The Playbook helps you develop a customized Theory of Leadership that outlines your role as a leader, in designing, guiding, and acting to advance equity at scale.
The Playbook helps you develop a customized Theory of Leadership that outlines your role as a leader, in designing, guiding, and acting to advance equity at scale.
This section describes how to co-create and manage knowledge. Once you’ve reviewed this section, review the other three drivers. Together, they constitute a Leading Through Learning approach that you can make your own through your Theory of Leadership.
To achieve equity at scale, learning leaders treat the development of knowledge as an ongoing cycle whose explicit function is to solve both novel and entrenched organizational challenges. They manage knowledge by developing processes and systems that answer the question: How will this knowledge be used?
To achieve this vision, learning leaders need knowledge-management practices that harness individual and collective learning to bring forward the organization’s expertise when meeting the needs of every student, family, and community. No longer conceived of as a technical venture focused on processing and storing massive amounts of data and information, knowledge management is seen by learning leaders as the outcome of deliberate and collaborative strategic choices.
An effective knowledge-management strategy begins with the goal: application of knowledge to advance high-quality, equitable service provision. Working backward from the system’s ambitious goals, learning leaders set, maintain, and enact the vision for how the data and information generated in learning spaces turns into knowledge that can be used to achieve organizational goals.
The knowledge-management framework described in this section offers learning leaders a way to organize Drivers A to C—learning strategies, measurement, and stakeholder engagement—into a set of practices and routines that allow your organization to use a vital resource (knowledge) to accelerate progress toward its vision.
This framework is grounded in a key equity principle: All knowledge is democratic. Learning leaders decentralize knowledge ownership. They engage all stakeholders, particularly those closest to the work, in the generation, consolidation, sharing, and application of knowledge. All stakeholders—including staff, students, parents, and community members—have the opportunity to not only give input but also meaningfully contribute to decisions about which ideas are worth capturing and scaling. Democratic participation strengthens knowledge generation and builds buy-in and capacity for knowledge application, yielding better and more efficient outcomes.
Knowledge management is the set of processes used to create, organize, share, and use knowledge in an organization. Learning leaders use a knowledge-management framework1A number of knowledge-management frameworks conceive of knowledge management as a process (e.g., Knowledge management: Systems and processes, 2nd ed., by I. Becerra-Fernandez & R. Sabherwal, 2010, Routledge. Copyright 2010 by Routledge. ) consisting of four interconnected phases to make use of learning at all levels in order to continually improve. These phases include:
Foundational to this framework are two critical conditions:
Learning leaders design structures and routines to support continual problem-solving across all levels of the organization. In the practice of examining and solving problems, learning leaders develop and support routines to adopt or adapt research-based practices for known challenges and experiment to find solutions for novel challenges.
Done systematically, these practices yield abundant data and information. Though so commonplace they are often overlooked, this generative work is the first step in a knowledge-management strategy. Decisions made here affect the ability to capture, spread, and eventually apply knowledge down the road.
Learning leaders prioritize what data to collect and how it will be used, and they allocate resources accordingly. They work with stakeholders to be sure the data and the data collection process are useful and integrated into the day-to-day work. The process of prioritizing data collection may reduce quantity, but the higher-quality data will allow learning leaders to more efficiently transform data into knowledge through consolidation.
Knowledge Consolidation and Capture
Data and information are the raw materials of knowledge. Often faced with an abundance of both, learning leaders convert data and information to knowledge through consolidation routines. These processes yield actionable information captured in artifacts that can be shared with the stakeholders who will put the knowledge to use. The frequency and rigor of these consolidation and capture routines depend largely on context.
To achieve equity at scale and reach their ambitious aims, learning leaders ensure promising, well-vetted knowledge is spread within and beyond their own boundaries. This can be a daunting task, especially when the responsibility of spread is centralized or limited to a few people. Learning leaders navigate ideological and logistical boundaries to ensure that knowledge spreads effectively, shuttling information among internal teams, pushing knowledge out to the field, and mediating among decision-makers and ground-level stakeholders. They also enlist and support knowledge brokers to support the spread of learning.
Knowledge brokers3Long, J. C., Cunningham, F. C., & Braithwaite, J. (2013). Bridges, brokers and boundary spanners in collaborative networks: a systematic review. BMC Health Services Research, 13, 1-13. leverage their relationships to promote reciprocal learning and knowledge exchange between stakeholder groups within and beyond the organization. The concept of brokerage rests on the idea that people are more likely to engage with a new body of knowledge when it is (a) communicated to them by a person they trust (e.g., coaches, school leaders) and (b) appropriately contextualized.
Application is arguably the most important phase of knowledge management. Supporting others to act on the knowledge developed is the purpose and culmination of each prior step: generating, consolidating, capturing, and sharing.
But this is also the most challenging phase of the knowledge-management system and one that is often underdeveloped or unattended. Effective learning leaders start with this phase in mind when designing and supporting a knowledge-management system. They design these systems around the answer to the question, “What needs to be done to address the problem, and who needs to do it?”
Learning organizations constantly attend to the first part of that question. Effective structures and routines support ongoing problem-solving and, if done properly, the capture and sharing of solutions. But for stakeholders to truly adopt or adapt these solutions—or act in some other function—the second part of the question needs to be answered. Who needs to do it?
Learning leaders consider:
Addressing these questions requires change management. The sum of these questions paints a different and often complex picture for each stakeholder. Learning leaders strategically design a change strategy to address the needs of each stakeholder. Designing such varied and complex strategies can be a full-time job and often overwhelms leaders and those they lead, causing stasis or maintenance of the status quo. To help manage the change process, leaders consider a few categories of action that might be taken as a result of sharing knowledge:
Achieve Atlanta used a change-management strategy to help activate the knowledge developed in their organization and encourage action among district officials and other partners toward achieving a shared goal. Using a change-management template, they identified the state of each stakeholder and group, the action the stakeholder needed to take to meet the goals, and what they and their partners needed to do to support the stakeholder. They revisited this strategy regularly to track the change-management process and make modifications as necessary.
As a leader, how do you support the development and application of knowledge in your organization?
Explore how Bank Street Education Center leaders used a knowledge management cycle to better support network participants.
With a strong understanding of each phase and the key characteristics, learning leaders design and refine the processes and routines that make up the knowledge-management system. Many components of the system may already be in place. Usually these include the learning spaces where knowledge generation happens (e.g., short-cycle testing routines) and the repositories that store captured knowledge. The challenge facing most learning leaders is how to create a comprehensive system that links the knowledge-management phases so that the improved knowledge of each individual and organization is applied consistently.
To architect a comprehensive knowledge-management system, learning leaders revisit the overall structure of their system, ensuring it is set up like a dynamic network and coordinated learning community. They minimize silos and organize individuals in teams and clusters that are bridged through high- and low-density ties that support knowledge spread and application. They also devise processes to detect and act on deficiencies in their existing knowledge-management systems and to embed knowledge-management routines and structures into daily operation.
The cycles of a mature knowledge-management system look like waves when captured in a process map, with each knowledge-generation activity followed by aligned consolidation, capture, sharing, and application processes. Full and linked knowledge-management “waves” accelerate improvements at scale.
A process map, like the one depicted here, can be useful in identifying existing structures in each phase of the knowledge-management cycle and, perhaps more important, in identifying where gaps exist that prevent the cycle from being completed.
Aligns knowledge to organizational priorities
Learning leaders create structures that make clear what constitutes success. Without these structures, systems lack strong routines to methodically capture, share, and apply generated knowledge.
To learn as a collective, learning leaders use explicit standards to determine which knowledge is worthy of refinement, capture, and eventually scale. Learning leaders facilitate collaborative processes to co-develop and codify these simple standards, including those aimed at assessing whether equity principles are well-represented in the practices the organization promotes. These standards establish a shared understanding of what success looks like and allow knowledge generators to sift through volumes of information to identify the gems that emerge.
In this process, learning leaders are transparent about the problems the organization and the field are trying to solve and prioritize solutions to those issues. That is not to say that learning leaders should not pursue solutions to other problems. But time and attention are limited resources, so learning leaders prioritize capturing, sharing, and applying knowledge that aligns with organizational and field-level priorities.
Identifies and supports knowledge brokers
Learning leaders support routines that share spreading tasks with other members of the learning community, often through formal or informal knowledge broker roles. Without these roles and routes, learning leaders and their partners generate knowledge and capture it, but the knowledge ends up in an unused repository and improvement toward the final goal is stymied.
Learning community members may be well-suited to this work if they:
Mature spread strategies (a) leverage knowledge brokers in their own spheres of influence and (b) develop explicit norms, processes, and supports that guide the execution of brokerage responsibilities.
Additionally, learning leaders seek ways to simplify the work of knowledge brokers and reduce the barriers they face by supporting creative, low-lift ways of communicating knowledge. Organizations tend to inflate the importance of written codification in capture routines, setting an unreasonable expectation that everyone will comprehensively record all information and store it in shared repositories. Knowledge brokers ensure that the spread of knowledge is a dynamic social endeavor that uses active methods of communication like elevator pitches, storytelling, and video or audio summaries.
Captures and commands attention
To effectively synthesize generated information, learning leaders need reliable, comparable data. Once synthesized, learning leaders need those data to be packaged in ways that motivate their use. Without these capture routines, leaders and their partners generate knowledge but move to sharing without consolidating and capturing critical context or implementation information, often leading to disappointing application.
To support synthesis, learning leaders set simple, shared success measures. These measures need not be complex to provide useful information. In fact, picking straightforward metrics increases the likelihood that the individuals and teams testing the ideas will keep up with tracking their data.
They also centralize data aggregation and display, often creating a dashboard, and encourage peer accountability. Data dashboards do not have to be sophisticated to be effective. Using familiar tools (e.g., Google Sheets) will result in more efficient onboarding and increase the likelihood of use.
Map your knowledge-management system by identifying one or more knowledge application goals and then developing a process map to:
With a clear sense of existing structures across all phases of the knowledge-management framework, reflect on the strengths in the system and any gaps that might exist. Keeping in mind that the goal is to create a coherent and comprehensive knowledge-management strategy that helps the organization move toward shared goals, answer the following questions:
Designing and implementing the infrastructure to move knowledge through a system so that it advances more equitable outcomes is critical, but it cannot be sustained without a set of shared conditions and organizational commitments.
Establish and revisit a shared definition of knowledge
Learning leaders define knowledge as actionable information4O’Dell, C., & Grayson, C. J., Jr. (1998). If only we knew what we know: identification and transfer of internal best practices. California Management Review, 40(3), 154–174.. that requires interpretation, meaning-making, rigor, and most important, application. Therefore, knowledge goes beyond beautifully visualized data charts or even implications deduced from data. It requires a tested answer or action that can be applied, often in many varying contexts.
Because learning routines can differ even within organizations, learning leaders and their communities will approach knowledge differently. Learning leaders use the following questions to define what constitutes knowledge in their own organizations:
Learning leaders continually improve knowledge cycles, including by gathering feedback from community members about the shared definition of knowledge. Do the standards hold? Are there conditions during any or all phases that cause community members to reconsider standards of success? Being transparent about the strength of the definition of knowledge and the efficacy of the cycles will strengthen buy-in to the process and create stronger knowledge products down the road.
Support rigorous and democratic processes
Learning leaders commit to democratic principles. They actively engage diverse stakeholders in the practice of learning, and in doing so they ensure that knowledge identification is the responsibility of every community member. This commitment to democratizing knowledge differs from other organizational structures in that it rejects the notion that knowledge belongs to those with positional authority or recognized expertise. A robust knowledge-management cycle can uncover tacit knowledge from those closest to the work and encourage innovation and buy-in to the development of novel solutions.
Embracing and supporting democratic processes—including, and perhaps especially, the identification of what is considered knowledge—can be challenging. These processes (e.g., consolidation and capture) can be messy and time consuming. Learning leaders reject the cultural pull to pursue simple solutions that are supported by anecdote or intuition rather than the rigor of a knowledge-management process. They also accept that the outcome of these cycles may be many fewer known solutions and instead a constant commitment to experimentation that yields important information but not actionable knowledge.
Learning leaders ensure the strength of knowledge-management processes through the support and preservation of democratic processes and a commonly understood definition of knowledge.