Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Want to create successful knowledge networks and communities? Here are some tips!

This is cross-posted from Nadejda's blog and was originally prepared for the internal Knowledge Sharing Blog of Food and Agriculure Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Nadia is my colleague and Knowledge and Information Management Specialist in FAO's Office of Knowledge Exchange Research and Extension.

One of the characteristics of a learning, or a knowledge organization is, of course, learning from experience. In other words, we do something, we evaluate what we have done, we draw lessons learned, good practices and recommendations, and then we apply them in our work. Clearly, this process should not only be circular but also on-going.

My colleague Gauri Salokhe and I recently completed one such learning loop with regards to our work in supporting and sustaining FAO knowledge-sharing networks and communities. In particular, we were both part of the 2008 FAO Thematic Knowledge Networks Review process described in detail in this Knowledge Café blog post (internal). The Review process yielded nine recommendations (which we later came to call Nine Keys to Cultivating Knowledge Networks at FAO) for enabling and cultivating knowledge-sharing networks and communities, and indeed knowledge sharing initiatives, in the organization. To reiterate, these recommendations are, as follows:

Nine Keys to Cultivating Knowledge Sharing Networks and Communities at FAO

  1. Sponsor from top - Ensure that sufficient resources are available to create and sustain knowledge networks.
  2. Support demand - Create networks as a response to a real need, rather than in a top-down way.
  3. Ensure right blend of membership - Where possible, membership should be at least partly external.
  4. Develop a business case - Organize consultations with potential network members to establish an appropriate business case for the network.
  5. Select appropriate methodologies and technologies - One size does not fit all. Different types of networks need different methodologies and technologies.
  6. Facilitate continuously - Provide continuous facilitation for helping and supporting network members to work together and achieve their goals.
  7. Recognize staff­ time - Staff members should be recognized for their contribution to knowledge networks.
  8. Promote - Sponsors and facilitators should share their experiences and promote knowledge networks.
  9. Monitor and evaluate - There should be on-going monitoring and evaluation of knowledge networks.

The Result: FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist

Gauri and I then took to develop a FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist based on the above recommendations. Our idea was to develop a tool through which use to embed the lessons learned that had emerged from the Knowledge Networks Review. In order to achieve it, we took material from two other checklists: Nancy White’s online community checklist and another checklist provided to us by Lucie Lamoureux. To this we added our own thinking, knowledge and understanding of the FAO context.

The result is a network and community purpose checklist that has been created to cater specifically for the context of FAO. It has nine sets of questions, one for each of the above recommendations. By going through these questions, networks and communities sponsors and coordinators are able to ensure all aspects of the initiative (sponsorship, membership, demand, business case, facilitation, methodologies and technologies, time, promotion and monitoring and evaluation) are examined, understood and provided for. Doing this equips the owners and coordinators of the network or community with important understanding about the nature of knowledge sharing, and therefore enables them to succeed regarding time, resources and effort invested in the initiative.

You can download the FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist here.

In our minds, this is a fine example of learning from experience and integrating what has been learned! This checklist can be extended to other types of initiatives such as Web sites, portals and databases. Now it remains to put the checklist to work and evaluate its use and impact!

If you find the checklist useful or use it in any way, please do let us know!

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