The sad story of how a light goes out…

candleYesterday, I spent a long time in the train on the way to Maastricht. I’ll be making a post about that soon…

I was doing some work on the train, updating a desk study that I did about this time last year for DCO, a department of DGIS. I was reviewing the early sections where it talks about the role of the World Bank in setting the example of knowledge management which led to its adoption by other large organizations and then I heard Julie’s words of last week floating back to me:

actually we all say that the World Bank led to the adoption of knowledge management in the development sector but really, if you think about it, it was Bellanet….

At the time, what Julie said didn’t really sink in but, on the train, I started thinking about it and realised that she was right and that, in fact, it was so obvious that I hadn’t even realised it! I then worked at amending the paper to take this new insight into account but I also started thinking about this while watching the wintery Dutch landscape pass by….

What has Bellanet achieved? Well, I think an enormous amount for a relatively small secretariat. A couple of its initiatives, admittedly with others but that is all the better of course, like the KM4Dev community and Dgroups have, in my opinion, been two of the very best information and knowledge management related initiatives in the whole development field. KM4Dev is the most wonderful community of practice which has inspired my work for years and it is also responsible for the fact that KM4D is now emerging as a recognized sub-discipline in its own right. As for Dgroups, a platform of almost 2500 online groups for 96,385 people – about half of whom are from the South – it has facilitated the most enormous amount of knowledge and information exchange over the years, something shown by recent research. And there are also some other great projects like the Harambee Small Grants…

While working on the ‘Smart toolkit’, a joint project of CTA/KIT/IICD for capacity building for information management, the participants agreed that as socio-economic impact of information projects and programmes is difficult to prove, we would define impact as being the ability to demonstrate that the information project had led to change at the individual, project, programme and organizational level. Well, I started thinking about this in the context of Bellanet and its programmes, and I thought that the many of them have had real impact at individual, project, programme and organizational level. But if you look at both KM4Dev and Dgroups, they have both gone far beyond this and have impact at a systemic level, something that other initiatives only dream of…

But why is this sad? It’s great, isn’t it, that such an organization exists and is doing such great work?

It is sad because as of the end of December 2007, the Bellanet Secretariat will cease to exist. Other organizations are trying to preserve both KM4Dev and Dgroups, thank goodness, but Bellanet will disappear. An initiative that has been a guiding light in development, placing a real emphasis on learning and knowledge sharing, will be going out at the end of this year, and the development field will be all the poorer.

What can we do about this? Two things, I think. Firstly and most importantly, we should try to keep the Bellanet philosophy alive in our own work. And secondly, at the end of the year, when we lift a glass of orange juice to celebrate the end of 2007 with our colleagues, to take 10 seconds to say thank you to all the people who have worked at Bellanet over the years. I’m not going to mention them by name – because I will probably forget someone! – but if they ever read this they will recognise themselves…

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