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Family Planning Knowledge in Africa

Q&A with Amref Health Africa

With its global headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, Amref Health Africa has a deep understanding of the challenges in sharing family planning knoweldge in Africa. A core partner on Knowledge SUCCESS, Amref provides health services and health worker training to over 30 African countries, and partners with communities to create long lasting change.

Find out what Amref sees as East Africa’s greatest strengths and weaknesses in knowledge sharing, and why we should all aspire to be lazy people in this interview with our colleagues Diana Mukami and Lilian Kathoki. 

Can you briefly describe Amref’s role on Knowledge SUCCESS?

Diana: We are an African organization working in the health sector. We see first-hand the challenges that people within the health system come across in terms of knowledge needs, availability, access, usability, relevance, and so on. We consider Amref’s role as the facilitator for understanding on a deep level what the actual needs [of our East Africa audiences]  are and how knowledge management practices can address those needs, ultimately making the work of health professionals easier.

Lilian: Our role is ensuring that unique innovations, best practices, and learnings around FP/RH are available and accessible to practitioners and stakeholders, with a focus for us on the East Africa region.

What are you most excited about in terms of Amref’s planned work in Knowledge SUCCESS?

Diana: We’ve been in this space for 60+ years and it’s not always clear what those knowledge solutions are and how they can be used and scaled across different stakeholders. I’m excited that with this project, there is a deliberate effort. The project is focused on having these solutions packaged properly and made available and accessible for health professionals. It’s exciting to be part of this journey towards a world where people have [the tools and knowledge] they need to do their job.

Lilian: For me, it’s not just about being the knowledge management facilitators, but also consumers of Knowledge SUCCESS’ tools and best practices. That’s what makes Amref a very strategic partner. Whatever we learn, the tools that the project will create, are actually going to be valuable to Amref in the long run.

Diana: Yes, we’re both the guinea pig and the champion for these products and services. [laughs]

Photos: Diana Mukami and Lilian Kathoki at a Knowledge SUCCESS Retreat. Credit: Sophie Weiner

What unique perspective does Amref bring to Knowledge SUCCESS?

Diana: There’s a lot of knowledge around FP/RH that already exists. And Knowledge SUCCESS is synthesizing and packaging that information so that it’s easy to find, use, and share. But why should stakeholders trust Knowledge SUCCESS as the place to go for that information? Amref brings credibility. We have great brand recognition in East Africa. We’ve been there, we are African.

Lilian: I would also add that since Amref has been in this space for such a long time, we are already part of existing technical working groups and networks, and tapping into our existing networks adds a lot of value.

What do you see as key knowledge exchange needs for the FP/RH community in East Africa?

Diana: One need is to demystify knowledge management. Most people work in silos. Either there’s no time to think about sharing, or people believe sharing and exchanging is too difficult. There’s also a tendency for territorialism—a hesitancy to share information, especially between countries, partners, and stakeholders because they can be seen as competition. So how do we create more awareness about the value of sharing and exchanging and learning—an awareness that by working together, we all benefit.

The second need is around providing resources that are easy to use. Most health professionals  – whether policymakers or program managers – are really over-employed and pressed for time. They might be willing to look for information, but there are so many different sources. And they want something that is applicable to their particular situation. How do we create resources that give them timely, relevant information for that particular moment? How can they quickly figure out the solution and then implement it, without having to do so much research?

The last need is for awareness of existing platforms. And then building capacity to use those platforms.

Lilian: The greatest challenge we’ve seen through our landscape analysis of the region is lack of access to FP/RH information. We know the knowledge exists because people have been documenting it, but it’s not easily accessible. It speaks to Diana’s point around people working in silos. You don’t know what other organizations are doing. And even if you do know, it’s hard to get that information from them.

Family Planning Knowledge East Africa
Photo: Amref staff conduct an FP/RH household visit. Credit: Amref Communications Team

How do you see knowledge management playing a role at the regional level with groups like ECSA?

Lilian: The biggest role knowledge management can play for regional groups is building the capacity of members to document best practices or innovations and make them available to others.

Diana: With the regional platforms, ideally it should be a two-way channel. The regional platform is surfacing lessons within the countries that can feed into the regional agenda. And then vice versa, the lessons at the regional level feed back into the countries to adjust policies and practices and improve access to quality FP/RH services. A third branch would be the regional forum feeding into global discussions.

What are other important considerations for the project?

Diana: The issues around sustainability. We’re testing all these tools and approaches to encourage uptake and use around different knowledge products and services. But how do you ensure that work continues beyond Knowledge SUCCESS? Looking at the journey to self-reliance: Who are we already working with? Who else do we need to engage with and how? We want to engage in a way that the work becomes institutionalized within the FP/RH space—so that it’s not only a project-driven agenda. I see Knowledge SUCCESS as a model that can be tested and refined and then scaled to other areas beyond family planning. Strengthening the model and documenting it so that it can become entrenched in the spaces where we’re working.

Lilian: I really like that point. I’d also add that in addition to FP/RH, the project can address or align with other health and development areas that touch on similar outcomes, such as improving children’s health.

Diana: I agree, there’s a cross between what’s in the purview of the project and what other opportunities our partners as a consortium can align with and take on.

This might be a question of culture change. But how do we create excitement around knowledge management as a whole? How do we make it a “sexy” topic or opportunity that everyone wants to try out? Because that will create a buzz and demand from policymakers, and more pressure for practitioners to take up and use knowledge management. Making it less abstract, showing how it’s practical and do-able.

Photo: A couple receiving information on FP methods at a community facility. Credit: Amref Communications Team

Any final thoughts that you would like to share?

Diana: What comes to mind is that knowledge management is everybody’s business. So the fact that this project is structured into a consortium that brings in different talent and experience demonstrates the need to work together to operationalize knowledge management. We should all aspire to be lazy people. I’ll explain what I mean. There’s already so much that has been tried and tested within FP/RH. Why do you want to create it again? It’s better to benefit from the evidence of others who have already done the hard work.

Lilian: Exactly, laziness is not a bad thing. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time.

Diana: That’s where innovation comes in. The “lazy” part allows you to have the time, space, and energy to innovate and create. And then you add to the body of knowledge, and the ripple effect continues—but with less effort and less resources, which is always a challenge for low-budgeted, low-staffed Ministries of Health.

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Family Planning Knowledge in Africa
Anne Kott

Team Lead, Communications and Content, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Anne Kott, MSPH, is the team lead responsible for communications and content on Knowledge SUCCESS. In her role, she oversees technical, programmatic, and administrative aspects of large-scale knowledge management (KM) and communications programs. Previously, she served as communications director for the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project, communications lead for Family Planning Voices, and started her career as a strategic communications consultant for Fortune 500 companies. She earned her MSPH in health communication and health education from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and bachelor's of arts in Anthropology from Bucknell University.

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