Q1 Identify and discuss the forces that led to the implementation of various knowledge management (KM) initiatives in the World Bank.
The World Bank has been faced with numerous challenges at the end of the 20th century. Its mission was to improve the lives of millions of people in all region of the world. For such a global organization, knowledge management has become an imperative.
While there were plentiful information resources available at the World Bank, they were scattered and unsystematic. Different regional units had troubles accessing information stored by other units. Eventually, finding an effective way for sharing cross-country knowledge has emerged as a major problem to be addressed. Additionally, the World Bank was seeking to reinvent itself as a centre for knowledge accumulation and sharing both within the organization and with external stakeholders.
According to the World Bank’s Knowledge Management Strategy, the new initiatives were aimed at increasing the speed of responding to clients’ needs, improving the quality of delivering global expertise adapted to local conditions, promoting innovation, making statistics on development more accessible, enhancing connectivity between the Bank’s professionals, reinforcing continuous learning, and widening clients’ partnerships.
Q2 Describe how the Thematic Groups were formed and evaluate the extent to which Thematic Groups provided an effective platform to support KM in the World Bank.
The Thematic Groups were designed as communities of practice centered around a particular issue. The purpose of these groups was to collect information available on a particular issue and disseminate it both within the World Bank and to external stakeholders. They were self-organizing communities with leaders who ‘emerged’ instead of being appointed. The groups varied greatly in the degree of formality of their interactions.
The effectiveness of the groups was limited at first. While the initiative was implemented with enthusiasm, many employees believed that the work of the Thematic Groups was too chaotic and disorganized. The effectiveness of a group depended to a large extent on the charisma of the group’s leader. Many employees did not participate in the Thematic Groups since they perceived knowledge management as an adjunct function to their already heavy workload. Others companied that the Bank’s information resources were hard to access and unsystematic. Some workers were afraid that their work will overlap with something already done by their colleagues, since there was little coordination between different Thematic Groups.
While there were numerous problems with the Thematic Groups, some of them proved to be an invaluable asset to the World Bank, for example, the group on the Urban Services. Their initiatives include video daily reports on study tours, development of ‘how-to’ manuals for practitioners around the world working with urban poor, an electronic newsletter, video conferences, databases, a toolkit on using electronic resources of their group, and an initiative aimed at storing the Bank’s institutional memory in the form of transcripts of interviews with experienced staff leaving the Bank.
Overall, the Thematic Groups can be regarded as an important initiative in the field of knowledge management. While coordination and cohesion left much to be desired, these groups promoted awareness of the importance of knowledge sharing and gave rise to several successful initiatives.
Fulmer, W.E. (2001). The World Bank and Knowledge Management: The Case of the Urban Services Thematic Group. Harvard Business School Case Study.