KM and Comms: How do you staff up to do both well?

Dear KM4Dev colleagues

 I wonder if you’d be interested in contributing to a comparative exercise I’m conducting on behalf of IFAD’s Independent Office of Evaluation (IOE).  They are considering how to gear up both their KM and communications efforts.  The question is, how closely do these overlap and how best do you structure your staff team so you can do a good job in both areas?


 IOE has a particular focus on sharing lessons from evaluations – but a lot of organisations face the same challenge.   It depends how you define them, but KM and Comms are closely related and require similar skill sets.  The ethos, purpose and target audiences may be slightly different, but in many organisations they are not that different.

So do you combine these functions in one team, or even one person?  Or do you separate them but have them work closely together?  Or do you treat them completely differently and house them in separate divisions?   

I’m compiling a short report contrasting experience in different organisations, and would very much value your input.

 How you can contribute

If you’re interested in responding, can I suggest two routes:

  •  If you have a quick comment to chip in, please comment on this post.  Could be an interesting debate.
  • If you have an hour to spare and would like to offer your organisation as a case study, please send me an email directly with a snapshot of your organisation, a short description of how it structures its KM and Comms work, and the pros and cons you see. If you can provide a simple organogram, and an outline of the various posts involved, all the better – but this isn’t vital.  I can treat information provided in confidence if you’d prefer.

I will be collecting responses in July and compiling a short report in August, which I’ll post on the KM4Dev list. 

Many thanks for helping out on this. 

Best regards





Geoff Barnard 

Tel:  +44 1903 813232   Mob:  +44 7510 314397

Skype: geoffreybarnard

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Comment by Geoff Barnard on September 10, 2013 at 12:12pm

Apologies for the long delay, but here's my conclusion based on my mini case studies of three organisation - ILRI, UNICEF and GEF - into how to best combine KM and communications work within an evaluation team.

If you would like a copy of the short report, do let me know - email me on:

Conclusions and Implications

  • KM and Comms do overlap considerably and it would be unhelpful to treat them as entirely distinct functions. 
  • There are a wide suite of skills required to do KM and Comms well – from classic comms roles on one side (editing, layout, etc.), through information management skills (database design and maintenance, etc.), to online skills (web editing, web 2.0, etc.) and softer knowledge sharing skills (facilitation, chairing face-to-face events).
  • These skills will rarely be found in one person – there is a big difference in the personal characteristics required[1] and while most KM and Comms staff will be able to multi-task to some degree, they are unlikely to strong across the whole waterfront.   An attention-to-detail editor is usually a very different person to a database specialist, or a born facilitator.
  • Many relatively small evaluation units do not have the luxury of having specialists in all the skills required.  So they need to prioritise what skill sets are most important and which are most vital to base in house, rather than being brought in by involving freelancers and consultants. 
  • This latter choice depends partly on the volume of work being done and the relative economics of doing work in-house or out-of-house.  But it also depends on how ‘mission critical’ the work is seen to be.  There is a strong argument to say that anything that is seen as key priority is probably best brought in house, otherwise it risks being treated as an optional extra.
  • Recruiting an extra staff member or bringing in a specialist consultant to fill a skills gap does not create change in itself.  Energy and leadership are also vital ingredients in raising an organisation’s KM and Comms game.  The individuals involved need to have the ‘extra something’ that earns them respect from colleagues, and motivates others around them to pay attention to a new agenda and raise their game.  
  • Support from the top is also critical in making space for leadership from within, particularly when it involves risk taking and pushing colleagues outside their natural comfort zones.
  • Looking around to see what other organisations are doing on KM & Comms is an excellent idea.  All the three case study organisations have examples of innovative practices that others can learn from.  They can draw on GEF and UNICEF’s successful experience in the use of webinars to reach wider audiences – indeed, collaborating with MyM&E could be a shortcut for doing this.  And they can learn much from ILRI’s efforts to improve the effectiveness of meetings through better facilitation. 
  • There is much to be gained through collaboration with other partners working in the sector.  You do not have to do everything yourself.  It is notable how both GEF and UNICEF have increased their footprint and expanded their impact through teaming up with other organisations with similar interests.

[1] Ewen le Borgne had done an illuminating post on his personal blog on the different characters within the ‘happy family’ involved in communication, KM and learning.  See

Comment by Ewen Le Borgne on December 7, 2012 at 9:31am


I look forward to it then :)

Comment by Geoff Barnard on December 6, 2012 at 12:10am

Thanks for the reminder Ewen.   I need to get clearance to circulate the full report, but hope to get this soon.  

Comment by Ewen Le Borgne on December 5, 2012 at 3:09pm

Any final answer on this? I'd love to hear the results of your work :)

Comment by Liah Machara on September 20, 2012 at 10:46am

Sorry this might be too late......just a quck input,i also think that it it is best to merge the two because communications and KM go hand in hand.Comms actually form a base for KM, so KM to succeed there must be a good comms structure which is working effectively and hand in hand with KM

Comment by Geoff Barnard on July 19, 2012 at 10:06am

Hi Ewen - would love to talk.  Just checked out your blog posts - love em!  Especially the happy families.  will ping you a direct message on connecting.

Comment by Ewen Le Borgne on July 18, 2012 at 9:58am

A quick comment: make them come together (e.g. my position at ILRI is 'knowledge sharing and communication specialist', so that people see comms as totally connected to KM/KS). The set up between KM and comms doesn't really matter, so long as the value of both streams of work are taken care of (for this you might want to have a look at: )

I can share some stuff with you about ILRI but only in August I guess, unless you're ready for a short phone interview on the phone today or tomorrow? Sorry for the late notice, just snowed under but saw your post and meant to reply to it. All the best!

Comment by Chase Palmeri on July 17, 2012 at 9:34am

Hi Geoff, How nice to see this re-connect, Cleona who works with me mentioned this post on the bus to me this morning!!!! pls drop me a line....  Chase  

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