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West Africa Civil Society Institute Strengthening Civil Society


Integrating Knowledge, Attitude and Practice Within Civil Society Organisations

Every civil society organisation (CSO) can be likened to a forest. From afar, it may seem to be a plantation but a closer view reveals the individual trees. It is often said that the staff members of every CSO is the most important asset but to what extent is this assertion true and what bearing does individual capacities have on a CSOs effectiveness and performance? This piece tries to examine how periodic Knowledge, Attitude, and Practices (KAPs) assessments can improve the effectiveness of CSOs.

Generally, KAPs is a survey method that has over the years been applied mainly in the health sector in assessing the tendency of individuals to respond in a certain way to health and nutrition variables due to knowledge base and attitudinal inclinations. For example, Bono et al (2013) conducted a comparative KAPs study of nutrition and non-nutrition students toward a balanced diet in University of Hail, Saudi Arabia. They found that knowledge and attitude related positively to good nutrition habits. In similar fashion, KAPs can be employed organisationally to underscore the necessity of continuous and conscious capacity building of institutions, to empower individuals and in the end reap organisational benefits.

Knowledge is considered as “the capacity to acquire, retain, and use information; a mixture of   comprehension, experience, discernment and skill.” Attitude relates to the “inclinations to react a certain way to certain situations; to see and interpret events according to certain predispositions; or to organize opinions into coherent and interrelated structures”. Practice is “the application of rules and knowledge that leads to action” (Badran, 1995, p.8).

Knowledge in organisational terms can be considered as the collective knowledge of all employees and this is influenced by learning and individual experiences towards work. What a person knows reflects in what he does. When new employees are hired, they are trained to know what ought to be done. The training familiarises them with the organisational mission, vision, rules and regulations and the working conditions.

Attitude is the judgemental response towards people, society, objects, responsibilities, events of life, etc. that generally influences behaviour and actions. It can be explicit or implicit with conscious or unconscious beliefs that guide our decisions positively or negatively.  The individual attitudes in an organisation play a key role in determining the direction and intensity in which the whole institution moves.

Practice is simply the actions or habits emanating from one’s knowledge and attitude formed over time based on their actions. In CSOs, practice refers to what is done. The right knowledge acquired leads to the formation of positive attitudes, promoting confidence, trust and integrity, fostering healthy relationships and yielding positive practices.

CSOs are often caught in a web because gaps exist between required practices and actual practices. Eventually, the CSOs suffer and this trickles down to its staff. Frequently assessing the KAPs gap is crucial in remaining relevant and viable in today’s increasingly volatile and unpredictable environment. 

Often CSOs train, provide assistance or the necessary resources to help their staff members to enhance their performance or effect a proposed change. However, there are instances where results remain stagnant. This situation may be due to several factors such as the frequency of knowledge building and the feedback available for improvement.

If feedback is neither appropriate nor timely practice turns ineffective or even detrimental to learning.  Therefore in order not to diminish what has been established as practice but rather build on it, it is essential that constant feedback be employed. This perpetuates the acquisition of knowledge, bolsters positive attitudes and reinforces built practices.

One can conclude that the sum of individuals and their attributes make up the general traits of an organisation and not merely the vision and mission statements “in ink”. There could be gaps between required and actual practices, which results from knowledge and attitude gaps.

In today’s fast changing civil society landscape, continuous learning to broaden knowledge and foster an appropriate working attitude and practice towards achieving set goals remain critical. Hence there is a need for regular organisational capacity assessments and most importantly actionable steps to effect changes.

Therefore, the leadership of CSOs should create an enabling environment for its members to unlearn undesirable KAPs to make room for new ones that will increase their survivability and align with their goals and objectives.

Perpetual Tindana is an intern under the Next Generation Internship Programme at WACSI

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