Evaluation, Knowledge Management, Best Practices, and High Quality Lessons Learned

In the endlessly hyped knowledge age of the new millennium, evaluators are being asked to generate lessons learned and best practices. Pressure to do so seems only likely to increase. At the end of this article I’ll suggest a way of bringing some increased rigor to evaluators’ use of these terms, but first I’ll examine and opine on popular usage and the current context. The demand for knowledge acquisition, which demonstrates membership in the elite ranks of learning organizations, has crescendoed into an organizational development and program evaluation mania. But just what is popularly meant by a best practice? What does it mean to learn a lesson? And what’s evaluation’s role in all this? Maybe we can find out by looking at a meta-example. The great lesson learned in the last decade of the last millennium was that information is not the same as knowledge. (Wow! Who knew?) The information age has given way to the knowledge-hungry age. Chief Information Officers, all the rage in the 1990s, have been replaced in multinational corporations by Chief Knowledge Officers. And what do Chief Knowledge Officers do? They capture lessons learned and identify best practices.