How do you do? How do you do-cument?

An eternal struggle in Knowledge Management remains the balancing act between actually doing things: implementing a project, organising an event, writing a case study and documenting those: reflecting about them, collecting insights, analysing them, taking a neutral role to observe what is going on.

At an individual level, it is hard enough to find the time to document a lot when taken prisoner of the ‘do-mode / do more’: work and other pressures usually have the upper hand on the struggle and the Do wins, leaving the familiar impression that it would be excellent to document what is going on against the risk of being confronted with the same situation in the future. When it comes to an organisation, roles may be split: some may be documenting the work of others while a core of ‘doers’ are actually carrying out a number of activities. Both roles are important – but it still remains hard to justify documentation against delivery.

When one adds the issue of reporting and monitoring – which for some may be felt as imposed documentation – the need to document for real learning purposes becomes even more difficult to justify and make happen. And yet it is in this documentation that the long term patterns that come back and haunt our work are to be discerned. It is in that (light) documentation that one learns how to improve the way s/he carries out his/her work.

In a number of projects where I am involved, we carry out ‘process documentation’ work, which is a very murky concept at the junction of communication and monitoring, addressing sensitive issues but not necessarily allowing to get them in the public. This is the kind of documentation that needs to inform the ‘do’ mode. While still making sense of this concept and its potential implications, one thing is clear: our motto should be “do less, document more”. It is in the documenting that one understands how one is doing and how to improve it next time. The more we do, the less we can document – until we have convinced donors that it is essential to dedicate more funding on documentation of issues, in particular processes.

In the development sector, in the absence of excellent examples, the journey has to temporarily become the end rather than the means so that we find the best journey possible to reach the ultimate end. And so among so much ado, we will have to document…

Published by Ewen Le Borgne

Collaboration and change process optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. Nearly 20 years of experience in group facilitation and collaboration, learning and Knowledge Management, communication, innovation and change in development cooperation. Be the change you want to see, help others be their own version of the same.

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