Websites have long been the online platform of choice for international and national development partners to market their programs. But as technology is supporting new channels for more interactive communication and collaboration, the humble website is gradually making way for more all-purpose “Knowledge Hubs”. But what exactly is a Knowledge Hub, and what are some of the ingredients of its success?
Websites share and store information, and typically drive one-way communication, from the administrator out. Knowledge Hubs, on the other hand, are more than just an online archive. We are in an era of rapid information sharing, and online platforms are expected to facilitate networking and knowledge exchange more than anything else. The real value of a hub is to link individuals and organisations who share a common passion or concerns, and create opportunities for collaborative action. In short, a Knowledge Hub is about communicating, connecting, and creating.
Ideally, Knowledge Hubs fulfil five key characteristics:
Focuses on the issues and actors, not branding. Unlike websites that primarily serve marketing purposes, a knowledge hub is developed around a certain sector or issue. The Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Justice II (AIPJ2), for example, is developing a knowledge hub based on their five pillars: transparency, accountability and anti-corruption; countering transnational crime; promoting religious tolerance; prison reform; and gender equality and disability rights. AIPJ2 promotes co-ownership of the hub, inviting all their partners to develop content and conduct activities surrounding the hub, maintaining it beyond their project cycle. An issue-based hub contributes to better sustainability. Furthermore, the hub will be more attractive as it allows users to be critical and creative.
Facilitates two-way communication. Rigorous and authentic discussion will draw people’s attention to the hub. As such, a hub should allow the users to exchange views and build their network, both online and offline. One example is the Social Protection Hub which offers features to join an online community and discussion forum, as well as providing information on events in which these communities can come together to share and learn from each other, bring about solutions, and co-produce knowledge.
Only archives selective information. There is always a temptation to list all the information related to the hub’s focus sector or issue. However, to do so may do more harm than good given that we are already overloaded with information. As a rather notorious example, out of 1,600 policy reports published by the World Bank, for example, around one-third were downloaded zero times. An ideal hub should keep track of and acknowledge the levels of interests of users and cater to those needs. Categorising information based on users’ level of knowledge (beginner – intermediate – advanced) is an option, and has been included by Hubs such as the SiG knowledge hub.
Offers learning and capacity building. Technology opens up endless possibilities for distance learning, such as e-courses and online practice tests, webinars, and video tutorials. A Knowledge Hub can benefit from this, offering accessible learning materials to help people better understand topics and issues. The Social Protection Hub has an effective approach to online learning by simply linking relevant available resources from presentation slides to online seminars and tutor-led courses. This highlights the crucial function of a hub to connect, instead of replicate information.
Inspires action. All the information and relationships established through a Knowledge Hub are pointless without concrete result. An online platform by itself will not be sufficient to drive creation, but it can provide resources to encourage active participation. The International Women’s Day platform provides campaign kits – from selfie cards to event guide and official merchandise – so anyone supporting gender inclusivity can run their own campaign, either online or offline.