The future of knowledge management in large development programmes and organisations: lessons from a large-scale institutional experiment


  • Jürgen Hagmann
  • Helen Gillman


This paper draws lessons on the future of knowledge management (KM) from the experiences of a process aimed at integrating KM and learning into projects in East and Southern Africa, supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). KM in IFAD has mainly been aimed at enhancing knowledge sharing at headquarters, and in projects through regional networks. The challenge in the initiative in Eastern and Southern Africa was to make KM and learning practical enough and fully connected with innovation, leading to continuous improvement of project performance, so that project staff would embrace it, rather than seeing it as just another imposed idea. The action learning experiment over four years was successful with impact in many levels, and enabled in-depth learning about how to improve large development projects and programmes through a systemic learning approach. However, unless KM has a clear purpose and is fully integrated into business processes aimed at performance improvement, and its effectiveness can be measured, it will sooner or later fall prey to budgets cuts and other priorities. Unless results are evident, KM might end up like so many other interesting concepts in development organisations. Organisational development and KM need to become one continuous process. All of this throws into question the future of KM in large development organisations unless a very strong leadership and motivation to improve effectiveness throughout the hierarchy persists over a long term.