von Klaus Ebenhöh
Interview with Katharina Mihaljevic, our new Senior Programme Officer
Katharina Mihaljevic is about to leave for Kampala, where she will be our new HORIZONT3000 senior programme officer. We got an opportunity to talk with her about her experiences she made in Rwanda, where she worked for the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit).
What is your professional experience in the field of knowledge management until now?
As a Junior Advisor in Rwanda, I was responsible for knowledge management, result based monitoring and evaluation, as well as project management, and, last but not least, communications and public relations.
The project in Ruanda was called “support on decentralization as a contribution to good governance”. It covered the areas of capacity building for local governments and for public financial management on a local level. We worked on things such as tax administrations, as well as the promotion of civic participation, also particularly on local level. We mainly worked with local governments.
My tasks were a bit cross cutting: the knowledge management was mainly internally, meaning a classic restructuring reform of how information or data was managed. We institutionalised the knowledge and management tools we had acquired and developed in the GIZ Project.
It sounds like you had a big GIZ office structure in Rwanda?
Yes, one part of my work was especially internal, with my GIZ colleagues. The next step was the accessibility for other projects in other countries and as such also to the benefits of the local partners – that’s the central idea behind it.
We mainly worked with data management, similar to the Know-How3000 Platform from HORIZONT3000. In the GIZ exists a big intranet, so each project manager had the task to store and to document certain files. Another task was, also internally in the GIZ, to build the capacities of my colleagues, to use all the knowledge management tools, offered by the GIZ platform: ranging from organizational development, to templates for meetings, and also to manuals on capacity building of local governments, so to say from A to Z everything.
What was your work like outside of the GIZ office and what was different when working with Partner Organisations?
In principle as a coordinator I covered around 30 projects and, depending on the interest and the willingness, there were in the end 6 to 8 projects we presented in a working group. In that case we made some kind of a best practice manual about all experiences regarding sector decentralisation.
This was also part of my work in knowledge management. The coordination of this working group of regional, sectoral knowledge was specific in the area of decentralisation. The principle behind it was to foster regional exchange and learning, for example the regional exchange on best practices. As such we had regional Meetings – a big regional conference in Rwanda for example – to specifically exchange experience on certain subjects. There the Partner Organizations were involved more, especially at the conference; but also there the exchange of knowledge was very project centred, completely topic-wise. And as such it wasn’t accessible like the data or the platform itself.
What were the challenges in your knowledge Management projects?
The structures for knowledge management already existed in the GIZ. The project was called “sector network good governance Africa” and there were around five big clusters and in the five clusters there were about 15 working groups. That structure already existed. Challenges were the personnel fluctuation in the project that happened up to a certain degree, or that the matrix focuses changed, got finalised or got disseminated. The constitution of the participants of the working group changed. That was one of the challenges: If masters of knowledge management leave, it is hard to ensure further cooperation and further commitment in such a working Group.
Interesting that in a situation where the whole project is about transferring knowledge from one person to the next , it occurs, that it is a problem if one person leaves.
It may sounds ironic, but you have to see it this way: It was kind of voluntary work, you did it additionally to your normal job, so you have to have a certain commitment. It is important to the organisation, that your knowledge, your experience from your country becomes accessible also to other countries and Projects.
I thought it was part of your job description?
Not really, but you have an agreement with your superior who says: ‘Yes I support you doing this.’ You need the OK, to do that.
Why do you think that knowledge management is important for an organization like HORIZONT3000?
To manage knowledge and to institutionalise it is one of the core challenges of an organization, especially if the mandate or role of an organization is capacity building. One of the core missions of HORIZONT3000 is capacity building and one big part of capacity building is knowledge transfer and as such knowledge management gets very central. And if you put it into an international perspective, if you imagine that a technical advisor (TA), for example is maybe in a project for two to four years, it is vital for an organisation to regain the specific knowledge of that TA. His or her experience as well as the experience collected during his or her assignment with the partner organisation. That is very central.
As much as I can say so far, it is my goal that the programme is lived and used by most of the TAs in East Africa, as it really contributes to and enhances the work of HORIZONT3000. Also each individuals work can be enhanced by fully living the philosophy of the KNOW-HOW3000 project. For me one of the big advantages or added values is the concept of “Borrow a TA”, where a TA provides his or her specific knowledge to another partner organisation. So if there are five to ten persons doing this per year, this can be seen as a big success. Because like that you can enhance the network between small, local, regional organisations who work in the same sector and you can also enhance a certain upscaling, at least on a horizontal level. And as such you can also have more impact with your work.
In other words, your vision is a practical one: to really get the tools applied.
Yes and to really animate, to motivate most TAs to use and profit of such great tools in combination with exchange visits and the regional sharing Events.
You also worked in the field of result based monitoring. Do you have any idea in which direction the discussion about indicators will go, or should go maybe?
For a long time results were not easy to be measured and were a bit neglected. But then people realized that actually a specific evaluation and monitoring tools are necessary, if results and impact have been achieved.
Normally, impact would always be understood as something that the system has changed to the positive, if possible. There are always intended and unintended effects and now we are going to look mainly on the intended effects. A result is there when the effects get visible, visual, tangible, graspable for everybody on the systemic level, really on a macro-level. But I wouldn’t see result based Management on such a narrow level. The point is that I get a common understanding, that it’s not about producing 50 manuals -It’s good to produce 50 manuals, to print 500 and to distribute it to 500 people – But do they know how to use it, do they use it in their daily work? To measure this usage of manuals, I think, is much more central.
There is a big debate going on for sure, but GIZ has the principle that they go away from a very linear model. As such the log frame is more or less abolished in the GIZ. The log frame is still there to a certain extent, but usually replaced by a cooperation model, where you define certain results and you put them into relation with each other. So that you admit that one result has an effect on another result. Because we are not in a linear world, the main focus of us is capacity building, we are all human beings, so the effect can a.) not fully be grasped, and b.) if we have one output it doesn’t mean that we also have that outcome, but we have maybe three different outputs and also an output of a complete different result can play into that outcome.
For me personally my approach to results based monitoring is: it is important, it is a core element of a project. It must be there anyway. The results should be monitored with adequate indicators and indicators that also reflect adequately the level they are set to – BUT not too many resources should be used by that process. If too many resources are wasted into having the perfect system, I think you lose the reason why it’s there.
You might neglect other areas, and you get lost in theory. It’s really a core management task to have a system in my point of view, but never waste too many resources in having a theoretical, perfect system. And maybe that is one of the challenges I see with Data-Management. Data Collection as such is not a very big challenge – the much bigger challenge lays still in the adequate Interpretation of the data collected. And to really to use that gained information for learning, for an internal learning process in the project or to use it as a learning element for your organization. I think, that challenges a lot of organisations.