Sunday, 4 October 2009

KM search and rescue operation: Looking for intelligent and KM-enabled indicators!

I'm faced with the challenge of measuring the progress and impact of knowledge management activities using indicators!

I must confess that indicators and I do not get along very well. I believe indicators are one-dimensional and not flexible enough to assess progress in a multidimensional manner. Another reason why I do not like indicators is that often they are devised and used to justify our deeds.

Having said that I am fully aware that as development workers we need to show how tax-payer money is used to make a difference in the lives of poor and marginalized people. As a result, we are continuously preparing progress reports, case studies, impact assessments, results-frameworks, logframes and you name it to show progress and impact.

I beg your indulgence for a minute and want to ask you to reflect on how many of these reports, case studies, results-frameworks, logframes and indicators are knowledge enabled? Which of these outputs actually tell the story of what worked and what did not worked and more importantly WHY it did not work? Which of these indicators actually measure the learning and innovation that may or may not have occurred? What indicator measures whether the learning emerging from an activity is captured, disseminated and fed back?

I do not have an answer to these questions and would like to hear from those of who may have plausible answers. What I do know is that I am asked to come up with KM indicators and I have really a hard time to do so.

When it comes to KM indicators, I continuously ask myself: if KM activities are to support the mission of organizations while enhancing business processes, why should we have KM specific indicators?

If we have mainstreamed KM in our activities and if we have intelligent and KM-enabled indicators, these should be able to tell us whether the KM activities are supporting business processes, we should be able to assess whether we are sharing, using, capturing and generating knowledge. We do not need to have a completely new set of indicators to measure the impact of KM! DO WE?

I know the big IF is having "intelligent and KM-enabled indicators"! This is why it is paramount to have intelligent indicators that measure not only the physical progress of any given activity but also and most importantly measure learning and behavioural aspects. That is to say, something that tells how and what we've learnt as a result of accomplishing any given activity; how we've used and are using what we've learnt; something that provides evidence if we're re-inventing the wheel and/or show how we're applying the knowledge generated or acquired.

If we start going down the path of creating KM specific indicators without embedding these in existing indicators, we'll end up engaging in bean-counting exercise and risk creating futile and empty indicators such as "number of communities of practices (CoP) established" or "70% increase in CoP participation" or "30% increase in number of learning events" or "14 knowledge products produced".

Now, you tell me where is the real essence of KM in these indicators? Do any one of these indicators assess the quality of discussions and learning emerging from the CoP, do they tell us how the collective knowledge of the CoP has improved a project design or introduced an innovative irrigation scheme? Do these indicators measure how the CoP has enhanced knowledge exchange or how the CoP has contributed to expanding the knowledge-base on a topic?

These indicators do not telling us whether there has been any behavioural changes, whether the learning events have led to innovative processes and products or if and how they have fostered knowledge exchange etc.

What are these 'indicators' really measuring? JUST NUMBERS!!! They fail to measure the qualitative dimension of HOW results were achieved and WHAT we learnt as a result of achieving and not achieving the desired results. So, can anyone out there tell me why should we create KM specific indicators? Would not it be better to convert dim-witted indicators to KM/learning-enabled indicators?

Help me in this search and rescue operation..... share your intelligent and KM-enabled indicators or any ideas and experience that you may have of measuring the impact of KM-related activities.