In its Resource Centre Development (RCD) programme, IRC has been working in about 20 countries between 2002 and 2006 to set up resource centres (‘RC’s – independent organisations or networks) so as to manage information and knowledge on water, sanitation and hygiene at national level.
The results of the programme – partly available on: http://www.irc.nl/page/30737 and on other pages in http://www.irc.nl/page/393 – have been mixed. Some RC’s have managed to impose a mandate of knowledge management for organisations in the WASH sector, others have provided concrete products (a yellow pages-type directory of organisations, joint training course, manuals on spare parts etc.) but most of them (and IRC very much) have failed to create a structured process of sector knowledge management by a coordinated group of organisations. The respective governments and donor community have not engaged enough with the RCD idea to fund it in the long run.
In 2008, RCD is still going on, outside of the RCD programme, in the form of resource centre networks that keep the ambition to do something about sector learning: in Ghana, in Burkina, Benin, Uganda, Tanzania, in Honduras and in Nepal to name a few, some initiatives are going on.
As IRC is still reflecting on the RCD process and trying to provide a well documented overview of the lessons learnt from the RCD programme, one could wonder if the RCD idea is actually not being replaced by a new era focusing on collective management of knowledge through powerful social software and applications. The possibilities to interconnect provided by the Web 2.0 are providing another model of knowledge flow management than the RC network with its more structured approach, budget etc.
Right now, the argument still goes in favour of resource centres, because countries where RC developments are taking place are not so well connected. But in 10 years, and perhaps even 5 or 3, will the potential of social applications not replace structured knowledge management? If each person becomes a knowledge manager for their personal network connected to a web of networks, does one need to have a central (group of) facilitator(s) to provide information and to share knowledge on the spot? Perhaps the answer is not one versus the other but rather a different approach for RC networks, to rely on personal networks and the power of social applications to help them in their quest to serve a given sector better.
The quest continues. And IRC and partners will keep on experimenting…