Knowledge is vital to make any peace activity a meaningful, responsible and effective one. Knowledge is what we are aware of, understand, interpret and use to make decisions. Knowledge informs our daily actions, for example, we know how to ride a bicycle to more advanced and professional set of actions, for example, designing a peace program in all its complexity. We base our actions on our understandings of reality and on the methods and tools we know of. If our knowledge on these is limited or inappropriate, our actions may not yield the expected results or may even cause more harm than benefits to the communities with whom youth and peacebuilders work.
There are various forms of knowledge. We know through our personal first hand experiences, what we observe and interpret, including what we experience through our formal, non-formal and informal education.
Knowledge in the context of peace work is the result of reflected experiences coming from practice in a specific field of work and context (practitioners knowledge) or it can be the result of systematic observations or measurements, reasoning and experimentation (scientific knowledge in the field of peace studies).
Knowledge management includes the processes to acquire, organise, interpret, develop, use and share knowledge related to peacebuilding, youth work and organisational management which support MEL activities.
A knowledge based-organisation is the one that can identify its knowledge needs, develop knowledge to meet these needs, use it and be able to share it with others, especially in organisation with a high turnover and scattered working teams. It is assumed that an organisation that is able to develop and apply knowledge tends to be more effective. If an organisation is able to keep and share knowledge is more sustainable and impactful in the medium and long term.
Knowledge development can happen at the individual level, at the organisational level or within a sector or network. Knowledge developed can be part of planned activities (reflective learning) or happen spontaneously in unplanned ways (emergent learning).
Source: Del Felice and Solheim (2011) adapted from Kelleher (2002) and Parkinson (2010).
We offer here a guide to put in place or improve knowledge management activities. We divide this guide in three sections according to the good practice criteria identified in the assessment tool:
1) developing knowledge
2) using knowledge
3) sharing knowledge
|If you first want to assess your organisation’s knowledge management practice or refresh your memory about the specific indicators per criteria click here.
An organisation that is able to develop knowledge is an organisation that has the capacity to identify its knowledge needs and resources, to find, to create and to organise relevant knowledge. Knowledge can developed in a plurality of forms (not only scientific knowledge) and needs to build on all stakeholders experiences and lessons learned, especially of those young people involved.
A starting point is identifying knowledge needs. Key questions that organisations need to ask are:
- What knowledge do we need? About what?
- Why do we need this knowledge? For what purposes?
- How can we obtain or create that knowledge? Where is it? Who has it? what activities would allow us to develop knowledge?
The organisation can have several tools available to assess knowledge needs for example:
- Needs assessment exercises can include specific questions on learning and knowledge needs
- Application forms for trainings or other activities can include specific questions on learning and knowledge needs
- Satisfaction surveys or evaluation forms can include specific question about new learning and knowledge needs identified after a project
- Interviews with new volunteers or staff can request information about knowledge needs.
Once knowledge needs are identified, a series of activities can be planned to develop knowledge for the organisation in general or in the context of specific projects. Knowledge development activities can be:
- Storytelling, organising meetings to share stories of resilience and hope can be a powerful way to develop knowledge out of young people´s experiences. Everyone has a story to tell and a lot can be learned from sharing them. A story can be also told in the form of a mural or a theatre play.
- Special research projects, in collaboration with other organisations, universities or think tanks. These are projects that aim mostly to fill in a gap in knowledge or improve understanding about a topic. See for example, The Global Evaluation of Children and Youth In Peacebuilding, a collaborative research project in which several organisations pooled resources and expertise. See more information:
- Study sessions. These are specific seminars in which a topic is explored and discussed, often bringing a variety of inputs and perspectives. See for example, study sessions supported by the Council of Europe Youth Directorate.
- Development of a data base. Data can be gathered and regularly updated to support the overall activities of the organisation. Data can be mean information and statistics about youth characteristics and preferences, data about available fundraising opportunities, about new publications on specific topics.
Note that key to making activities happen is having the necessary human and material resources. Specific persons need to be responsible for implementing them and adequately prepared and skills This is linked to human resources management which is addressed in the separate section.
Having knowledge but not using it or applying it is almost the same as not having it. Technically, we say we have knowledge when we are able to reflect about it and apply it to concrete situations. For example, know how to facilitate a dialogue program. An organisation uses knowledge when it has the capacity to process, analyse, interpret and apply knowledge in decisions and the implementation of activities, specially knowledge emerging from lessons learnt and evaluation reports.
An organisation can use existing knowledge in several ways:
- Reviewing previous reports and lessons learned when planning new projects. This can be indicated as a requirement in a project´s planning checklist.
- Planning special activities to discuss lessons before taking important strategic decisions. This can be integrated to the formal agenda of strategic planning meetings.
- Having a number of resource persons and former personnel who can be consulted on special occasions. This group can be formalised as “advisors” or “pool of trainers”.
- Personnel needs to be trained in the use of the data base and be made aware of existing materials of the organisation, for example, publications, and be encouraged to consult them and use them in their work.
Youth and peace organisations cannot work in isolation. Challenges are too big to address them alone. Developing and updating knowledge is one of them, so sharing knowledge is important to the sustainability of the wider sector of organisations working for peace. A knowledge-based organisation needs to be able to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, both internally and externally.
Given the often high turnover of personnel in youth organisations, knowledge sharing within the organisation is key. Often, learning in one project cycle is intense, it is gathered in a report but that learning often remains only and mainly in the team directly involved in the project. This is natural and to be expected. Learning is personal. Yet, lessons learned can be extracted and explained through written reports or through internal sharing or storytelling and training.
Knowledge sharing activities can be:
- Oral storytelling and presentations.
- Workshops and training sessions.
- Internal organisational meetings.
- Meetings with partners, donors and stakeholders.
Knowledge sharing tools can be:
- Toolkits, and publications, like the book ‘25 Stories for Peace’ in which young peacebuilders shared their stories.
- Written reports, articles, essays, charts, theories and infographics summarising key information .A web page with updated information.
- A website, blog and social media platforms describing activities and sharing testimonies.
An example of knowledge sharing are the annual young peacebuilders fora.
To sum up, do we need a knowledge management policy?
Having a knowledge management policy may sound too pretentious. Often, big and established organisations do not have one. Yet, we suggest that having a document which records how the organisation is conscious about the importance of knowledge in its activities and how it actually aims to manage it, is a sign of strength.
We suggest a knowledge management policy should guide and advise organisations to implement the following actions.
- to assess knowledge needs periodically and in the context of new projects
- to develop knowledge through specific activities, such as research projects, or integrating knowledge development dimensions to other activities, for example, interviews or focus groups during trainings or exchange programs.
- to use existing knowledge and review lessons learned when making key strategic decisions and in the context of project planning and evaluation.
- to share knowledge within the organisation and with relevant stakeholders.
Read more about…
- Good practices in youth work data base – The Council of Europe and European Union’s partnership on youth
- Youth organisations as learning organisations. This article describes in detail how knowledge is developed and shared within a youth network – Del Felice, C. and Solheim, L. -2011