The importance of being… repositories

Just lately I have been hunting down quite a lot of publications, both official and grey or informal ones, and this has brought home to me, more than ever, the pressing need to preserve the documentary record of development practice. As Ewen Leborgne and I commented in a very recent paper on knowledge management strategies of organisations, many approaches to knowledge management are not fully documented:

The paper is only able to offer a glimpse of the current reality or the tip of the iceberg. This is because what is happening in organisations is not fully documented. Not only are experiences with knowledge management often not published – they remain for internal use only – where they are published, this is often in the form of grey literature which is by its nature less easily accessible and less permanent. Two initiatives which have made efforts to document what is happening in organisations: the organisational case studies collected by the Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) community of practice and which are available on its website and the related Knowledge Management for Development Management Journal…The importance of these two sources is reflected in the references.

As background to the paper, Ewen Leborgne and I have made an inventory of organisational case studies which we will continue to add to and which is fully accessible to all.

But this does not preclude the need for document repositories because documents on the web – particularly grey literature – is not going to remain there for ever. And without this record we can’t get better and learn from what happened before.

With this in mind, it is really great to see a number of document repositories emerging. These are often institutional or joint institutional repositories, like the combined one of ISS and Hivos, but they are also broader, development wide ones like Search4Dev which is an online library for digital documents from Dutch development organizations, an intiaitive of the Development Policy Review Network and the Information Department of the Royal Tropical Institute. Others, like Ask Source which focuses on heatlh and disability information, are taking a more sectoral approach. All of these are going to be needed if we are going to be able track the documentary record of development practice. And this applies not just to knowledge management but to all development subjects.

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