A simple KM and communication strategy… with double focus on the context

A lot of KM strategies end up in the dustbin. Or in the cemetery of good ideas that never took off. There are many reasons for that, explored and explained ad infinitum in the KM world.

I’d like to zoom in on two of them though:

West Africa Water Initiative

The West Africa Water Initiative

  1. From the inside, the KM strategy may be disconnected from the organisational context, either because it does not follow the overall objectives of the organisation/initiative or because it is formulated in a complex technical jargon, making it sound like an (unjustified) import. There’s nothing worse for employees than to feel someone that doesn’t understand them is trying to shove a strategy, a procedure or a system down their throat.
  2. From the outside it may be disconnected from the local context in which the initiative or organisation is operating. In this case, the initiative may be well thought-through but it will slide on the surface and fall as quickly as someone wearing normal trainers on an indoors soccer field.

This is why, for an assignment on behalf of the West Africa Water Initiative (WAWI) supported by USAid, a colleague and I proposed a KM and communication strategy that is rather practical and really takes into account the context of the initiative itself and crucially the local context and practices at play in that environment.

The strategy we propose basically looks into two main sets of activities and support activities: the main activities are information management (generating, managing and versioning information) and knowledge sharing (face-to-face and virtually, process documenting dialogues, aggregating content). Support activities include: raising visibility for the initiative; working on improving internal KM and communication; developing capacities for all of these activities; linking meaningfully with monitoring and evaluation.

Have a look at this strategy there and let me/us know what you think: http://www.community-of-knowledge.de/beitrag/knowledge-management-and-communication-strategy/ (this is the link to the strategy as it will be published in a journal soon. You can also find the strategy on IRC’s website: http://www.irc.nl/page/62673).

Related posts:


Summer tweets in the feverish heat

While recovering from a virus I contracted in West Africa, blogging is again put a little bit on the back burner, in spite of lots of ideas for topics to blog about. I’ll keep it simple and provide a picture of my Twitter activity in the months of June and July, and hopefully blog more again when totally back on my feet.
Wordle: Summer tweets As usual this word cloud is generated on Wordle.com. And the cloud clearly shows that I’m closely following Gauri’s activity. Feel free to check her blog ‘Gauri’s mumblings‘.

Twitter was one of the topics I addressed with colleagues in West Africa to convince them to give it a go, even though as of now very few people are using it in their direct environment. What’s more, there’s very little information about Twitter in French. At least that is what I suspect but I’d be happy to be proven wrong. So if you have resources about it, feel free to send them over to me!

Judging from the following video (in French) uploaded on DailyMotion in April 2009, a lot of Francophones did not know what Twitter was and when they did, what it could do for them. So this list of resources is all the more useful I guess – spread the word please!
See this video:

In the meantime, the flurry of articles (in English) about Twitter and Twitter tools continues. You will find some of these on my del.icio.us collection: http://delicious.com/ewenirc/twitter

The power of three learning approaches and their combination? Capitalising, systematising, documenting processes and experiences

Working with partners in Francophone West Africa always feels to me as a refreshing experience – except perhaps in a meteorological sense. It puts the concepts, approaches and tools we play with from my IRC base in the Netherlands in stark contrast with the local reality on the technological, conceptual and linguistic side of things. As such it invites me to explore my own mental models again and to ponder about different linguistic traditions of learning and knowledge management (1).

In one work session in Burkina Faso a few days ago two colleagues from CREPA Burkina Faso and I discussed the difference between ‘capitalisation’ (a learning approach almost exclusively referred to in French) and ‘process documentation’ (2). This blog post is an opportunity to compare these two concepts coming and in the process, to tackle the concept of systematisation (‘sistematización’) dear to many KM heads in Latin America.

Can we see more clearly when combining three learning approaches?

Can we see more clearly when combining three learning approaches?

What’s in the book?

So first off, here’s a short series of definitions from the best sources I could find (please enlighten me!):

  • Process documentation: Following the definition provided in the recent WASHCost process documentation workshop, process documentation is “an approach that helps track meaningful events, discern reasons for happenings and highlight project (or intervention) issues that need advocacy and action to create and improve impact of the project”.
  • Capitalisation: Often specifically refers to experiences (capitalisation des expériences). SDC’s excellent ‘guide sur la capitalisation thématique des expériences’ provides the following definition: “La capitalisation des expériences est un mode de traitement des expériences visant à produire du savoir. Il s’agit d’un processus d’apprentissage permettant d’amener des changements en s’appuyant sur des expériences disponibles encore inexplorées”. (3)
  • Systematisation: on the online SIWA discussion group (dedicated to knowledge management and learning in Spanish and primarily in Latin America), Margarita Salas recently shared a useful paper by Oscar Jara Holliday stating the following definition to systematisation: “se atribuye a la Sistematización la misión de recuperar y reflexionar sobre las experiencias como fuente de conocimiento de lo social para la transformación de la realidad, objetivo inherente a la naturaleza del trabajo social tal como era definido en ese período”. (4)

Nuances and differences

What do these definitions say?

  • Process documentation is more closely related to learning-focused monitoring and evaluation as well as communication and it emphasises observation and analysis;
  • Capitalisation is more closely related to (knowledge) management and specifically the task of supporting an improved practice and developing the institutional memory;
  • Systematisation is very close to capitalisation but it is more inherently related to the Latin American context and is particularly attuned to social work, its main objective perhaps being to bring about social change and empowerment.

So what distinguishes these terms?

I put together this table to try and outline differences between approaches but of course this is just a model. Each particular case of using capitalisation, systematisation and/or process documentation implies to adapt the approach to the context. This table shows some patterns, no more, no less.

An attempt at comparing the three approaches

An attempt at comparing the three approaches

Integrating approaches

Beyond differences, it is valuable to look at the synergies between approaches:

The key value of process documentation is its ongoing nature (it goes along other intervention activities), its creative use of media and its focus on continually informing implementation. The added value of capitalisation is to synthesise findings from experiences to inform change in future interventions. In turn, systematisation proves its worth in its social nature and the fact that it helps address issues of power relations and empowerment during an intervention.

If the context allows or commands it the three learning approaches could be integrated to offer a strong combination of documentation, learning, synthesis and application for social and other types of changes.

A combined approach would help make an intervention more effective now and in the future and it would also address power relations and negotiations between individuals and groups. It might offer a fertile ground for a deeply transformative learning experience, for the benefit of the people involved in and benefitting from the intervention (and from similar interventions in the future).

So far, I don’t know of such combinations and perhaps this idea is just a naive illusion but it seems certainly worth a more thorough analysis.

In the meantime, at the very least, I hope this post will offer a good basis to further discuss with my colleagues from CREPA and hopefully to trigger more reactions beyond…


(1)    This is all the more timely as we are in the process of setting up a francophone KM4DEV community of practice (see here the starting Ning group page and feel free to join!).

(2)    See more posts related to process documentation: Process documentation – Sandbox to influence donors?That PD thing againCapitalising on process documentation – and changing names please!

(3) Approximate translation: Capitalisation of experiences is a manner to processs experiences aiming at generating knowledge. It is a learning process that brings about changes based on available yet untapped experiences.

(4) Approximate translation: The mission of systematisation is to recover experiences and reflect on them as a source of knowledge about social phenomena with a view to transform reality, an objective which is inherent to the nature of social work as defined in this context.

Note: Thank you Nick Milton for pointing out to the need for translations. I hereby offer my own translations but would welcome any finer interpretation! Any translation implies a certain loss of meaning, which could be high in this case, particularly for the Spanish translation!

Learning for sale in the WASH sector

It’s common: innovation and change never comes alone, it comes in clouds, or bubbles. But before bubbles appear, one’s been blowing in the water like crazy and nothing happens – or perhaps only shy ripples on the surface.

This is what happened with the resource centre development work that our partners and us have been undertaking in the past seven years. From 2002 to 2006, IRC (my organisation) was involved in a resource centre development programme. Some lessons learnt and ideas about that programme are presented on the IRC website.

Very little seemed to come out of those initiatives. A series of lessons learnt showed disappointingly small outputs of five years of organisational learning and an attempt at organising what we now refer to as ‘sector learning’ (a very blurry term, I agree, and a debatable one too, but that’s for another blog post I guess). In 2006, the end of the programme meant the end of resource centres in quite a few cases, not unlike many other development initiatives.

And yet… the seed was growing very slowly. In the framework of our regional programmes (and with very limited funding), a number of resource centre (RC) initiatives started off again: RC network in Ghana, RAS-Hon in Honduras, RC network Nepal etc. In Francophone West Africa, where I am working quite a lot (chiefly in Burkina Faso and Benin), there is a similar trend of reviving moribund RC networks (RCNs) with renewed interest and energy. I attended (and co-facilitated) the launch of a widely supported network in Benin in July last year. Last week, I helped the RCN Burkina define their priorities in terms of focus areas. Governmental, non-governmental, private organisations were all there and testified of their interest in the network.

What has happened between 2006 and 2008? For some reason, the ‘knowledge economy’ seems to have dawned upon WASH sectors of many countries. IRC is now supported by other international organisations wishing to improve sector learning: WaterAid is developing a series of regional learning centres on various topics (sanitation, decentralisation etc.), the Stockholm Environment Institute is promoting the development of knowledge nodes on environmental saniation in various countries, supported by WASTE.

All of a sudden, knowledge and learning is indeed the real buzz in town, and the water sector’s bubbly as ever. In these weeks of shopping sales, learning is another item discounted on the market: everyone wants to buy it, quite a few are selling some of it.

Learning for sale

Learning for sale

I personally don’t know whether these renewed initiatives will be more successful than in the past, but one thing I’m sure of: that’s a very good direction. Finally we turn bubbles into streams.

Like I recently read on an RSS feed from the Knowledge share fair, ‘knowledge is not power, sharing is power’. I hope the mass of organisations supporting resource centres and knowledge nodes and all the rest of it will keep true to their call. While learning is for sale, it is gaining value, not losing it. Another knowledge paradox that makes it so much more worth than working with material values…

And while I’m at it, since I managed not to skip this week’s blogging on my learning musings, I’ll celebrate with bubbles: the narguile bars in downtown Ouaga are inviting me to rejoice for learning!