Using Management and Leadership Practices to Support Knowledge Management Activities in Malawi

(This post was originally published on the K4Health Blog)

By Elizabeth Duncan McLean

One of our most critical outcomes from the three day meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi, with the District and National level stakeholders, was that the group no longer saw knowledge management as a problem that’s “out there” but rather began viewing it as a challenge that they wanted to take on as their own.

In our meeting, we continued to delve deeper into the challenge model process, we used the eight management and leadership practices that are outlined in the Managers Who Lead Framework to guide that process.

As part of our methodology, we used the four leadership practices as such:
  • Scanning: As we relooked at the current situation, we were scanning the environment to better understand the weaknesses that existed in FP/RH and HIV knowledge management in Malawi and the strengths that we could draw upon to mitigate those weaknesses.
  • Focusing: By selecting 3 Measurable Results, we were able to focus our energies and the resources that would be needed to actually achieve those results. We further focused our efforts as we prioritized activities and interventions that would most powerfully impact the root causes of the obstacles that currently exist. Spending the 3 days together also helped us focus on this challenge of improving knowledge management for the national, district, and community level in Malawi – we were not distracted by all of the very real other pressing concerns that are a part of our work realities.
  • Aligning and Mobilizing: As we sat together in our conference room in Lilongwe, we were aligning ourselves: coming to agreement on our shared vision and coming to agreement amongst the stakeholders as to who would be able to provide what resources to turn our dreams into a reality.
  • Inspiring: We provided one another with the motivation, the support, and the feedback we would need in order to feel committed to achieving better knowledge management at a national level and in Nkohtakota and Salima.
We also took into account the four management practices:
  • Planning: Much of our meeting was spent determining the steps we could take to reach our measurable results. Through planning efforts, we also ensured that adequate resources (money, people, and materials) were allocated to really make those activities work.
  • Organizing: We checked that the activities that would take place at the national, district, and community level would support one another and made sense against an overall project timeline. We also worked to align staff and stakeholder capacities with the planned activities – we asked if the right people involved at each step.
  • Monitoring and Evaluating: We knew that in order to keep this effort moving forward, we would need to encourage one another with updates, to talk about obstacles, and to brainstorm how we would overcome any unforeseen challenges. So we established an M&E plan as well as quarterly check-ins where we would be able to discuss all our successes and new challenges moving forward.
  • Implementing: Finally, we began to implement right then and there! DHO staff were able to commit certain space for District Learning Centers, documents were gathered for the K4Health Malawi toolkits, and activities began.
Of course the use of these eight practices does not end with the end of our three days together. These eight practices will be used throughout the life of the K4Health program in Malawi. And we hope to see some of the participants beginning to use these practices to support their other work and life goals. We know that when people use these eight leading and managing practices consistently, systematically, and with intention, that they produce better results, as demonstrated in the Leadership and Management Results Model.

At the end of our three days together, the participants told us that they owned this challenge of improving knowledge management in their country, their districts, and their communities. Their commitment to improving knowledge management sprung from their commitment to improving health for their own country. As we move through this short period of time together on this project, we will work to provide the ongoing cycle of challenge, feedback and support so that the drawn vision becomes the reality we can all see.

Elizabeth Duncan McLean, MBA
Senior Program Associate | Management Sciences for Health

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