Knowledge in any organisation, including in the international development and non–profit sectors, is a highly valuable but often under-utilised asset. It flows in and out through various mediums, from reports, policies and procedures, to databases, stories, and most importantly, the people.
In the era of innovation, combined with uncertainty and a fast-paced, constantly changing environment, particularly in the geographical and thematic areas of operation of non-profit organisations, the challenges are multiple, and it is more important than ever to be flexible and adaptable. In addition to large volumes of information, increasing workload, complex, multi-layered, multi-donor programs and projects, donor demands, and frequent staff changes, among others, all add up to the complexities of organisations trying to juggle them all simultaneously. While digitalisation has helped process and manage information more effectively, it has also created additional challenges such as technical issues and delays, or trying to maintain active staff engagement online (but we leave Digitalisation for later).
Often, however, this is not enough as many organisations are still struggling to grasp the breadth of knowledge they possess, and to use it to their own advantage.
So why is Knowledge Management important?
Knowledge Management (KM) goes beyond information management. It helps turn information into key action points and decisions, as well as best practices and lessons learned. It makes information not only more easily available to anyone who is looking for it, but also helps learn from it, draw conclusions, make informed decisions and apply it in any other ways, for the benefit of the organisation.
Most often, this information is stored in documents such as organisational policies and procedures, databases, annual reports, country programme documents, strategies, plans, and many others. But it also includes personal experiences, beliefs and opinions of staff who worked on these documents; of donors who fund the organisation’s programs and have their own values and priorities; and of beneficiaries who are the ultimate users of the programs and projects described in these documents.
However, what value do these documents have without anyone using them? What is their value if no one can access them, or cannot find them, or did not contribute to them and feel that they are not in line with their values and/or priorities? How do we ensure that they serve the needs of everyone, and are indeed useful? KM takes information to the next level and generates additional benefits, the most important of which are summarised below.
Increased Efficiency and Effectiveness of Work
Through participatory approaches, KM provides an opportunity for everyone to contribute to building organisational knowledge, as well as preserving, sharing, and using it. Multiple online and offline tools allow teams to work on joint initiatives more efficiently, exchange ideas and share feedback without delay, while ensuring time saving and better quality outputs which meet everyone’s expectations. A good KM system in place also allows improved access to information, when and where it is needed, avoiding lengthy email chains and hours navigating a document management system without success. It is important for an organisation to invest in effective information management systems, and it is equally important to ensure that the information housed in those systems is accessed and utilised to contribute to organisational efficiency and effectiveness.
More Informed Decision Making
Decisions within organisations are made daily. Some of them require additional time and effort in terms of understanding the context, situation, or else. With improved access to organisational knowledge and relevant information at hand, the speed and quality of decisions improve. Staff who are well equipped with knowledge in a particular area may be able to provide quick and valuable advice to colleagues or management, share their experience, or help locate the necessary information at the right moment. It is therefore important that staff is involved in knowledge creation and sharing. It is also important that they are encouraged to speak up and share their experience, views and opinions, and disclose information, which may benefit others and the organisation as a whole.
Evolved, Innovative, Institutionalised Processes
KM encourages idea sharing and collaboration at all levels, hence contributing to a better learning environment and continuous improvement of organisational processes. Regular sessions to assess progress, share feedback, address challenges and issues, and find joint solutions with participation of everyone are important to ensuring that the organisation is on track, and identifying any early sings of concern. Some procedures, practices or tools may no longer serve the needs of the organisation, donors, or beneficiaries, and so a space to review and adjust these needs should be provided early enough. This ensures that the organisation is flexible and adaptable to the changing environment. The space to brainstorm, innovate and challenge existing practices is equally important for an organisation to stay ahead of the game.
Increased Employee and Partner Satisfaction and Trust
Creating and maintaining a favourable working environment where employees and partners are heard, encouraged to share their knowledge and experience, and have their opinions valued and taken into consideration are key. It leads to increased job satisfaction and better employee and partner relations, builds trust, and increases transparency and openness within the organisation. We strongly believe that such working environment also leads to increased productivity, better results, improved staff motivation, and retention. Through happy staff, donors, partners and beneficiaries may view the organisation as a great place to work, and consider increased collaboration.
KM is a vital part of every organisation. Organisations should value and preserve their knowledge as an important ingredient of success. They should embed KM in their organisational structures and operations, and share knowledge with key stakeholders, in order for them to mutually benefit from it. KM should never be the burden for an organisation, resulting in extra workload. Instead, if introduced and managed effectively, it should ensure quick access to expertise, improve processes and decision-making, increase employee engagement and satisfaction, and help the organisation thrive.