Knowledge Management for Public Health

Knowledge management (KM) provides a systematic approach to ensure that public health practitioners have access to the latest research and that they apply that research to public health programs at all levels of the health system—from the global, regional, and national levels down to the front lines. KM is an intentional process that includes identifying the knowledge needs of a particular audience and then generating, curating, and sharing relevant knowledge to help programs and organizations succeed.

Public health organizations that adopt KM strategies and practices can improve performance of health care workers and programs and contribute to reaching the end goal of improving health outcomes among communities. Using KM, public health programs can:

  • Promote collaboration and learning
  • Inform policy and advocacy
  • Improve programs, practice, and research
  • Enhance health training and education programs

KM programs are supported by three key components: people, processes, and technology.

  • People generate, store, and share knowledge and can help cultivate an environment that encourages knowledge sharing and use of KM systems.
  • Processes are the methods used to capture, curate, and share knowledge. These formal and informal processes must be embraced and integrated into an organization’s daily work flow to be most successful.
  • Use of technology that is appropriate to the context can expedite knowledge storage, retrieval, and exchange.

KM has particular relevance for low- and middle-income country settings. It can address human resource issues related to retaining organizational knowledge and can provide mechanisms for purposefully exchanging needed knowledge in real time. Implementing a KM system can ensure that relevant health knowledge—data, research findings, best practices, programmatic guidance—flows up and down the health system, from national to district to community levels and back up again. KM approaches also facilitate the exchange of information across a given level of the health system, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of public health programs.

To learn more about how to integrate KM into your program:


  • Blog post

    As a rookie player to the game of mothering, I recently realized I had taken for granted the pleasant labor and delivery unit I experienced with the birth of my first child in October 2013. I was coached, cared for, and, most importantly, respected by all of the labor and delivery unit staff – isn’t that what everyone experiences? Unfortunately, I came to find out that the answer is “no.”

    This spring I had the opportunity to interview Meredith, a Certified Nurse-Midwife who works for Zanmi Lasante, the sister organization of Partners in Health in Haiti. She enlightened me to the fact that not all women have a positive or respectful experience during childbirth. One unfortunate result is that some women, upon hearing about or having a negative experience, choose to deliver at home without a skilled birth attendant. This puts them at risk of childbirth-related complications.

    How did a K4Health Toolkit help Meredith strengthen respectful maternity care in Haiti? Watch our new video to find out!

    If you are like Meredith and have used a Toolkit or a Toolkit resource in your work in an impactful way, I would love to hear your story.

  • Blog post
    The Roadmap for Health, Measurement and Accountability, Measurement and Accountability for Results in Health (MA4Health).

    The Roadmap for Health, Measurement and Accountability, Measurement and Accountability for Results in Health (MA4Health). 

    We recently gathered with global leaders to endorse The Roadmap for Health Measurement and Accountability and the Five-Point Call to Action at the Measurement and Accountability for Results in Health Summit. Convened by USAID, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization, the Summit emphasized the need for systematic measurement of health data, collaborative partnerships, and shared purpose and responsibility among health professionals. The roadmap, along with the commitment of global leaders, is meant to serve as a platform for collaboration on health measurement as we move into the post-2015 era.

    The roadmap and call to action are quite timely. Although we have made great strides, the health data agenda is unfinished. Limited access to data and usability of data both remain significant challenges to improving measurement and accountability for health. Donors, implementers, and governments all need accessible and usable data, yet they all have varying needs and capacities. As Jon Schwabish, Senior Economist at the Urban Institute and, put it, we need more “human readable” data. Usable data should be available to those who need it, when they need it, and where they need it.

  • Blog post
    How to Share Fair Cover Image

    Think back over the last few months. Have you had a day where you only communicated via technology?

    A few months ago, I had a highly productive day and worked on several projects— but didn't actually speak a single word. All of my communication was through email, Skype message, Google doc, and text messages. While I crossed a lot off my to-do list that day, I felt really disconnected.

    I had spent the day talking at people, not with people.

    This point is highlighted in an Atlantic interview with Sherry Turkle, renowned author of the 2011 book Alone Together. Both the article and the book focus on the idea that in this age of data overload, the art of conversation and real engagement is becoming lost.

    In the field of KM, we talk about the importance of capturing tacit knowledge. That is to say, the information that is in people’s heads, not written down on paper. Usually this information is shared informally and often in a face-to-face setting. Simply put, we need to talk with each other, not at each other.

  • Resources

    How to Hold a Successful Share Fair is an essential refere

  • Blog post
    EAC’s Open Health Initiative RMNCH indicator scorecard, signed by Conference delegates.

    EAC’s Open Health Initiative RMNCH indicator scorecard, signed by Conference delegates.

    I recently traveled from Arusha, Tanzania, home of the East Africa Community (EAC) Secretariat, to Uganda, the site of the EAC’s 5th Annual Health and Scientific Conference. On the way, I heard a couple delegates discuss which African countries were leading the way in health. “Who is #1?” they asked each other. Was it Botswana? Who could be last? Maybe Guinea?

    The conversation reflected the friendly competition that helps to motivate EAC’s five member states: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. During the Conference’s opening plenary, Professor Gerald Yonga from the Aga Khan University of East Africa compared regional statistics relating to non-communicable diseases, including alcohol and tobacco use as well as poor diet. Similarly, during the Symposium on Reproductive Maternal Newborn and Child Health (RMNCH), EAC Deputy Secretary General Hon. Jesca Eriyo and Hon. Dr. Chris Maryomunsi launched a scorecard that tracks key indicators and highlights trends among member states. 

  • Blog post
    Credit: Abraham Cresques, 1374. Public domain

    Credit: Abraham Cresques, 1374. Public domain

    Have you watched the new Netflix show, Marco Polo? Although based on one of the world’s most popular travelogues, critics argue that its representation of Asian people is imperfect and that the plot is historically inaccurate. Despite its failings, the East-meets-West plot captured my imagination. The first episode shows Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis, being charmed by Polo’s description of the trip to Beijing from Italy. We soon learn that the Mongol leader is frustrated in his quest to expand his empire and welcomes Polo’s new perspective to his already diverse council.

    Marco Polo’s 700-year old story is legend because he returns to the West, completing the cross-cultural cycle. As I watched the show, I thought of the work I do in knowledge management (KM) for global health. Though imperfect, the story is an analogy for the relationship between the new discipline of KM and the older discipline of social and behavior change communication (SBCC) in global health.

  • Blog post

    Drawing upon our experiences in using knowledge management techniques for family planning, we realized that knowledge management could lead to a stronger response in the Ebola outbreak, specifically the role of the Ebola Czar. While a connection between family planning, knowledge management, and Ebola might seem like a stretch, we noticed that every article about Ebola articulated issues relating to gaps in coordinating the response – between donors, local organizations, media, and the health system. Wanting to share lessons learned from our family planning experience to a broader audience, we presented at the 2015 Global Health Mini-University, an annual conference for public health professionals and students. Our session, “Coordination, Learning, and Adaptation: Advice for the Ebola Czar,” taught participants about the foundational components of coordination through knowledge management techniques, including Net-Mapping, peer assists, and after-action reviews. We then asked participants to apply these strategies to coordination, learning, and adaptation issues related to the Ebola response.

  • Blog post
    © 2011 A.M. Ahad, Courtesy of Photoshare.

    © 2011 A.M. Ahad, Courtesy of Photoshare.

    At the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) project, we believe that knowledge saves lives. Organizations that apply proven knowledge management techniques can improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of health workers and programs. This in turn improves health outcomes.

    Knowledge management can be a dry and technical topic that’s tough to get excited about. It can be difficult to understand, and its value can be hard to see. For those who are new to the topic, knowledge management is the process of collecting and curating knowledge, then connecting people to it so they can act effectively.

    Sounds easy enough, right? Think of it as a process that helps your team get better organized at work so that everyone knows exactly what they are responsible for and feels confident in their ability to do their job.

  • Blog post
    This blog post originally appeared on the Global Health Knowledge Collaborative Blog from February 12, 2015 and has been slightly modified for the K4Health blog.

    GHKC Share Fair Image

    Global Health Knowledge Collaborative Knowledge Management Share Fair Image of questions and themes, 2013. 

    Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he [she] grows up.” We were once all good information sharers… then we grew up. I thought about that last week when the Global Health Knowledge Collaborative (GHKC) held one of its lunchtime webinars about Share Fairs[i]. Adults are compelled to cast everything through prescribed structures, including how to share knowledge and information. That’s not such a bad idea. You might think you inherently understand how to share what you know and get others to do the same. However, there are some tried and true lessons that can help direct that proffer. These informal ‘rules’ are grounded in andragogy (adult learning) principles and take into account many of the things that generally stifle generous knowledge exchange. I believe that, just like art, once you know the ‘rules’ about holding a share fair, you’ll know which ones you can break to move your respective field forward. The key is to maintain the same childlike enthusiasm and eagerness to tell all while respecting the work-related confines that adults must adhere to. So, in that vein, here’s a synopsis of my top 10 Share Fair ‘rules.’ How you decide to use them to help strengthen health systems is up to you!