Knowledge Management Key Steps on Feed the Future Contract
Implementing partners launching a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded contract have several tasks – and challenges – in common. All must evolve from proposal concepts to real-world implementation, scope key initial activities, build a rock-solid team and internalize the client’s culture and priorities. Behind those intensive efforts lies another critical need: identifying and selecting the right knowledge management (KM) tools and practices to support the project and the client.
But the path to creating a robust yet flexible suite of KM tool is hardly a straight line, as leaders of the Feed the Future Knowledge, Data, Training and Learning (KDLT) contract shared at a recent online conference. In a session on “KM From Scratch: Tips & Tools for Success,” KDLT delivered a talk entitled “Case Study: How a USAID Activity Built its KM Tools and Culture” at the annual KMWorld Connect conference on Nov. 17, 2020. KDLT Chief of Party Meaghan Murphy and Technical Director Anne Speca shared a variety of the KM lessons learned (and-relearned) since KDLT started in March 2019. Below are some of the key takeaways.
Embrace a ‘test and reassess’ approach when it comes to choosing KM tools
The number of KM tools on the market continues to proliferate, but more is not necessarily better when it comes to running a complex USAID project. Early on, KDLT adopted a low-commitment stance with respect to adopting new software and platforms. It’s not always clear which platforms are going to be suitable across different workstreams. For instance, the contract learned that a task-tracking platform like Jira worked well for web development sprints, but was less useful for managing organizational development processes. Different platforms can also create split structures or duplication across file management and archiving practices, which can complicate the best-intentioned KM process.
So, while KDLT worked to create an environment where staff were encouraged to experiment with new tools, the project also developed criteria (e.g. value, costs, complexity, suitability, training requirements and relative advantages and trade-offs) to inform what tools would ultimately be adopted.
KM needs will change over time, so tools and platforms need to be flexible
What works at start-up may not be as useful as a project grows in scope and staffing levels. A legacy platform inherited from a preceding contract may be less suitable going forward, especially if the support needs, operating context or type of work requested by the client has changed.
Acknowledging the reasons legacy tools evolved and the elements of value they may offer to stakeholders bridging contracts, such as familiarity and ease, is important. This could include a client and project staff that may have transitioned to the new contract, or the broader users of services through the contract. Wise leaders will avoid forcing the abandonment of a well-loved platform and instead work to understand which features were most valuable and how that institutional knowledge can benefit selection and the new contract going forward.
Fostering an enabling culture for honest dialogue about KM and technology-related successes and failures
The project established informal and formal ways for people to share their learnings. For instance, during a staff meeting, someone might relate a new take on formatting shared note-taking documents or a learning might be connected to a widely used platform and thus documented on KDLT’s internal wiki.
Creating multiple opportunities for reflection builds team cohesion and supports agility. Because none of us really know what’s coming next!
USAID awarded KDLT in March 2019 to prime contractor Bixal, Inc., and two sub-contractors, the QED Group LLC and Training Resources Group, Inc. The contract supports USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security (RFS) in becoming a premier learning organization that successfully captures, analyzes and shares good practices and data, and uses this knowledge to learn and adapt to helps RFS to achieve its mission of improved nutrition, strengthened resilience and reduced poverty in Feed the Future countries.
KDLT supports these objectives by leveraging deep expertise in growing online knowledge-sharing platforms, analyzing and visualizing data for evidence-based decision-making, fostering individual and team learning and strengthening adaptive management practices. KDLT develops meaningful working relationships with RFS stakeholders to nurture the enabling conditions for increased collaboration, learning and adapting across the Bureau and underscore the importance of individual behavior change in achieving lasting results. To learn more about working with KDLT, please contact contract office representative (COR) Zachary Baquet ([email protected]) and Chief of Party Meaghan Murphy ([email protected]). To learn more about the ideas discussed in this article, please contact Anne Speca ([email protected]).