T1-5 High-Octane Knowledge Products by a Development Organization

Imagine: the top managers and executives of a development-oriented organization are ready to listen to you about KM. They are open to KM but they want to be sure that KM will benefit their organization. They are all busy and although it is difficult to bring them together, you succeeded in scheduling a one-hour slot for a KM activity you will design and execute. What will you do?

I was actually faced with this situation in two instances: a regional inter-governmental organization and a United Nations regional office. What I did then I now call “Zeroing in on High-Octane Knowledge Products”.

Development-oriented organizations are after results and outcomes that are far more complex than those of private corporations. Their stakeholders (the equivalent of “customers” for private corporations) pursue varied interests and agendas, operate at different levels (some are at the community and local level, some are at the national level, and others may be at the bilateral, regional or international level) and wield different types and magnitudes of power (financial clout of donors, regulatory clout of governments, military power of rebels and militias, local monopoly power of dominant businessmen, etc.).

The process I designed and found quite effective proceeded as follows:

  1. Brief lecture (5 minutes): using prepared PowerPoint presentation on what is “knowledge” (assets that enable effective action) and “knowledge management.”
  2. Small-group workshop (20 minutes) on the first question: “List three of your most important stakeholders, and for each one, what important action does your organization want them to do more effectively?” The group outputs are written in large kraft or Manila paper and posted where everyone can read. If there are 5 groups, there will be 15 important stakeholder-actions (duplication can occur across small group outputs).
  3. Voting (5 minutes): Each participant is given a red ball pen and he/she is asked to read all the important stakeholder-action pairs listed by all the groups. He/she selects three which he/she regards as the most important, and writes a red asterisk on each of the three.
  4. Plenary discussion (15 minutes) on the following questions: “Which stakeholder-action pairs garnered the highest votes? Do you agree or disagree? Comments? Did we miss any important stakeholder-action pair?”
  5. Last question followed by plenary discussion (15 minutes): “What knowledge product/service (existing or still to be innovated) of your organization can best support each of the top three stakeholder-action pair?” Those are “high-octane knowledge products” or services the organization is producing or can produce.

The logic follows from the same KM framework discussed in the F Series of my blogs (and the same color-coding also applies).


Identifying high-octane knowledge products

My observations:

  • The workshop illustrates the principle that knowledge enables more effective action, and makes this concrete via the concept of “knowledge product” or “knowledge service.”
  • Best ideas tend to come from the topmost executives, most likely because they are the ones more familiar and concerned with stakeholders in relation to the organization’s strategic objectives.
  • Development organizations often do not directly produce the desired social outcomes they aim for. What they do is to provide products/services to various development actors or stakeholders who produce or contribute to those outcomes. The workshop is a good way to prioritize and identify the greatest social value-adding outputs (or “high-octane knowledge products“) that the organization can produce.
  • The exercise can lead to identifying a high-octane knowledge product/service that the organization is not yet doing, i.e. it can help them set specific targets for R&D or innovation/design of new knowledge products/services.

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