendar) to support efficient and effective transfer of knowledge from outgoing staff to their successors, and from Foreign Service Nationals to newcomers. The model aims to aid USAID missions to institutionalize effective knowledge retention processes throughout the cycle of staff transition and in turn improve productivity and momentum, reduce stress, and provide incoming staff and new hires the tools and information they need to start contributing to Mission objectives right away. 


Following the co-creation process with the South Sudan mission, the KMOL team convened a Peer Network of nine USAID missions to beta test the model. Network members include: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kenya and East Africa, South Sudan, Southern Africa Regional, and Vietnam. Members of this peer network are currently testing and refining the knowledge retention and transfer model and toolkit in their respective missions, sharing their learning with each other, and informing revisions that the KMOL Team will make to the overall model and toolkit.


Through supporting the Peer Network, the KMOL Team has learned that while each mission faces circumstances specific to its own context, the overarching issues across missions are very similar. Peer Network member missions participate in monthly peer learning events facilitated by the Agency KMOL Team and designed to help mission staff customize and apply the model in their contexts. The knowledge sharing that takes place within the network speeds iterative improvements in the model’s tools and processes, as missions share their experiences and ideas, and help each other troubleshoot and adapt.


The Peer Network will continue to meet and further test and refine the model until its conclusion in November 2021. Please stay tuned for more information on next steps in scaling this effort in 2022. 


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