- Was ist Wissensmangement?
- Open Journal of Knowledge Management
- People: as providing the information and looking for and receiving pieces of content
- Content: the ‘real’ pieces that carry information that can generate knowledge3
- Routines and procedures: secure the ways to provide, collect, forward and access existing and new information
- Technology: tools to create, exchange, store and make available these pieces that carry information
- In the Organisation people, content, technology and routines are co-existent.
- The language barriers hinder a common understanding and a proper communication, even within the organisation,
- Creating an inventory can be a good starting point but the KM process should be flexible enough to quickly focus on – sometimes even ad-hoc – identified bottlenecks,
- Formalizing processes won’t always work, informal processes could play an even bigger part in southern Africa compared to Europe – often these informal processes work fine.
- Bertelsmann-Stiftung (2006, last visit: 04.02.2011): Interkulturelle Kompetenz –Schlüsselkompetenz des 21. Jahrhunderts? [intercultural competences, key competences in the 21st century?] www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/bst/de/media/xcms_bst_dms_17145_17146_2.pdf
- Castel, Vincent, Martha Phiri and Marco Stampini (2010): Education and Employment in Malawi, African Development Bank Group, Working paper No. 110, June 2010
- Chigona, Agnes and Walace Chigona (2007, last visit: 04.02.2011): MixIt it up in the media: Media Discourse Analysis on a mobile instant messaging system www.mobileactive.org/files/file_uploads/193-567-1-PB.pdf
- FAZ.Net (2010, last viewed 04.02.2011, German): Facebook auf Afrikanisch [facebook in African] www.faz.net/IN/INtemplates/faznet/default.asp}
- Ferguson, James (1990): The anti-politics machine, reprint 1994, ISBN 978 0 8166 2437 9
- Greenwood, Louise (2009, last visit: 04.02.2011): Africa’s mobile banking revolution news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8194241.stm
- Hasler Roumois, Ursula (2007): Studienbuch Wissensmanagement, UTB, ISBN 978-3-8252-2954-2
- Internetworldstats (2010, last visit: 04.02.2011): Internet usage and population statistics: www.internetworldstats.com/af/za.htm
- Kamara, Abdul, Lobna Bousrih and Magidu Nyende (2007): Growing a Knowledge-Based Economy: Evidence from Public Expenditure on Education in Africa, African Development Bank Group, Economic Research Working Paper No 88, December 2007
- Learners garden (last visit: 04.02.2011) www.learnersgarden.com
- Luhman, Niklas (1987): Soziale Systeme, Grundriss einer allgemeinen Theorie, ISBN 3518282662, Suhrkamp (German)
- Luckhardt, Heinz-Dirk (last viewed 04.02.2011): Virtuelles Handbuch Informationswissen-schaft [Virtual manual information science], is.uni-sb.de/studium/handbuch/kap10:
- Shakei (on twitter, 2011, last visit: 04.02.2011): Mobile phone is the African computer, twitter.com
- Yin, R. K. (1984): Case Study research: Design and methods, Newbury Park, CA: Sage, ISBN 978-0761925538
Barriers for an efficient Management of Knowledge
Experiences from a Southern African Organisation16. Mai 2011 von Norbert Herrmann
After giving a working definition based on his organisation’s understanding of Knowledge Management (KM), the author outlines his ‘prospected’ method to process KM within his organisation. Based on first-hand experience, in this case study main barriers to implementing the ‘prospected’ KM process are presented, including some ideas and ways to deal with selected barriers. As the author’s experience derives from an intercultural context, this paper addresses issues to consider when working in such an environment. As findings, main cultural challenges are identified as: different influences of hierarchies; language barriers even within a single organisation, differences in individuals’ skills, priority of ad-hoc activities and different accessibility and usage of technology.
This articel was also published in Open Journal of Knowledge Management, Issue III/2011.
1 Aim and Assumptions
This paper aims to deliver an overview of barriers and selected attempts to elude these barriers to establishing and maintaining knowledge management (KM). This paper is a descriptive and inductive case or field study-approach1 intended to provide building blocks for more effective KM implementation.
Main research questions are: “What hinders knowledge management especially in an intercultural context in southern Africa?” and “What are experiences in trying to overcome these hindering barriers?”
As a German in southern Africa, the author implicitly uncovers ‘cultural differences’ but also uncovers barriers concerning technology, content, processes and routines, some of them interlinked to ‘cultural differences’.
Anywhere, each employee and employer has a unique identity, formed by education, family, experiences and other external factors. Thus, the term ‘cultural differences’ can be used for differences between individuals – no matter how similar the persons under consideration seem to be – as well as differences between groups of people.
Comparing a whole country’s culture with another – especially considering southern Africa’s ethnical heterogeneity – would only result in invalid generalizations. Additionally, as an or-ganisation consists of different departments, sub-organisations and sub-systems, they are never homogenous entities to begin with. Examples given in this paper neither stand for a whole organisation nor a country’s singular ‘culture’ – taking into account the nuances of both. Some of the experiences and examples quoted here will be very specific, and/or derive from subjective experiences and thus must never be reduced to overarching generalisations. Instead, it seems appropriate to speak of a higher or lower probability of barriers to emerge; or of different characteristics of barriers.
This paper introduces a meta-level overview of the organisation’s understanding of knowledge management (Chapters 2) plus an initially ‘prospected’ scenario to introduce and enhance knowledge management (Chapter 3). Possible barriers are identified and examples are given, (Chapter 4). Selected strategies and approaches to face upcoming barriers are presented (Chapter 5), additionally ways of using hierarchies are spotlighted here. General globalization arguments on knowledge management are discussed from the author’s experience (Chapter 6) before giving a brief conclusion (Chapter 7).
2 Organisation’s Definition and Aim of KM
Different models and schemes describe knowledge management within an organisation. Within the presented organisation, an understanding of knowledge management was slowly created, agreed upon2 and broken down into the following components:
The more formalized task of knowledge management – at least decided so in the organisation at hand – is to lead and execute activities to support and enhance single components and sub-components. It is also to support and enhance the connectedness of people, content, technology and routines within the organisation and to take (at least co-) ownership of the process described in Chapter 3. Looking at Diagram 1, KM should make interfaces permeable and identify and support intersections.
An organisation’s definition of knowledge management is not always understood the same throughout the organisation. This agreed upon definition of KM is therefore important – but is only the first step towards a transparent and knowledge-sharing organisation. This definition will need clarifications and adjustments again and again as new needs become visible.
3 Processing Knowledge Management: from Inventory to Intervention
As till then nobody in the organization has been explicitly responsible for knowledge management it seemed appropriate to firstly get an overview on what is available in the organisation. Thus the prospected first activities4 of the advisor were described as leading a way through the following:
This primary step, according to Luckhardt (no year), “… comprises of classification, selection, acquisition, indexing and storage of knowledge resources”5 , describing the status quo in the organisation. Next, this inventory needs to be analyzed. It would be best to compare this status quo with a prospected situation in order to identify bottlenecks and fields for intervention and amelioration. However, this ideal situation would require a viable description of a prospected situation – which seldom exists, at least not in detail.
1. Collection / Overview of Knowledge Inventory
The knowledge inventory should list and connect all necessary information about the above mentioned: people, routines and procedures, content and technology. Thus, the knowledge inventory is a meta-information centre. Collecting and summarizing this knowledge inventory already is a critical first step where barriers will be encountered.
2. Expert’s Analysis
The expert knowledge manager can be used to identify the first signs/avenues for enhance-ments – just from analysing what is given in knowledge inventory. Considering that the suc-cessful implementation of KM can only be achieved when all players are properly involved in the process, the expert’s external analysis is only an initial step in defining KM activities.
3. Participatory Analysis
Having the personnel aboard and giving them the space to reflect on their own situation, their own input and their own needs provides very valuable hints. In most cases, participation will strengthen the process and the chances for a change.6 Participatory processes also help external advisors to understand how the organisation ‘functions’ from within.
4. Proposal of Interventions
As a next step, personnel involved should work on creating ways to improve knowledge management in the future. Summarizing ideas that have been developed in a participatory manner, and proposing alternatives to resolve bottlenecks and realize enhancements, is one of the main tasks for a knowledge manager. These alternatives may consist of various ap-proaches, like implementing new routines, collecting new information, using new technology, etc.
5. Conducting Selected Interventions
After – in best case: participatory – prioritisation and decision on activities on how to enhance the management of knowledge, these activities should be implemented – thus creating a change in the inventory.
6. Knowledge Management System
The formalized process of updating technologies, routines, organisational structures and personal skills would then be called ‘Knowledge Management System’.
4 Reality Check: Barriers for Knowledge Management
Chapter 3 described a kind of ‘ideal’ process – which may appear rather mechanistic and per-haps even naïve. In reality, working with people is never like a control loop that entails simply scrutinizing problem areas and then re-adjusting these for change.7
As mentioned, this paper should primarily be seen as a southern African case study, the examples mentioned below have a higher likelihood to be relevant in southern Africa, but could also help to avoid surprising revelations elsewhere.
The structure of this chapter is based on the categories from chapter 2: technology, content, routines, organisation and personnel.8 As personnel are found to be crucial for knowledge management, this sub-chapter will be more detailed. Some barriers identified will fit into several categories.9
4.1 Barriers in Technology
High-end and elegant software solutions could make life easier in many regards. Software for data interchange, archiving, information sharing, communication, work flow management and so on could be quick and easy solutions to restructuring knowledge management.
Technological solutions typically require a budget, however. And this can easily become a giant constraint. Even if free software10 is available, there is often a lack of hardware; lack of bandwidth and lack of IT literacy when it comes to handling the software, thus making costs rise even higher than comparable ‘pay’-software.
Moreover, an organisation can be caught in a technological trap, caused by a long gone deci-sion for special software. Reversing this old decision once the software has been implemented could become impossible – due to financial or reputational reasons or because of a lack of skills.
In some countries, special technologies are more ubiquitous than others. e.g., most people in Africa are more familiar to and used to work with mobile phones compared to computers: “Mobile phone is the African computer. If we want to train health workers in Africa we can't ignore the mobile phone” (Shakei, 2011). According to Greenwood, Louise (2009) and own experience even money transfers work via mobile phone, Chigona (2007) describe extensively used mobile chat applications.
4.2 Barriers in Content
To collect content for the knowledge inventory can be hard work – no matter where in the world you are. Transforming implicit knowledge into explicit information is an activity in which special skills and often creativity are needed.11 Some communication and information proc-esses are very difficult to describe. Few possible content e.g. a description on how to gain special and restricted information, could even be illegal or against organisational rules. Other examples could include unauthorized informal meetings or exchange via software that is not authorised within the organisation (e.g. Instant Messengers).
Another barrier is linked to individual skills: delivered content may simply not be understood. Maps only make sense if people know how to read them – which is not always the case in southern Africa. To work with digital or analogue audio files as well as video files, people must have the experience or know-how on using a suitable media player.
4.3 Barriers in Routines and Procedures
Some processes and procedures that are only claimed to exist, e.g. regular departmental meetings. In addition, work plans or strategy and progress papers may only represent ideal situations that have no link to reality. Some routines may not be recognized as routines by employees – such as everyday joint coffee breaks among staff. Some processes may work in certain cases but not in others or never again – which makes them unreliable. For example: you need to ask a particular person for access to the staff library but if this person does not respond to your request you are stuck without the info you require.
Some work is carried out without planning – which may lead to inventing the wheel again and again. This could be due to a culture of ‘last minute‘ or ’hands on’ crisis management. Thus strategic and planned work frequently has a low priority, while variable ad-hoc processes become ‘routine’, and ‘quick and dirty’ becomes being ‘business as usual’.
4.4 Barriers in Organisation
A knowledge-sharing culture in an organisation that is badly role-modelled by those highest in the organisation’s hierarchy can hinder knowledge management. High ranking staff may consider themselves to be more important than others – manifesting in not sharing informa-tion. Hierarchically-structured organisations appear to be the standard in southern Africa. Here, staff is deeply influenced by line managers’ behaviour. Thus, if high ranking members of the organisation are unreliable or don’t follow up on activities or do not care, middle and low ranking staff will not either.
Also, “structures are multi-layered, polyvalent, and often contradictory … (and) … maybe invisible even to those who inhabit them.” (Ferguson 1990, p17) For instance, the head of organisation could explicitly be telling everybody to use and support knowledge management – but may not apply this instruction to his- or herself. This would strengthen a culture of ‘saying but not taking it serious’ or ‘not practising what you preach’ – which hinders all processes, including knowledge management. This culture of ‘unreliability’ within an organisation makes it difficult to cooperate and succeed.
The cooperation ideal – when it comes to planning and decision making and wanting person-nel’s ideas to be included in the decision making – can lead to a deadlock. This can be due to the fact that staff members do not understand what the decision is all about and are afraid of admitting this (selective) ignorance. As a response personnel could then choose the strategy of delay. Another reason for refusing to take action on anything or to be decisive can be the uncertainty of the line manager’s wish.
Personnel fluctuation seems to play a huge role in NGOs especially in southern Africa. In 20 months from about 100 colleagues 34 quit.1
Organisational survival – especially in the face of budget and funding restrictions –is often the main focus, thus strategic issues like ‘knowledge management’ do not have high priority.
From a system theory13 point of view, any organisation aiming for autopoiesis, recreates itself again and again, and even wants to avoid changes – including changes that concern the sharing of knowledge. The persistency of an organisation also hinders hiring innovative – and thus more likely KM-friendly – personnel.
Interesting would even be to consider information as a currency. Personnel ‘pay’ with bits and pieces of information – but they will not give it for free.
4.5 Barriers in Personnel
The human factor is a key factor. Many of the above mentioned issues are connected to indi-vidual behaviour.
A first challenge is that personnel might not have any idea or understanding of what ‘knowl-edge management’ is all about; there is no or at least no matching definition of KM in the personnel’s mind.14
Providing and sharing information can be hindered by a lack of motivation: employees do not receive or do not understand the surplus that comes along with cooperating on knowledge management. All they see is that they have to give information to others – which, from the individual point of view, does not make sense at all, because keeping information secret and unshared can help to secure a job.15
Some display of information is meaningless for personnel, e.g. even highly qualified staff do not know how to read a map. Messages may not be properly understood –as prime exam-ple, in South Africa there are 11 official languages, English being a second language for the majority of the population. This easily leads to chaotic communication and incorrect transmis-sion of information.16
Personnel – even those of high rank – might have difficulties dealing with knowledge-sharing technology – or technology in general. And some of those personnel will not admit to this lack of skills.
When it comes to working on an online questionnaire, for example, some staff do not differ-entiate between phrasing aspects, how different questions are formulated, and techno-logical aspects, how the submission of the answers will work electronically. Thus, people re-sponsible for technologies feel the pressure of working on enhancement of content and phrasing.
Non-cooperative attitudes of line management and colleagues lead to stagnation, resignation and avoidance of the active search for information.
The priority of focusing on-time problems makes it difficult to focus on strategic activities like knowledge management. Personnel often do not seem to have the time for knowledge management procedures during day-to-day work.
As well as each organisation, also each individual – no matter whether operative or strategic staff – has different interests and hidden agendas which could be in opposition to a transpar-ent knowledge management system. People are afraid to lose their job; people are afraid of giving ‘secret’ information; people do not trust each other. Personnel or co-workers easily suspect a hidden agenda on the part of the knowledge manager – even if this does not exist. This suspicion could lead to reservation and non-cooperation.
The knowledge manager him- or herself may even have a hidden agenda – like carrier planning – that could hinder the proper enhancement in knowledge sharing. He or she might prefer to have a visible output of his / her activities, instead of ‘only’ influencing the organisation’s knowledge sharing culture, which cannot be captured in statistics. Ferguson (1990, p. 40) states: “In ‘development discourse’, the fact that there are no statistics available is no excuse for not presenting statistics, and even made up numbers are better than non at all.”17
When proposing procedures for knowledge management, different co-workers could support different parts of the procedure, those being parts they can personally benefit from. Different, but also necessary parts of processes and routines are jeopardized by the same person. E.g. cooperating when it comes to creating an online archive for research articles but not providing the own collection of research articles.
From a more political point of view, aiming to gain power could be a main motivator for mem-bers of the organisation. Thus, the sharing or not-sharing of information is a sub-function in the quest for power. Sharing information can only be motivated by win-situations for the provider of information.
5 Handling Barriers in Intercultural Contexts
As a manager or advisor in KM in intercultural contexts – but also in ‘normal’ contexts – different strategies to deal with barriers will come up. Find here selected examples plus a proposal considering the hierarchical focus.
5.1 Punctual Attempts and Failures and Successes
Identifying barriers isn’t that easy as it seems, sometimes co-workers would deny that there is a barrier – this must be an indicator to watch out. Reacting to barriers in most cases will not necessarily solve the problem but lead to the next barrier. Thus being prepared to reflect and to learn will always be necessary, for there will never be an easy pre-describable circumvention for barriers. Here selected experiences from southern Africa.
5.1.1 Approaching Barriers in Technology
When it comes to technology, KM is to address usability aspects (‘Keep it simple’) and the need of a proper implementation plan – including learning sessions.
The introduction of a new technology is often expected to solve all problems. When there is no budget for this technology people could reckon that all problems are due to this financial restriction. Proper installation and configuration of software and the proper usage often are not seen as a (cost) factor when it comes to deciding on which software to acquire. There is hardly an understanding of what an implementation plan serves for. Cooperating in creating an implementation plan thus ends in being left alone and trying to deal with the acquired software and doing the configuration all alone – after struggling to be allowed to.
The financial barrier I tried to face by proposing to start with free software – which often can be less complex when it comes to usage. Thus for an online questionnaire I used the google forms – and I managed four people buying into that, they now use this tool for additional data capturing purposes. However, proposing cheap or free18 software is no easy task, especially when there is something like a ‘must-have’ and already established standard. E.g. there is no chance to change to Open Office.
To reinforce transparency and internal communication an intranet was wished for. As there was a decision on the usage of an eMail server application the search for the intranet software was shortened: the eMail application incorporated a sites-functionality.19 Thus no-body was against the advisor’s proposal to use this available application with no additional costs. The usage of the very same application for archiving and file sharing could not (yet) be established organization-wide – maybe due to the missing proper pre-implementation plan or maybe due to a technology trap: different other (free) hosting/archiving/file-collaboration sites were already used in the organisation. The usage of the calendar within the same appli-cation is slowly increasing – because a main player of the organisation is using it and he forces personnel to look into his calendar when it comes to making appointments with him.
Proper usage of existing software is very heterogeneously across personnel, average staff hardly knows how to apply quite ‘usual’ features of standard software like MS Word and MS Excel. Thus teaching lessons for e.g. how to create a diagram, how to do a mail merge, how to format a word document seemed a reasonable strategy. Only some persons were willing to take part in such one-by-one teaching lessons.20 But the ones that took part – at least three of them – now get along by themselves.
5.1.2 Approaching Barriers in Content
Exemplarily look at the issue of ‘directions’. As European I was surprised to find no exact map with all main sites that are supported by the organisation, nor a map to the venues where ‘youth training lessons’ take place. Trying to get the detailed addresses did not work – be-cause hardly anybody is into this ‘address business’ or proper addresses simply do not exist. People do ask for directions, where to turn to the left, where to turn to the right.
Additionally, after having created pretty exact maps, those were of no use because often people are not used to read maps. At least we now can generate directions from maps21 and thus service those who are not used to read maps.
The usage and making public of audio files or video files were to be enhanced, as audio files are produced at least every second week for the national radio stations. It proofed to take more than one year for me to get a hold of some of these audio files, and another half year to establish a routine to have those uploaded by the producer himself to be used as podcast via rss feed.22
5.1.3 Approaching Barriers in Routines and Procedures
One task of Knowledge Management is to support, simplify and formalize routines and procedures. When it comes to firstly collecting an inventory or at least get an overview of existing routines and procedures it happened that some routines were nicely described and claimed to be carried out in regular basis. But the descriptions only existed on paper, in reality the procedures merely end up to be carried out ad-hoc and without caring about a described process. Consequently a basic idea was to try to establish departmental or/and personal ‘to-do-lists’ as a fundamental first step to have working plans. In one department I supported this list was never touched by anybody but me.
The attempt to generate procedures for special circumstances, e.g. What to do when a new staff member joins, was more successful, policies and requirement lists and sign-off needs were formalized on paper and these documents were made public in the intranet.
At moment there is an idea to formalize departmental meetings, to have an extendable standard schedule and a standard format to make minutes of these meetings. However, the frequency of departmental meetings taking place largely differs from department to department.23
5.1.4 Approaching Barriers in Organisation
In southern Africa – as well as possibly elsewhere in the world – hierarchy is a mayor structuring category in organisations. Line managers, directors, executive officers do mainly influence the carrying out of work of all personnel. Their role model is needed to make steps forward to exchange information and knowledge, to create transparency.
Even after several agreements to do so, until today the minutes of the directors’ meetings are not in the intranet. The only way to receive strategic information about the organisation often is informal chats – and thus they are a main KM tool. Enhancements on the formal site come from the announcements section of the intranet which is now used more and more often.
Establishing anonymous quick polls as incentives for personnel to access the intranet proved to be quite successful. At the moment we have 85% of overall personnel across the country visiting the intranet at least once a month. Between 40 and 70 poll answers are registered weekly.24 The establishment of an anonymous suggestion box on the intranet also proofed to make sense, personnel now can shout out their discontent. In 13 months there were 78 entries.
To face the ‘ad-hoc culture’ within the organisation KM tries to get the phrase ‘Implementa-tion plan’ into the mind of the decision makers. KM also tries to role model reliability, create an aura of trust and support and thus tries to multiply the willingness to share info and en-hance transparency.
KM should help to deal with personal fluctuation. A formalized exit interview form was established to get at least the reasons for quitting and use those answers for mitigating further quitting. A proper leave and handover process only takes place if the line-manager handles this. When asked and incorporated, KM gives advice on archiving documents of the person that quits.
5.1.5 Approaching Barriers in Personnel
Lack of skills to use technology can be faced by training sessions and the establishment of technology which is usable. Lack of understanding what KM (and an advisor) is all about can be faced by discussion rounds and presentations. Lack of willingness to share proper information can be faced by creating incentives. Lack of strategic thinking can be faced by repeated confrontation with the need to incorporate strategic thinking.
All these approaches can be performed, but results will always be uncertain. Even the incen-tive to learn and enhance one’s own skills is not automatically working. But it can make sense if the KM persons keep on supporting wherever possible and thus make visible that additional skills can enhance one’s own job situation.25
Different hierarchical levels could make use of different enhancements in skills. It seems that management skills and personnel management could make perfect sense in some cases. KM here approaches where possible with advice on formalizing and structuring routines like e.g. departmental meetings and usage of departmental calendars and mailing lists.
The ad-hoc focus can be addressed by repeatedly in advance emphasizing upcoming important events like annual reports or implementation of additional software. KM here should – when incorporated into this process – assist in preparing these upcoming events.
Hidden agendas seem to be one main barrier for proper participation in KM. Especially in intercultural context the strategy of directly addressing these hidden agendas – when recog-nized as such – must cautiously be used, especially persons in a higher hierarchy are not used to be addressed openly. One alternative is to ‘unhide’ one’s own agenda and thus start creating an aura of trust.
5.2 Hierarchy Focus Approaches
Here, two alternative approaches for KM from a more hierarchical focused perspective are presented – keeping in mind that hierarchy plays an important role in southern African coun-tries. Maybe the third alternative as a kind of synthesis can do better.
5.2.1 Top down – Leadership gives strong mandate
Pressure from top management to cooperate with KM could be an adequate measure to enforce intra-organisational cooperation. However, this pressure needs to lead to ownership of (selected) personnel in KM processes. In reality, personnel will always find ways to foil commands. Economically speaking, for some personnel the expected added value from strictly obeying the orders is lower that the expected value from not strictly obeying the order.
Opposing targets could be: securing one’s own power; securing one’s own work space; mini-mizing the own amount of work; and maximising influence.
Top-down approaches could even increase defensive demeanours of employees that are suspicious of things and processes they are not familiar with. Top-down approaches in particular need authentic role modelling from top management to ensure the credibility of knowledge management.
5.2.2 Bottom up – Building Trust
On the other hand, the person responsible for knowledge management could build trust, relationships and identify a network – even if it is informally26 – of interested persons. Those persons then are not forced to cooperate but are interested to cooperate – such self-motivation and ownership makes cooperation much easier, no matter where.
The co-workers personal value added could be the ‘special know how’ they receive as a cooperating employee. As ‘first movers’ those persons would receive special support by the advising knowledge manager, and would acquire additional skills in dealing with technology and procedures. And those persons – together with the responsible person for knowledge management – can be seen as role models and motivation for all staff.
However, the gap between verbally expressed agreement and real action can also be bigger than expected in a bottom-up scenario. And it may take time to identify those who are inter-ested in cooperating.
5.2.3 Viable Mix
Knowledge management and the persons responsible for it need some kind of mandate from the top levels of the organisation, at least to start processes and cooperation. A clarification of assignment between top management and advisor KM will make sense. As the human factor and motivation are key, there additionally is a need to build trust within the operational ranks. Within the process of enhancing knowledge management, an important factor is acknowledgement for the work of all participants.
Looking back to Chapter 3, ‘Processing knowledge management: from Inventory to Interven-tion’, a very first step (Step Zero) needs to be added, even before the collection and over-view of knowledge inventory: Building trust; receiving a kind of mandate; explanation to per-sonnel.
In reality, all successive steps of the process described in Chapter 3 need to be repetitive and from time to time new ‘pieces of information’ or processes have to be added to the inventory.
Top down and bottom up need one another. In some situations it is crucial to have the CEO’s mandate. In other situations, the commitment of the employees is necessary. The process of establishing effective knowledge management needs reliable participation from top level as well as the operational level. If the establishment of knowledge management is to go beyond punctual enhancements, it needs participative and sustainable cooperation that includes all levels.
Dealing with decision makers who are not familiar to KM requires patience and diplomacy. A viable route might be that a decision is prepared by the expert. Personnel must still be incor-porated, however – after making clear the pros or chosen alternatives by the expert. If avail-able, including the Line Manager in the cooperation of personnel will also help.
In the Bertelsmann paper (Bertelsmann-Stiftung, 2006, p.5,8,9) it is stated that interacting in an intercultural environment should always be effective and appropriate.27 From my point of view, under some circumstances it might also be effective to sometimes act inappropriate:
If the knowledge manager or advisor has an ‘external’ position, he or she can make use of this externality. There is not always a need to adapt all habits and routines that are already established within an organisation. As an external, he or she can act more freely, and can even have the freedom to run activities that would normally be considered as faux pas– from operational or from top level management. This can help to raise awareness on the issue of knowledge management and might come closer to achieve the set goals.28
6 Globalized Knowledge and Outlook
Knowledge is ubiquitous – this is what we are told in these days of internationalization and globalization. The author remains dubious about this sweeping generalization that leaves little room for contextual factors.
Bandwidth in African countries may improve;29 internet access prices are decreasing; and mobile phones as receivers could increasingly be available – but as long as income, especially in rural areas, remains as it is, no person and no small organisation will be financially able to access this global knowledge.
The digital divide is not only infrastructural, it is also a financial, skill and educational divide. IT literacy is not in high gear all over the globe, especially not in rural Africa.
Assuming global knowledge is available and accessible, it will often only be of minor use in local organisations. Knowledge about knowledge sharing technologies, about transparency, and about proper knowledge management may make perfect sense in some parts of the world it may be impractical or inapplicable other parts of the world. For instance, elegant and perfect software solutions are a non-practical idea in a rural African organisation; video-conferencing does not work when nobody knows how to establish a connection, whereas SMS/text conferences that work in southern African could be viewed as ridiculous in European contexts. In the global knowledge inventory - the internet might be defined as - solutions for rural organisations’ problems are (still) rare.
In many cases, relevant knowledge is not explicit. Organisations often do not have the chance to make this information explicit either, e.g. due to a lack of individual language skills, a lack of verbal or drawing skills, or a lack of skills to describe in proper structure. And making information explicit can also be hindered by ethnical, moral, cultural or legal constraints or labour law provisions. In specific circumstances, personnel chose to keep silent in order not to compromise themselves or others or disrupt the status quo.
Even if English as a lingua franca is spoken all over the globe, there will always be additional language barriers in particular contexts.30
7 Outcomes for Knowledge Management
When cooperating can be a challenge in international and intercultural contexts, advising on knowledge management can be a challenge as well. How to support managing knowledge if the knowledge manager could be excluded – by different barriers – from this knowledge?
Thus, not each and every KM activity may result in visible or direct outputs. The output may be implicit and not measurable, e.g. a rise of the awareness on knowledge management. The knowledge manager may not even realize how many changes he or she has triggered.
The performed activities of KM in the organisation under consideration sometimes ended up to be isolate. However steps forwards were performed. For the involved co-workers the acquainted knowledge will be sustainable, for the organisation the sustainability of the per-formed KM activities can be achieved if the activities will keep on being executed regularly, even if staff is changing, like e.g. updates in the intranet.
Patience, personal relations and networking within the organisation seems to be the first step for successful advising on KM – and not just in intercultural contexts.
Additionally a knowledge manager in an intercultural context especially needs to keep in mind:
Never ending study area can be the importance of informal processes. Studying the impor-tance of enhancement of skills for operational and for higher level personnel could make sense – to be able to strengthen further development cooperation activities.31 Comparing different case studies helps to falsify wrongly made assumptions from singular observations.
And always to be kept in mind: people, organisations and societies have survived for centuries without western knowledge management. Changes cannot – and should not – be established within a short time frame. Cultural identities won’t change simply because people from outside tell what they think is better. Even external advisors won’t avoid to learn from working in an intercultural environment, thus – next to experiencing possible conflicts – also emending “… the prospects of business and private environments that are labelled by cultural diversity.” (Bertelsmann 2006, p. 5)32
1. Case study as “… an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within real-life context.” (Yin, R. K., 1984, p. 23)
2. By iterative commenting and input from the German advisor and responsible co-workers in the organisation. Even if other models might fit as well, this model was the one to agree upon.
3.Knowledge here is seen as information that was successfully processed by a receiver, see e.g.: Hasler Roumois, Ursula (2007); the distinction between knowledge and information in this paper will only be focused when necessary.
4. The execution of which quickly would have lead to dealing with barriers and thus devaluing diagram 2
5. Translation by the author, original in German: “(...) umfasst Sichtung, Auswahl, Beschaffung, formale und inhaltliche Erschließung und Speicherung von Wissensquellen (Daten)”.
6. Very quickly it can become obvious that there is a inertia within organisations.
7. And even the chronology of the process described in chapter 3 will hardly ever go alike. There always will be ‘pieces’ of information that are not (yet) part of the organisation‘s inventory list.
8.Alternatively, the presentation of barriers could be structured as described in Chapter 3.
9. Most of the barriers will also be relevant in other implementation processes other than KM.
10.See the latest web 2.0 tools as described e.g. in Learners garden.com
11. Hasler Roumois, Ursula (2007) (above), p 43-44, describes two strategies to transfer knowledge: via code or via the interchange between humans.
12.Where 34 is the number of persons I knew. Interesting here, an impression comes up that the organi-sation itself is much more loyal to personnel than the other way round. Hardly any staff member’s con-tract is terminated by the organisation – which politically and socially can make sense.
13. See: Luhman. Niklas (1987)
14.Positively speaking, this ‘white space’ then could be filled by the organisation’s definition. Additionally, people hardy get what a ‘national advisor’ should be.
15.Assuming personnel is reflecting about knowledge sharing. Personnel could even be just ignoring.
16.Regarding languages there can be different filter systems: the (differing) mother tongues, difficulties in English (e.g. ‘their’ is often mixed with ‘there’), the ‘tec-speech’ of some departments, local meanings of words (e.g. the word ‘now’ or even ‘now now’ in southern Africa has the meaning of ‘soon’ in other English speaking countries). There even could be a filter considering the organisation’s language or vo-cabulary (what is ‘Development Intervention’, what are ‘Lessons Learnt’?) that makes it hard to com-municate if coming from outside.
17.And these ‘made up’ numbers Ferguson is talking about might easily be influenced by hidden as well as not-so-hidden agendas.
18.Total costs of free software are far from zero, and also free software needs an implementation plan.
19.Google apps with sites. Technologically speaking this is an ‘extra-net’, which via username and password can be accessed worldwide.
20. Hinds on why this, and other attempts mentioned, did not work can be found in the chapter “Barriers in Personnel”
21.E.g. bling maps and google maps would do that
22. via feedburner
23. One department I am deeply involved with never had a departmental meeting since I joined 20 months ago.
24. Two interesting polls for characterising the organisation: Asking about the organisation’s mission and vision 31 out of 43 answers claimed to know exactly what the mission and vision is, 6 said to have no idea. When asked to briefly describe the mission and vision two weeks later only 5 (more or less correct) answers were registered. When asking about whether people read the organisation’s strategy which was send out 2 weeks earlier only 14 persons answered, eleven of them stating they have read.
25. Assuming that additional skills will help to find a better paid job. This assumption is a transfer from research concerning formal skills, measured in degrees. “The role of intellectual capital can not be un-derestimated in the continent’s drive towards knowledge-based economies.” (Kamara 2007, p. 22), see also Castel 2010.
26. One important task for the person in charge of enforcing KM could be visibility in the organisation. Here, even simple things like e.g. sitting in an office where (all) personnel must pass each day can help a lot.
27. Here the proper meaning of these two words is not anayzed
28. I am fully aware that there is not general guideline, all activities need reflection and – empathy will help in most cases.
29. Se e.g.: Internetworldstats (2010) Internet usage and population statistics
30. See footnote 17
31. alike GIZ / inwent
32. Translation by the author, original: “… die Chancen eines von kultureller Diversitaet gekennzeichneten beruflichen wie privaten Umfeldes.”
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