People Before Technology. Always.

Good Knowledge Management Means Putting People First


When you hear the term “knowledge management,” what’s the first thing you think about? Considering today’s high-tech, fast-paced environment, you might picture the mobile phones, tablets, databases, and other technology that makes information exchange possible for so many.

I prefer, however, to think of knowledge management as a systematic process of collecting and curating knowledge and connecting people to it so they can act effectively.

While technology is both useful and fun, it’s the people using technology that drive knowledge management.

Here are a few simple tips for making sure your knowledge management activities are people-centric:

1) Make sure you understand your audience before you jump in. Don’t make assumptions about what your target audience needs. You may have talked to one person who said that Internet connections are bad in the rural areas — but do people use smart phones? Do people prefer in-person communication? Are there regular community meetings that can be vehicles for knowledge exchange? Remember that anecdotal evidence is not enough. A more rigorous analysis of your audience’s needs is important before committing to a knowledge management strategy.

2) Make sure the technology is necessary. If you are using technology for an activity, make sure it’s necessary. Are you creating an app because you think it would be cool (and it probably would be!) or because it would help your audience do their jobs better? Would a checklist or a paper job aid be just as useful—and even more practical in certain settings?

3) “Build it and they will come” is not the best knowledge management strategy. If you do decide to incorporate technology or a new platform into your knowledge management activities, great! But first, find out if the platform fills an identified gap and conduct usability testing to confirm it resonates with people. Then, develop a user onboarding strategy and implement it to increase your audience’s chance of adoption and successful use of the technology. Some things to include in your strategy are integrating the new tool into existing processes and procedures, and creating resources that help your audience learn how to use the platform and take full advantage of its features. Keep in mind that people have different learning styles and you’ll need to try out multiple training methods for successful onboarding, such as guides, eLearning courses, and in-person trainings.

When we “do” knowledge management in K4Health, people come first…. literally. At the beginning of each K4Health activity, we conduct assessments to find out people’s information needs, gaps in knowledge, and communication preferences. After understanding the needs of our audience, we then either create or collect knowledge in a format that can best meet those needs. We then help develop specific knowledge management activities — for example, communities of practice, online knowledge-sharing platforms, share fairs, or research syntheses — to make sure people are connected to that knowledge so they can use it to improve their work.

Knowledge management ensures that people have the know-how they need, when they need it — this is an inherently social process. We don’t just “build websites” or “create online communities of practice”- without making sure that they meet the needs of the audiences we’re serving.


For further reading check out the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) project’s Guide to Conducting Needs Assessments.


Want to read more about knowledge management and global health? Follow The Exchange for more information on how to better curate, synthesize, and share knowledge.

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