This week I had the privilege of participating in the World Bank's 3rd High-Level Meeting on Country-led Knowledge Sharing in Washington DC. An amazing event attended to around 1000 people from 73 different countries. With thanks to the organizers, here are a few of my take-aways...
1. What can the public sector learn from the private sector?
Jean-Claude Monney's keynote talk on Microsoft’s knowledge management initiatives prompted one of the most stimulating questions asked of HLM3 panellists. ‘What can the public sector learn about knowledge sharing from the private sector?’. It is true that the private sector has pioneered many knowledge sharing techniques.Howeve having worked in both sectors, I would observe that public sector organizations also have much to offer the commercial world.
Public, and especially third sector organizations, have a unique advantage that those with a predominantly commercial imperative may not; intrinsic motivation. Having worked with many dedicated people at the World Bank and with charities, I am struck by their personal sense of wanting to ‘make a difference’. In behavioural economics terms, this is a huge advantage. A request for help, clearly articulated and effectively disseminated to those with know-how, will usually elicit a positive response. However capability is often limited (time, communication tools, more important delivery and performance targets).
My take-away? Provide effective channels, facilitate connections and foster the right intrinsic motivation through leadership.
2. Supply and demand.
The first day of HML3 seemed to focus predominantly on the demand side of knowledge sharing. The identification of lessons and knowledge ‘capture’ were extensively discussed. However ‘sharing’ requires both supply and demand for reciprocity. It was therefore refreshing that day 2 touched on the supply side too. I don't mean producing shelf-ware or supply where there is no evident demand, but thinking about how codified knowledge might be effectively found and consumed. Co-creation of knowledge, facilitation of peer-to-peer connections and evidence-based decision making came up time and again in the breakout sessions as critical techniques for making sure knowledge supply and demand are connected.
Examples provided were the altruistic sharing of blindness prevention program results in Tunisia and UNICEF helping four East African countries make real-time health clinic data widely available. Sergio Escobar explained of how Medellin, Columbia has made their experience of turning around a crime-ridden city, available to other cities. He stressed the need to make their results adaptable to different contexts. These examples showed real understanding of the importance of expressing lessons through the lens of those who need the knowledge, rather than simply writing a case-study. That's smart supply.
3. Measurement and leadership
Session moderator Karen Mokate asked the important question ‘how do you measure success and impact’. Ian Thorpe from UNICEF stressed that experiential knowledge cannot always be codified; indeed simply connecting practitioners has real and immediate value*. He observed that ‘Knowledge sharing is a catalytic process; in itself, it does not have a defined rate of return’. Perhaps a measure of knowledge sharing success is that demand for know-how and expertise is matched by supply. In other words, there is an observable virtuous cycle of creation, adoption and adaption of knowledge.
Another common refrain, particularly in the breakout groups, was the importance of real leadership in effective knowledge sharing. That’s not just ‘buy-in’, but for example, asking questions about how learning from success have been disseminated and change effected. True knowledge leadership publically acknowledges the learning opportunities from failure.
4. What would I like to have heard about?
Innovations that I thought might be examined in the context of country-led knowledge sharing are the amazing innovations in Artificial Intelligence and the Blockchain. These could be considered as technologies designed to simply make automate transactions and drive down costs (in themselves not unimportant for knowledge sharing). Their real potential is that, in a world of increasing complexity and the data firehose, they free up cognitive capacity to make smarter sustainable development decisions, better anticipate outcomes and reduce risk.