Friday, 25 April 2014

How effective is government learning? DFID case study

Yesterday I blogged about why governments screw up, and made some conclusions about the learning culture in the government system.

Here is a deeper look into the issue of organisational learning in one government department, from an April 2014 document written by The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) entitled How DFID learns

DFID is the Department for International Development, responsible for handing the UK's overseas aid budget. ICAI reviewed the extent to which DFID uses information and experience (ie knowledge) to influence its decisions.

It's an excellent report, very well researched and written, which gives DFID a "Mixed" rating for organisational learning. Some very good things are in place, for example a Corporate Learning Strategy, endorsed by the Permanent Secretary in the text that follows -
‘We have committed ourselves to developing a culture of innovation and continuous improvement, being more open and honest about our successes and failures and learning
from the successes and failures of others. As a learning organisation, we aim to encourage constructive challenge to our established practices.’ 
That's a great mission statement that many CEOs could copy, and the Learning Strategy is a highly commendable first step - a sort of KM Policy for DFID. I know from my own experience with DFID that many other elements of KM are in place as well.

However the report shows that improvement in implementing this policy and these elements is still needed, and makes 5 recommendations
  1. DFID needs to focus on consistent and continuous organisational learning based on the experience of DFID, its partners and contractors and the measurement of its impact, in particular during the implementation phase of its activities
  2. All DFID managers should be held accountable for conducting continuous reviews from which lessons are drawn about what works and where impact is actually being achieved for intended beneficiaries
  3. All information commissioned and collected (such as annual reviews and evaluations) should be synthesised so that the relevant lessons are accessible and readily re-usable across the organisation. The focus must be on practical and easy to use information. Know-how should be valued as much as knowledge. (that's an interesting sentence, that last one. I suspect what they call know-how I would call Knowledge, and what they call knowledge I would call Information) 
  4. Staff need to be given more time to acquire experience in the field and share lessons about what works and does not work on the ground. 
  5. DFID needs to continue to encourage a culture of free and full communication about what does and does not work. Staff should be encouraged always to base their decisions on evidence, without any bias to the positive
All the links above have been added by  me, as the recommendations are all for elements of a full Knowledge management Framework - elements of process, of accountabilities, of governance and of culture. Many organisations I know, private as well as public sector, require similar changes.If DFID can implement these recommendations, then they can become a leading example of KM in the UK government sector.

The most heartening and pleasing thing about the whole report, however, is that it was commissioned in the first place. 

This is evidence that the government wants to learn, is trying to learn, and is willing to be assessed and audited on its learning capability.

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