We have seen from two previous posts that (a) intangible assets generally contribute more than tangible assets in producing the results that organizations value, and (b) knowledge assets are only a subset of intangible assets.
M&E of KM in development is therefore embedded in the larger issue of M&E of intangibles.
In late 1995, World Bank President Wolfensohn announced before the world’s finance ministers that the World Bank is not only a lending bank but also a “Knowledge Bank”. Of course, knowledge assets had always been creating value for the Bank even before 1995; but World Bank managers formally recognized this fact only after Wolfensohn’s announcement.
Organizations and projects are creating value from their intangible assets with or without any conscious or formal KM strategy/program. Their managers are managing their knowledge assets but they do not call what they are doing “knowledge management”. They use other terms such as “human resource management”, “succession planning”, “replication of best practice”, “role-based portal”, “work templates”, “mentoring”, “customer relations management”, etc. They are doing what we may call “unconscious KM” or management without a knowledge-based framework.
Various M&E tools for tracking intangible assets are in use in the corporate sector: KPIs (key performance indicators), Balanced Scorecard, Malcolm Baldridge criteria, ROI of training (Accenture model, Covey model, etc.), Sveiby’s Intangible Assets Monitor and Edvinsson’s Scandia Framework. (see: “KM Tools: Qualitative to Quantitative”)
Similarly, successful performance of a development project is attributable to the effective use of knowledge assets, even if its project managers were unaware of KM or were not consciously applying a KM framework. If a project manager formally adopts KM or hires a project KM officer, what does “M&E of KM” mean? The KM officer would likely want to justify his/her job by tracking only the incremental improvements as a result of the new KM program (value added by “conscious KM” over “unconscious KM”). But if a project manager is aware that intangible knowledge assets are creating value, he/she would prefer to track how ALL knowledge and other intangible assets are deployed and how they could ALL TOGETHER be managed more effectively. “M&E of intangibles” makes more management sense than just “M&E of KM”!
Let me tell two stories from our experiences in applying KM in development — stories about how “conscious KM” enables the manager to have “new eyes”.
In the Philippines, we scanned and studied 10 best practices from more than 950 anti-poverty projects. Why were they successful?
The answer surprised us: the communities concerned were successful because the projects leveraged on the wealth of intangibles that the “poor” communities already had: network of relationships (social capital), access to natural resources (natural capital + social sanction), dedicated leaders (human capital), useful linkages outside (stakeholder capital), collaborative practices (cultural capital), indigenous knowledge (intellectual capital), etc. The greater contribution of intangible assets is true both for community development as well as for corporate profit-making! All these are described in our freely-downloadable e-book: “Community Wealth Rediscovered: Knowledge for Poverty Alleviation” from our website.
Many local communities are “poor” only in tangible assets — they are wealthy in intangible assets. People who call them “poor” are people whose development paradigm is based solely on financial or material (i.e. tangible) mental models.
Our research also opened our eyes in another way: KM for development is not just a matter of facilitating information/knowledge flows — this is a mental model that belies a development practitioner mindset, which is basically an outsider perspective. If we take an insider or community perspective, KM for development is suddenly different: it is now a process of recognizing, appreciating and leveraging on the wealth of intangible assets that a community usually already has.
A manager of one of our development partners once remarked, “I see no difference between a Lessons-Learned Session and the project evaluation that we already do.” We formulated the simple table below to help him see the difference. A project may be a “failure” (project objectives were not met) but it may have generated useful knowledge! Such knowledge should be captured via LLS to benefit next similar projects.
See an expanded version of this table in “Vertical versus Horizontal Learning”.