Leading through Knowledge Management and Learning (Part II): QED Pioneering Knowledge Management and its Value Today

In 2003, QED began working with USAID’s Microenterprise Development office (MD) on a knowledge management (KM) initiative under the Accelerated Microenterprise Advancement Project (AMAP) indefinite quantity contract. The MD office was an internal technical consulting unit that advised field Missions how to best incorporate microfinance and value chain components into their country strategies and portfolios. That relationship continues today.

QED Helped KM Go Viral

When we started our KM journey with the MD office, KM was new and unproven at USAID, without wide scale support across the agency. The Microenterprise Development [later re-named to Microenterprise and Private Enterprise Promotion (MPEP)] office was an early adopter and, over time, established itself as a leader in KM. After QED won the follow-on five-year $33.6 million Knowledge-Driven Microenterprise Development (KDMD) contract in 2008, interest in KM had spread virally to other Offices, Bureaus, and Missions. They saw how the MD office advanced its thought leadership in microfinance and value chains using a combination of online tools and in-person events, and they wanted to have the same reach and impact in their technical areas. They realized that KM turned the MD office into a thought leader at USAID — one that leveraged its implementing partners’ work to define value chain approaches that increased access to finance and improved entrepreneurs’ and farmers’ livelihoods. In turn, they accessed KDMD to initiate their own programs. Over time, KDMD helped KM expand into the USAID mainstream.

Using KM to Mainstream New Policies

Beyond its role helping USAID use KM to promote its technical leadership, QED helped mainstream new policies agency-wide using KM systems.

QED has been at the forefront of developing guidance and tools to help USAID staff build their understanding and skills in KM, which has evolved into the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL) championing of Collaborating, Learning & Adapting (CLA) approaches throughout the Program Cycle, including program design and evaluation. QED has a proven history helping shape CLA with PPL and the USAID/Uganda Mission, having worked with PPL since 2011 as a prime on KDMD and as a subcontractor on its successor program called the Feed the Future Knowledge-Driven Agricultural Development (KDAD), where QED is a subcontractor to the small business prime.

QED advised PPL as it developed the Program Cycle Learning Guide and promoted it on the USAID Learning Lab. QED managed an early online Learning Lab Session on CLA in 2013 called “A CLA Dialogue: Missions and Partners Share Experiences and Best Practices.” QED collected and shared CLA-related presentations developed by USAID and implementing partner staff to familiarize them with CLA concepts. Our team promoted case studies on learning and developed webcasts for seven “Thought Leaders in Learning” events on topics that enhance the toolsets available to USAID staff, including participatory impact pathways, appreciative inquiry, and scaling knowledge. Our team also helped PPL launch the Learning Networks Resource Center. In 2016, QED delivered the first combined M&E and CLA training to USAID and implementing partner staff in Uganda.

Supporting eLearning and Online Training

QED helps professionals grow their technical skillsets by developing and delivering training courses that encourage peer-to-peer and experiential learning opportunities. We achieve this by incorporating “adult learning” principles into the design, elucidating participant needs during curriculum development, and establishing trainee cohorts by building interactive milestones into the training, including before and after the event.

Under KDMD, QED staffed an Adult Learning and Training (ALT) team that used a blended learning approach to combine in-person and online instruction to support peer-to-peer learning among practitioners. Blended learning moves beyond the classroom and includes participatory and self-paced modules, interactive and stand-alone courses, videos, webinars, and other distance learning techniques. These methods reinforce a continual learning experience, and they occur throughout the learning cycle before, during, and after a training course—encouraging participants to exchange information and learn from their cohorts.

QED has included e-learning in its suite of KM tools. We have worked closely with teams of instructional designers, adult learning specialists, programmers, and subject-matter experts to develop blended learning courses. QED built USAID’s Economic Growth Learning Center, an online learning platform that the Agency used before it launched its own USAID learning management system (LMS) known as USAID University. For example, the ALT team created the “Managing a Value Chain Project” online learning course and coordinated six additional in-person courses/trainings, including:

  • Economic Growth in Post-Conflict Countries Course;
  • Economic Growth Overview Course;
  • Agriculture Core Course;
  • Agriculture Project Design Course;
  • Agriculture Overview Course; and
  • Emerging Payment Systems Workshop.

To show the breadth of supplementary content developed to support blended learning and KM, the following bullets highlight a few examples of the techniques QED applied to expand USAID’s knowledge base of agriculture and food security. Specifically, QED:

  • Organized public seminars with corresponding webinar broadcasts;
  • Published event screencasts, audio files, and transcripts to the Agrilinks library;
  • Produced video interviews with implementers, highlighting project lessons learned;
  • Captured video interviews from relevant conferences and events;
  • Conducted #AskAg Twitter chats, allowing Twitter users to ask experts questions; and
  • Refined and tested the “Life in the Village” simulation activity.

Ultimately, QED has played an integral role in establishing and expanding KM into the USAID mainstream. Our innovative and insightful approaches helped to propel specific offices and staff as thought leaders within the agency, building critical knowledge and advancing collective learning.