Chris Addison - Turning information into action

Laureene Reeves Ndagire

Chris Addison is CTA Senior Programme Coordinator for Knowledge Management. He is responsible for how CTA supports partners in their use of the web to exchange information.

Knowledge management (KM) is one of CTA’s main focuses. In recent years, the Centre has supported the development of KM platforms to better generate and circulate information from one region to another, and between different actors.

Below is an interview with Chris done for CTA’s SPORE Magazine

Q. What is CTA’s definition and practice of KM?

CAD: KM emerged in the early 1990s in the ICT industry as new technologies enabled people’s knowledge (the experience they had and the skills they had learnt to do their job) to be written down and stored in computers – or so it was thought. People believed this knowledge could be managed in databases, retrieved easily from anywhere across a network and transferred to the reader. But things weren’t that simple. During the next 10 years, the focus shifted as people realised that knowledge is personal and subjective and it was clear that there were different ways to share the information and very different ways to learn. The next major step in KM thinking was a focus on how people interact in an environment, such as within a company, a network or a community. This has proved more fruitful as we come to better understand the motivations behind communication and learning, and the sciences of managing information and measuring success – which are all essential for managing the flow of knowledge. CTA drew its current integral approach around the idea of a knowledge ecosystem developed with the help of its partners.

CTA’s approach to KM is based on a tree model: the roots are the ‘people’ – their strategies, values and culture, structures and governance, management and leadership, and skills and roles. The trunk are ‘enablers’, for example, communication, systems and technologies, learning and monitoring and evaluation, and innovation. The branches are ‘knowledge processes’ like knowledge creation, sharing, storage and use. Finally, external factors are ‘motivation factors’, including participation, external influences and external resources. CTA has used this idea to identify what organisations, like the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, are already doing in KM and identify where new KM activities can be developed.

Q. Can you provide examples of CTA KM platforms and activities?

CAD: One of the conclusions of the KM scans is that organisations and communities often lack good internal communication platforms. This is not so much a question of technology as it is of building a network of people who can animate and facilitate knowledge sharing. CTA has a long history of training people in these skills, but more recently our focus has been on building platforms to support discussion on policy issues, which continue from and feed into face to face meetings. For instance, we have been working with the Pan African Farmers’ Organization (PAFO) linking regional groups together to provide a platform for their members to discuss policy issues and present case studies. The platform has been used to contribute to the agenda of the PAFO continental briefing, held in conjunction with the CTA Fin4Ag conference in July 2014. The regional farmers’ organisations that work together to support PAFO have built up a group of around 255 people, drawn from various membership organisations, to create the platform. CTA has used a similar approach with the Melanasian Spearhead group in the Pacific and are just starting similar work with the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism.

Q. What are the main difficulties you have had to deal with?

CAD: It has been a completely a new way of working for many of our partners. Some said they felt it was a real struggle at the start but that it was very exciting once the dialogue began. The main difficulty is building trust across a network and being clear on common goals.

Q. How do you see the future of CTA’s KM practices?

CAD: Historically, CTA has produced a lot of information for ACP countries from our own resources but the Centre has to take more advantage of the content being produced by our partners. CTA has changed this balance over the last 30 years but we need to go one step further and change the way we look at publishing, more in a community mode. I hope that more development partners, governments and practitioners will see the benefit of investing in easy, cost effective and innovative KM approaches and tools for lasting solutions and profound changes in the way we produce, acquire, use and share knowledge. It is important to conduct more research to be able to highlight the costs of not sharing knowledge and the returns of investing in KM.

Interview by Anne Perrin