Knowledge Management Institute

Shipbuilding, Sailing, Community and KM

Shipbuilding, Sailing, Community and KM

Oct 03, 2018   |  By
Luis Ortiz-Echevarria, MPH

This week two different people said to me: I do not know what you do. Fortunately, these were not coworkers or members of the KM community, but close friends. Answering that I work in “knowledge management” was not enough. By this time, they know this. Both of them had jokingly said at some point in our friendship that “I should manage their knowledge” which I am sure sounded very funny in their minds!

It dawned on me—what is it about KM that is so clear to KM workers but so elusive to others?

So when I overheard a group of people talking about building a ship while sailing it, my ears perked up. I love a good sailing metaphor! KM does sometimes feel like building a ship while also sailing in it. By this I don’t mean that I know how to build a ship. I do not. And if I were not on the ship, it would likely still be floating. In fact, the ship is full of highly educated and passionate people! So a floating ship, with smart and passionate people, who know what they are doing, and me—one person who doesn’t even know how to build a ship. What am I doing?

For me, being a KM worker has entailed figuring out where I can bring value to the shipbuilding and sailing process—across a complex system, with competent stakeholders, and amidst organizational ebbs and flows and finite resources. I’m part of a community of shipbuilders and sailors, but I help my fellow shipbuilders do what they are doing or co-create ways to do it better one step at a time. I help connect people from the bow with others at the stern. I can gather insights from one side of the ship and bring them to another. I help welcome the newcomer, while also sharing the wisdom of oldtimers. I can work with the crew to be attentive to our interconnections, relationships, and boundaries. And I can share with the crew just how they are working—how many connections they have, how many lessons they have learned, how much they have generated, captured, and shared with each other. I can also reflect with the crew about the kind of crew that we are.

Along our voyage together, I (and other KM workers) must shift what we bring to the shipbuilding or sailing process to meet new needs and forge across uncharted waters. Maybe I am taking this too far!

It seems like everyday at sea is new day with new and exciting opportunities. And doing this as part of a global community of shipbuilders and sailors—whether that is with fellows at IBP or GHKC or with members from our internal MSH Technical Exchange Networks (recently highlighted in KM World)—is what I truly value as a KM worker.

I am not sure if KM workers as both part of a cadre of shipbuilders and sailors makes sense, but I like it!


About the Author:  Luis Ortiz-Echevarría has over 12 years of experience developing and overseeing knowledge management systems and processes for complex global public health programs. As the Senior Manager of Knowledge Management and Learning in MSH’s Performance, Learning, and Impact Unit, he leads the organization’s internal KM and learning strategy and has served as the KM advisor for three global USAID-funded programs: SIAPS; LMG; and Challenge TB. Before MSH, he provided technical and KM support to global health programs and initiatives at CARE, International Medical Corps, URC, and USAID. He has an MA in Anthropology from Georgia State University and an MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a focus on population, family, and reproductive health. 

E-mail: lortiz@msh.org
Twitter: @LuLaLearn

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