Blog: Toward Participatory Knowledge Management in Nepal


Marije Visscher

MSc. Culture, Organization & Management
Organization Sciences

Last year, we were applied as Academy Assistants at the Network Institute (VU Amsterdam) to work on an interdisciplinary research project concerning aid accountability and knowledge- and information sharing in humanitarian and development settings, with a focus on Nepal.

In 2015, Nepal was hit by two earthquakes that caused massive destruction throughout the country. Hundreds of organisations flew in to support the government of Nepal in its aid efforts. However, aid often did not reach remote and hard-to-reach communities which resulted in the exclusion of affected citizens in these areas. Today, more than two years after the earthquake, the reconstruction of the country is a slow process, and lots of people still live in temporary shelter accommodations. These observations call for attention to accountability issues in humanitarian and development settings. What systems cause, and sustain, the exclusion of affected citizens in the aid chain?  How can we make sure affected citizens are actively involved in decision making efforts concerning the type and distribution of relief to improve equal distribution and sustainability of relief efforts in the aftermath of disaster?

We have researched the participatory knowledge management efforts of an organisation in Nepal to gain more knowledge on in- and exclusion practices of earthquake-affected citizens in remote and hard-to-access communities in the aid chain. The organisation Accountability Lab focuses on participatory knowledge management by providing affected citizens with relevant information about relief and government decisions, and by letting affected citizens themselves participate in problem and solution formulation. Through the identification of the applied knowledge management practices of the organisation, we’ve looked into how (knowledge and information of) affected citizens were actually included and which challenges the organisation faced in their efforts toward participatory knowledge management. We found how participatory practice-based knowledge management practices, such as community meetings, in the communities were efficient in light of the inclusion of affected citizens. However, these practices were suppressed by objective-based knowledge management practices aimed at external reporting toward partners, donors and a broader international humanitarian and development community, at the cost of the inclusion of affected people in the communities. Furthermore, we found how geographical, sociocultural, technological, and political factors provide(d) challenges for the organisation in their participatory knowledge management efforts.

Second, we’ve looked into the role of technology to facilitate participatory knowledge management. Based on our findings, we investigated how technology could be used as a tool to improve participatory knowledge management by reducing the gap between objectivist-based and practice-based practices and improving the knowledge and information flows amongst different levels in the organisation. An application was developed by Aske to support the field workers of the organisation in their knowledge management practices, keeping in mind to first and foremost support participatory knowledge management. The application is now in use by the field workers of the organisation and we continue monitoring the developments to see whether adjustments need to be made.

The interdisciplinary research led to two master’s theses. The first thesis derives from an Organization Sciences perspective and addresses the question why objectivist-based knowledge management practices dominate the humanitarian and development sector, and the consequences of this phenomena for organisation practices on the ground. The second master’s thesis derives from a Computer Sciences perspective and focuses on the design and implementation of the application in Nepal.