Ahead of the Curve: Putting Knowledge Solutions to Work

In the hands of the right people and applied at the right time, knowledge can stimulate action and propel development. Strategy 2020, the Asian Development Bank's long-term strategic framework, recognizes this and underlines knowledge solutions as a driver of change in this decade.

Transforming ADB's Knowledge Agenda

ADB's efforts to put knowledge solutions to work in the Asia-Pacific region are anchored in its Action Plan for Knowledge Management, 2009-2011. The action plan pursues four end states: a sharpened knowledge focus in ADB's operations; empowered communities of practice; strengthened external knowledge partnerships; and further enhanced staff learning and skills development. It also concretizes the 2004 Knowledge Management Framework, which marked ADB's initial concerted efforts toward becoming a learning organization. The framework pursues two mutually supportive outcomes: (i) increased assimilation of and dissemination by ADB of relevant and high-quality knowledge to developing member countries and other stakeholders, and (ii) enhanced learning in ADB.

Positive changes have been engendered as a result of implementing the action plan, reinforcing ADB's bid to become a learning organization.

To sharpen the knowledge focus in ADB's operations, new sector peer review procedures are now in effect, harnessing the knowledge of ADB staff and boosting the process of transforming sector and thematic know-how into practical knowledge. ADB has also redefined the terms of reference of its knowledge management champions. Assessments of the demand for ADB's knowledge products through resident and regional missions and the representation of knowledge management and communication in critical bank documents have been conducted. Miscellaneous other activities are planned or underway.

To empower CoPs, ADB added staff positions and increased tenfold the budgets allotted for their activities. New collaboration mechanisms for cross-departmental and multi-disciplinary knowledge sharing have been set up, among them knowledge events, intranet portals, e-newsletters, and more. With the legitimization of CoPs' participation in the peer review process, the formulation of country partnership strategies and lending and nonlending operations have benefited from inputs of ADB's experts.

To strengthen partnerships, ADB has begun to incorporate knowledge components in new partnership agreements. It has also built a database of strategic partnerships for use across ADB and is now designing a platform to enable bank-wide management and monitoring of partnerships. A new course on learning in partnerships is being developed for delivery in 2011, adding to the existing courses on reflective practice, learning in teams, learning from evaluation, and Learning for Change Primers. Innovative guidelines have also been formulated to inform the upsurge in strategic, sector and thematic, and operations-based alliances resulting from Strategy 2020's call for more effective partnerships.

Courses to promote awareness of, and action on, knowledge generation and sharing have also been also regularly conducted, a number of them developed by CoPs for their members. Similarly, surveys to gauge and deepen ADB staff's understanding of knowledge management have been conducted, with results improving with each year.

Pooling Knowledge Solutions

With every initiative to realize the targets of the action plan, ADB pours its efforts on increasing its stock of knowledge, facilitating their flow, and increasingly on building staff's ability to learn, individually and collectively, thereby strengthening its capacity to learn as an institution. ADB also keeps track of people (including ADB staff and ADB's partners and stakeholders) who know things and showcases what they know. A principle throughout is to nurture organization, people, knowledge, and technology.

To fuel these endeavors, ADB conceptualized in 2008 the Knowledge Solutions series, an expanding set of tools, methods, and approaches for learning across the Five Competencies Framework. The framework articulates key competencies crucial to knowledge management and learning.

The Knowledge Solutions provide pithy tips on how to handle particular learning issues relative to these competencies. Do you wish to know how to bridge organizational silos? Or how best to learn from failure? What about how to maximize the learning potential of teams or tap the potential of social media? These and more are explained in almost a hundred Knowledge Solutions compiled, developed, and promoted by ADB to its staff, stakeholders, and the rest of the world.

What Next

Learning is the key to survival in today's complex environment. Any organization that fails to learn dooms itself to insignificance. As Strategy 2020 clearly indicates, ADB has no intention of joining their ranks.

Implementing the Knowledge Management Action Plan has started to hone ADB's ability to use its intellectual capital to make better decisions and create conditions for creativity and innovation, eventually for the benefit of ADB's developing member countries. The Knowledge Solutions series has provided staff and partners with the tools to make this possible.