Sharing Knowledge Globally

With crumbling roads and even rougher finances, Pakistan wanted the World Bank to rate a new, inexpensive paving method. Two years ago, the bank's experts would have taken nine months to research the issue. Using the Internet, it answered within a day. A query posted on the bank's Web site drew an instant endorsement from a bank employee in Argentina who had written a book on the subject.

For the World Bank, the Web is paving the way to the future. The Net is helping the development agency unleash the human expertise in its ranks. And that's making the bank a leader in knowledge management--using the Web to share information across a large organization. The ambition is vast, but the tools are simple: The bank's Web site functions like a global chat room, with data relating to bank units like education or urban planning. That's forging communities of experts across borders. One project, for example, hopes to link specialists in municipal engineering, solid waste, and transport in 10 cities in Latin America. "Knowledge sharing will allow us to really have an impact on poverty," says bank urban planner Roberto Chavez.

Bank officials say the initiative will fundamentally change the agency's operations: Instead of just shuffling funds from wealthy nations to the developing world, the bank can quickly provide the know-how to use the money effectively. The program "creates a different vision" for the agency, says Stephen Denning, the bank's program director for knowledge management. Creating a culture of sharing at the bank hasn't been easy. The bank had to coax employees online with pep rally-like focus groups and overtime pay for extra hours spent on Web projects. If the New Economy culture sticks, though, Third World countries may get a smoother ride to economic development.