The global nature of many development challenges, combined with the need to tailor local responses, calls for the incorporation of knowledge of a wide range of development stakeholders
(Briggs & Sharp, 2004; Jaya, 2001). Moreover, development impact is no longer measured solely by economic indicators as a measure of welfare, but is increasingly based on humanitarian grounds (Ocampo, 2002; Sen, 1999; Thorbecke,
2000), related to people’s ability to access, generate, and leverage specialized knowledge. These factors together characterize the sector as knowledge-intensive (Powell, 2006).
In response to this relatively new image of organizations as collectives of knowledge users and producers, many development organizations have turned to knowledge management
(KM). We perceive knowledge management as organizational practices that facilitate and structure knowledge sharing and learning (Hislop, 2009). Learning is a naturally emerging process of collective, context-sensitive knowledge construction
(Contu & Willmott, 2003; Huysman, 2000b). From a knowledge- oriented point of view, organizations in a development context embrace knowledge management and learning practices to strengthen their own, as well as their constituents’, (access to) knowledge, in order to enhance their influence on development-related decision-making processes and ultimately strengthen the self-sufficiency of development beneficiaries.
A growing number of publications reports specifically on the role of knowledge and knowledge management in development contexts, in the fields of both management studies (Haas,
2006; Hardy, Philips, & Lawrence, 2003; Spencer, 2008) and development studies (King, 2000, King & McGrath, 2004,
McFarlane, 2006a; McFarlane, 2006b, Powell, 2006; Thompson,
2004). Specific to these academic studies is that they recognize the complexities related to knowledge in organizational contexts, but do not always consider how knowledge management approaches affect development practices. If practitioners and policymakers want to improve their responsiveness to development challenges, it is important to foster awareness of the significance of knowledge to their work, what this means for their management practices, and how these can contribute to, or actually inhibit, their efforts.
Critical undercurrents in development practice reveal a desire to develop a systematic approach to knowledge management in development cooperation in order to enhance the effectiveness of interventions (Hovland, 2003; Krohwinkel,
2007; Molenaar, 2006; Pasteur, 2004; Ramalingam, 2005).
These reports provide significant insights into some important issues which practitioners are grappling with. They illustrate for instance that there is a need for more clarity in terms of the meaning and organizational implications of development as a knowledge-intensive sector, contributing to stronger understanding of how knowledge sharing interventions contribute to development goals such as participation and empowerment (Ebrahim, 2003; Figueiredo, 2007). If development organizations are to improve their understanding of the link between knowledge and development impact, research on the implications of knowledge management in the development sector is indispensable. However, neither academic nor these applied papers yet seem to address these issues in detail.
This paper seeks to fill this gap, and comprises a review of knowledge management literature, development-specific where available, illustrated with examples from development organizations to show how the theory resonates with development practice. We develop a conceptual framework which shows that there is a difference between latent and active knowledge management programs. On the one hand,