Managing Knowledge and Learning Differently at CRS

Press Release

December 07, 2016

Managing Knowledge and Learning Differently at CRS

It’s a rare NGO employee who hasn’t heard the words “we’re a learning organization” in his or her workplace. For many, “learning” looks like this: identify a training being offered by an expert, estimate the total costs, explain to your boss why it’s a good idea for you to be out of the office for a day or a few days, hope that she or he agrees, attend your event, and return to the office. And that is almost always where it ends. Maybe you bring an idea or a tool or a process back to share with colleagues. But even if you do, it’s likely that your peers are not as invested in using it, and within a few days, it’s back to business as usual, with little or no overall benefit to your organization.

At Catholic Relief Services (CRS), learning is done differently. CRS has a well-established in-house capacity building program, with trainers coming from its own subject matter experts. But a recent reorganization has brought about new ways of learning and sharing, according to Bridget Rohrbough and Martin Hartney, senior specialists in knowledge management and learning at CRS.

“We recently reorganized and the department that Martin and I are both in is called the IDEA department – Institutional Donor Engagement and Advancement,” Rohrbough explains. “Our business development side and our award management side merged under one umbrella. Part of this reorganization and learning unit involved the creation of a knowledge management team. We’ve had KM specialists before but they just focused on business development, and so now there’s the integration of the award management side. The focus is on how do we capture and share knowledge so that people aren’t reinventing the wheel… and to ensure consistency.”

In February, CRS contracted with Humentum to host an in-house training workshop on USAID Rules and Regulations: Grants and Cooperative Agreements. Some might wonder why CRS, with its long history of managing USAID assistance awards, would need to have an outside organization come in and do such a training.

“Like any other organization, we have staff turnover,” Hartney acknowledges. “But the regulations are constantly changing. And then there are updates to them.” More importantly, he says, is that bringing in Humentum gives his colleagues a different perspective. “We do a lot of in-house capacity building here (given by our own staff), and it tends to be done by the same people. And getting someone from outside the agency gives our staff the opportunity to hear from someone else” about the importance of the topic. He also notes that working with an expert training organization is a more efficient use of CRS’s time and resources, freeing staff up to focus on strategic deliverables instead of planning and prepping for a workshop.

Another benefit of bringing the learning in-house, Hartney says, is the ability to focus on CRS’s own policies and procedures and how they tie in with award management, something which would not be possible in a different setting. Such discussions contribute to consistent ways of interpreting the rules and then following the regulations.

Rohrbough agrees. “People are more inclined to ask some questions that they might not with multiple NGOs in a room,” she says. “Even though it was our department that was hosting this, we reached out to ensure that others were there, having finance folks, audit folks, people from our PIQA (Project Impact & Quality Assurance) program, because they do award management, too. There is cross-sharing and cross-learning that is going on.”

Rohrbough adds that the Humentum trainers had one final advantage that their own trainers don’t have. “The Humentum trainers bring examples that they have from their own experiences as well as what they’ve learned from other NGOs, without citing those NGOs by name,” she says. “But also I think that what’s really great is that Humentum had just done a training with USAID. To me that’s very rich and helps (give us) the understanding of both sides, knowing that Humentum trainers were in a room full of USAID staff the day before.”

But what about the common problem of learners returning to work after the training, and not integrating the knowledge that they’ve gained? Humentum offers a post-training component known as “the Booster program,” which is a series of weekly emails to participants that begins shortly after workshop completion. For the 14 weeks following the program, CRS participants can opt to receive thought-provoking, scenario-based questions that build upon workshop learning points and discussions. After answering each question, they receive additional feedback and learning support, including links to external resources or invitations to join discussions related to the topics hosted on Humentum’s online member community. A final question will ask participants to describe how they have integrated their new knowledge and skills into their workplace.

Rohrbough is excited about this feature. “One of the focus areas of the new department is learning,” she says, “and how do we take it to the next step? I think that this is a great example of an opportunity that can help us take some of this learning at the workshop and continue our learning here. It’s also a good way to link some of our team to Humentum resources, because some people might not be aware of all that is out there.”

To learn more about client-contracted workshops with Humentum, contact

Media Contact

Name: Elizabeth Walsh