"Change does not happen in silos, and we don't want our nonprofit partners to spend time reinventing the wheel." Linda Baker, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, 2016
- Does your organization send out a newsletter of key activities or good practices to share internally or externally?
- Does your organization sometimes have speakers or lunchtime seminars?
- Does your organization have informal or extracurricular activities for staff to have conversations?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then your organization is already participating in knowledge sharing and is on the right track for better overall outcomes.
Many types of organizations actively share knowledge. From the United States Army to social enterprises or regional associations, sharing wisdom and working together often makes for more efficiency and better problem solving. But even though nonprofit organizations are in the business of sharing trusted information with their stakeholders, they too often work in isolation of one another.
Knowledge sharing is an active way of allowing members of one organization to share relevant information with one another and with anyone outside of the organization. These exchanges can be both formal or informal, but taking time to share knowledge with others who share the same goals can assure an organization doesn't labor in isolation.
Additionally, actively sharing knowledge can make an organization more focused, efficient, and innovative. After all, knowledge is among an organization's most valuable assets.
Sharing knowledge can:
- Improve all levels of an organization's operations.
- Help develop collaboration and innovation among staff members.
- Prevent the loss of critical know-how.
- Help partners with critical knowledge and solutions, such as policy implementation.
- Inspire new solutions and development pathways that stimulate change and reforms.
For example, the One Acre Fund, an organization that supports smallholder farmers worldwide, has developed an online library to share results from crop trials, provide examples of staff development tools, and to illustrate approaches for scaling innovations. They have also committed to sharing projects that have not succeeded, so that others might learn from their failures. These efforts have elevated not only their own work, but the work of others who share similar missions.
Sharing knowledge within organizations is also important in order to avoid potential internal silos. Negative effects of silos can include:
- Losing important know-how when staff members leave.
- Inability to replicate successful solutions or learn from failures.
- No opportunity for staff members to share knowledge across the organization.
Sharing knowledge ensures make certain that an organization can function effectively regardless of individual staff members or high-performing departments.
Resources to get started
Many resources are available to begin sharing knowledge within an organization and with other organizations.
- Begin by starting small.
- Foster relationship building within the organization.
- Be creative about sharing. From water cooler conversations, to lunch speakers, to workshops, to extracurricular activities and web-based solutions, there are many ways to foster interactions and build relationships.
Ultimately, knowledge sharing is a means to better decisions and more innovation.
For more on knowledge sharing:
Communities of practice:
Radha Seshagiri has management and leadership experience in global development, philanthropy, and federal policy. She specializes in research, knowledge management, communications, and strategic planning for non-profit organizations, with a focus on women's empowerment, advocacy, clean water solutions, urban poverty, and social entrepreneurship.
Candy Mirrer has worked in 31 countries in the fields of organizational effectiveness, learning, and knowledge management. She has designed and implemented organization-wide programs and policies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East, including post-conflict environments, with regional and global focus. She has forged learning and knowledge networks with multiple stakeholders, including networks for host country governments, NGOs, donors and multinationals