Case study of KM4Dev

Probably one of the most vibrant communities of practice in the development sector comprises the Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) community which has been in existence since approximately the year 2000.

The domain
The domain of KM4Dev comprises knowledge management and knowledge sharing issues and approaches. This translates into a very broad focus because knowledge management and knowledge sharing is the approach and this can be applied to many different themes such as the health sector and agriculture from grassroots to global level.

The community
As a community, KM4Dev has evolved the following supporting principles:

–       Open and interactive in nature

–       Supports and encourages a mix of individuals (Northern and Southern participation, large and small organizations, academics and practitioners, male and female)

–       International development is the specific, underlying context to our exploration of KM/KS issues and approaches

The borders of the community are rather fuzzy because joining the mailing list, the website and attending a face-to-face meeting confer membership, although members are not registered in any way. The mailing list currently (16 March 2014) comprises 1882 members spread over 104 countries (see Figure 1). As can be seen in Figure 1, membership is distributed globally, although it is highest in the USA (212 members) and Western Europe (UK has 120 members and Switzerland 105). There is a strong community feeling as can be demonstrated by these quotes from members:

I feel so moved by all the positive reactions I received every day since I posted my request. Just as if I have numerous secret hidden friends ready to give a hand ! It’s a feeling not easy to express; the kind of strength you sense when you’re not alone and that makes you dare and never afraid of taking new challenges… merci beaucoup.(Yennenga Kompaoré, Burkina Faso)

I’m proud of being part of this collaborative community.  Thank you all. (Marcelo Yamada, Promon Engenharia, Brazil).


Figure: Distribution of KM4Dev membership (Source: KM4Dev])

As Smith and Makowski point out, the informality and reciprocity of KM4Dev is in stark contrast to the participants’ working lives:

Many members of KM4Dev work directly or indirectly for large development institutions, whether national governments, non-profits or UN agencies. Within their agency work-life, the members of KM4Dev operate in complex, hierarchical, formal, and possibly political structures. Part of the effectiveness of the KM4Dev community is that it is so much less formal and that people participate as individual practitioners. (Smith and Makowski 2012: 193)

The practice
Since the year 2000, the members have developed a share repertoire of reified resources, including experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems, namely a shared practice. One of the shared tools is the Knowledge Management for Development Journal which is now in its 9th year of publication. To the author’s knowledge, this is the only community of practice in the KM field to have its own journal. In the Global Ranking of Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital Journals: 2013 Update, the journal was rated as 19, 14 and 17th of the top 25 journals in this field on the basis of expert opinion, citation index and combined experts/citation index respectively (Serenko and Bontis 2013). KM4Dev comprises both online (with a website and mailing list) and face-to-face elements.

In an article published in 2009, Ferreira compared the KM4Dev community to a new Enlightenment:

In less than 10 years, KM4Dev has become a global network of development agents who share the idea that knowledge can contribute to the development of poor countries and groups in a disadvantaged situation. KM4Dev is already playing the role of a cognitive bridge for development agents worldwide, and the demand of methodologies and tools of development agents have shaped the flow of knowledge among the members of the net. KM4Dev plays that role with a high level of efficiency, providing reliable answers to development agents at a daily base, almost in real time, and at very low costs. (Ferreira 2009: 17-18)

KM4Dev has proliferated with French and Spanish language communities: SIWA and Sa-Ge, although the SIWA group may no longer be active.

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