© Helvetas

How Can We Use Knowledge Management & Learning for Regional Inclusive Economic Development?

FROM: Emilija Jovanova Stoilkova, Zenebe B. Uraguchi – 15. February 2021
© Helvetas

Organizations need to proactively stimulate and invest in making knowledge management and learning as part of what they do. This is about stimulating, developing, and strengthening the practice of synthesizing, refining, and communicating knowledge and learning, and not just writing or documenting what we feel, what we are doing, or our lessons. RECONOMY, a 12-country inclusive economic development program, seeks to create a knowledge management and learning culture by focusing on three priority areas.

*******

Have you ever thought of living in a world without managing knowledge and learning opportunities? Just think about the tremendous amount of knowledge and learning humanity has been managing so far. If you imagine the volume of knowledge accumulated in the collective memory, you’ll realize that knowledge and continuous learning is our most powerful weapon.

Organizations can only successfully manage knowledge and learning through its utilization and improvement. Specifically, organizations need to proactively stimulate and invest in making knowledge management and learning as part of what they do.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and Helvetas are joining forces to facilitate a regional inclusive economic development initiative called RECONOMY, a 12-country regional program in Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, and the Western Balkans.

The aspirations of the countries in the region to create inclusive economic development won’t happen if knowledge management and learning doesn’t become integral to supporting a knowledge economy and its evolution towards a dynamic and complex digital economy. Practically, this means knowledge and learning needs to be embedded in people, digital infrastructure, networks, products, and intangible assets.

Relevance to a regional inclusive economic development initiative

An important growth factor of the countries in the region is designing a regional cooperation strategy on knowledge management and learning. Thinking and acting regionally is of great importance because pursuing inclusive economic development is essentially knowledgebased. This relies on the different countries’ common cultural, historic, societal, economic, and political background which have led them to similar developmental paths.

Our aim in RECONOMY is to facilitate actors – from public to private and civil society – and to stimulate and exchange knowledge and learning about innovative practices for the formulation of policies, as well as for the design and implementation of efforts towards inclusive and economic development. This doesn’t mean the production of knowledge-intensive goods and services; rather, countries need to internalize and dissimilate knowledge to move faster toward the global knowledge frontier.

RECONOMY seeks to locate players and bring them together within the ecosystem of knowledge, documenting, synthesizing, and sharing the experience and learning. This requires the space and scale of knowledge networks for innovation and learning throughout the economy, also benefitting those who are excluded and disadvantaged. This way, the program contributes to making knowledge and learning retrievable.

Unfortunately, it’s very often the case in many of the countries in the region that the role and value of knowledge management and learning is underestimated, neglected, and even forgotten in the hallways of the collective unconsciousness. At the regional level, there’s diversity among countries concerning accumulating, disseminating, and utilizing knowledge and learning.

Most of the countries in the region face weak information management infrastructure, weak networking activities, a lack of financial resources to support knowledge management tools and activities, and low application of knowledge for policymaking. The reasons are a low investment in research and development coupled with the outdated education system and improving but still weak regulatory reforms (e.g. labor market rigidities, regulation of services).

With the rapid transformation from knowledge-based economies to automation and the rise of artificial intelligence, competition, as well as opportunities for knowledge workers in developed democracies create the migration of skilled workforce from the countries in the region.

Priorities for vibrant knowledge management and learning system

Knowledge acquisition and its management and sharing for learning needs to be linked to key priority areas for inclusive economic development. This happens with partner organizations that are in charge of their development. They drive. RECONOMY supports.

While bringing more ideas (e.g. green economic development), RECONOMY benefits from existing experiences and significantly increasing the impacts of the program. It contributes through the systematic generation, documentation, and sharing of knowledge and learning, and leveraging existing practices. Besides, it brings efficiency by reducing the time invested in re-inventing wheels or trying to find critical information relevant to the design and implementation of the program.

Three key priority areas include: (a) intensifying exchanges and dialogues; (b) aggregating, synthesizing, consolidating/supplementing innovative practices and key lessons; and (c) institutionalizing good practices and models into actors/stakeholders.

The first priority requires understanding the capacity and incentives of actors to convene substantive exchanges and integration of knowledge into their work. The objective is to improve interactive processes/mechanisms in sharing and learning as well as increased communication and engagement.

We identify and use many participatory processes and fora for learning and generation of retrievable knowledge. Examples include exchange on specific topics (e.g. public-private dialogue, skills development) as well as setting up a range of knowledge sharing channels – from one-to-one ‘mentoring relationships’ to conferences, seminars, half-yearly peer-reviews, joint training, and participation in online discussions.

The second priority area is about enabling existing and emerging knowledge and learning to become relatively easy to locate and update through curation and adaptive learning. This calls for a more comprehensive approach to managing existing and emerging knowledge and learning base.

A common problem in the region (and beyond) is knowledge seems to remain largely ‘tacit’ – that is to say, it isn’t systematic, explicit, or well documented. As a result, acquisition and exchange of knowledge are fragmented and it isn’t clear if shared knowledge and learning has been adopted and adapted. RECONOMY seeks to facilitate knowledge management and learning activities with a clear strategic focus and target audience within coherent sourcing, planning, reporting, and results framework.

For the third priority, it’s crucial to promote knowledge seeking and knowledge sharing culture among the regions, based on learning from each other. This in practice means enabling knowledge and learning to be embedded in the work processes of the program and its partners. Identifying champions is also critical.

One practical entry point to strategically leverage the knowledge of partners, in particular where they have a comparative advantage (e.g. organizations that produce evidence). This requires identifying investment opportunities for stimulating others to copy-in and crowd-in in areas where the program is uniquely positioned to stimulate good/innovative practices. We’ll enhance existing processes and products (e.g. blogs, Inclusive Pug episodes, Learning Briefs) by emphasizing quality rather than quantity.

Related readings

Emilija Jovanova Stoilkova is the Knowledge Management and Learning Manager in the RECONOMY Regional Programme of Sida, implemented by Helvetas in 12 countries in Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and the Western Balkans. Her previous experience includes work in skills development, lifelong learning, inclusive market development, labour market insertion and workforce development. Emilija is passionate about knowledge management and continuous learning and education, ensuring that the right knowledge is available for the right people at the right time.
Programme Manager, East Europe, South Caucuses, & Western Balkans; Senior Advisor, Sustainable & Inclusive Economies