Friday 4 July 2014

An example KM "Proof of concept" - Tearfund

One of the early steps in any Knowledge Management Implementation is to conduct one or more "proof of concept" exercises, to show that KM can work in your organisation. 

The text below (taken from Gorelick et al) tells of just such an exercise in the UK-based charity "Tearfund".

Paul Whiffen was the Tearfund Knowledge Manager, working to introduce a simple KM model (described here as the Best and Simplest KM model of all).

Paul’s approach at Tearfund was to start with some small-scale trials of components of this model. This approach itself was counter-cultural to Tearfund, which had a tradition of careful planning in consultation and was unfamiliar with a piloting, "try it and see and learn" approach. Paul now had to decide on suitable activities to test the first knowledge management processes.

One of the key activities of Tearfund, and one which is critical to its success and to delivery of its vision and mission, is disaster response. Disaster response is a prime candidate for knowledge management, in that disasters are intermittent, time-limited, have a start, middle and end, and occur all over the globe. Learning would not be transferred automatically from one disaster response project to another, as disasters in different parts of the world may well be attended by different staff. However there was huge potential benefit for increasing the effectiveness of response and therefore saving human lives, if knowledge could be captured, saved and reused.

 So Paul’s initial pilot was to hold a retrospect on Tearfund’s response to the floods in Bangladesh.

Paul reports as follows
 “There is no doubt that demonstrating the Bangladesh Retrospect in the summer of 1999 was a great thing. It is much better to just demonstrate success, just to do stuff. Don't worry about getting all sorts of plans and strategies in place, just do something and demonstrate to people how simple and yet how powerful these processes are. Do it on a well-defined, specific project with a start and end. Ideally on one that was itself successful, so that some of that success rubs off on you and on knowledge management. Certainly the learning review of the Bangladesh floods response was a well-defined, clear start and end project”. 
The Bangladesh retrospect was well received by people who attended, and several lessons were identified and recorded, which could be used in future flood response programs. However this turned out not to be just an academic exercise, because shortly after the retrospect had been completed the Orissa cyclone hit India, and flooding started there.

Although the Orissa cyclone was a sudden-onset disaster, unlike the floods in Bangladesh that had developed over a period of weeks, Tearfund found that many of the lessons from Bangladesh were immediately applicable to Orissa. The first thing that the Asia team leader did was to look for the Bangladesh lessons, because they were fresh and applicable. He was impressed by the process, and became an effective advocate at management level.

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