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Articles: knowledge management

How the World Bank launched a knowledge management program
Michel JL Pommier


Drawing from the lessons of experience for launching a broad knowledge management program in a global organization like the World Bank, eight pillars were instrumental to support the Bank's initiative defining a clear strategy based on the business needs of the organization; keeping small the central KM unit which oversees overall implementation; making available a budget to allow communities to function; supporting the development of communities of practice; keeping information technology user-friendly and responsive to its users needs; orchestrating systematic communications to explain what knowledge means and to keep every one informed; introducing new incentives to accelerate the shift towards a knowledge culture; and developing a set of metrics to measure progress.

Defining a Knowledge Strategy

Defining a knowledge sharing strategy which will be endorsed by senior management and front-line staff is a difficult but essential first step. The strategy should clearly articulate why the organization should share its know-how, what the organization will share, with whom the organization will share and how the organization will share. One critical element in the World Bank knowledge sharing strategy was the public commitment made by its president to build a "knowledge" Bank. This decision to share, taken by the chief executive officer, sheltered the organization from lengthy discussions that typically surround the development of strategies in large organizations.

Deciding why to share:

Given the characteristics of the global economy, and the plummeting costs of communication and computing, the World Bank perceived that sharing knowledge would enhance its organizational performance, and therefore, its global impact on poverty. This was a business decision anchored on the realization that the new opportunities were worth the shock of cultural and technological transformations that the Bank was going to introduce. Knowledge management was not undertaken for its own good. It was motivated by a decision to increase the speed and quality of service delivery, lower the cost of operations by avoiding rework, accelerate innovation, and widen the Bank partnerships to fight poverty.

Deciding what to share:

The knowledge sharing program of the Bank is designed to share country and sector know-how, and global best practices and research in the field of development. The program would have been designed differently if the knowledge of competitive intelligence, processes or individual clients would have been at the core of the Bank's business. The issues of the quality and authentication of what is being shared is addressed by the thematic group leaders.

Deciding with whom to share

The knowledge-sharing vision of the World Bank is ambitious. It drives the institution to share its development know-how both internally with staff at headquarters and in the field, and externally with clients, partners and stakeholders. Internally, the audience is the members of the thematic groups and the objective is to collect and make accessible the latest and best sector and country development knowledge that exists globally to allow operational staff to bring higher quality advice to their clients while saving time and costs. In itself, collecting, synthesizing and authenticating this knowledge is already an endeavor. External knowledge sharing poses further issues such as the confidentiality of information given to the Bank by its clients and partners, copyright of documents, and for the Bank activities supporting the private sector, the protection of proprietary assets. Instead of developing constraining procedures to address these issues, the Bank is dealing with them as they arise.

Deciding how to share

The Bank uses a multitude of different channels to share various forms of knowledge. For instance, a number of thematic groups are providing a mentor for each new recruit to quickly familiarize them with sector strategies, lending procedures and key professional contacts. Every staff can also call a help desk, where packets of information and referral services are available. Seasoned professionals will attend and contribute to technical clinics (working lunches of one-to-two hours) or search the knowledge collections on the Intranet. Externally, knowledge sharing takes place virtually on the Web, and face-to-face with clients and partners, either during field missions or during sector weeks organized annually by sector boards and their thematic groups.

Organizing knowledge management >>

Michel J.L. Pommier
Senior Advisor, Network Operations and Knowledge Sharing Program
The World Bank Group
Article used with permission