Wanted: Innovative ways to manage knowledge

    There are many ways to better manage knowledge — and in the process, improve communication, learning and project outcomes. Not all of these strategies require you to log into your computer, though. Photo by: William Hook / CC BY-SA

    An old adage says that if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we’re more likely to repeat them.  I think the same is true of successes. If we learn from them, we’re more likely to succeed again.

    One of the most difficult yet important tasks in gender and development is learning from past experiences so we can build on them to move the agenda forward. The body of global gender research, theories, analyses, practices, lessons, data, information, insights, awareness, understanding, experience and tools is large and constantly growing. We have sufficient knowledge and expertise for a quantum leap forward. But how can policy-makers and practitioners keep up with it all?

    Facilitating ways to more easily access the many avenues for learning from the past is essential for us to contribute collectively to advancing gender equality going forward. Whatever challenge you are currently facing, consulting the research, literature and experiences of similar challenges can inform your approach and improve your chances for success.  

    Knowledge management

    One way to do this is through knowledge management, which Michael E. D. Koenig describes as an “integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets.” Most of us have shared computer drives, for example, a simple example of KM, where reports and other documents are stored for all to access. Yet KM systems could be made far more effective with better organizing, updating and maintaining both within and among institutions. Entire research reports could be annotated, for example, so individuals seeking guidance on a particular topic could more easily access the desired information. The challenge here is time and money — but doing it will save both going forward.


    A meta-analyses involves collecting “separate yet similar studies to test the pooled data for statistical significance.” It’s a big job that requires substantial resources, but given the increasing amount of research and experience we’re accumulating, it should be undertaken more often. Better cooperation between and among the development community could support meta-analyses that would benefit everyone’s work by providing guidance for success.

    Social media

    Among the fastest-growing knowledge sharing methods is social media, which enable instantaneous, international communication — and show signs of continuing innovations to come. Staying on top of these fast-moving methods for accessing information takes time and constant learning, which the new generation of development professionals, in particular, is mastering.

    Panel discussions and webinars

    One of the potentially most valuable ways to access and share information is by participating either in person or electronically in the many presentations and panel discussions that are taking place around the world. They vary in quality and purpose, but one can select to attend or perhaps present in one of the many such opportunities by selecting those that will assist you most directly in your work.


    The e-mailing of electronic reports, newsletters, data bases and networking invitations is unprecedented. It’s almost overwhelming. When you find yourselves unable to read even the incoming material in which you are interested, the importance of knowledge management becomes clear.


    We’re also sending trainers from headquarters to field offices to impart new knowledge and teach new skills, sending field office staff to headquarters for the same reason, and sending both to international conferences to share, learn and network.


    A mushrooming of women’s organizations around the world, many of whom are establishing linkages with one another, is yet another way information is being exchanged on a local, provincial, national and international level.

    Although none of the knowledge sharing methods above is perfect, they — and those to come — can help ensure that information accumulated to date becomes more easily and widely accessible so it can inform new paradigms, strategies, program designs, implementation approaches, and monitoring and evaluation plans, to name a few.

    If building on the past is the first step when addressing a gender equality challenge, then we can expect a better-informed and more effective future.

    Want to learn more? Check out She Builds and tweet us using #SheBuilds.

    She Builds is a month-long conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, Creative Associates, JBS International as well as the Millennium Challenge Corp., United Nations Office for Project Services and U.K. Department for International Development.

    About the author

    • Mary Fontaine

      Mary Fontaine is the gender practice lead of JBS International. She is an award-winning technical gender specialist with more than 20 years of residential development experience in the Near East, Middle-East and South Asia. She has lived and worked in director-level positions in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan, and has brought shorter-term technical expertise to programs in East and West Africa, Eastern Europe and the Balkans. She serves on the board of directors for Women for Afghan Women.