This article is part of a series of articles exploring the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic from a knowledge management perspective.
The traditional approach to developing new technologies, processes, and medicines involves extensive trialing and testing, supported by a significant commitment of resources.
However, as I’ve previously discussed in RealKM Magazine, the need for rapid responses in times of crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic means that traditional approaches like this are far too slow to respond. It’s also often impossible to quickly secure the necessary resources through equally slow funding and resource allocation processes.
A newly published commentary1 from Matthew Harris and colleagues in Nature Medicine reports that the need to respond quickly to COVID-19 has given rise to “fast and frugal” innovations. Frugal innovation is described as “doing more, with less, for the many, and being creative, innovative and resourceful in the face of institutional voids and resource constraints.”
Harris and colleagues list ten examples of these fast and frugal innovations, including:
- The portable and open-source designs of ventilators, for example OxVent, as shown in the video above.
- Using lean management techniques to reorganise ICUs to ensure that more rapid, expanded care is provided to a far larger number of patients.
- Trying prone self-ventilation for non-ventilated hospitalized patients, which is normally only an acceptable practice for ventilated patients.
Another of the innovations listed by Harris and colleagues is training lay community health workers to provide household-level advice. As I’ve previously discussed, this innovation is an example of how knowledge from the Global South can benefit the Global North. Harris and colleagues alert that frugal innovations such as this have been the reality of the experience of many low- and middle-income countries, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. They contend that this is why so many frugal innovations emerge from these contexts.
What does this mean for knowledge management?
Harris and colleagues also alert that the fast and frugal innovation in response to COVID-19 represents a significant knowledge disruption, stating that:
The physical barrier to co-creation posed by social distancing has been mitigated partly through the greater use of digital tools. Indeed, where the COVID-19 pandemic has witnessed the most effective innovation has been in the sharing of new knowledge though social media, transcending the traditional boundaries of knowledge production, dissemination and consumption.
In response, they propose that “After the world finishes dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the important lesson for humanity here might be to learn from everyone and for everyone.”
This recommendation aligns with the features of the proposed fifth generation of knowledge management for development, and as I discuss in that article, my own experiences in natural resource management. It also aligns with the recommendations of a growing body of research.
I would further suggest that this knowledge disruption supports the need to consider the proposal for “new knowledge management” (NKM) recently put forward by John Hoven in the Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) discussion group:
COVID19 is pushing us to learn and act at a pace much faster than academic research, and often interactively with actions and outcomes. I think KM has the skill set to support that in ways that are different than IMKS [information management and knowledge sharing] and KMS [knowledge management systems]. Call it … New Knowledge Management (NKM).
A practical example of both learning “from everyone and for everyone” and NKM is the rapid iterative innovation carried out by Xiaomi to continuously improve its MIUI smartphone operating system.
- Harris, M., Bhatti, Y., Buckley, J., & Sharma, D. (2020). Fast and frugal innovations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nature Medicine, 1-4. ↩
Also published on Medium.