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Knowledge for positive change

Trócaire supports the most vulnerable people in the developing world, while also raising awareness of injustice and global poverty in Ireland.

June 10, 2019

Above: Trócaire’s CEO Caoimhe DeBarra, John Smith, Director of Public Engagement, and Bradley Clark, Learning and Accountability Advisor, map out their persona journey in detail.

This post is one in a series focusing on the second networking group of NetHope members participating in IDEA (Imagine, Design, Execute, Assess), a broad umbrella for digital transformation processes offered to NetHope members through The Center for the Digital Nonprofit. The first IDEA implementation pilot was based on Dream, Design, Deliver, a social impact accelerator developed with Microsoft.

By Jean-Louis Ecochard, The Center for the Digital Nonprofit, NetHope

We don’t talk about it, but it’s a topic we can’t ignore. The knowledge of humanitarian organizations  is often spread all over the place – literally. How much more efficient and effective would we be if we had it all organized?

“Is fearr an críonna ná an tréan, fear na gaoise ná fear [an ghaisce]." Seanfhocail 24,5. The proverb states that a wise person is more powerful than a strong person, and a person of knowledge than a person of might.

Indeed the inspiration to gain more strength inspired Trócaire to select the challenge of improving its knowledge management. Twenty people spent two days applying design thinking methods to address the knowledge management puzzle. The two-day workshop was led by a multidisciplinary team from Avanade’s Strategy and Innovation consulting practice, and took place at Avanade’s offices In Dublin, overlooking the peaceful canal waters of The Dock, a design-led, multidisciplinary research and incubation hub.

Dream Books have been posted for several organizations. Please access the NetHope Solutions Center to view and download.

Trócaire supports the most vulnerable people in the developing world, while also raising awareness of injustice and global poverty in Ireland. Working with local partners to support communities, the organization has a wealth of knowledge about food and resource rights, women's empowerment, and humanitarian response. Unfortunately, that knowledge is spread over more than 20 developing countries and Ireland. Consequently, the nonprofit decided to imagine what a new Trócaire Knowledge Management experience would look like.

The group included a mix of Trócaire’s top executives and their Uganda programme manager, a researcher on knowledge management from the University of Limerick, and representatives from Microsoft, Avanade, and NetHope. The team had planned for weeks for this session, refining the challenge and working out the logistics. We were distributed in four tables of five people each and started the day with an ice-breaker that entailed drawing our families on a Post-it note and sharing the images with each other. The fun exercise instilled a sense of humanity, jumpstarting relationships among participants and allowing us to quickly form effective teams.

Day 1

The first day consisted of setting the context and empathizing to explore the problem more intimately. Avanade engaged us in a stakeholder mapping exercise that helped us narrow all the people involved in the knowledge ecosystems – and there were many. As nonprofit workers, we often strive through our missions to leave no one behind. So imagine our challenge having to select just a couple of focus personas out of the crowd of stakeholders that we had just mapped.


Two personas were expanded at each table, and in the afternoon, we mapped their “day in the life” journey. This helped us build a better understanding of their current experience and their need for knowledge in order to identify opportunities for improvements.

With copious amounts of Post-it Notes on the walls, we analyzed the phases of their journeys, describing what they were doing, thinking, and feeling.

Using the “rose, thorn, buds” methodology, we then surfaced bright spots, pain points, and nascent opportunities. Sharing our team results with each other gave greater clarity on the overall challenge of knowledge management. Our diagrams revealed the complexity of knowledge management.  We concluded the day phrasing problem statements to invite broad exploration, using “how might we …?” questions. Rich and meaningful conversations continued into the early evening.

Day 2

The “how might we…?” statements were in focus at the start of our second day and we sought inspiration from each other to advance our work. It is always amazing to see the creativity and innovation that comes from nonprofit staff when they take time away from the mission to reflect. The bright Trócaire participants amazed everyone in sparking new ideas and we quickly ran out of wall space to capture them all. It was then time to cluster, rank, and prioritize them using the creative matrix technique. This exercise helped us separate ideas into categories: low return (those that would be considered a luxury in our sector), quick wins, strategic directions, and concepts with the highest potential for impact. It was then time to select one per table. Again, this exercise was something that we as nonprofits find hard to do because it meant we had to leave concepts behind. After a refreshing and humorous stick figure competition, it was then time to storyboard our concepts.

The Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote that “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” The Trócaire team engaged all of their senses and Irish laughs to sharpen their Dream of better knowledge management. They arrived at the following solutions to begin designing in the next phase of the Dream, Design, Deliver programme:

  • “In Her Hands,” a needs portal for programme participants;
  • Data-driven stories for donor experience to support “Funding the Dream,” a Dream that would be the ideal Trócaire programme;
  • Exchanging skills through a marketplace powered by people, appropriately named TrínkedIn;
  • Crowdsourcing knowledge and content experience through the aptly named TróQuora; and
  • the Programme and Partners Portal conceived as a knowledge hub.

Any of these has the potential to not only unify the knowledge of Trócaire and its partners, but also the broad networks of humanitarian NGOs and the whole social sector.

“We are generating, receiving and transferring knowledge constantly in Trócaire. The challenge is to do this in a way which empowers people inside and outside of Trócaire, especially the community members, partner organisations and frontline staff who work with us, to access and use knowledge to create powerful dynamics for positive change. This change is at the level of the individual, the household, the community and the set of institutions that influence people’s lives. Knowledge management is complex. The Dream workshop has helped us to identify how to view that complexity through the eyes of individuals, in order to create solutions based firmly on user experiences. This is a powerful methodology and one which we hope will create great dividends for us,”  said Trócaire CEO Caoimhe DeBarra in closing the two-day workshop.

Nonprofits around the world transform into places where missions accelerate and innovation flourish through The Center for the Digital Nonprofits’ social accelerators. Trócaire is yet another organization courageously embarking on its digital transformation journey – ádh mór!


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