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KM Rules: Consolidating CARE's Learning on How to Effectively Share Knowledge

As a huge, diverse, and global implementer, one of CARE's biggest challenges is how we scale our learning to get more people engaged. Our project teams are doing wonderful work and constantly learning and improving their work based on what they learned. Sadly, that learning often stays with the project team itself, and doesn't reach other people who could really benefit from it. Our teams are always producing reports, and we do rigorous evaluations for almost all of our projects, but the messages don't always get through.

We've been tracking what works and what doesn't to help us do better knowledge management partly by producing more useable knowledge. CARE just developed a set of #KMRules — actionable steps for staff to take what they have learned and share it in ways others can act on. These are based on five years of learning and experimenting about what action steps really work so people can access the information they need. They also draw from great resources that KDAD, TOPS and other USAID-funded networks have hosted over the years.

I was really excited to see Agrilinks' call for posts on what we've learned about Knowledge Management, because this consolidated set of action steps has been helpful for us. Our West Africa offices were so interested that they translated them into French so they could have more conversations about it. We'd love feedback on these rules. Do they make sense in your context? What would you add?

  1. Make it short enough to read RIGHT NOW: This doesn’t mean it can be fluff. Do your homework and make sure the details are right. Add links to where people can learn more; flesh out the complexity in a longer report; perform statistical validity tests to your heart’s content. But if you want people to be interested in any of it, you have to make the first touch (e-mail, blog post, website description) short enough to read now, before it goes into the dreaded “I should probably read this later” pile.
  2. Be useful: Create content that is based on a user saying, “You know what I need?” instead of an expert saying, “Here’s what I have.” Content that people can put into practice or use to solve a problem now is much more successful. Don’t know what people need? Ask!
  3. Go where the eyes are: Find active communities where you can be part of the conversation. Setting up new communities is hard and slow, and competition is fierce. People already pay attention to particular spaces (especially donor-hosted ones), so take advantage of them and post there.
  4. Consolidate effort: Everyone creating content thinks they need a slightly separate set of tools, tags and platforms. Users are desperate to minimize the number of things they need to check and special code words they need to remember to find things. Before you invent your own anything, check if there is something that does 75 percent of what you want. If so, use that instead. More people will use your content if it's popping up in places they already go.
  5. No jargon: We invent new terms, acronyms and concepts all the time. People do not have time to learn them all. Sometimes the process of inventing them helps us clarify our thinking. But if you can’t say it in one sentence with no jargon, your idea isn’t ready yet.
  6. Frequent beats perfect: Research on internet communities shows that the most influential people are judged more by how often they post relevant content (happily, relevancy is still a factor) than if every post is completely correct. Get decent content out often instead of perfect content out 1-2 times a year. Consistency — in both presence and relevance — is key. Don’t have a new product of your own to put out? Read someone else’s work and comment on it!
  7. This is a conversation, not a monologue: We often focus on the supply side of KM and put out reams of “Here’s what I have to say.” Metrics are about how many documents we produce and how many people read our work. That matters, but what about what we learn from others? My work gets better, smarter and more useful when I join a conversation instead of just focusing on what I want to say.
  8. Feedback matters: One of the biggest motivators in anyone’s life is feedback. The act of someone else saying “I saw this” or “I liked this” or best of all “This helped me” increases motivation to do more of the thing that works. Applied judiciously, “Here’s what could help more” and “This didn’t really work” are also incredibly useful comments. No one wants to spend time creating things that don’t work.
  9. Give credit where it’s due: It’s just ethically correct. As a bonus, people really like to see how their work influences others. Most of us are motivated by the idea that what we’re doing makes a difference. So let other people see where they’ve made a difference for you.
  10. Lower barriers: Length, complexity, language, bad formatting — those all make it harder for someone to engage. Make it easy for people to understand what you’re saying and to do what you’re asking. If what you’re asking is hard to do, all the more reason to make your product easy to follow. Beautiful, clear and compelling content is the most successful.
  11. Links are your friends: Always leave the door open for people to learn more. Links to more documents, videos or other evidence help build your credibility and give people a chance to explore your data for themselves. Be restrained — no more than five links in a one-page document. Integrate links into your text or make them very short so you don’t clutter the space, but give people space to dig deeper.
  12. Maximize your mileage: Once you’ve gone to the effort of distilling some key learnings, use them as much as you can. People learn in different ways, so create a PowerPoint, and infographic and a blog post with the same ideas. That allows you to target different audiences and reinforce the message in a lot of different ways. Maybe you need a longer think piece and an infographic to really reinforce the message.