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The Future of Knowledge Management: USAID’s Bold New Policy

While it’s rare for an implementation and governance framework launch to be met with fanfare, USAID’s first-ever Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning (KMOL) Policy is worth getting excited about. Through this policy, USAID is redefining and reinvesting in the enabling infrastructure for all of its development and humanitarian assistance. In increasingly fast-paced and complex operating environments, how we collect, share, use, and learn from what works and what doesn’t directly shapes the effectiveness of programs on-the-ground. 

As Chief of Party and Senior Specialist with USAID’s Program Cycle Mechanism, our enthusiasm stems both from having supported USAID’s Bureau for Planning, Learning, and Resource Management (PLR) in facilitating processes to develop the policy, and from our work helping teams across the Agency apply learning to navigate organizational change. We know that the development sector both benefits and at times suffers from an abundance of information, meaning effective policies that actually put learning into practice are paramount. That’s why we’re so excited about the KMOL Policy and what it means for the sector as a whole—the principles and processes it lays out will enable all of us to achieve better development results. In case we haven’t convinced you yet, here’s three reasons why we think you should be excited too.  

Reason 1: Linking Knowledge Management and Operations Moves Us From Knowing to Doing 

USAID has long invested in advancing learning and adaptive management, including through institutionalizing approaches such as collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) across programs. In 2021 the Agency recognized a gap between program learning systems and the realities of day-to-day operations. Thus, Stacey Young, the Agency’s Chief Knowledge Officer, and the KMOL working group set out to develop a policy rooted in the business as well as the mission of the Agency. The result: a policy that has practical guidance for all aspects of USAID programs and operations—from program implementation to finance to recruitment and hiring—everyone has and benefits from sharing institutional knowledge. 

Linking knowledge management processes to operational realities enables us to move from knowing to doing, but connecting the two is no small feat. The KMOL working group set out to operate in concentric circles reaching out across offices, bureaus, and teams to understand how business processes influence program learning and impact. In our support to PLR, we helped organize and co-facilitate multiple resource groups to capture a wide and deep understanding of the end user. Ultimately the KMOL working group designed implementation principles aligned with the Agency’s structure and targeted to different audiences, from human capital and talent officers to contracting officers, ensuring each team can actively engage with and benefit from institutional knowledge and ongoing learning. 

Reason 2: Learning for What’s Next 

The next reason we’re excited about KMOL? This policy has an aspirational orientation—it is written with future operating contexts in mind and preparing for big shifts that technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) are bringing to the sector. That may sound like a small shift, but in practice it means that for years to come USAID programs will be able to adapt to and take advantage of the rapidly advancing tech landscape. This forward-thinking approach encourages the Agency and partners to harness AI to automate data management, enhance decision-making through predictive analytics, and improve collaboration across global teams. By proactively planning for the integration of AI, USAID is setting the stage for more efficient, responsive, and impactful development initiatives.

Reason 3: Locally Informed and Supported 

Ultimately a knowledge management system is only as effective as the information it is built on and USAID is committed to investing in local knowledge systems to support locally led development. As we’ve seen at EI across program implementation, outcomes are more sustainable, impactful, and adaptable when rooted in the knowledge, evidence, and learning ecosystems of the local communities. Committing to investing in these ecosystems not only strengthens the impacts of individual programs, but also strengthens the potential for our sector as a whole as more actors contribute to our collective knowledge and share and apply lessons learned. 

Learn, Change, Learn Again 

At the end of the day, we’re looking forward to the inevitably changing future of the KMOL Policy. Knowledge management and learning are not static and this policy was designed to flex and shift as new knowledge and operational constraints and opportunities appear. This is essential and exciting, as the world’s largest funder of aid programming and a significantly decentralized organization, USAID itself is constantly shifting and growing. With the new KMOL Policy in hand all of us, from Agency staff to implementing partners to local organizations, can grow and learn together.

Lead photo of Paraguay Indigenous Community Development Plan by Luciano González, FECOPROD for USAID.

About the Authors

Perry J. Pockros is a Senior Specialist with USAID’s Program Cycle Mechanism. Perry builds individual and institutional capacity through applying instructional design practices to enhance learning effectiveness and sharpens organizational direction and performance by facilitating participatory sessions.
Shawn Peabody serves as Chief of Party with USAID's Program Cycle Mechanism.


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