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M.8 Learning: Knowledge Management

Knowledge management is the process of identifying, capturing, structuring, developing, validating, sharing and using organisational knowledge effectively. It refers to a multi-disciplinary approach to achieve organisational or sectoral objectives by making the best use of knowledge.

Sharing knowledge outside their organisation is an important responsibility for humanitarian organisations. Sharing fosters continuous learning from experience in the sector, encourages a search for evidence and promotes the adoption of learning by key WASH stakeholders. Knowledge management fosters a culture of innovation and reduces the repetition of mistakes in the sector. For example, the Global WASH Cluster’s (GWC) Technical Working Group on Hygiene Promotion aims to help the GWC share tools and good practice through existing channels and new platforms. Various approaches also exist to improve the timely, large-scale dissemination of knowledge at a global level including: communities of practices (e.g. in HP, WASH and Nutrition), knowledge exchange and support platforms such as the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance, the Emergency WASH Knowledge Portal , the COVID-19 Hygiene Hub, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Watsan Mission Assistant, or the GWC Resource Centre and its planned WASH Knowledge Hub.

At the operational level, the creation of technical working groups is an opportunity to ensure that lessons learned from previous responses and ongoing Monitoring M.2 of the current response lead to real-time knowledge exchange to improve programme quality. The leadership of such a group is critical to its success and depends on the mobilisation of adequate resources (in some cases, a dedicated coordinator may be funded externally) and the willingness of expert organisations to involve their staff in the coordination mechanisms P.9. Leadership is essential, but the active and inclusive participation of organisations involved in HP is also important. Ensuring accessibility to such meetings and groups is a mandatory requirement; therefore, accessible and appropriate communication channels and technologies must be used. 

Regardless of whether the products are oral or written, language and format are important factors to promote their assimilation. Hygiene promotion that encourages and promotes the participation of local communities and stakeholders must be tailored to cultural needs and ensure that learning is accessible to affected communities (though unfortunately, it is not yet common practice to translate all documents into local languages). Finding the right communication channels and networks for the transmission and transfer of knowledge is essential. 

There is no common repository where humanitarian knowledge can be exchanged and shared at local, national or international levels. It is therefore important (depending on the knowledge to be shared) to identify in advance who will be interested in the information and how they will access and integrate it into their programme. Disseminating learning requires dedicated time and resources.

Systematically sharing lessons learned from project monitoring systems, feedback mechanisms and evaluations within and outside the organisation stimulates a culture of exchange. This can take the form of workshops involving local stakeholders, community-based organisations and national and international humanitarian actors. Social Media (T.44) can also be a powerful tool for disseminating key findings, testimonials and demonstrations.  

Case studies, fact sheets and summaries remain the best tools for sharing knowledge among humanitarian professionals. 

For the sector to fully benefit from knowledge gained through earlier interventions, a complete change of mindset is needed amongst HP practitioners. From the outset, HP programme designers need to identify and apply lessons learned from previous interventions to current responses. They should also allocate the time and resources needed to capture and generate new knowledge systematically over the course of their project, enabling other individuals, organisations and ultimately the sector to benefit from their experience.

Process & Good Practice

  • Use existing HP knowledge management systems or platforms to identify relevant evidence and learning or to share and promote new learning within an organisation.

  • Be actively engaged in the HP technical working group, or similar, to share learning and learn from others.

  • Ensure that all key HP materials are translated into the appropriate languages (English, French, Arabic and Spanish are the most commonly spoken in the sector).

  • Consider the different levels at which knowledge management is required and make provision for this (e.g. funding and time).

  • Encourage an acceptance in the sector to acknowledge failure and success and to use both to improve programming.

  • Find ways to share and discuss the outcome of evaluations or research with practitioners at all levels (e.g. operational, policy-makers, local and international).

  • Make use of national or international emergency WASH exchange fora, like conferences (e.g. the annual Emergency Environmental Health Forum) or local exchange workshops to continuously learn and share knowledge with other WASH and HP practitioners and researchers.



To systematically collect, collate and share knowledge, lessons learned and evidence to improve the quality of hygiene promotion (HP) programming.


  • There are significant gaps in knowledge and evidence in the humanitarian WASH sector. Capturing and documenting best practice in HP, identifying new challenges and disseminating innovative approaches is essential to address the emerging challenges in emergencies.

  • The ‘localisation of humanitarian aid’ is an approach that builds on existing local and national knowledge and uses it to design humanitarian WASH responses - the international response complements (rather than replaces) local knowledge. Localisation is very important for HP because it can lead to more effective programmes. 

  • Better knowledge management systems for HP in emergencies are required at national and local levels to enhance the overall quality of the response and take account of the knowledge and needs of the targeted audiences. A knowledge management system should be included in all preparedness plans. 

  • Organisational knowledge management is the responsibility of each organisation to fill gaps in knowledge and strengthen institutional capacity in HP.

  • Hygiene promotion technical working groups and/or communities of practice are the main fora at response level, where technical and contextual knowledge exchange is encouraged between organisations. 

  • Briefing papers and conversations with colleagues are the best two sources for accessing humanitarian research, according to a study conducted by the Humanitarian Evidence Programme.

  • The integration and implementation of new knowledge and policies in emergency responses often occur slowly and reluctantly, reducing the expected impact of research and evaluations.


Review of learning and knowledge sharing practices

Cranston, P., Chandak, A. (2016): Strengthening Learning and Knowledge Management: Review of WaterAid’s Approach to Knowledge Management Briefing Paper 2549. 39th WEDC International Conference, Kumasi, Ghana

Online module from Ethiopia on Learning and Sharing in the WASH Sector

Ethiopia’s One WASH national programme (undated): Study Session 11: Learning and Sharing in the WASH Sector