Interactive Knowledge Products: how to make knowledge more engaging (and stop creating more documents)

Documents are an effective and lasting container to capture and share knowledge - but in this digital age are they always the best option? This article explores the growing area of interactive knowledge as an alternative to documents.

Since the 1980’s, documents became electronic: we were able to share digital versions of our documents via floppy disk, email and the internet but they were still documents. In the last 15 years cloud and mobile computing, apps, social media and instant messaging reshaped the internet and enabled more people to share all kinds of content more widely than ever before. People expect to be informed and engaged by smaller, faster, responsive, usable and on-demand chunks underpinned by a data driven infrastructure - and we are not patient to search through screens of text to find the answer we need.

Knowledge managers should consider new processes and outputs for this digital world and employ more non-documentary interactive knowledge formats. Let's see what that means.

Recorded Knowledge Products

Knowledge products are artifacts resulting from a deliberate attempt to share something known. The oldest forms of knowledge sharing use unrecorded forms such as stories, movement and adornment. Organizations today mainly use recorded knowledge which can be classified into four main formats:

1. Documents (all types and presentations without sound)
2. Audiovisual (sound and pictures/videos)
3. Learning  (pedagogic discovery, games, workshops)
4. Interactive (data visualization, online co-creation or participation)

This article looks at a case study to explore interactive knowledge products.

Case Study: UNICEF LHD Quality Review

UNICEF re-imagined a quality review report to create an interactive digital knowledge format instead of a document.

UNICEF spending is split roughly evenly between humanitarian programming (including emergency responses) and development programming. Studies found evidence that Linking Humanitarian and Development (LHD) programming contributes to improved results for children.  In 2019, to better institutionalize and systematize these linkages, they implemented a procedure to build local capacity and strengthen systems for LHD, as well as to periodically review the quality of these linkages. Due to the cost of performing quality reviews, the LHD quality review process initially aimed to study just the top 10 countries with the highest humanitarian spending. 

The COVID-19 pandemic meant that the traditional approach (visiting each of the top 10 countries to interview local staff) was not possible in 2020. Instead, a simplified and remotely administered survey was used, with humanitarian experts consolidating the data into one global synthesis report. 

This report proposed that UNICEF further innovate the LHD review process and methodology for greater efficiency, effectiveness and engagement. The format envisioned was an online product which the country offices could own fully; which would promote sharing good practices and innovations; and spur direct engagement of staff with the LHD issue area and facilitate peer-to-peer learning by having an open and transparent platform.

So now the objective was more than a static report... something better, interactive, and current.

UNICEF said the objective of the new LHD reviews should be to:

  1. get practitioners thinking and talking about LHD in their context (thereby creating knowledge in a more pedagogic way, as well, potentially as people aiming to change behaviors)

  2. increase engagement and involvement of more stakeholders, more partners, more members of affected communities. More voices and more inputs to that discussion can only improve the local approach to LHD. 

  3. learn from others - see what other Country Offices are doing and get feedback - share publicly comment and connect.

Using their public humanitarian knowledge management portal, UNICEF encourages all country offices (not only the top 10) to conduct a self assessment using a modified online LHD survey instrument. The survey link is sent to local implementation partners and staff.


After the survey period, each country office receives the raw data set (in fact the full data set is public) and templates as well as guidance to complete their own report online via a form on the site.  The finished report is made public and allows for comparison of benchmarks, and discussion about what works and what does not. Countries and other interested parties can support this focus on improving linkages between humanitarian and development programming.

LHD Online CO Report Example

What is notably different about this approach?
  1. The objective is for country offices to have a self-assessment tool and a way to share their own findings so they can identify ways to improve. Reports are 100% owned and managed by the country office. The objective is not to create reports. 

  2. Headquarters (HQ) supplies only supplies tools and support for Country Offices to help themselves. There is no judgement on the local reports, only support for the process. Since the entire dataset (i.e. from all surveys) is public, HQ can perform its own analysis and create its own global report. The role of HQ is not to compare countries or pass judgement. 
So UNICEF asked itself "How can country offices best learn how to improve LHD?" rather than "What is the status of LHD?".  The question that you start out asking will inevitably shape the type of knowledge product you create. The long established habit of wanting to create knowledge in the form of reports is rooted in a top down control culture of most organizations. What if we didn't feel the need to control the knowledge, and what if we asked ourselves "who needs knowledge in order to make changes happen?" and "what's the best way to give it to them?".

What are some interactive knowledge formats?

In addition to online data dashboards, but there are a other common interactive knowledge products which could be used in place of documents for organizational knowledge management:

Self assessment - assessment can be either an individual assessment followed by reflection and possible sharing or comparison (Myers and Briggs personality types are a good example of this) or where you ask others to assess you or a part of your organization, product or service (as is the case in UNICEF LHD). In either case, there is a well developed instrument, an assessment, and an optional comparison / discussion with others.

Crowd sourced knowledge - WikiPedia have been doing this since 2001 and some organizations try to create internal knowledge products using the same idea, but contribution is only open to staff. I can imagine using it to create specific, one-off knowledge products and I would be interested to know of examples which allow non-staff participation.

Data Visualization (and contribution) and related "apps". On the one hand we have access and visualization of data sets via dashboards like Power BI - although the visualizations themselves are not as exciting and the engagement is limited. Consider specialized visualizations (like from 23andme) using data contributed by the user. There are all kinds of tracker apps that collect user data and repay them with interesting visualizations. I think there is still a lot of scope to collect even more data from people in the future. For some use cases, this could be the best type of knowledge product to build.

Participation in existing recorded knowledge may be the only option to give old products a new lease of life online. Go beyond passively allowing comments, ratings, and other feedback about existing products and ask users "what are you going to do with this?". Have a look at this example from UNICEF:

How to create an interactive knowledge product instead of a document

Before you start making a knowledge product, your objective should have three clear parts:


Start by framing your objective with a focus on "who" needs to know (and act as a result). Who? That can't be a generic "we" or "the organization" needs to know. Identify the specific groups of people who will do something different as a result of the knowledge.

What is the knowledge they need? What has become known which should be shared, or what is it that we want the target audience to know which they have to discover themselves? 

What do you expect them to do as a result of the knowledge? This expected result is the reason for creating the knowledge product. This is what you are going to measure against because this is the result you want your knowledge product to create.

Creating your objective with these three elements will already generate ideas how an interactive knowledge product could work, and how you will create one. Possibly you will use something from the ideas in the previous section, or possibly you will innovate something new and exciting. In any case, your knowledge product will be more engaging, more effective, longer lasting and it will be easier to measure the impact.

Good luck, and please let me know how you go!


Cite as:

Wilson, O.L.F. (July 2021). Interactive Knowledge Products: how to make knowledge more engaging (and stop creating more documents). Retrieved from:  

Copyright (C) Owen L F Wilson, 2021


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