Home Blog & Media Putting knowledge management to work: a practical course for NGO professionals

Putting knowledge management to work: a practical course for NGO professionals

April 23, 2024

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Chris Collison

Consultant & Facilitator, Knowledge Management


Dounia Chatto

Digital Content Manager, Morocco

We recently spoke with Chris Collison, a seasoned knowledge management expert with over 25 years of experience. Our conversation focused on Humentum and Bixal’s new Effective Knowledge Management (KM) for Development Impact online course, tailored for NGO professionals. In this interview, Chris explores the critical role of KM in organizational success and shares the inspiration behind this new learning opportunity.

With decades of experience in knowledge management, what initially drew you to this field?

Chris: I’ve been around the field of KM and organizational learning for as long as I can remember. [I started] in the mid-nineties when I had some corporate roles inside large organizations, helping support knowledge management in practice, developing strategy, tools, and methods, and helping sell the benefits as an internal consultant. For the past 18 years, I’ve served as an independent consultant, working with over 180 organizations spanning sectors including government, international development, and sports. My expertise extends to coaching the International Olympic Committee on KM practices and working with sectors such as pharmaceuticals and legal, where KM is of paramount importance.

Currently, I’m actively involved in co-facilitating the Multi-Donor Learning Partnership, a community of practice consisting of eleven major international development donors including USAID, UNICEF, GIZ in Germany, Sida in Sweden, Norad in Norway, IFAD, and the World Food Program, among others. Through this partnership, we virtually facilitate and support the exchange of learning and good practices among members.

Drawing on my involvement in these initiatives, and my work with the private sector, I’m able to bring practical examples and insights to enrich the new online KM training.

The Effective Knowledge Management for Development Impact online course is provided in partnership with Bixal. What inspired this course and why is KM crucial for organizations?

Chris: The inspiration behind this course stems from a common thread I’ve observed across different sectors: the perceived complexity of KM and the struggle to effectively communicate its value to senior staff. Recognizing the need for a practical, accessible approach, I aimed to bridge this gap by offering an accessible, tools-based training option for a wider group of learners.

KM plays a pivotal role in the development sector, ensuring efficient resource and knowledge utilization. The inherent value of KM in this context is twofold: firstly, the cost of ignorance is much higher than the cost of managing knowledge well. Secondly, I think we’re in a place where there are much higher expectations both from our stakeholders and beneficiaries, but also from donors.

In this sector, people want to know that scarce funds are being well applied, lessons are being learned, knowledge is well used, people are well connected... And knowledge management is a way of providing some of that assurance.

Chris Collison

Learners come from diverse roles and backgrounds within NGOs. What are some common pain points the course helps them address?

Chris: While this course caters to a wide range of NGO professionals with varying experience levels, some shared challenges consistently arise. Through my years of interactions with different participants, there are a few common pain points I’ve noticed that the course aims to address:

  • How to communicate the value proposition of knowledge management

Many struggle to articulate the concrete benefits it brings to the organization, hindering efforts to secure buy-in from leadership. This course provides participants with the building blocks to develop a clear theory of change, one that lives beyond a PowerPoint slide, and that we can easily bring to life in conversation. Essentially, an “elevator pitch,” to convincingly demonstrate the positive impact and benefits of knowledge management.

  • The second challenge is a financial one

NGOs often operate with limited budgets, making expensive technological solutions impractical. This course focuses on cost-effective methods, balancing process and people-based strategies with content and technology, ensuring practical and sustainable KM practices. Examples include implementing practices like before and after-action reviews, peer assists, retrospectives, and fostering knowledge-sharing communities. These strategies don’t require significant financial investment but can yield substantial benefits.

  • Knowing which tool to use and when

Choosing the right tool for the specific situation and then adapting it effectively can be overwhelming. This course tackles this challenge by providing guidance on tool selection and adaptation. Knowledge management isn’t a precise science. It’s not like we’re manufacturing a product to the same specifications, it’s akin to preparing a meal with a limited set of ingredients and having to apply some culinary acumen to figure out what we might substitute if one certain ingredient, method, or procedure isn’t accessible. So, what we do has an adaptive component to it.

Participants will learn to adjust tools to best meet their specific organizational needs, just as a chef uses their expertise to change ingredients as needed. Knowledge management isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, and the course equips participants to approach it with this flexibility.

Chris Collison

Can you share some tangible benefits of completing this course and how these translate into their day-to-day work?

Chris: Learners can expect to derive several significant benefits from this course, including but not limited to:

  1. Understanding the bigger picture: Through comprehensive insights and practical examples, participants will gain a deeper understanding of the essence of KM and learn how to effectively contextualize it within their organization’s unique environment. Whether you’re a staffer or a consultant working in the sector, having that easy way to communicate ‘what it is that you’re about’ is one very clear tangible benefit. It’s the starting point for most of our conversations.
  2. Building a network: This is not the kind of training that you go through in isolation. Through it, you will gain access to a network of other learners. There is a genuine sense of camaraderie as if there is a wealth of knowledge waiting to be shared in the virtual room. I will bring plenty of examples from multiple sectors, and we’ll have some fun dissecting them. There will be others on this course with you who have a lot to share as well. And we built this training to bring that out.
  3. Confidence in using KM tools: Practical experiences, such as after-action reviews, will help you gain confidence in which tools to utilize and how to use them effectively. By working on activities, such as problem-solving assignments, and in groups, you will conduct an after-action review before we examine the theory and practice behind it.

Finally, why should learners consider taking the Knowledge Management online course?

Chris: As professionals, I believe we have a moral obligation and ethical responsibility to leverage our knowledge and expertise to its maximum potential for the benefit of our stakeholders and donors. Additionally, from a more personal perspective, I’m confident you’ll find enjoyment in this training. It offers a unique, fun, and engaging experience, such as creatively mapping out the knowledge-sharing process using music tracks by the Beatles for a peer assist session. This blend of significance and enjoyment makes the course not only valuable and interactive but also an enjoyable and memorable learning experience for participants.

Ready to harness the power of knowledge for your organization’s success? The Humentum and BIXAL Effective Knowledge Management (KM) for Development Impact online course, starting May 13, provides a unique combination of practicality, accessibility, and enjoyment, effectively equipping you with the skills to make a real difference.

Register today!