Learning from Doing it Wrong

K4Health Highlights

Becca Simon

(Formerly) CCP | Communications Director

Originally posted on the Global Health Knowledge Collaborative blog, Kris Horvath from IntraHealth discusses the importance of knowledge management practitioners to use our own tools, techniques, and approaches to explore how to reach our goals. His experience at the GHKC Share Fair encapsulated the spirit of the event, which allowed participants to "create their own experiences" and have meaningful interactions.

From the beginning of last week's Global Health Knowledge Collaborative (GHKC) Knowledge Management Share Fair, it was clear that this gathering was not afraid to head into some uncomfortable territory -- in that spirit of candid inquiry and collaboration that marks us KM types, of course. Keynote speaker Stacey Young hit right away on an important conundrum. Namely that we, as KM practitioners, know well that efforts that fall short have plenty to teach us; on the other hand, the pressure to tell tales of success is real, and with a client sitting across from us, it seems unavoidable.

That notion of inquiry was the animating spirit of the conference, I thought, and I was inspired by the way the conference used KM principles to arrange the conference itself. The organizers provided a structure, but created mechanisms by which attendees could create their own experience according to their needs. The keynote speech was pithy and concise; an open space discussion followed; this eventually led us to breakout sessions; and framing the entire event was a "KM Marketplace," a showcase of achievements and initiatives in development.

I liked the feedback loops that the KM Marketplace created. From the IntraHealth table, my colleagues Corinne Farrell and Rebecca Rhodes discussed their work on the SwitchPoint Reader and HRH Global Resource Center, while I could hover from one display to another to discuss with other KM practitioners how they were innovating in the areas of urgent interest to me -- namely, extending eLearning to students in developing countries.

The kind of application of KM principles to the conference structure itself extended into the breakout sessions, such as the one I attended about another of my current going concern, virtual communities of practice. Here, at the table I joined, groups of us were prompted to listen to one volunteer describe in depth a problem with an attempted community of practice which started strong but fizzled out eventually. The rest of us asked questions, provided comments, shared our own stories, proposed some problem-wrangling ideas, and otherwise engaged in the kind of pleasant brainstorming that us KMers are prone to do.

A key insight I came away with from that breakout session echoed a sentiment from the keynote address. Effective KM is about building relationships, fundamentally, and what knowledge managers do is provide the structure for these connections to be preserved. Having a clear purpose for the community, providing a lot of support and communication at the outset, and soliciting feedback are more important than technology. KM as a set of techniques that isn't necessarily built to create success stories that we can happily share around conference tables -- or with clients. Rather, KM is a perspective that allows us to explore our ignorance in a structured way and with particular goals in mind. Or as Stacey Young put it, There's a lot we don't know about what works; knowledge management helps us know.