All organisations, be it crisis management missions or private businesses, gather, use and produce vast amounts of data and information. Information and data combined with perception and experience are vital in contributing to building institutional knowledge. Knowledge, in turn, is needed to conduct and develop an organisation’s activities efficiently, and in line with its objectives. However, building knowledge is not sufficient to reach this. Data, information and knowledge also need to be further systematically utilised and distributed, so that they are not lost. In simple terms, for knowledge to have an impact, it needs to be captured, stored, organised and remain retrievable.
Though the importance of managing institutional knowledge is widely recognised, civilian CSDP missions have lacked a standardised approach to doing so. The need for improvement has been acknowledged in the new Civilian CSDP Compact published in May 2023 that includes a commitment to “Develop a systematic approach to Knowledge Management and organisational learning”. This commitment number 5 in the Compact was also the starting point for a panel discussion on different approaches to knowledge management in the European Association of Peace Operations Training Centres (EAPTC) Annual Conference held in Brussels in June 2023.
The panel was hosted by Ville Savoranta from the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC) directorate of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and Maria Grazia Romano from the European Security and Defence College (ESDC), and included speakers with viewpoints into working with Knowledge Management (KM) across the peace operations community. Ariane Bonnier from the European Centre of Excellence for Civilian Crisis Management kicked off the session by introducing the principles of knowledge management, and why it is needed in organisations. Without KM processes, information and knowledge is inevitably lost, leading to a lack of building on experience and the repetition of mistakes. This is also why it is not sufficient to have KM practices on an individual level, they should be systematic and cross-cutting in an organisation.
Whereas civilian CSDP is taking steps into building a more systematic approach to knowledge management, the military CSDP has a longer experience in conducting lessons processes that cover all different decision-making levels, as Lieutenant Colonel Traian Bradu from the EU Military Staff discussed in his presentation. He also highlighted that though it is important to have a systematic approach throughout all missions and operations, it is rarely case that a concrete lesson identified or learned in one mission or operation can be directly applied to all other missions. Indeed, the unique attributes of each context and mission should always be taken into consideration.
Johanna Hakanen from CMC Finland introduced three interconnected KM practices in use at CMC, including a , an annual organisational learning cycle and the Centre’s ISO 9001 -certificated system for ensuring consistency and quality of trainings organised by CMC. These KM practices support the systematic development of CMC’s core functions, such as training, recruitment and duty of care. The importance of follow-up mechanisms should also not be overlooked. A KM system or practice only provides added value if it is utilised.
Though KM has not yet been thoroughly institutionalised in civilian CSDP, some KM practices are use in various missions. However, the degree to which these practices are put into use in a useful manner depends too much on the willingness of individuals in the management staff. This perspective was discussed by Jorge Caseiro, a former member of the EUCAP Somalia mission. He emphasised that the rapid turnover of staff and lack of standardised handover processes made it hard for new staff to find their way in the mission. He further elaborated that, in his experience, this can lead to inefficiency, but it can also foster even bigger problems and lead to limited effectiveness in missions.
Ville Savoranta concluded the session by describing future steps on achieving the commitment in the new Compact. The CPCC will in 2023 set up a KM network across civilian CSDP missions, with the aim of mapping needs and developing standardised practices. The first focus of the network will be to update the annual lessons process in civilian CSDP missions, followed by the development of general operational guidelines for missions on knowledge management. This effort will contribute to a wider EEAS aim of developing a systematic approach to knowledge management.
It was jointly agreed among the panel as well as the audience taking part in the discussion, that there is still a lot of work to be done before a systematic and mainstreamed approach to knowledge management is in place in all civilian CSDP missions. However, discussions such as the one held in the EAPTC Annual Conference show that steps are being taken into the right direction.
Text: Johanna Hakanen