How to unlock miracles inside minds: in conversation with Soha Radwan, Innovation and Knowledge Management Specialist, Dubai Municipality

In this speaker interview from CII’s upcoming global summit, we share expert insights on knowledge management from an award-winning organisation.
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Soha Radwan is the Innovation and Knowledge Management Specialist at Dubai Municipality, one of the largest governmental organisations in Dubai. She is responsible for setting and executing the strategy for knowledge and innovation management in the organisation.

Dubai Municipality is a winner of the MIKE Global Award for Knowledge and Innovation, 2020. The MIKE Award (Most Innovative Knowledge Enterprise) was presented virtually on February 25, 2021, at an online ceremony hosted by Vincent Ribière, Managing Director and Co-founder of the Institute for Knowledge and Innovation, Southeast Asia (IKI-SEA).

Soha Radwan will also be presenting insights from Dubai Municipality’s journey at CII’s annual Global Knowledge Summit. The 16th edition of the summit is being held online on April 8-9 this week, with the theme of Transforming Knowledge Management for Hybrid Learning and Hybrid Workplaces.

Soha is also a member of the organisational Excellence Executive Team responsible for the Innovation Criteria, and a member of the Digital Strategy Team at Dubai Municipality. She has more than 20 years of experience in both governmental and private sectors, and earlier handled projects in the UAE, Qatar, and Egypt. Soha is an MBA holder with degrees in Business Administration and Economics.

As media partner for the Global Knowledge Summit, see YourStory’s coverage of the editions from 2021, 2020, and 2019, and sessions takeaways from the Bangalore K-Community meetups.

In this chat with YourStory, Soha Radwan talks about the vision, enablers, and achievements of their knowledge and innovation initiatives, along with tips for business leaders.

Edited excerpts of the interview:

YourStory [YS]: What was the vision behind the launch of your knowledge management (KM) initiative, and how does it connect to the overall strategy?

Soha Radwan [SR]: Dubai Municipality (DM) started its KM initiative more than 12 years ago through a cross-functional team with an objective to serve and support the organisational objectives. Due to the value that KM initiatives were adding, a standalone unit has been dedicated to direct and oversee KM initiatives across the organisation.

In 2018, we established an integrated strategy for Knowledge and Innovation Management (KIM) in alignment with the corporate strategy pillars, stating clear objectives and ambitions. The purpose of the KIM strategy is to consolidate innovation and knowledge through an integrated management system to create new knowledge, which is the nucleus for creativity that leads to innovation.

Our strategy’s aim is to create knowledge and drive innovation to enable the municipality to achieve its vision of building a happy and sustainable city.

H.E. Eng. Dawood Al Hajri with the KIM team

YS: What are the components and enablers of your KM initiative?

[SR]: We have set a strong foundation for our KIM System, which enables the smooth and effective execution across DM.

First of all, we have strong leadership buy-in and involvement which is a key enabler for KIM. DM top management commitment is evident through launching the DM Innovation Charter which is signed and endorsed by our DG – H.E. Eng. Dawoud Al Hajri – as well as all the CEOs and leaders of DM.

One of our strategic values is creativity, which is sponsored by the CEO of the business development sector, Mr. Ahmad Al Falasi. He has been appointed as the ‘Value Ambassador’.

We also have the KIM unit head – Eng. Ahmed AL Bedwawi – appointed as the CKO. We have the Innovation Charter sponsored by the DG of the organisation. Under such frameworks, there are many roles and responsibilities to ensure leadership buy-in.

Another key enabler is the integrative model of strategic KIM and strategic Human Capital Management, which are two sides of the same coin to reinforce each other for achieving their strategic objectives for the organisation.

In addition, we have enablers and support in the form of management systems, IT systems and tools, applied methodologies, policies, platforms, international certification and accreditation, adoption of excellence models, and a dedicated budget.

YS: How does your KM framework combine people, process, and technology aspects?

[SR]: We have our KM framework, which is derived from our KIM strategy. It is designed based on best practices and ISO 30401 Standard on Knowledge Management, which acts as an umbrella for KM activities across the organisation.

It aims to develop and manage knowledge activities that support knowledge gap identification, knowledge creation and sharing, knowledge capture and learning, content management, and accessibility.

The core of our KM framework is its designers and executors. We have approaches and processes for all KM activities, as part of our organisational standardised approaches and methodologies system.

Nowadays, technology is an inevitable tool and enabler for enhancing KM activities. However, it is very crucial to have a clear vision of the KM initiative to set systems in place and utilise technology to best support the objectives.

YS: What are some specific roles and titles for managers in KM and innovation?

[SR]: We have a dedicated unit for KIM, headed by the KIM Director (Ahmed Al Bedwawi), who also acts as our CKO. He is entitled to oversee the strategic direction of KIM across the organisation and provide guidance, direction, and support.

KIM Specialists work closely with the director to provide consultation and support for the execution of the strategy. We also have three sections under the KIM department, each headed by a section head. Under these heads come two sub-sections (units) headed by unit heads.

The KIM strategy is cascaded into action plans for each section, which are in turn further cascaded into sub-action plans for each unit. Each manager at each business unit is responsible for setting the relevant action plan, activities, initiatives and KPIs, and monitoring performance and setting corrective actions.

YS: What are some metrics you have designed to measure KM and innovation impact? Can you cite some specific examples or cases of outcomes?

[SR]: We have different levels for measurement. For example, we measure KIM system performance through the percentage of employees participating in KIM activities or the percentage of employees and stakeholders submitting ideas.

We have also KIM output measures of the system such as Innovation Readiness. More importantly, we measure the impact of our actions on the business itself, like the amount of revenue or cost reduction related to innovation and customer happiness measures.

The impact of KIM efforts are also shown and reflected in DM core business, like Air Quality Index, Marine Water Quality Index, and others. These in turn have an impact on Dubai and UAE leadership positions in many aspects.

YS: What are some awards or recognition you have received for KM and innovation?

[SR]: We have achieved many awards and certifications nationally and internationally. They include the MIKE Award, Innovative Organisation by GIMI (Global Innovation Management Institute), Stevie Award for Happiest Work Environment, Guinness Record for Innovative Project (DM 3D printing project, and Dubai Frame), and Hamdan Award for Innovative Project (Montaji).

We have also received Global Innovation Institute (GINI) certifications for innovations like Smart Park and Pearl Inspections, and are certified in ISO 30401:2018 for KM, TS16555 in Innovation Management, ISO 10015 in Human Development and Training, ISO 29993 in Learning Services outside Formal Education, and ISO 44001 in Partnerships.

Dubai Municipality KIM team

YS: How did the COVID pandemic affect Dubai, and how did your KM team rise up to the challenge?

[SR]: COVID 19 was a real indicator that tested Knowledge and Innovation Management systems in organisations and governments across the world.

Dubai was very prepared. The Dubai Crisis and Disaster Management Team was working around the clock with the public and private sectors. Government priorities were clearly set and conveyed to governmental organisations that duly responded and worked cross-functionally using an agile framework.

In Dubai Municipality, we were ready at all levels. For example, when COVID hit, the KIM team worked with the strategy team to redefine the focus areas as per the government priorities. Because we were prepared, it was easy for KIM activities to have a complete switch to the virtual mode.

Accordingly, we ran virtual innovation labs with various stakeholders tackling solutions for the arising challenges and opportunities. We generated ideas that were put into instant implementation and ensured 100 percent continuity in our core business.

We have to keep in mind that we have 13 main core business that are all vital to the Emirate. So, to have such rapid initiatives implemented and turned into a compilation of innovations is a record in itself. This involved a myriad of KIM activities and tools.

For example, a dashboard was set to be fed with real-time vital data from various sources for instant analysis. Accordingly, immediate decisions were taken by top management. Cross-functional teams collaboration was at its peak.

Internal and external knowledge sharing sessions were always running. Various agreements with partners were set. Researches and studies were continuously performed. Human development activities and training did not stop.

Top Management meetings with all levels of staff were constantly held to ensure support and motivation. These are just a few of the examples and all this was done through more than 70 percent of our employees working remotely.

As a result, the UAE was among the top tier of countries in responding to COVID-19.

YS: Who have been some of your external partners in your journey?

[SR]: We believe innovation sparks when organisations connect with others outside their own teams and functional silos.

We are certified by the ISO 44001:2017 Collaborative Business Relationship Management Systems Standard, where we established a strong management system to create and leverage partnerships.

In this context, DM embarks on collaboration to integrate efforts towards running a robust ecosystem with private, governmental and educational sectors.

Examples include our partnership with UN-Habitat on The Dubai International Best Practices Award for Sustainable Development. It has been established to reward and recognise entities that implemented innovative initiatives and created a positive impact. Ultimately, they enhance the quality of living and push their cities to become leaders globally.

Other examples are our collaboration and partnership with educational entities like AUS, AUD, and many others that support our KIM system. This is in addition to our long list of local and governmental partnerships working on current and future innovations.

Image credit: Dubai Municipality

YS: What are some next steps in your journey?

[SR]: We always see opportunities in challenges. Thus, we see that COVID has accelerated and smoothened collaboration and has its positive impact on KIM. We have already started setting initiatives for our short-, medium- and long-term future.

For example, we will also utilise the new normal by collaborating virtually with more organisations and experts around the world. We will expand the use of emerging technologies in all of our activities to ensure all our virtual spaces fully mimic the real world.

YS: What are your top three recommendations to organisations on how to harness KM and innovation effectively?

[SR]:

·     There is no new knowledge, creativity, or innovation without people. Thus, having the right people and ensuring a learning, collaborating, motivational, and rewarding culture is the way to unlock miracles inside minds.

·     KM and innovation are not end targets per se. A very clear vision, objectives, and expected results are inevitable for the success of KM and innovation. The focus should be kept on where the organisation wants to reach.

·     There is nothing called failure, rather it is just a trial and called a lesson learnt. If organisations accept the culture of trial, understand the value of lessons learnt, and utilise them in the right way, this can reach beyond expectations.

YS: Any other parting remarks for our audience?

[SR]: Integrating management systems whenever applicable, especially in big organisations, has proven to create synergy. It is more than just the alignment of systems.

Business units should always understand that they are connected through overall organisational objectives – thus working separately is a barrier to success.  
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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