Table of Contents
A Brief Overview of Oxfam’s Knowledge Management Functions
Knowledge management at Oxfam was originally referred to as capacity building or institutional learning until the early 1990s when the former was developed. According to Oxfam, these concepts defined how they used concepts learnt from their experiences and shared it with their partners. Oxfam as an organization has highly prioritized learning and hence the emphasis on knowledge management. The organization developed a knowledge management strategy in 2000. Their knowledge management is based on assessing what they know, analyse it and then share it quickly. According to Powell (2003), technology can be used to manage knowledge and also disseminate information faster and efficiently. The recent advancement in Information and Communication Technology has revolutionized how various organizations gather and share information and knowledge (Smith and Lumba, 2008). However, it is not the only media that Oxfam uses in knowledge management. The media used must also be suitable with their partners. Oxfam uses radios, stories, video in managing its knowledge. A new email on organizational development is sent to all employees. Oxfam also produces its own newsletter every fortnight to facilitate timely sharing of information and hence improved knowledge management.
The organization’s management team plays a vital role in the management of knowledge by influencing its creation and caring (Becerra-Fernandez and Sabherwal, 2014). Oxfam shares this ideology and as such has incorporated a senior management member. The senior manager is also the project sponsor, and his duty is to ensure that the knowledge management project is steered in the right direction and is operating within the set budget. A senior manager can act as a role model to the knowledge management team and other staff. A knowledge management project manager drawn from the IT Department has to monitor the project on a daily basis. Senior staff from the different departments is also actively involved in knowledge management. The organization expects them to champion the process in their respective departments. Oxfam also has a group known as ‘community of practice constituted of staff drawn from its various divisions. Due to their specific knowledge and interests in knowledge management, they link all organizational units.
Oxfam acknowledges knowledge management as core proficiency for their staff and has included it in its Behavioural Competency Model. In their daily interventions to meeting the needs of the locals, employees for Aid-Agencies collect valuable local information and knowledge. To capture all these daily information, Oxfam continuously updates their knowledge database. This information also applies to the various departments and the entire Oxfam International, which includes the different partners.
Analysis and Evaluation of Knowledge Management at Oxfam.
Analysis of the problem
The information gap is a major knowledge management challenge to Oxfam. Information collected from different sources often contradicts and hence cannot be absorbed for use by the staff. Gathering of information in some places is somehow impossible due to factors such as insecurity, natural disasters, and restrictions by the local governments (Seneviratne et al., 2010). Sometimes, the available data only estimate that are based on selected samples, which proves to be unreliable. Unreliable information and knowledge affect the decision-making process. Responses to certain humanitarian needs and natural disasters must base on the actual figures and information on the ground.
A sizeable amount of information is often lost or distorted during communication between those in the field and the office. The bureaucratic, hierarchical communication loss plays a significant role in feeding insufficient or inaccurate information to the management for decision making (Dilley and King, 2001). This may lead to wrong decisions. A common communication platform accessible by all staff should be developed to ensure timely decision making and curb knowledge loss.
The level of communication infrastructure in some places where Oxfam is found is poor making it difficult for the dissemination and accessing of knowledge. According to De Vasconcelos et al. (2007), a well-developed communication infrastructure is crucial to ensuring that procedures involved in knowledge management are functioning effectively and are reliable. Information collected in the field is therefore not sent to the management for decision making. Communication with other departments that may require the information is also curtailed, hence could have adverse effects on the project.
Oxfam acknowledges the fact that knowledge management may consume much time and efforts. The company expects its senior managers to lead by example and lead from the front in knowledge management to making it a culture at Oxfam. Knowledge management has been incorporated in the annual staff performance reviews. This aims at encouraging the staff to embrace and develop a positive attitude towards knowledge management. At Oxfam, high-performance working involves empowering and active engaging of its staff. There is a concerted effort to decentralize decision-making so as to allow those closest to the situation at hand make timely decisions. Besides, the emphasis is on the development of staff and self-management being highly championed. People are divided into teams based on the projects present, and the teams left to be autonomous.
Barriers to Successful Knowledge Management and Performance Working
Firstly, staffs in most organizations are the greatest barrier to knowledge management (Wang, Noe and Wang, 2014). It has been observed that at the local level, knowledge sharing is well established; hence it can flow freely with no barriers. It, however, turns out problematic when the staffs at the local level try to articulate to the management this content into easily understandable concepts. Tacit knowledge will not be helpful to other employees and administration if it is not properly articulated. This may lead to information gaps hence affecting the general operations. It also has the effect of not providing knowledge and information that could prove to be useful in future emergencies response. The tacit information relayed poorly could hamper efforts of developing a tailored emergency response manual that can be shared across for implementation in similar cases.
Secondly, limited interaction time between the sources of knowledge and the intended recipients prevents successful knowledge management and performance working (Ferguson, Huysman and Soekijad, 2010). Due to the diversity of functions and the large geographical area that Oxfam covers contact between knowledge sources and the recipient could be significantly reduced. Some knowledge types are clearer if personally conveyed by the source instead of secondary sources. Therefore, use of explicit knowledge as opposed to tacit could lead to the breakdown and hence the importance of interaction (Herrmann, 2011).
Thirdly, technological know-how is a major impediment to knowledge management (Loebbecke and Myers, 2016). The use of sophisticated software when analysing data could prove problematic to recipients without inadequate training on the technologies employed. Though there is a great emphasis by Oxfam on presenting information in a simplified manner, some of them can only be done using this software. Staff members are encouraged to consult the IT department when learning on how to use the different software and programs. A given technology might be popular in one country but unpopular in another. For instance, in Africa, there is a higher use of mobile phones than computers. Thus, such regions require programs and content easier to access via a phone than a computer.
We can do it today.
Fourthly, financial factors directly affect knowledge management (Herrmann, 2011). Limited finances lead to constraints in upgrading or acquisition of systems necessary for knowledge management. Some of the systems required for the efficient sharing of knowledge are capital intensive. Thus, Oxfam has to seek assistance from, donor funding to implement them. Sometimes, it is challenging to convince donors and investors to support the systems. Furthermore, training staff t on the new systems also requires finances, which increases the implementation costs.
Lastly, cultural differences affect knowledge management and high performance working (Smith and Lumba, 2008). The presence of Oxfam in many countries is bound to bring out cultural differences. The regional units in Oxfam despite belonging to one organization have different ways of doing things and processes and procedures they follow when sharing information. Due to the limited interactions, development of mutual trust to enable effective sharing of knowledge is greatly hampered (Suppiah and Singh, 2011). However, in a bid to enable a multicultural exchange of knowledge in Oxfam, the staff from different departments and regions is encouraged to interact with the aim of breaking the cultural wall. Staff from the various regions are selected to build a team that can be autonomously assigned a project.
Contribution of Good Knowledge Management Practice to High-Performance Working
According to Wang, Noe, and Wang (2014), for an organization to operate in an efficient manner in this era, it has to implement knowledge management. There has been a consensus that the producers of knowledge who are an organization’s workers play a very pivotal role. Apparently, a willingness by an employee to use their knowledge for the good of an organization is an indication of contentment with that organization. For this to happen, an organization has to empower its employees with the required knowledge and skills to use at their discretion (Kimble et al., 2001). From the above points, it can be deduced that workers tend to feel comfortable in an organization that has a well-developed and laid out high-performance system. One of the high-performance practices is information sharing whereby any employee is free to share knowledge regardless of their position at work. It is thus appropriate to state that good knowledge management practices will substantially contribute to high performance working.
Recommendations on How Oxfam Can Improve Its Internal Knowledge Management.
Oxfam can apply three strategies to enhance its internal knowledge management. First, the company should invest more on technology especially in areas with poorly developed communication infrastructure. The technology should improve knowledge sharing between those on the ground and away (Von, 2012). Employees should also be thoroughly trained on new technologies to prevent cases of becoming obsolete. The new technologies developed should also ensure that shared knowledge can be easily analysed and understood by everyone who needs it irrespective of their departments or roles in the organization. However, due to financial constraints, this sometimes proves to be a challenge to the organization. To overcome this challenge, Oxfam is encouraging its IT division to come up with smart but cheap technological applications and systems. They are also liaising with IT Corporations to help Oxfam with intelligent systems for knowledge management.
Second, Oxfam should establish a uniform culture for all its employees and partners. The different cultural practices between departments and regional centres in Oxfam are a great barrier to knowledge management. As discussed earlier in this essay, employees from various departments and regions are less likely to share information and hence hamper the knowledge management practices. According to Suppiah and Singh (2011), a culture of knowledge management should be passionately emphasized in the organization irrespective of the region or department. Knowledge management practices as part of the performance appraisal should be taken seriously so as to encourage knowledge management across the board. More role model should be incorporated to championing for knowledge management. It is not only the senior management that should be the role model by each, and every line manager in the organization should also be role models. Knowledge management will thus be a culture from the top at the management level to the junior employees.
Finally, management should promote interactions among the employees (Kimble et al., 2001). Lack of contact and interaction between employees is a major hurdle to knowledge management. Interdepartmental meetings should be organized more often to try establishing contact and communication between the employees. To encourage information sharing, Oxfam came up with a plan whereby employees were allowed to have sessions with the management. Here they ask questions and also share their information with the top management. This has the effect of improving knowledge sharing and also promoting high performance working due to the breaking of hierarchy in exchange of information from bottom to up (Yates and Paquette, 2011). Similar interaction should also be encouraged between the employees themselves to promote the horizontal sharing of knowledge.
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