Knowledge in an organization is the collection of expertise, experience and information that individuals and work groups use during the execution of their tasks. It is produced and stored by individual minds, or implicitly encoded and documented in organizational processes, services and systems. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) dealing with Humanitarian Aid and Social Development face a dilemma concerning the production of knowledge. There is therefore need to view the practices and processes of NGOs within the lenses of Knowledge Management (KM). The KM approach views knowledge as the key asset of an organization and systematically develops activities to manage it efficiently.
Interest in KM has grown because of the belief that the creation and transfer of knowledge is essential to long-term organizational effectiveness. For-profit organizations have many reasons to practice sound KM processes. Stakeholder interests such as profitability and return-on-investment require this conduct. In most circumstances, given a competitive environment, a company that has poor KM processes will be inefficient and ultimately its products will become obsolete and competitors will absorb its market share. For-profit organizations have, for many years, pursued a strategy of replicating successful business practices in different communities. This process is known as franchising. McDonald’s, for example, has successful franchises in 119 different countries. The restaurants do not all have identical menus, but they do have the same mission and accomplish this mission by employing proven processes and methods. These processes and methods have been developed, evaluated, documented, and shared with all employees and franchise owners. Even though the menus may differ, the business practices are the same.
Just as there is a demand for fast food in most communities, so there is a demand for specific social programs in most communities. Non-governmental non-profit organizations (NGOs) usually operate in neighbourhoods or communities. Each community organization spends “large amounts of time, funds and imagination…reinventing the wheel, while the potential of programs that have already proven their effectiveness remains sadly underdeveloped. This, in many instances, represents a substantial loss to society overall. The objective is to replicate the successful program’s results, not to recreate every one of its features
The difficulty in replicating programs is multi-faceted, but the non-profit sector’s failure to replicate successful programs is only a symptom of a more important problem: non-profit organizations lack the critical processes and knowledge needed to help them develop, evaluate, document, and share successful programs. Similar to for-profit organizations, it is critical that NGOs perform essential knowledge creation and transfer functions so that they, as well as others, can replicate successful programs or program features when and where appropriate.