Reflections from the Knowledge Management Share Fair in Arusha
It is said that whoever has knowledge wields power. This is true, but it is also true that knowledge is a factor of people. A world is emerging where whoever shares and manages knowledge better is possibly the most powerful.
The East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community Knowledge Management Share Fair event brought together over 80 professionals from 15 countries to Arusha, Tanzania. I was grateful to attend, representing IntraHealth in Kenya. This Share Fair was hailed as a transformative first step toward a professional pool working in global health and development to learn from each other, strengthen existing networks, build new ones, and influence future activities in the health sector. The emerging community of knowledge management experts will help provide a regional response to the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of Africa’s greatest strengths is indigenous knowledge, but one of her greatest weaknesses is her inability to harness and expand it. Knowledge storage or hoarding makes it inaccessible to the majority in need. Sometimes it is kept hidden and disappears with time.
Listening at the Share Fair in Arusha, I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if the present-day C-section protocol that has saved millions of mothers had never been documented and shared. It has defined comprehensive emergency obstetric care, thus saving the lives of so many mothers and children.
During the energetic two days of the Share Fair, time seemed to move fast. Participants like myself hardly realized when it was way past 7pm. We were engaged from the beginning, learning about the basic understanding of KM to the more complex interoperability between policy and practice. By the end of the event, most of us felt our expectations were met and we felt equipped to take our knowledge home to share with our colleagues.
As a networking opportunity, the Share Fair was a great opportunity for all of us to understand common patterns of connections between people and how they impact the ways we can work together (or not). It was helpful to connect and discuss opportunities and challenges that we each face. With the support of the facilitators, the group engaged in interesting discussions, shared valuable stories, and formed meaningful networks. Significant for me was the common ground the exercises cultivated among participants, akin to “leave no one behind.” After the workshop, everyone felt connected in a way that could only have occurred during an event like the Share Fair.
One of the most valuable exercises was the knowledge café. Knowledge cafes present an opportunity for rapid learning and sharing processes. At the Share Fair, I learned how the African Population and Health Research Center has used PhotoVoice for qualitative data collection. This unique approach to using images taken by subjects depicting their own understanding and interpretation of context builds a case for policy strengthening. A mock test revealed that a picture is truly worth a thousand words! Other topics during the knowledge café included building partnerships, transferring ownership to government, policy dialogue process, knowledge harvesting, communities of practice, After Action Reviews, eLearning for continuing professional development, and sharing platforms. It was a lot to take in, but the peer learning process made it all exciting.
We also discussed collaboration, learning, and adapting (CLA). I have implemented projects using approaches that infuse CLA. My takeaway from the presentations was that we need to intentionally build CLA within projects.
Reflection and Sharing
The Share Fair brought to light an opportunity for East African Community members to pause and reflect on how they can carry forward the mantle of KM for health among partners and colleagues. A few issues stood out:
- There have to be KM champions within our countries. The event presented an opportunity to create those champions.
- Different partner states are at different levels. Increased sensitization of KM is critical. The EAC secretariat was requested to spearhead the sensitization of the member states even as individual champions generate products that promote sensitization and sharing efforts.
- Countries need support to undertake KM needs assessments and hold national stakeholder forums to share and validate findings.
- K4Health can provide technical support for the development of EAC’s KM strategy—a great leap that will help countries strengthen policies and processes.
At the end of the event, attendees created action plans to take their knowledge forward. This included sharing what we learned with our organizations, finding ways to sustain momentum, and keep the network alive through continual collaboration.
I took this seriously. Upon returning from Arusha, I held my first brown bag with my fellow IntraHealth Kenya colleagues. I provided an overview of the Share Fair and discussed how CLA promotes synergy, encourages better decisions, and provides flexibility in programming. I shared ways we can intentionally and strategically build CLA within our subsequent program designs. Next, I will be transforming a community of practice for HRH stakeholders, taking what I learned from the Share Fair and improving how these officials share and exchange information.
I am grateful to K4Health, ECSA, IntraHealth International, EAC, and USAID for making this event happen. I look forward to joining my fellow KM champions across East Africa!