Sunday, September 12, 2010

Leveraging Knowledge Products for Impact and Influence

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This site is a a companion product to a presentation given to the WK Kellogg Learning & Innovation team concluding a three month analysis of the organization's Knowledge Product survey. The analysis includes recommendations for how these knowledge products can be leveraged for further impact and influence, both for internal staff as well as external stakeholders and audiences. The analysis also proposes ways for how the Foundation could help redesign or improve the quality of the knowledge products.

This site touches on the ongoing work about Knowledge Product development for the social sector. In other words, how good ideas, knowledge and insights are made visible and experienced through the many communication venues available. The goal is to transform something that is known by one into something that is understood by another using a medium that sparks the imagination and creates understanding. It also builds off of previously commissioned work from ROI Ventures. Please visit the WK Kellogg Foundation Knowledge Center to find out more about this work. Enjoy!

Winnowing the Wheat from the Chaff

Over 1,000 Submissions


In 2008, the WKKF Learning & Innovation team sent a request for Knowledge Products to grantees who had active grants from 2008-09. This request yielded submissions of over 1,000 products ranging from publications, public campaign material, social media sites and standard evaluation reports. The largest percentage of these Knowledge Products fell in the "publications" category, which included reports, policy briefs, executive summaries and the like. Newsletters were another popular item for submission, as were presentations, training materials and news commentary. Non-print Knowledge Products lagged, except in the areas of film/video and web design.

Quality of Responses
The quality of the Knowledge Products varied widely in terms of their graphic design, product design and overall presentation. There was a vast difference between what one organization thought was "top notch" design and what type of product actually defined the field in terms of utility, knowledge transfer, ease of dissemination and "stickiness". In general, the content of the pieces, regardless of their design, was good. WKKF could easily do a core sample of any of these products to find examples of Knowledge Products for revision or enhancement.

One of the most challenging aspects of sorting through the information was the delivery of the information from the grantees. Some grantees took the "if some is good, more is better" approach, sending 35 links to web-based videos or just simply sending their website with the note "our products can be found on our website". Some organizations sent a few select products, sometimes downplaying their more exceptional and interesting pieces because they thought they weren't what WKKF was looking for. One example of this is the Kellogg Biological Station's "Big Ten" video. The grantee sheepishly noted that it wasn't the "academic" piece that they were hoping to do, but it proved to be one of the most clever uses of video and humor to convey what could otherwise be a dry topic to a broader, non-farming audience.

In future surveys, it will be important to provide examples of what good Knowledge Products look like so that grantees will have an idea of what WKKF is intending. Limiting the number of submissions will help organizations tighten their thinking on what to submit and what might be seen as valuable and eligible to be highlighted on the site.

Systems for Support
One of the most important changes that can be made to Knowledge Product acquisition is a system and a process that limits the need for human input of information and requires the grantee to match the submission to the grant that funded the project. This streamlining of data input will not only provide fewer required person-hours for uploading information, but also will allow WKKF to mechanize the collection of these products, therefore taking the burden off of the individual Program Officer to source submissions or on the administrative staff to make sure they are uploaded into Encompass.

A simplified system for sourcing these products from within the WKKF system will mean greater value and utility for the WKKF staff. Ideally, staff will use these submissions in their presentations to the Board of Directors as examples of impact in their community outreach and as a way to demonstrate and highlight the important things happening in departmental portfolios. The opportunity here is two-fold: WKKF will gather exceptional examples that in turn can expose other grantees to examples of high-quality work and WKKF staff will have access to high-quality pieces that enable them to tell the story of impact in the community, thus highlighting the exceptional work being done by grantees. By thinking of ways to impact the development of high-quality Knowledge Products and of ways to make the job of staff more efficient and effective, the greater community is better served.

Knowledge Product vs. Marketing Piece

A Question of Semantics?
One of the challenges in any new initiative is creating and using language that may not be part of the public's common vernacular. "Knowledge Products" is a difficult term for individuals to grasp. For some observers, wrestling with what makes a Knowledge Product a Knowledge Product and not a marketing piece was a challenge. As one graphic designer noted: "The word 'Products' is a little disconcerting to me, a little bit vague and so commercial/object oriented. If the audience is nonprofits, I think that will be an obstacle at connecting with them. It seems that it is not so much about the Knowledge Products, but about the act of communicating/teaching/transfer."

In seeking to define what a Knowledge Product is and what it isn't, it was useful to think of following phrase:

All Knowledge Products are marketing pieces, but not all marketing pieces are Knowledge Products.

In other words, anything you send out from your organization is a marketing piece. It tells a story about your organization. It demonstrates how an organization sees itself, the amount of time and care an organization spends on branding and communicating its core work. It is, at its core, how you" show up" to the broader community. More sophisticated organizations recognize that their internal audience of staff and employees is as important as their external customers, so they work as diligently on their internal marketing as they do on their external.

But, marketing is not the same thing as codifying, documenting and transferring knowledge. Both have merit, but different purposes. A Knowledge Product is not something that advertises or simply builds awareness of an organization. It has something more to offer, a deeper reason for being.

So What Makes a Good Knowledge Product?

The framework built by ROI Ventures includes some key components for Knowledge Products that are important for helping to define the individual pieces as "ready" piece or "for revision". Good Knowledge Products capture attention, both because they are created with a specific audience in mind and because they use elements of design, voice and information architecture that engage that specific audience directly. A good Knowledge Product also transmits something that an organization has learned, know or believe and makes that learning actionable for the audience in some respect. In earlier work on knowledge transfer, Think-Do-Learn Collective noted that good Knowledge Products evolve from organizations who have done the hard work of codifying and distilling their information and presenting it in a way appropriate to the level of the learner it is intended to reach. In short, the product has to be well thought out and intentional and in order to do that, the organization has to know what it knows well enough to teach it to others.

The importance of distribution was a key finding of the ROI work, and one that cannot be over-emphasized. A key element to successful Knowledge Products is their receipt and acceptance by the target audience. Ease of distribution (and re-distribution to even more audiences) is a key component of embedding ideas that lead to social change.


What Trends Emerged from the Material?

Innovation Diffusion and Client Influence
Looking over the array of products that were submitted through the WKKF survey, a few trends emerged in the work.

One of the most important trends is the differentiation between products that are intended to diffuse key learnings, such as a training manual, program description, toolkit or educational magazine, and products that were intended to influence an audience, such as public service announcements, policy briefs, conservation easement brochures and the like.

The "Key Learning" products are products that intended to share specific "how to" information with another audience. These products were often the most clear-cut examples of knowledge transfer: "This is how we do what we do." The second vein of Knoweldge Product, the "Influencing" products, are intended to change the behavior of an audience. The ROI Principles focus heavily on this type of product, where audience, voice and dissemination method are key elements. While these two product orientations may seem different, they can also overlap. Understanding the different purposes of Knowledge Products that are designed for Innovation Diffusion (sharing the "how to" of good ideas that are worth emulating) and those that are designed primarily for Client Influence (influencing the client/audience to learn and be moved by a point of view) helps the originating organization to meet its intended outcomes.

Good Design Pervades
One observation that held across multiple submissions was that organizations that invest dollars, energy and effort in good design show up more solidly than others that do not. And, organizations that understand the value of good design are often willing to use good design across multiple products and in concert with an overarching brand strategy. While there is good content in much of the work submitted by grantees, those projects that had good design or a novel way of sharing ideas stood out. That said, new forms of communication including data visualization, animated essay, screen cast, simulation gaming and the like were not part of the submission mix. Their absence may be both a combination of lack of exposure of the nonprofit community to these types of tools, and perhaps a perception in the community that such methods are prohibitively expensive to use. Showcasing these tools along with an estimation of the cost to produce them may give organizations more incentive to explore these product areas.

Audience clarity and effective distribution mechanisms were the two critical factors for success
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of evaluating the submitted products was doing so without the certainty of the intended audience and the intended purpose of the product. In many cases, the product did not seem to have a specific audience in mind or had multiple, disparate audiences to consider. Many products had a "one size fits all" feel such as a 125 page report that was too dense for anyone but a researcher to chew through, or a recap of a conference panel that didn't provide any depth to what was discussed. In the next survey, it is recommended that grantees be required to note the intended audience for every piece. By understanding who the intended audience is, WKKF will have an easier time evaluating the value of that Knowledge Product in context.

During the evaluation process, time and again it became apparent that "companionate" pieces would have been a tremendous asset to many of the Knowledge Products, such as a hand-out to go with a Power Point presentation or a special take-home manual to go with a training. Companionate pieces support multiple learning styles, allowing a graphical learner to draw out what s/he is hearing or an audile learner to listen and read. As the survey didn't ask if there were additional, supplementary pieces, it is difficult to know if those pieces exist. Showcasing the development of complimentary pieces will help social sector organizations better understand these multiple modalities of learning.

Finally, one of the biggest challenges was to understand how the organization planned to distribute these Knowledge Products. Hopefully each organization had a very thoughtful plan for disseminating this information, one that was created before the Knowledge Product was developed and built. In an information-rich world, one organization's Knowledge Product can get lost amid the noise. Structuring a mapping tool to help organizations parse out their distribution model, audience, budget, intention of the work, impact metrics and design needs would go a long way in helping organizations to set off on the right foot.


Recommendation 1: Think in Terms of Suites for Product Development

Beyond the 125 page report

There are a number of different ways that organizations think about sharing information. In many of the Knowledge Products submitted, organizations produced a report written to encapsulate everything that has come from the research, evaluation or discovery process conducted. This broad-audience orientation assumes that the various audiences for the piece are going to be able to work through and sift out the data and information that is most relevant to them, or that a general message will deliver enough information that something will stick with the various audiences. Some individuals love the long report while others would love to read it if they had time. But reports do not work well across multiple learning styles or for building dialogue about the content. Even novels now come with a facilitator's guide at the back to help book clubs pick up threads and have more robust conversations.

Tout Suite

Design with the Audience in Mind

Another way of thinking about distributing and sharing knowledge is to start with the data one has and then to consider who you want to provide it to and how. For example, what would a front-line worker need to know (data, stories, program insights, policy issues)? Where would they be consuming it (on the bus, in their office, at a coffee shop, through a training, on a bookmark)? How would they consume it (on their iphone, on a podcast, in a report, in a tear sheet, on YouTube, through their website)? Would they want/need to share it with others (co-workers, supervisor, colleagues in the field, facebook friends, parents, clients, funders, book club)? By doing this sort of mapping, it becomes obvious that there are not only many Knowledge Products that can be made from a single report, but also many audiences to consider and many distribution methods to identify.

One way of working with so many options is to create a "suite" of products that transmit the information to the intended audiences. A suite of products allows the organization to design the product array upfront, saving money on design and building a sense of cohesion to the messages and increasing saturation across audiences.

An example might be a report released by an advocacy organization on the state of families in post-Katrina Gulf Coast communities. Audiences surrounding this information might be nonprofit organizations that do complimentary advocacy work (housing, food), academic researchers who focus on this area, legislators, front-line workers, clients and individuals affected by the issue, the general public and other foundations who are interested in funding in this area. Advocacy organizations might benefit from real-time information sharing and network development through wiki or other web-based portals, as well as convenings and collaborative articles. Legislators would need specific data points in highly digestible formats, likely those that are common to their field (policy briefs). Front line workers may want to use social media to connect with the information through Facebook or Twitter, or share video coverage, screen casts and testimonials through YouTube or Vimeo. Synopsis reports with key data and vetted resource listings make information actionable to the community. The general public's attention can be grabbed by using tools like PSAs, animated essays and interactive games. And other foundations benefit from briefing papers, conferences and keeping information current and up to date with the interactive web.

Eating Your Own Dog Food

In thinking of WKKF's own knowledge transfer, there is the opportunity think about how information is made available and actionable to internal and external audiences, how information commissioned from consultants is shared, how insights from grantees can be disseminated and how WKKF's internal learnings can be made useful to others. Take for example the previously mentioned, the "What Works" framework from ROI Ventures.

If the goals of the WKKF Knowledge Product initiative are to:
- increase the quality and quantity of excellent Knowledge Products from the grantee community
- embed a greater understanding of the approach to and process for creating exceptional Knowledge Products in the social sector
- help shape the field of effective knowledge transfer in the philanthropic sector

then identifying the key audiences who would benefit from the framework and the products those audiences need is the first step in building a plan to meet WKKF's overarching goals.

Audiences for the "What Works" framework might include grantees who want to learn how to create improved Knowledge Products; fellow foundations who struggle with the same need to effectively share and distribute their key learnings; designers who work closely with nonprofit organizations to build effective Knowledge Products; consultants who are commissioned to gather and share a wide variety of data with the foundation community and front-line workers who themselves may need the principles to effectively communicate with their clients to create desired behavioral or social change.

Each of these audiences has a slightly different take on the work. Some will adapt or adopt the principles as guidelines for communications, but need an interactive "how-to" tool to frame their own products. Others, like designers, need a tool that is easy to share with nonprofits that speaks in a language their clients understand. For foundations, learning about the Principles from others may be the best way to spread the ideas and using social media while interactive web and briefing papers can transmit ideas from key players in the field. Consultants may be interested in adopting the Principles if it means their work will have exposure on the Visual Interactive Database, so sharing design guidelines that can be passed on to their own designers will ensure quality in the work coming in to WKKF and other foundations.

The key with this, and any other initiative, is to outline the vision of success and to understand how engaging different audiences with different tools can help meet those goals. For this initiative, those goals could include metrics around adoption of the Principles, downloads of different tools, behavior change in Knowledge Product design, number of hits and forwards on social media and the like. But a solid understanding of what change the team wants to see internal to WKKF and with the external stakeholder community is key to implementation.


Recommendation 2: Influence learning through demonstration tools

Allow organizations to get hands-on 

Learning Space
There are many different ways that organizations develop knowledge products. To date, the Learning & Innovation work has focused mainly on Knowledge Product identification with some emphasis on meeting demand. There are different stages a grantee might go through to develop and distribute a Knowledge Product. WKKF has opportunity to help organizations learn good practices for codification, audience identification, design and distribution at all stages of the process.

There is a lot of information that comes into WKKF from grantees, consultants, evaluators and attendees of convenings. This doesn't even include other stakeholders who influence the thinking of WKKF staff and leadership every day. Harnessing that incoming information, processing it to ensure quality and sharing it with others who can adapt or adopt it provides a springboard for action in the social sector. can be a hub for learning and for interacting with new, creative and innovative ideas in mission-related work.

Knowledge Center
The Knowledge Center of the site is a prime spot for such engagement. The Knowledge Center can be created to touch on the various needs of visitors to the site. By creating four spaces for exploration (Visual Interactive Database, Learning Space, Social Media Hub and Micro Sites), WKKF can begin to draw individuals in in order to push the Knowledge Product information out.

* Visual Interactive Database The Visual Interactive Database (VID) provides inspiration for excellent Knowledge Products, as well as doubling as an idea bank for important programmatic initiatives. The VID can also demonstrate an array of high-quality Knowledge Products at a variety of price points. Having a variety of low-to-high cost examples will allow viewers to find a product example that fits within their budget and meets their Knowledge Product needs.

* Learning Space Inspired by the products found in the VID, visitors can tap into the Learning Space where they can get hands-on tools for improving Knowledge Products and knowledge transfer within their own organizations. There can also be information on making decisions on how, when and if to share information, issues to consider about sharing brand identity and copyright, insights into idea diffusion and building a learning-through-sharing organization.

* Social Media Hub Social media can play a strong role in the Knowledge Center, not only as a way for WKKF to add a personal voice to the work, but also as a way for to create traffic and buzz about the initiative.

* Micro Sites As information sharing evolves within WKKF, new micro sites can be launched by various teams to make departmental work visible to external audiences. These micro sites can be synergistic with Encompass and function as ways for departments to demonstrate "state of the art" work being done by grantees as well as demonstrate community-based collaboration initiatives. for All Your Knowledge Product Needs
By establishing as the go-to source for great Knowledge Product ideas, WKKF has a platform from which to extend and expand its influence on the use of Knowledge Products in the social sector. WKKF can use some unique tools taken from commercial marketing to draw stakeholders in to the work online. The web platform can also be used to extend and disseminate learnings from initiatives and convenings that happen face-to-face, much like NetSquared's Challenges that are created both on-line and in-person.

Series: Like blogging, building an informational series based on Knowledge Product development encourages the reader to come back for another installment. WKKF can take a page from well-known shelter magazines and build a "before and after" series of Knowledge Product redesigns demonstrating why specific revisions make for better products or a "high/low" comparison illustrating good design at lower costs for production. Bringing in "experts" to help define what works and what doesn't in Knowledge Product design and dissemination gives those experts exposure to the WKKF audience of grant makers, social sector organizations, social media experts and the like. This is a relatively low-cost way of providing a hook for return visitors and for having a creative way to share ideas.

Innovation Camp and Design Challenge: Taking It to the Streets
The beauty of having a robust platform in is that additional live activities can be layered upon it. Innovation Camp (a camp where nonprofit organizations and grantees come to learn about how to plan, structure and design Knowledge Products) and Design Challenge (a competition with design schools and designers to design cost-effective Knowledge Products for grantees) are both opportunities that may reach a limited number of organizations at the actual event, but whose ideas can be captured and shared with the broader community.

See It, Feel It, Make It Relevant
StoryCorps has an excellent How-To Interactive section. Not only can you download the Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide, but you can create a dynamite list of questions based off of a custom Question Generator. Its process gives the participant a place to start on what could otherwise be a very daunting task. Who wouldn't be nervous about interviewing a loved one on the air? With the StoryCorps Question Generator, the conversation starters help get things rolling. Similarly, an interactive Q&A space on the site might help organizations evaluate their readiness to produce great Knowledge Products by helping to define audience, distribution models, prepare for discussions with designers and the like.

It is important to highlight stories from organizations that "get it", in the vein of the current work on gathering back stories. Back stories can also be about types of behavior that WKKF hopes to see emulated. The Future of Children asked their constituents what they wanted and needed and heard that shorter synopses of their journal articles would be useful. They created Journal Highlights, which are quick reads on important topics. These download into .pdfs on the viewers desktop. A follow up email might have some important suggestions on distribution for these products, perhaps linking to social media or easy emailing to others.


Recommendation 3: Provide a Range of Options

See this through the eyes of the grantee 

High quality Knowledge Products come in many forms and fashions. Sometimes they are not the most beautiful pieces to look at, but their message and content is clear, articulate and resonant. Other times the pieces are glossy and beautiful, captivating design matched with just the right amount of content at a remarkable price. Or, conversely, glossy and beautiful, like the fanciest cake in the glass case, but with little flavor-all all look and not a lot of substance.

Social sector organizations are often reluctant to spend money on Knowledge Product development, fearing that the work will cost too much to produce, it will have little value or it will take money away from clients and programming. Helping organizations understand that great Knowledge Products further their mission is one thing, getting them to buy into spending precious resources on them may be another. Therefore, it will be important to highlight a variety of options for good Knowledge Products, from the fantastic, viral YouTube video done on a Flip camera to a well-designed conference wrap-up to an interactive game designed by professional engineers. The scale of price points is important because it allows the viewer to find their niche of current reality in the product lineup, as well as to identify some future possibilities as well.


Recommendation 4: Use mapping to help extract learnings 

Mapping Knowledge Sources
Understanding the source and flow of internal information is important for understanding how WKKF should put their own ideas into practice.

Knowledge comes into the foundation in many ways. WKKF funds research, supports networks of peers and grantees, commissions studies and hosts gatherings. Drilling down into any one of these areas yields opportunities for better knowledge capture and dissemination through effective Knowledge Products. A good example of this is the event and convenings work that WKKF supports. Looking at the array of participants in planning and developing convenings, it becomes apparent that much of that work is outsourced to consultants who could provide useful wrap up documentation of key experiences. With the right kind of guidelines or training, consultants can produce excellent products that would be highlighted on This, in turn, highlights their work to the greater community and offers (essentially) free marketing to WKKF stakeholders. The most powerful way to develop these guideline and training tools would be to do it in concert with the consultants, so that the tools are useful and easily taken up by people in the field.

The keys to successful adoption of knowledge gathering and dissemination both within WKKF and within the larger stakeholder community are four fold:

Interest Make sure the initiative makes the individual's work *easier*, allows the individual to demonstrate their success or challenges in a way that helps them meet their departmental and professional goals and frees up more time to do the work they love to do.

Demand What does this initiative do to solve a problem that the individual is having? How can they benefit from the knowledge that they are helping to create? If they give, will they get something in return?

Systems Are the systems that support this initiative effective and efficient? Can an individual "drag and drop" the knowledge on the way to doing other things? Is it streamlined to the point that it's reflexive, not extra steps?

Access How do you know what keeps your users engaged and coming back? What is the lifecycle of use for a user in the system and how do you address their next realm of needs?


Recommendation 5: Know your market through existing tools

One way to describe the relationship between WKKF's Knowledge Product initiative and the grantees that participate in it is a "compelled" marketplace [note: you will not find this in a MBA marketing textbook]. Grantees are compelled (by requirement) to submit information as part of their grant receipt process, but also feel compelled (by self-interest) to get in front of the foundation in ways that demonstrate the good work they are doing. On the foundation side, the requirement for submission and the understanding of self-interest provide an opportunity to build greater rapport with the grantee, to learn more about their habits for Knowledge Product development and design, to understand how much money, time and effort they put into the process, to evaluate what these efforts yield in terms of community impact and learning transfer. This, in turn, allows a foundation to better see how to support and develop grantees, freeing them to do even greater work in service of community.

So while the relationship of a "compelled" marketplace may seem sticky and awkward, it's actually a mutually beneficial relationship.

Limit Submissions
WKKF has many tools in current use that allow for gathering of information from grantees. Using Encompass effectively, information gathering need not fall to the Program Officer or administrative staff. For every grant that closes, a request for Knowledge Products should be automatically sent out. However, submissions should be limited to the 3-5 best products from the grant initiative in order to lower the volume of overall submissions and to require the organization to be thoughtful about what they are sending.

Guide Quality
On the request for Knowledge Products, the grantee should be provided with links to the Knowledge Center that highlight examples of excellent Knowledge Products. Helping to guide quality submissions will mean fewer submissions that fall in the "for revision" category.

Gather More Info
In order to gather ongoing insights into the knowledge transfer behaviors of grantees, it will be important to map a good set of questions that would inform the work of the Knowledge Product initiative over time. These short-format questions could be sent out in an annual survey to grantees through Encompass and would be used to observe a grantee's Knowledge Product development over time.

Product How much did it cost to produce a product? Did the organization track how that product met its anticipated goals? What was the intended audience? Were there any secondary (surprise) audiences that arose? Are there other companionate products that are connected to this product or were part of a campaign (e.g. radio interviews that go with a brochure)? What was the distribution model for the piece?

Infrastructure Does the grantee outsource design or keep it in house? Do they use any tools/methodology for organizing their thinking about what they will produce? Do they work with the same designer/production people over time? Does this intentionally marry with their organization's brand? Who oversees this work within the organization? What do they wish they knew more about? What did the grantee wish they'd done differently? What would they recommend to others?

Learning How did the organization pull together the information to share? What kind of process does the organization use internally to codify knowledge? How does the organization keep learning current for staff and others?

Tapping into how grantees organize their knowledge development, transfer and production will provide WKKF with important insights as to how to make the knowledge development work most valuable on an ongoing basis. And, these same ideas and questions hold for the internal knowledge development work with WKKF staff.

Close the Loop
Providing follow up information for grantees is an important component of customer service and also provides additional opportunities for learning and connection. Grantees are interested to see what others in the field are doing and to gauge how they are looking in relation to their peers. By following up surveys with information on WKKF's next steps in the Knowledge Product Initiative, WKKF will keep grantees interested and eager to contribute.