Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Figuring out where to begin: How to do KM for a start-up business unit (Part 2)

Following my earlier post on my assignment with the Sub-Regional Response Facility for Syria in Amman, Jordan, I'd like to follow up with the results of the needs assessment that we conducted, and the resulting directions for knowledge management that the Facility identified for itself.

Role and audience as prioritized by the Facility
After exploring the potential roles, audiences and challenges of the Facility, its mandate, the management of the Facility defined the Facility’s role and audience for 2014-15 as follows:

The Facility sees its knowledge management role in brokering partnerships and exchanges, and facilitating innovation on the issue of a resilience-based development in context of the Syria crisis. It will do so by also facilitating, investing in and drawing on data-driven catalytic research and development, however, it does not see itself as a research institution.

In terms of audience, it will take an incremental approach over time in which it will – through the work of the Regional UN Working Group on Resilience – focus in the short-term on serving UNDP Country Offices, then expand this work to UNCTs and UNDG agencies, and later target the larger development community of governments, NGOs and other partners.

The incremental approach to widen the audience of the Facility’s work over time is illustrated in the following figure:

Recommended Knowledge Management Activities for the Sub-Regional Facility
One concern raised by the management team of the Facility was that – given the Facility’s limited team size –its KM approach should not be too complex in order to avoid any capacity issues (recruitment of a Knowledge Management Specialist position is planned for Q1 2014). With the direction for knowledge management of the Facility derived from the knowledge needs assessment, and keeping in mind the need for prioritization due to capacity constraints, UNDP was then able to identify potential KM initiatives that can support a knowledge agenda focusing on brokering and innovating – as well as to some extent research – and that targets first UNDP Country Offices and UNDG audiences, as shown in this figure:

The following are the recommendations for knowledge management activities for the Sub-Regional Facility:
  1. An online collaboration space for the Facility, targeted at the Regional Working Group and invited guests;
  2. Establishment of a UNDG-wide Community of Practice on resilience-based development, including selected guests from academia;
  3. Mapping of stakeholders for research on resilience and partners for engagement on Resilience-Based Development;
  4. Exploration of organizing social innovation camps in Jordan, Lebanon and/or Turkey to identify and prototype e-governance solutions for a priority issue (e.g. local services), potentially in combination with a public innovation competition to crowd-source practical solutions to local challenges around resilience-based development.
  5. Series of targeted consultations on questions related to resilience with staff across UNDG agencies, as well as invited external guests from academia, international organizations, NGOs and private sector partners.

While not immediately being in the focus of the Facility in terms of role and audience, the following activities can also add value to its knowledge agenda:
  1. Conducting monthly webinars, to periodically inform UNDP and UNDG stakeholders about the Facility’s ongoing work, outputs and results, and foster learning among stakeholders;
  2. Creation of visualizations and infographics, to use as communication, capacity building and advocacy tool, packaging evidence from research and results of the Facility’s work;
  3. Maintaining a regular blog about the Facility’s ongoing work and results, to increase visibility and influence the general debate on resilience
Finally, to support the Facility’s internal work, the application of the following is also recommended:
  1. Peer Assists, applied as needed to get input from peers on internal tasks and challenges of the Facility;
  2. After-Action Reviews, applied consistently after key events or activities of the Facility to reflect on its ongoing work and capture learning points.

What could those priorities entail in detail? Expect a last blog post elaborating on each of the initiatives, as well as some first results in implementing this work plan!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Figuring out where to begin: How to do KM for a start-up business unit (Part 1)

How do you do knowledge management (KM) when you’re a start up? When the identity of your business unit is still in the making? And when you’re not sure what KM has to offer for what you want to achieve? You bring in someone to help set up the unit, define your role in terms of KM and explain the KM options you have. That’s what the Head of the Sub-Regional Response Facility for Syria in Amman did, requesting a KM expert from headquarters who can assist them in this task on short notice (like, the following week?), and I raised my hand…  In reality, it still took about six weeks until I received the call for deployment end of November.

To give some context: Three years into the Syria crisis, the civil war has wreaked havoc in the country, killing over 125,000 people and leading to 2.3 million refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and North Africa, putting a heavy strain of those countries’ public services, employment situation and social cohesion among the host communities. In addition to the refugees, over 6.5 million of the Syrian population is internally displaced (Source: http://www.usaid.gov/crisis/syria), receiving limited services from the international community. Estimates indicate that this is the largest movement of people since the Second World War. In order to respond to this situation that is threatening to reverse development gains of decades in the region, UNDP has decided to establish a Sub-Regional Response Facility to support Country Offices and partners in the sub-region in developing a resilience-based development response to the crisis that goes beyond emergency assistance.

Arriving here in Amman end of November with the prospect of a two-three months detail assignment, my TORs consisted basically of a generic list of all the potential things that KM people can do. The mandate of the Facility had been established two months earlier through a concept note, which mentioned the need for “a strong knowledge management capacity to effectively adapt, align and transform responses to the volatility of the situation… [requiring] …innovation and a strong capacity to learn from errors and successes”, but it didn’t really elaborate how such a function should look like.

So the first goal was to identify the priorities for the Facility in terms of KM. Well, how do go about it? I convened the team and conducted a KM needs analysis in which I asked them “Among the different roles that Sub-Regional Facility could play in terms of knowledge management, what role should it play?

What are those potential roles? For a newly established entity which wants to position itself among existing partners as a coordinating body, as well as driving force for a specific issue, there are multiple ways how it could interpret its KM work. It could…
  • Capture Knowledge: Collect data, evidence and lessons from past initiatives to take stock and understand what worked and what didn’t.
  • Broker Knowledge Exchange: Connect individuals, teams and institutions and facilitate exchanges for mutual learning, support and partnership building.
  • Do Research: Undertake quantitative and qualitative analysis based on existing or new data to generate evidence, consolidate existing knowledge and generate new knowledge.
  • Innovate: Identify, sponsor and prototype new potential solutions for complex challenges and questions that haven’t been solved before.
  • Disseminate Knowledge: Establish channels of communication and training to deliver existing knowledge to target audiences in order to educate, build capacity and raise awareness.

Second, I asked them who they want to do this for? Who is their audience? On a broad level the Facility could distinguish between five layers of target groups:
  • The Facility itself (KM to increase internal efficiency)
  • The Regional UNDG Working Group on Resilience
  • UN Country Teams and UNDG agencies
  • Governments, IOs, NGOs, Academia, Private Sector
  • The Public

To give the team some visual aid I put together the following illustration as an overview over the different directions that KM could take for the Facility, and how each role can be played for various layers of target audiences:

For each role and audience, the practice of KM can draw on a range of tools and methodologies. To understand the spectrum of tools and methodologies available, one could skim through the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit (maintained the KM4Dev network, FAO, UNICEF, UNDP and CGIAR) which lists 64 tools and 124 general approaches. For the sake of this exercise, I focused on those tools that UNDP has most experience in, as well as the capacity to support, each of which would require a further look at intent, content and audience:
  • Knowledge Fairs to identify & reward successful projects or insightful failures, learn from them and scale up (On what topic? With which stakeholders?)
  • Knowledge Systematization and Transfer Exercises to document lessons and tools from past experiences (On which projects? On which topics? With which partners?)
  • Communities of Practice for individuals to exchange knowledge and learn from each other (On what topic? For which stakeholders?)
  • National Solution Exchange Networks to facilitate exchange among development stakeholders in a country (Which country? On what topic? Which stakeholders?)
  • Knowledge Mapping to identify key stakeholders for knowledge partnerships, exchange and engagement (For what KM activity?)
  • Online Idea Market to collect new ideas from selected audiences (For which audience? What mechanisms for follow up?)
  • Public Dialogues or Consultations with targeted stakeholders (To get input on what questions?)
  • Innovation Challenges/Competitions to identify innovative ideas to complex challenges (On which challenges?)
  • Crowd Sourcing to identify priorities and concerns of populations (On which issues?)
  • Social Innovation Camps to identify/prototype new ideas (With which stakeholders? On which challenges?)
  • Online Collaboration Spaces to host discussions and provide knowledge resources (For which audience? For what purpose? Under which brand?)
  • Visualizations and Infographics to illustrate research data and communicate results (What story to tell? What data source?)
  • Webinars to share experiences (Which projects? Which audience?)
  • Trainings to deliver known content (What content? What audience?)
  • Public Website to disseminate knowledge resources (What content? What audience?)
  • Social Media to reach out to the public and raise awareness (What message? What audience?)
  • After Action Reviews for the Facility to learn from its activities (On which activities of the facility?)
  • Peer Assists for the Facility to get input from peers on its upcoming tasks (What problem are you trying to solve? Who can assist?)

Each of the tools and methodologies can provide particular value for specific audiences and purposes:

So how did the Facility position itself in terms of priorities for knowledge management? And which KM initiatives did I recommend as a result? You will find out soon in my next blog post update from Amman! :)