Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management is the process of identifying, capturing, structuring, developing, validating, sharing and using acquired practical and organisational knowledge effectively to improve the quality of sanitation programming and future responses. It refers to a multi-disciplinary approach to achieving organisational or sectoral objectives by making the best use of knowledge. 

Key Actions

  • Use existing knowledge management systems or platforms (such as the SaniHub, the SuSanA PlatformOctopus or the Emergency WASH Knowledge Portal) to identify relevant evidence and learning or to share and promote new learning within an organisation.
  • Be actively engaged in national (or global) sanitation and FSM technical working groups, or similar, to share learning and learn from others.
  • Ensure that all key materials are translated into the appropriate languages.
  • Consider the different levels at which knowledge management is required and make provision for this (e.g. funding and time).
  • Encourage acceptance in the sector to acknowledge failure and success and to use both to improve programming.
  • Find ways to share and discuss the outcome of evaluations or research with practitioners at all levels (e.g. operational, policy-makers, local and international).
  • Make use of national or international emergency WASH exchange fora, like conferences (e.g. the annual Emergency Environmental Health Forum) or local exchange workshops to continuously learn and share knowledge with other WASH practitioners and researchers.


There are significant gaps in knowledge and evidence in humanitarian WASH, particularly in sanitation and Faecal Sludge Management (FSM). The integration and implementation of new and accessible knowledge in emergency responses often occur slowly and reluctantly, reducing the expected impact of research and evaluations. Capturing and documenting best practice, identifying new challenges and disseminating innovative approaches is essential to address the emerging challenges in emergencies. It is the responsibility of each organisation to fill gaps in knowledge and strengthen institutional capacity.

Knowledge management systems in emergencies are required at global, national and local levels to enhance the overall quality of the response and take account of the knowledge and needs of the targeted audiences. The ‘localisation of humanitarian aid’ is an approach that builds on existing local and national knowledge and uses it to design more effective humanitarian WASH responses: the international response complements (rather than replaces) local knowledge.

Technical working groups and/or communities of practice are usually the main fora at response level, where technical and contextual knowledge exchange is encouraged between organisations.


Sharing knowledge outside their organisation is an important responsibility for humanitarian organisations. Sharing fosters continuous Learning from experience in the sector, encourages a search for evidence and promotes the adoption of learning by key WASH stakeholders. Knowledge management fosters a culture of innovation and reduces the repetition of mistakes.

At the operational level, the creation of technical working groups is an opportunity to ensure that lessons learned from previous responses and ongoing Monitoring of the current response lead to real-time knowledge exchange to improve programme quality. The leadership of such a group is critical to its success and depends on the mobilisation of adequate resources (in some cases, a dedicated coordinator may be funded externally) and the willingness of expert organisations to involve their staff in the coordination mechanisms. Leadership is essential, but the active and inclusive participation of organisations involved in emergency sanitation is also important. Ensuring accessibility to such meetings and groups is a mandatory requirement; therefore, accessible and appropriate communication channels and technologies must be used.

Regardless of whether the products are oral or written, language and format are important factors to promote their assimilation. Finding the right communication channels and networks for the transmission and transfer of knowledge is essential. To ensure that humanitarian knowledge can be exchanged and shared at local, national or international levels, it is important to identify in advance who will be interested in the information and how they will access and integrate it into their programme. Disseminating learning requires dedicated time and resources.

Systematically sharing lessons learned from project monitoring systems, feedback mechanisms and evaluations within and outside the organisation stimulates a culture of exchange. This can take the form of workshops involving local stakeholders, community-based organisations and national and international humanitarian actors. Social media can also be a powerful tool for disseminating key findings, testimonials and demonstrations. Case studies, fact sheets and summaries are also recommended for sharing knowledge among humanitarian professionals.

At a global level, the Humanitarian Sanitation Hub is a key knowledge management initiative. It is a co-created open-source knowledge platform and helpdesk initiated by the Global WASH Cluster Technical Working Group on FSM and developed by its members. It addresses the knowledge gaps needed to improve humanitarian sanitation interventions. It makes existing sanitation-related information and up-to-date knowledge available in a comprehensive, structured and systematic way to guide humanitarian WASH practitioners, providing easy access to contextualised and relevant resources, tools, advisory services and exchange. The Humanitarian Sanitation Hub team would also like to encourage all visitors and users of the platform to actively share their learning with the global humanitarian sanitation community here or to join our team of experts.

Author(s) (1)
Rob Gensch
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s) (2)
Catherine Bourgault
Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)
Thorsten Reckerzügl
German Toilet Organization (GTO)

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