This article was originally published on the CFR website on July 2, 2019

A recent Adaptation Fund webinar explored how knowledge management systems can strengthen institutional memory, improve people’s understanding of what works well in climate change adaptation, and lead to more effective projects and programmes. CDKN’s Mairi Dupar reports.

The benefits of knowledge management systems

Knowledge management systems are a key part of any organisation’s capacity.  If an organisation is good at capturing, sharing and building on its employees’ internal knowledge – making this knowledge easy to access and apply – then the organisation is more likely to be effective in designing, delivering and improving its climate adaptation work.  Knowledge management is a key part of institutional readiness.

“Knowledge management is a state of mind,” according to Farayi Madziwa, coordinator of the Adaptation Fund’s (AF) Readiness Programme. “The idea is to think about knowledge management holistically, including data gathering, the collection and use of information to generate knowledge, and the internal and external dissemination of knowledge.”

When knowledge management is approached broadly like this, we can all be better informed when we are making daily decisions, from the strategic to the operational.

Capturing individuals’ knowledge for the common good

One of the biggest challenges for knowledge management – particularly in the fast-moving climate change space  – is that much knowledge is experiential and tends to be “in people’s heads” rather than documented for others.

“Ninety percent of what an institution knows is not written,” said Rita Kumar, a knowledge management expert. “It is important to prevent a situation where a person retires without passing on his/her accumulated knowledge to colleagues and the institution.”

The AF readiness webinar in April 2019 examined this quandary, and explored:

–          Characteristics of effective knowledge management systems that make systems useful and accessible to those who need them; and

–          Incentives that encourage individuals to document and share their climate adaptation knowledge with others.

Making knowledge management systems accessible and useful

A key piece of advice for building knowledge management systems is: capitalise on systems and processes that people are using already. Make knowledge management as easy as possible for them.

Rita Kumar explained that she had created a knowledge management system for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that was simply part of the larger UN website infrastructure. The knowledge-sharing materials for and by employees are thus a part of their ‘everyday’ website, but simply require a password to enter that area, because the materials are for internal use.

Of course, knowledge management activities also need to be adequately resourced, in order to gain traction.

As part of the AF project cycle, knowledge management by and for grantees is fully resourced and supported (as explained in the AF Knowledge Management Strategy and Action Plan, 2016).

At the project level, knowledge management may involve creating handbooks or training materials among other things.

The AF also provides learning grants which provide grantees with paid time, travel and materials costs to reflect on and document the lessons learned from projects and programmes. This helps grantees to keep track of information and understand which interventions work and which don’t work, said Cristina Dengel, AF Knowledge Management Officer. “Learning grants address the same issues and challenges, but with a more holistic approach, using baseline studies and knowledge platforms,” she added.  Information on how to apply for an AF learning grant is available here.

Encouraging people to participate in knowledge management

Giving people paid time, user-friendly systems and an official mandate to do knowledge management are big motivators. But there are other incentives, too.

UNDP has created ‘Knowledge Awards’ to encourage staff to produce learning documents and upload them on an internal knowledge-sharing portal – according to Rita Kumar. “The recognition is based on the potential to save time and make life easier,” she said. “There is a social network-type analysis which highlights the most promising people. The recipient(s) of Knowledge Awards were granted professional development courses.”

Another incentive for people to get involved is to treat everyone as an expert. Members of an organisation may have questions that their colleagues could answer via crowd-sourcing. Organisations can create online communities for that enable employees to get answers to their questions, and allow everybody to benefit from the discussion.

Many of the challenges for knowledge management and institutional learning are universal, and include the perception that “I haven’t got the time,” and “it’s too difficult”; however, the many successful strategies presented in the webinar debunk these common myths.

The strategies described here are broadly relevant and can be applied equally in a single-location workplace or in an organisation that is spread over multiple locations.

As for the AF itself, knowledge management is a vital part of its Medium Term Strategy (2018-22) and is built into its projects so that its partners on the ground capture the valuable experiences, lessons and models their adaptation actions produce and share them with others to potentially extend the project’s benefits. The strategy rests on the pillars of ‘action, innovation, and learning and sharing’. Knowledge management looks set to be a priority for the Fund for the foreseeable future.

Read more

There is a saying that ‘knowledge is power’ and two AF grantees from Jamaica and Chile are demonstrating how they are harnessing communities’ and individuals’ knowledge to power more effective climate adaptation programmes. They shared their knowledge management experiences in the recent AF readiness webinar.

To read case studies of how AF grantees in Chile and Jamaica are making use of knowledge management, visit:

Chile: knowledge partnership between government and communities

Jamaica: knowledge management with the audience in mind