One of a Kind: The East African Community Regional Knowledge Management Share Fair

Knowledge Management for Global Health

Stephen Mhando

USAID Boresha Afya Program | Project Management and Communications Coordinator
Dr. Mashafi of USAID Boresha Afya – Southern Zone (Tanzania) poses a question to the panelists during the Share Fair.

Dr. Mashafi of USAID Boresha Afya – Southern Zone (Tanzania) poses a question to the panelists during the Share Fair. Photo: Nemuson Studios

The alarm rings at exactly 6:30am on 20 June 2018. It seems like I have only just blinked. A brand new day ushers in the beginning of the EAC Regional Share Fair. I yawn, then I stretch. Then I snooze for a couple more minutes before I get ready. The previous day’s trip to Uganda was quite exhausting. It is unfortunate we still do not have a direct flight to Entebbe from Dar es Salaam. (Private jet from USAID next time?)

Some 15 minutes later, I leave Room 560 and make my way to breakfast. 560 would be my room for the next four days, and I was to get lost frequently trying to locate it. I know a number of colleagues relate. The Imperial Golf View Hotel’s restaurant on the ground floor is the breakfast venue. The waitress at the entrance wears a welcoming smile as she points me to a few unoccupied seats. The room is huge, yet already quite packed for 8:15am. I figure we are all attending the Share Fair. I meet a few familiar faces I had boarded the flight with the previous day and we exchange pleasantries about our countries. I also meet Dr. Mashafi, my colleague from USAID Boresha Afya – Southern Zone. I had brought a poster he was to present but because he is new to the program, it was our first meeting. It is also my first time in Uganda. I am drawn in by the warmth and hospitality of its people. More is to come.

Registration is next, and soon enough I am sharing a table with Dr. Mashafi (Deloitte, Tanzania), Dr. Beati Mboya (USAID CIRCLE Project, Tanzania - Social Solutions International)—who will later be known as “the Developmental Evaluation guy”—George Barasa (Ministry of EAC Affairs, Kenya), and Pamela Achii (MSH, Uganda). Now to the business that got us to convene in Entebbe. Knowledge management (KM) is the order of the day.

Having read the Share Fair theme—"Sharing and Learning for Better Integration of Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and HIV/AIDS Interventions”—I was already quite jittery about whether I would absorb much. Why? I am a communications person through and through, and this seemed like jargon. I prefer to keep things simple.

Share Fair Presented Learning Opportunities

I came to realize that I was so wrong. I learned a lot! The first day focused on the key steps in the systematic KM process in a bid to shed more light on how KM could solve health challenges. The definition shared by the chap from USAID/Uganda that morning has stuck with me: KM is simply getting the right information to the right people at the right time for the right reasons.

Dr. Beati Mboya (with laptop) of the USAID CIRCLE Project, Tanzania - Social Solutions International chairs a knowledge café session on Developmental Evaluation.

Dr. Beati Mboya (with laptop) of the USAID CIRCLE Project, Tanzania - Social Solutions International chairs a knowledge café session on Developmental Evaluation. Photo: Nemuson Studios

I would be remiss if I left out Professor Jennifer Orwa’s outstanding presentation. She spoke about “Making the Case for KM for Health in East Africa.” During her talk, she cited Andrew Carnegie: “The only irreplaceable capital/asset an organization possesses is the knowledge and ability of its people. The productivity of the capital depends on how effectively people share their (knowledge) competence with those who can use it.” This simply reinforced the earlier definition of KM. Wrapping up her presentation, Professor Orwa stated, “Knowledge management must first be accepted as a core business strategy by government and all stakeholders.”

It is quite possible that my expectations for this Share Fair—to network and to learn more about KM—were all met on Day 1. The rest of the days served as an opportunity to grasp as much more as I could.

Day 2 stood out for me, as it was designated for participants to learn about KM approaches being applied across the region and how these could fit unique program needs. I found the panel discussion in the morning truly enriching, particularly Dr. Bagyendera’s (WHO/Uganda) insights on how to improve RMNCAH/HIV integration. He spoke of EMR, better understood as Electronic Medical Records. I was fascinated. This is not something common in public hospitals—or any hospitals—in my country. He called for EAC member states to integrate a common platform that could link all health facilities using EMR. This way, a patient could visit, let’s say, Facility A, have his medical files available electronically, then on another occasion travel to a different region/district and still have his records available at Facility B.

As he spoke, I began to imagine the unrivalled impact this would have in Tanzania. As a country, we lag behind in achieving the first of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets: 90% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) knowing their HIV status by 2020. At present, we stand at 52%. Or take how pregnant mothers normally attend their first clinic appointments, then miss appointments as they move closer to their due dates. EMR would be a game changer. It would allow service providers to track patients easily and reduce maternal deaths. “My goodness, the minds at this Share Fair!” I said to myself.

More was to come.

Dr. Beati Mboya 2

Dr. Mboya shares his experiences during the knowledge café. Photo: Nemuson Studios

Apparently, there is a KM technique called a knowledge café. Within this setting, a tutor presents a topic to no more than 10 people per 25-minute session. Then the “students” shift to a different table to learn about a different topic from another “tutor” during another 25-minute session. Serving as a note-taker for the Developmental Evaluation (DE) Knowledge Café was truly enlightening. I learnt about Developmental Evaluation and its continuous nature—how the evaluators embed themselves into the program whilst maintaining their autonomy and objectivity. Our program (USAID Boresha Afya) is already making use of DE and the prospects are great. We have the opportunity to tweak a few things to better achieve program outcomes. What a concept!

Regional Commitments to KM and What They Mean for the Partner States

During the Share Fair, delegates from each country worked closely to an end, which was to be the country action plans. KM, as had been explained, is systematic and intentional, BUT it begins with identifying a challenge. The audience remains at the center.

Team leads from each of the countries presented a synthesis of their KM challenges and proposed solutions. This session affirmed my confirmation that I was totally wrong at the beginning, when I saw the theme and thought it looked “jargony.” The level of understanding amongst participants of most of the KM processes, practices, tools, and techniques that had been the focus of the Share Fair was very evident. Countries articulated their plans and clearly illustrated the challenges they faced. One thing that became clear is that knowledge management is cross-cutting and thus is everyone’s responsibility!

Before I forget, throughout the Share Fair, Poll Everywhere was used as an evaluation tool to gauge audience response to key issues. It was brilliant. Certainly, a tool I would use.

In a nutshell, this was THE workshop. A pat on the back to the organizers and all who made it special, particularly for us who visited Uganda for the first time. There are a number of KM experts I hope to reach out to over the next few weeks just to touch base and continue sharing best practices. I intend to extend the same hospitality should a similar workshop be held in Dar es Salaam.