At a glance: Three key opportunities for organisational learning

It's amazing how quickly knowledge management ideas have become a natural part of how I reflect on issues. I just finished an online training on 'Learning Management' and during the training was asked what opportunities I see for United Nations organisations to build capacity through learning. In an instant, I came up with three items most important to me:

In my view, most organisations underestimate to a large extent the potential of knowledge management mechanisms for learning on the individual, but especially on the team level and organisational level.

Three mechanims could be highlighted which would support organisational learning in any organisation (including UN agencies):

1. Introduction of Peer Assists
A Peer Assist is a process where one indivudal or a team which faces a particular problem or is about to start a project, calls a meeting to seek insights from other people or teams on the issue. This is part of the "learning before doing" in a knowledge management cycle. The exercise is simple, inexpensive and allows the people concerned with a problem to benefit from the experiences and views from others, while being able to directly apply the offered ideas and solution to their problem. An excellent video on what Peer Assists are all about can be found here:

2. Introduction of After Action Reviews
An After Action Review is part of the process of "learning after doing". It is a discussion or review of a project or an activity that enables the individuals involved to learn for themselves what happened, why it happened, what went well, what needs improvement, and what lessons can be learnt from the experience. This approach has first been developed by the US Army and later been adopted within knowledge management practice. Taking part in these exercises of colleagues allows other staff members to quickly get into the specific challenges of projects and activities and distill lessons learnt for their own activities. And doing such a review for their own projects enables staff to reflect on their planning and their decision making and helps them to learn for the future projects.

3. Introduction of wikis and other collaborative tools.
No one knows everything on it's own. On the other side, everyone could learn from each other. The last years have shown a tremendous uprise of various tools which facilitate online collaboration and exchange, thus initiating emerging learning processes within communities and networks. The wiki ( is probably known to all) is the most prominent example of these kind of applications. It offers all participants the means to collectively develop and edit content, thus contributing to a body of knowledge which is the accumulation of what all participants know. Wikis can be established around any theme, not just as lexicon, but also as research paper, project space or to-do list. The United Nations needs to open itself up to these new work environments and styles as learning and knowledge exchange in the future will happen less top-down, but more and more peer-to-peer.


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