Communities of practice benefit most when skilled facilitators encourage peer-to-peer learning, versus lecture-style dissemination. This image was created at the Global Health Knowledge Management Share Fair: Challenges and Opportunities by the Value Web as part of the graphic facilitation Knowledge Wall.
Originally appearing on the Global Health Knowledge Collaborative (GHKC) Blog, this post by Kate Fatta of URC explains the emphasis the USAID ASSIST Project puts on small group discussions for meaningful exchange of tacit knowledge.
Last month's Global Health Knowledge Management Share Fair elicited a similar sentiment: Communities of practice benefit when a skilled facilitator encourages peer-to-peer learning over lecture-style dissemination, and the importance of giving people a moment to think before they are asked to speak in a group.
The Share Fair utilized small group discussions, along with peer assists and other knowledge management and exchange techniques, to catalyze conversations about challenges and opportunities in knowledge management for global health and international development.
Working with facility-based teams of health workers in knowledge management on the USAID Applying Science to Strengthen and Improve Systems Project (ASSIST) and its predecessor, the USAID Health Care Improvement Project (HCI), my colleagues and I have come to recognize the importance of using conversational, small group techniques to draw out tacit – “how to” – knowledge and provide opportunities for meaningful sharing between people.
On ASSIST we work with many teams in multiple countries to improve the quality of the services they provide – whether they are providing anti-retroviral treatment to patients or ante-natal care to pregnant women. For example, one of the activities we are working on in Uganda is to integrate nutrition, assessment, counseling, and support (NACS) services with prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services in 22 sites in six districts. At the 22 sites, there are teams of service providers working to make this happen. While they are working on it, they are generating a lot of learning and new knowledge about this work and our challenge is to provide them with opportunities to come together and meaningfully share and learn from one another. We have already been doing this on HCI in the form of learning sessions, or meetings in which teams working on a specific activity are brought together to share what they have been doing, but in the past, we have often conducted those meetings in a very didactic, one person speaks/everyone else listens format.
However, as our understanding and use of knowledge management techniques have grown, we have come to see the importance of designing meetings so that people share in small groups and integrate new knowledge in the large group. Giving people the opportunity to share in small groups and ask questions of each other allows for greater exchange of tacit knowledge than a formal presentation does. By using techniques such as storytelling, field trips, and even poster presentations in small groups, the person sharing learns more about their work by explaining it and answering questions, while the person listening gets to ask questions and probe deeper. It sets the stage that everyone has something to share and everyone has something to learn, eliminating the expert/student feeling that can happen with formal presentations.