Success Factors in KM

From consulting experiences in KM projects at CCLFI, having many of the following factors increases the likelihood of success and sustainability of a KM initiative:

  1. Executive sponsorship: The top boss or top bosses understand, appreciate and show visible personal support of the KM initiative.
  2. Internal KM champion: There is at least one upper-level manager or executive who is pushing for KM within the organization.
  3. Cross-functional KM team: A group of middle to upper-level managers from different functional units is formally designated as the “KM Team”. The initial activities of the KM Team are: study KM further, formulate an organization-wide KM strategy and program or select and plan a more limited KM project, and promote KM across the organization.
  4. Concrete benefits from a KM project: An “early win” or “low-lying fruit” yields measurable or visible results of KM (that can help convince some “fence sitters” and doubters) such as higher productivity, faster learning curve, less mistakes, faster work cycles, higher quality of output, etc.
  5. Budgetary commitment: Once there is a KM program or project plan, top executives commit budgetary resources for it.
  6. Communication: There is a continuing mechanism whereby KM — what it is and what its benefits are — is communicated across the organization.
  7. Incentive system: Desirable KM behaviors are identified and acknowledged and/or rewarded, such as through an award, inclusion in the periodic performance evaluation system, conferring of special roles with honorific titles, etc.

Tables 1-3 is a summary of characteristics of 21 civil society or government organizations which CCLFI provided assistance in KM funded mostly by multilateral or bilateral development donor agencies or by the organizations themselves. The organizations are designated by code letters.

Initiation of KM

KM in the 21 organizations were mostly self-initiated (16 cases in Column 3 of Table 1), or else driven by the donor institution (three cases) or by headquarters (two cases). We observe that the motivation for seeking KM stems from the initial belief on the part of executives of the organizations that KM will somehow assist them achieve organizational objectives. CCLFI believes that KM should be demand-driven. CCLFI proposes or negotiates project design in such a way that the KM initiative (a) explicitly responds to a need or problem felt by the executives; or (b) processes are in place to align the KM to enhancement of performance and other organizational goals.

Part of the CCLFI engagement procedure is to look for executive sponsorship and/or presence of an internal KM champion at the upper management level in a potential partner organization. These are indicators of what CCLFI principals call ‘organizational energy’ for KM. CCLFI often recommends organizing and training an internal KM team to enable it to formulate the KM/OL strategy and programme for their organization. In-house formulation of the KM/OL programme provides better assurance of contextualisation, acceptability and shared ownership than a consultant-driven formulation. Interventions are based on the principle of mentoring the internal KM team as its members learn KM by doing KM. This engagement style stems from our belief that sustainability is more likely if in-house champions are nurtured and they develop a sense of ownership over the initiative thereby widening and enhancing organizational energy for KM. KM alone is about how to do a job well, but our KM experiences keep confirming the distinction between ‘knowing-how’ and ‘willing-to’ or ‘wanting-to’.

Table 1

Code Organization Implementing KM KM Initiator Executive Sponsorship KM Champion Fund Sources KM unit
A Government agency internal formal middle-level multilateral+internal cross-functional team
B Mixed internal weak none international NGO none
C Multilateral devt institution internal+consultant weak none multilateral none
D International NGO internal formal none international NGO managers form team
E Government agency internal strong executive bilateral+internal none
F Multilateral devt institution headquarters formal middle-level internal none
G Government agency internal weak upper-level multilateral+internal present
H NGO internal post was vacant middle-level bilateral none
I Mixed internal+consultant strong executive corporate none
J Multilateral devt institution headquarters weak upper-level internal informal KM team
K Government agency internal formal middle-level bilateral+internal cross-functional team
L International NGO internal formal executive government aid none
M Government agency donor agency formal none bilateral cross-functional team
N NGO network donor agency formal none bilateral none
O Bilateral devt institution internal weak middle-level internal informal KM team
P Government agency internal formal middle-level bilateral+internal cross-functional team
Q NGO network donor agency strong upper-level multilateral several KM officers
R Multilateral devt institution internal weak upper-level internal none
S Government agency internal strong upper-level bilateral upper management
T NGO internal weak middle-level internal none
U NGO internal weak middle-level corporate none

In 10 of sixteen cases where there is an internal KM champion, there is also accompanying internal funding but there is no case where there was internal funding but no internal KM champion. It seems that having an internal KM champion leads to an organization’s decision to commit funds for KM in its budget, instead of the other way around.

Characteristics of KM initiatives

From Table 2, the scopes of KM/OL cases are evenly mixed between organization-wide (or network-wide) KM, and KM over a limited scope of one or a few selected business or work processes. The most common aims of the KM initiative are productivity (or efficiency) and knowledge sharing (internal). A few initiatives aim to better provide information to their partners or network members, as well as facilitate sharing of knowledge among them (external). Project-based organizations are interested in cross-project learning and knowledge transfer. Two organizations aimed to become a learning organization as part of their organizational vision.

Table 2

Code Year KM was initiated Scope of KM Basic Aim of KM KM Initiatives Location Formal KM unit/officer ...under what Division
A 2001 organization-wide Better work performance KM strategy and action plan; design web-based KM toolkits; upgrade intranet-extranet Manila yes Information management
B 2001 one work process Provide information to network members Portal Manila none  
C 2002 network-wide Knowledge sharing; cross-project learning KM manual; document best practices and lessons learned; annual knowledge fair Nationwide; focus on 10 rural areas none  
D 2002 local branch Learning at work Team learning among executives Manila none  
E 2003 few selected processes Productivity; knowledge sharing Knowledge portal; formalize CKO and KM units; computerize processes Manila yes Information management
F 2003 local branch Productivity; knowledge sharing KM action planning and implementation Manila yes Communications
G 2004 few selected processes Productivity KM unit; KM strategy and action plan; portal to assist citizens; internal tracking of process Manila yes Merger of IT and planning
H 2004 few selected processes Knowledge sharing; cross-project learning Best practice sharing community, database and portal; best practice template Manila yes New position created
I 2004 organization-wide Become a learning organization Learning-oriented manual, training in team learning, lessons-learned meetings Three rural provinces none  
J 2005 organization-wide Knowledge sharing KM strategy and action plan Several Asian countries yes Library and publication
K 2005 one work process Productivity; effectiveness KM audit Manila and two rural areas yes Information management
L 2005 network-wide Knowledge sharing; cross-project learning knowledge portal; collection of knowledge objects; post-project knowledge capture Manila and six locations abroad none  
M 2006 one work process Productivity; effectiveness Install intranet; formalize and computerize a business process Manila none  
N 2006 few selected processes Knowledge sharing; providing information to partners KM training; plan/implement a KM project; scholarship for KM officer Another Philippine city yes New position created
O 2006 organization-wide Knowledge sharing; cross-project learning KM strategy and action plan; knowledge portal for partners; thematic CoPs Manila and Mindano Island none  
P 2006 one work process Productivity; effectiveness Process and KM audit of a process Manila yes Information management
Q 2006 network-wide Knowledge sharing Knowledge portal; best practice sharing; formal KM officers; online KM training More than 20 locations yes Information management
R 2007 organization-wide Knowledge sharing; providing information to partners KM strategy and action plan; knowledge portal for partners; designate CKO Several Asian countries yes New position created
S 2007 organization-wide Become a learning organization KM strategy and action plan; projects along KM competency targets; mentoring of KM team Manila none  
T 2007 organization-wide Productivity; effectiveness KM training of top executives; documentation and analysis of best practices Nationwide none  
U 2007 organization-wide Productivity; effectiveness KM training of executives; KM audit of core business processes Nationwide none  


CCLFI learned the following lessons and insights from the scoping, design and implementation of these cases:

  • Most organizations start having an initial idea of what they want in terms of scope and objectives of KM/OL. They rely on the consultant to advise them on the best way (methodologies, approaches and tools) to get there. They have a fair understanding of KM/OL concepts, and a belief that KM/OL is beneficial. This belief needs to be reinforced by concrete examples and metrics showing how KM is linked to individual employee performance and to value creation by the organization.
  • A good way to select the KM approach or tools appropriate to an organization is a KM assessment. Many managers prefer simple and short assessment tools.
  • Among the first tasks is developing among employees a common KM/OL language. This is not always easy, because KM is still a growing discipline and full consensus on meanings of KM/OL terms does not obtain among the global community of KM practitioners. Part of this task is clarifying the relationship between KM and the related disciplines of human resource management, information management and quality management. Among the concepts that usually need to be clearly distinguished for new KM/OL practitioners are: knowledge versus information; KM versus information management; tacit versus explicit knowledge; tangible versus intangible assets; human versus structural versus relationship capital; single-loop learning versus double-loop learning; and KM versus organizational learning. Most KM officers/units are under the information management department or organised from its staff. The distinction between KM and information management must therefore be clearly pointed out in these cases.
  • Commitment of internal funds and designation of a KM officer or KM focal point appear to be good indicators that the organization intends to sustain their KM initiative.
  • The common tendency is to view KM as ‘extra work’ or to believe that ‘the choice is between KM and their regular duties.’ The challenge is how to seamlessly integrate KM into the staff’s daily activities and to demonstrate to employees that good KM would sooner or later help them do their job better. Performance metrics help demonstrate this linkage.


Various behavioural changes from the KM initiatives are clearly observable but they seem to happen more slowly than was originally planned or anticipated (Table 3). Unexpected developments during KM implementation are related to changes in factors that affect motivation or incentives for KM:

  • Change in top leadership: replacement, death
  • Internal KM champion resigned or re-assigned elsewhere
  • Technical and legal problems
  • Increase, decrease or unavailability of next funding
  • New support or withdrawal of support from headquarters or external stakeholder.

Consequently the lesson learned here is that KM must be accompanied by risk management to anticipate, assess, minimise or prepare for risks and moderate their impacts in case they occur.

Donor-partner (or donor-grantee) cultural gaps were found to be minimal. In many instances (10 of 21 cases), staff of the donor institution are all or predominantly Filipino. In 9 of 21 cases, the head or the programme officer of the Philippine office of the donor institution is a Filipina. Only in four of the cases were the staff members of the donor institution multicultural.

Internal and external knowledge sharing of project-generated knowledge is generally observed to be good (see last column in Table 3). Small donor-partner cultural gaps contributed to good external knowledge sharing. More interesting are the reasons behind the fewer cases where external knowledge sharing was poor: one case with infrequent donor-partner communications, hierarchical donor-partner relationship in two cases, death of the KM champion in one case, and gaps in the donor-executor contractual arrangements. On the latter case, the bilateral funding agency had difficulties in encouraging cross-project sharing because the projects were handled by executing agencies who were basically competitors (they bid against each other for the projects).

Table 3

Code Changes in Behaviors and Practices Observed or Not Observed Unexpected Developments Donor-Partner Cultural Gaps Internal and External Knowledge Transfer and Learning
A High value on interpersonal relationships reflected in high energy of KM Team Exceptional support from new executive of a donor agency Programme Officer in donor agency is a Filipina Ample documents sharing and personal ties between government agency and donor
B Nil; community-building should have preceded portal set up Phase 2 funding for nurturing CoP did not materialize; no ownership of portal Head of international donor agency is a NY-based Filipina Knowledge transfer to/from external donor was nil (donor agency has no Manila office); internal transfer via portal
C It was not verified if hard copies or CDs of best practices benefited other farmers Top managers ignored recommendations of some partners; director resigned/replaced Head of donor agency is a Filipina Face-to-face meetings/interactions in yearly knowledge fairs among partners; hierarchical donor-partner relationship
D Better understanding of "bigger picture" led to more innovative management options Headquarters did not approve some initiatives from local branch Head of donor agency is a Filipina; all staff are Filipinos Top-down relationship with headquarters seems to be a hindrance; underdeveloped LAN
E Top-down KM takes time; middle-level managers slowly grasping KM Executive KM champion was re-assigned to another government agency Head of donor agency is a Filipina; all staff are Filipinos KM buy-in and savvy are strong in both donor and partner; coordination is good; good in-house ICT system facilitated internal and external knowledge transfers
F KM is headquarters-driven; KM strategies and tools provided by headquarters After many months, no replacement for CKO whose term ended. Donor agency staff is multi-cultural; CKO is a Filipino Well-funded ICT-based mechanisms in place for internal and external knowledge transfers; knowledge centers instituted
G KM practice has not reached the entire organization; KM growth is ICT-driven Funding shortfalls Donor agency staff is mostly Filipino Weak mechanisms for internal knowledge transfers; gaps in ICT infrastructure and capabilities
H No access to knowledgebase in remote municipalities without Internet access Knowledge Sharing Officer is designated Head of donor agency is Asian Annual competition provides good incentive for copying and innovating good practices; good website development
I Feedback, reflection and learning processes are seeping slowly in daily office practices Executive KM champion died; successor was not yet "on board" Donor agency staff is predominantly Filipino Internal knowledge transfer and learning are slow; not yet web-based and sharing to other organizations is nil
J KM slowly being adopted but continue to be headquarters-driven Funding shortfalls Agency is multi-cultural Good extranet and document sharing/publication practices help KM goals
K Managers started a business process audit/improvement to go with KM Managers saw that a process audit should precede KM audit Programme Officer in donor agency is a Filipina Delay in implementing the nation-wide M&E system plan due to nationwide scope and big funding needed
L More attention being paid to harvesting knowledge generated by projects None observed so far Donor agency is an EU govt; partner is multi-cultural Knowledge sharing continues to be a strong commitment among network members
M In-house skills and ownership over new intranet and process management Technical problems in telecommunication services Head of donor agency is a Filipina; all staff are Filipinos Document sharing is easier with new intranet and among staff performing the selected business process
N Internal champions and advocates among network members are KM drivers Legal problems in changing the website maintenance provider to another ones Head of donor agency is a Filipina; all staff are Filipinoss ICT-savvy partners helping in enhancing website for serving existing and prospective network members
O KM champion was reassigned to another station; an alternate champion is emerging Change in leadership; new leader is not yet fully "on board" Donor agency staff is mostly Filipino Knowledge sharing among executing agencies (who are competitors) was made a contractual obligation
P Managers planning broader KM initiative Substantial internal budget commitments Programme Officer in donor agency is a Filipina Management commitment to knowledge sharing is strong; plans for sourcing more funds for next implementation stages
Q KM officers in network members maintain their networking after the project ended KM was donor-initiated; unsure of sustainability after donor funds ran out Donor agency staff is multi-cultural Horizontal knowledge sharing is continuing; transfer of lessons to donor is deliberate and systematic
R Partner consultation on knowledge portal; new CKO is hired Change in leadership; new leader is not yet fully "on board" Agency is multi-cultural Knowledge sharing for the benefit of partners is central to organizational vision/mission; first steps towards a portal
S Formalization of a process and collection of work templates; planning for new intranet Heavy workloads and greater priority to urgent duties Donor agency staff is mostly Filipino Organization is taking steps towards a world-class portal in its thematic area; upgrading of internal knowledge transfer
T Analysis of best practice-projects published; planning with partners in applications Heavy workloads: KM must be embedded in existing work practice Agency staff are all Filipino Knowledge transfer has always been strong; KM awareness among managers now adds extra dimension
U None observed as yet KM champion resigned; top managements' interest in KM seem to have waned Agency staff are all Filipino Not much data to make any observation or conclusion