Also in Burundi the HealthNet TPO programme activities and interventions mainly take place in the field. In the 5 provinces of Mwaro, Muramvya, Gitega, Muyinga and Makamba we work a.o. on performance based financing, mental health integration and community systems strengthening. These activities are implemented by dedicated field staff under sometimes difficult circumstances. In Burundi a total of 26 people are focusing on reaching HealthNet TPO’s objectives in the field. In fact their work is our ‘raison d’être’, they make the interventions happen and I therefore would like to give them the attention they deserve and plea for more visibility and inclusion of field staff in our overall work.
September this year, it became clear in the Knowledge Management (KM) introduction workshop that the knowledge of field staff could be more capitalized and included in the overall HealthNet TPO programme in Burundi. In November I had the opportunity to visit the field twice to assess the way field staff work and to assess their KM-needs. During these visits I noticed the practical value of having staff at place there where we implement the activities. I also sensed their expertise in dealing with the situation on the ground and their dedication. As we focus in the KM strategic plan on improving creation, sharing and application of knowledge throughout the organization, the input from our field offices is essential. The expertise, knowledge and experience of field staff should become more visible and should be integrated more into HealthNet TPO’s knowledge cycle. To get a more in-depth view on how field staff work and how their knowledge is used now, I convened a specific KM workshop for field staff.
This event took place last week in Gitega where 19 out of the 26 field staff members were present. The challenges of KM in the Burundian (field) context quickly became apparent. Half of the staff present had never met their colleagues from other field offices, even if they are working on the same programme. This may sound very odd, but one has to realize that travelling through the Burundian countryside costs both substantial amounts of time and money. Due to security reasons staff can only travel by day light, which means that when staff from Muyinga (North East) wants to travel to Makamba in the South, they have to spend at least one night in Makamba. This results in not having many exchange visits amongst the (field) offices
It’s not surprising that the donor resources we have, are committed to the actual field work rather than on trips to exchange experiences with colleagues. However, to be a learning, knowledge driven organization, physical staff meetings are necessary to have discussions, to analyze the work and to simply exchange. The field staff indicated that exchange with colleagues involved in the same kind of work would hugely contribute to their own performance and learning. From a KM point of view I totally agree with them. So, I would like to plea here for more space for exchange. In my opinion this could be realized in several ways: 1) Monthly or quarterly field staff meetings around certain themes together with the involved technical staff from the Bujumbura office, 2) Putting in place the necessary IT-infrastructure to facilitate online exchange between the different offices, and 3) Budget our projects in such a way that the costs for regular exchange in the field (including transport, overnight stays etc) are also covered.
I think these are efforts we should try to make in order to be the learning, knowledge based organization we aim to be.
With kind regards, Marieke van der Vliet
Marieke van der Vliet - Knowledge Management Coordinator for the Great Lakes Region at HealthNet TPO
Background: Marieke has a background in International Relations (University of Groningen) and Development Studies (CIDIN, Nijmegen). Before she started within HealthNet TPO, she worked for the Dutch NGOs Maatwerk bij Terugkeer as a Programme Officer and for VluchtelingenWerk Nederland as an International Officer.
Currently Marieke is stationed in Bujumbura, Burundi, to coordinate a PSO funded Knowledge Management project that covers the HealthNet TPO programmes in Burundi, the DR Congo and South Sudan.