An Organizational Learning Odyssey: Case Study of an International Aid Agency

By Kimiz Dalkir.

Published by The Organization Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

A longitudinal study of a non-profit organization, an international aid agency, was undertaken over a period of 30 months in order to study how the organization learned and how it could become a more effective learning organization in the future. Specific research objectives were to better understand how organizational members learn and remember best practices and lessons learned; to assess the current state of collective learning within the organization using KM maturity models; to formulate research hypotheses as to how organizational learning (OL) could be improved and to identify critical enablers and obstacles to OL at the organization. The research team implemented three different pilot KM projects: an expertise finder, a project lessons learned database and an audiovisual storytelling website in order to better understand how tacit and explicit knowledge was created, shared, and used by organizational members. The ELS pilot is discussed here. The key findings showed that the organizational readiness for KM and OL were not present, that the organization lacked sufficient absorptive capacity to learn and that the organizational culture represented the greatest obstacle in blocking the organization’s journey towards becoming a learning organization. While the organization was quite adept at leveraging tacit knowledge, they appeared to have greater difficulty when it came to documenting lessons learned and best practices and they did not appear to have an infrastructure in place that allowed for more formal knowledge sharing interactions. Longer term studies are rare in this field and yet OL is a process that requires a certain minimum amount of time before it becomes part and parcel of the way organizations become able to learn and to remember. The findings from this study provide a good blueprint to for all organizations that are or are thinking about embarking on the odyssey to become a learning organization.

Keywords: Knowledge Management, Organizational Learning, Learning Organization, Non-governmental Organization (NGO), Absorptive Capacity, Action Research, Maturity Model

International Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Change Management, Volume 10, Issue 9, pp.93-106. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 701.273KB).

Dr. Kimiz Dalkir

Associate Professor, School of Information Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Dr. Dalkir is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Knowledge Management Stream at the School of Information Studies at McGill University. Dr. Dalkir teaches Master’s level courses in Knowledge Management Foundations, Knowledge Taxonomies, Intellectual Capital Management and Communities of Practice. Kimiz wrote Knowledge Management in Theory and Practice (2005, Elsevier) which has had an international impact on KM education and on KM practice. The second edition is due to be published by MIT Press in 2011. Dr. Dalkir pursues research on the effectiveness of knowledge processing in both profit and non-profit organizations, learning in peer networks and measurement frameworks for assessing knowledge management success. Prior to joining McGill University, Dr. Dalkir was Director of Global KM Services at DMR Consulting where she was actively involved in the transfer of knowledge management (KM) and electronic performance support systems (EPSS) to clients in Europe, Japan and North America.


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