The ‘Knowledge Management’ Cure?

Operation PLATEAU (2005 Pakistan Earthquake)A potential cure exists for the lack of sound communications strategy plaguing the U.S. military in the very places sound strategy is needed most to curb Islamist extremism.  As I’ve blogged about before, it’s mindboggling that the suggested reason for obvious blunders is large contractors hoping to make an easy buck pushing sales/ marketing/attitudinal communications to enact change versus the more effective behavioral/ strategic communications approach.

The potential cure? Combining  behavioral/strategic communications with “knowledge management” to force/empower behavioral/strategic communications contractors and personnel to capture, develop, share, and effectively use knowledge.  I use the term force/empower because another possible reason for a lack of sound strategy can be government officials hesitant to approve spending time or money on research, especially in the face of budget cuts, sequestration, etc.

When contracts merge behavioral/strategic communications and “knowledge management,” the result is:

  • A literature review of lessons learned and best practices from previous attempts to change a behavior
  • Stakeholder mapping to identify the networks and organizations influencing the behavior as well as their “influenceability”
  • An inventory of information sources and influencers target audiences turn to for information and social norms for the behavior
  • A target audience needs assessment covering information flow, use, storage, and sharing; appropriate technologies; and triggers that will effectively and measurably change the audience’s behavior
  • Facilitation techniques, such as Open Space, World Café, Peer Assist, and After Action Reviews, that encourage people with expertise in the behavior to work together and share their experiential knowledge for the purposes of peer-to-peer learning, problem-solving, and strategic planning

Knowledge management, done right, also can result in outcome vs. output performance measures and improved processes, policies, and procedures organization-wide. More importantly, done right, it facilitates swift learning from mistakes and swift adjustments to disruptive technological change.

To visualize more fully the possibilities, skim the Global Health eLearning Center’s free Knowledge Management course, particularly the Malawi Case Study, and imagine Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan collaborating to apply the model to opium poppy cultivation. For example, the target audience needs assessment might have revealed farmers prefer working with opium traffickers because they provide advance credit and quick and lucrative payment. Such an assessment would not have resulted in billboards claiming opium damages the Pashtun’s house, country, community, and future generations. Rather, it would have resulted in harnessing appropriate information and communications technologies (ICTs), such as mobile payments for alternative crops, to reduce the economic incentive to grow poppy combined with other social marketing methods (e.g., barriers eliminationinfluencer messaging, promptsnorm appeals, financial incentives and disincentives, commitments, etc.).

While the sound communications strategy case study I blogged about from Colombia does not appear to have had a knowledge management component, the kind of excellence it illustrates would certainly more likely stem from such a combined approach than one likening the complex fight against Islamist extremism or poppy cultivation to convincing people who already brush their teeth to switch to a different brand of tooth paste. Just starting out the gate, it changes the requisite qualifications of the contractors brought on board.

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About Monica

Monica specializes in strategic communications, web and new media, and print materials with an international or multi-cultural context. She has worked on national public outreach campaigns targeting multi-cultural audiences and has conceptualized, written, and/or designed multiple websites. Monica also has written, edited, and/or designed high-profile newsletters, brochures, and reports, including some prepared in collaboration with the White House. She holds a bachelor’s in journalism and a master of international service with a focus on international communication. Monica is based in Washington, D.C.