SmartLessonsOne of the short pieces at the front of the May issue of the Harvard Business Review describes how the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an arm of the World Bank that undertakes private-sector investment and provides technical assistance in developing countries, is using a knowlege transfer program called "SmartLessons" for internal dissemination of best practices and lessons learned from various IFC projects.
"To Boost Knowledge Transfer, Tell Me a Story," by Shad Morris and James Oldroyd, respectively business professors at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State and at Sungkyunkwan University Graduate School of Business in Korea, emphasizes the importance of packaging knowledge generated during a project in a way that makes the knowledge memorable. The technique to use is narrative.
Importantly, the narratives published by the IFC in their SmartLessons write-ups are by no means entirely free-form. Rather, as you can see in examples concerning reform of company inspections in Tajikistan and establishing corporate governance codes in countries of the Middle East and North Africa (pdf), there is a structure to the narratives that makes it easy for the reader to understand project goals, rationales, processes, and responses to challenges. The lessons learned are explained with reference to the specific experiences that suggest that these lessons are indeed principles that can be productively emulated in comparable circumstances in subsequent projects.
For example, Lesson 1 (of six) from the Tajikistan project is "You need strong credibility if you want key players to listen to you." The commentary on this lesson reads as follows:
In Tajikistan, infrastructure or rural development projects often appear far more urgent than advisory projects. It was crucial for IFC to position itself as a credible actor, first through the high quality of the Business Environment survey conducted in 2003, and then through constant responsiveness to government's needs. The Project reacted swiftly to requests, and provided ample review of international practice. Also, it was essential for the Project to combine readiness for confrontation, and for engagement:Note that the writing style here is plain English, a key point. I'd also mention that as one reads through the whole set of six lessons learned, they parallel quite closesly the principles for community problem-solving advocated by Xavier de Souza Briggs, as discussed in a previous post.
- Confrontation No compromise on the message. Survey results were hard on the government; intense "discussion" ensued, but in the end all key players agreed that the results were valid and had to be acted upon.
- Engagement The Project did not just provide advice, but argued for it. It also worked with governmental partners directly on legal drafting, instead of just providing them with reports.