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Six ways KM supports organizations in the COVID-19 era

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This has been a year of volatility, and many organizations are scrambling to keep pace with the abrupt, rapid-fire changes. Admittedly, the pandemic and related market shifts have put some knowledge management projects on the back burner. But smart KM teams have made themselves invaluable to the crisis response while demonstrating the renewed importance of connecting employees to information and one another, regardless of location.

There have been countless stories of KM teams stepping into the breach to deploy new systems, redesign face-to-face events to occur virtually, and maintain business continuity and connectivity. APQC has conducted more than a dozen formal interviews, a roundtable webinar, and numerous informal conversations with KM leaders across industries to understand how KM has contributed to their organizations’ COVID-19 response as well as the lessons that have been learned. Based on this research, APQC has identified the following six critical roles that KM played—and continues to play—as organizations adapt to both the pandemic and its longer-term impact.

1. Keep critical knowledge flowing and accessible

KM’s first—and perhaps most vital—task during the early days of the pandemic was to maintain the flow of critical knowledge. Employees were anxious and confused by the evolving crisis, and many were suddenly working from home without access to their normal human and IT networks. Leaders were making decisions on-the-fly based on a constantly changing stream of facts and recommendations. Everyone needed seamless access to the latest updates to do their work, remain calm, and make good choices.

KM teams facilitated this flow of information in three main ways.

♦  They created central information hubs for updates on their organization’s COVID-19 response, including process changes and talking points to share with customers.

♦ They partnered with IT to ensure that employees working from home had the necessary information and collaboration applications and knew how to use them.

♦  They managed changes to key content, such as standard operating procedures and policy documents, affected by the pandemic.

In most cases, the key to success wasleveraging systems and processes that were already in place. This was true at U.S. Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit that publishes quality standards for pharmaceuticals. “One of the first things we did was use an existing portal and start to provide links there,” said Lindsey Clawson, director of knowledge strategy. “Different people could still own their pieces of content; it was just about channeling it through one central location.”

Organizations also turned to established community of practice programs to rally employees, help them stay engaged, and collectively address emerging challenges. “In 2 days or less, we had the COVID-19 site up and running—we joked that it was the fastest we’ve ever built a community,” said Tosin Araba, a knowledge sharing specialist at gas and fluid systems component manufacturer Swagelok.

In this way, KM has been a critical success factor for organizations to adjust and quickly pivot to new ways of working. Paula Pazderka, associate director of KM at global health nonprofit FHI 360, said her team worked with existing resources to add COVID-19 and related terms to the organization’s taxonomy. “People were really excited, because they could use that taxonomy when we were looking for COVID-related opportunities. We can now identify those in a tracker.” Pazderka said that, by using this tracker and a COVID dashboard created through Power BI, FHI 360 executives have the knowledge they need to prioritize important global health projects.

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