Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Using Knowledge Management to increase Third Sector Resilience

Using Knowledge Management to increase Third Sector Resilience: a Third Sector Special Interest Group discussion (The OR Society)
by Ruth Kaufman and Nigel Cummings

Whilst there has been much talk about the need for third sector organisations to collaborate, there has been scant coverage of how to manage the shared information and knowledge flows that underpin such partnerships. The Third Sector Special Interest Group (SIG) was therefore delighted to host a joint presentation from Dr Gillian Ragsdell, Senior Lecturer in Knowledge Management at Loughborough University and Moya Hoult, Chief Officer of Charnwood Citizens Advice Bureau, describing a knowledge management application aimed at doing exactly that.

Charnwood Connect is a project spearheaded by Charnwood CAB and funded for two years by the Big Lottery, bringing advice and advocacy services in the area together into collaborative service provision. The aim is to make the best use of resources in the current environment of funding cuts and statutory service restructuring. Successful knowledge sharing is clearly key to successful collaboration.

Gillian started by tapping her head and explaining “It’s all about getting what’s ‘up here’ into a format that can be used by an organisation. So, capturing knowledge is important because, when personnel leave an organisation, knowledge leaves with them.” She went on to discuss different strategies for managing knowledge – one that focuses on knowledge as an asset and one that emphasises social processes – and stressed that the Charnwood Connect project consciously embraces both. Gillian highlighted that Knowledge Management has changed considerably since its beginnings. “Today we are managing knowledge in a world where there is a huge amount of information, where we connect with people in different time zones through different media, and so on…  All of these changes have made Knowledge Management more exciting and even more necessary, but also more challenging”.

Gillian went on to illustrate the processes involved in Knowledge Management and, in particular, why many lessons can be learned from the ways in which the voluntary sector manages its knowledge, and the holistic approach adopted for Charnwood Connect.  Picking up the story, Moya had much to say about the challenges of Charnwood Connect, and how Knowledge Management techniques had proved useful. The focus of how Citizens Advice Bureaux dealt with public problems had, she said, “changed, considerably over the years. It used to be all about crisis management but now considerably more emphasis is placed upon preventative work”.

Moya gave some examples of changes introduced as a result of the project. The change to collaborative service provision meant that it was important to set up robust referral systems with partners, and to investigate new ways of connecting with clients. One of the most effective ways, she said, was to remind clients of their appointments by sending out appointment reminder text messages. This and the implementation of a ‘Connect Card’ were being tested over a three month period. Early results had been very encouraging: the text message approach for example, had resulted in reducing “did not attend” figures considerably whilst the Connect Cards had proved to be extremely effective aide memoires for clients.

Moya also discussed the development of an IT Knowledge Hub for Charnwood Connect:  an essential component of the system for sharing best practices.
Cultural differences between collaborating organisations also need to be allowed for, and Moya gave the example of the role of volunteers. Whilst volunteers are the core of a CAB service, other partners in Charnwood Connect had mainly used volunteers for “back office” duties.  All partners were being encouraged to use volunteers in “frontline” positions. Volunteers gain valuable skills and experience whilst the organisations can benefit from an increase in resources and capacity.

The presentation had been preceded by the General Meeting of the Third Sector SIG, summarising what they have been doing since the last meeting in 2012, and flagging up some of the plans for next year, including a half-day meeting focusing on young people’s services, and joint meetings with Regional Societies.  Find out more about the SIG and ORS’s third sector activities on the website (http://www.theorsociety.com/Pages/SpecialInterest/ORThirdSector.aspx) or follow Felicity McLeister on Twitter @FMcLeister