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In his book Post-Capitalist Society, prominent management thinker and writer Peter F. Drucker notes, “Knowledge has become the key economic resource and the dominant—and perhaps even the only—source of competitive advantage.”
How to make this a reality for East Africa informed most of the discussions at the Regional Share Fair conducted in Uganda in June 2018. The objective of the Share Fair was to collaboratively learn how to apply knowledge management (KM) tools, techniques, and approaches in the health sector.
I was one of the Ugandans at the event, which attracted participants representing government agencies, donors, researchers, academics, and implementing partners from the East African Community partner states and beyond.
The health sector within the East African Community (Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Zanzibar) experiences similar and related challenges, which we discussed during the Share Fair. These include poor-quality and low data use, parallel information systems, insufficient funding, limited human resources capacity and skills, lack of evidence to inform policy and programming, poor infrastructure, and limited coordination of efforts. Despite the available funding and efforts invested in the health sector by donors and governments, the results remain undesirable. The lack of effective and efficient strategies to guide programming, service delivery, and policy formulation cannot be overemphasized.
With the continued recognition that appropriately managing knowledge as an asset could help reverse the situation, the Share Fair’s theme was Sharing and Learning for Better Integration of Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and HIV (RMNCAH/HIV) Interventions. The event provided a platform to share practical ways of doing KM in the health sector—a concept that still baffles many of us. By giving examples of processes for generating, analyzing, and sharing knowledge (and ultimately learning) for improved programming and policy formulation, the Share Fair demonstrated that KM can facilitate continuous improvement and learning, if embraced by the all members of a team.
The practical application of KM was demonstrated starting with the way the event was organized—featuring a mixture of methods that included speeches, keynote addresses, panel discussions, exhibitions, PowerPoint presentations, knowledge cafés, group discussions, innovative technologies such as Poll Everywhere, and endless tweets and other social media posts. It is amazing how much information was pushed out in just three days while ensuring maximum engagement by every participant!
My best moments were the knowledge cafés, which offered a lot of practical learning. These were organized as less formal small groups of participants—not more than 10 at each table, with presenters sharing experiences on specific topics to help us unpack what had been shared earlier. The note-takers captured important points of learning.
The Share Fair menu had a lot to offer, including practical tips and tricks on how to do the following, among other examples:
- Use data to ensure intentional learning
- Facilitate coordination and integration between key stakeholders required for successful RMNCAH and HIV programming
- Provide the knowledge needed by health care workers to offer integrated services at the facility and community levels
- Find relevant research findings to inform integration of RMNCAH/HIV programs
- Effectively communicate and share program successes and lessons learned
Thanks to these stories, each participant was able to appreciate the “theory to practice” part of KM.
The panel conversations didn’t go unnoticed. For example, Jackie Calnan, the Technical Advisor for USAID Uganda, discussed how the Partnership for HIV-Free Survival project embraced multi-faceted KM strategies to strengthen and accelerate the uptake of Option B+, nutrition counseling, and support for mothers and their babies. Some of the KM strategies utilized included peer-to-peer learning, supplying the required tools to frontline health workers, adapting to the local context, process improvement, knowledge harvest meetings, and scaling up learning. And indeed, these efforts paid off as reflected by our success stories of eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
The other conversation that got me excited was how the WHO is planning to build an enterprise architecture that will allow different information systems to speak to one another. As highlighted earlier, parallel information systems are a big challenge that hinder the way we do business. Dr. Bagyendera (WHO/Uganda) noted that embracing digital health will go a long way toward solving our problems, including easing burdensome procedures for health workers. This is a true reflection of availing information to the right people, in the right format, and at the right time for decision-making. Those who have already interacted with the Health Situation Room and its capacity to merge data from multiple national data sources (DHIS2, LMIS, community data, etc.) into one system already have an idea what this looks like. Imagine how much efficiency will come along with this!
I could go on and on, but for the purposes of this piece, I will pause and crown it all by saying that the learning at this event was reflected through the now-geared up member state representatives developing country-specific KM action plans. The next Share Fair in 2019 will surely have much more to offer. I look forward to continued sharing and learning! A big thank you to the organizing team for helping us all appreciate the role of KM.