Measurement of knowledge management

Yesterday afternoon, together with a Context colleague Peter Das, I went to a knowledge cafe (kennis cafe) on the measurement of knowledge management. It was organised by the Centre for Research in Intellectual Capital (Kenniskring) of InHolland University for Applied Sciences. There were two presentations: one of a research project by Guy Mestrini to measure the value creation  in Fokker Stork; and another by Christiaan Stam on different approaches to measuring knowledge processes.  Both of these were very interesting and were followed by a world cafe to discuss the main issue: how to measure knowledge management initiatives.

For Peter and I, it was very interesting to have the opportunity to interact with colleagues from the private sector. And one of the most notable observations we made was that many knowledge managers seem to be struggling with attitudes and behaviours of individual knowledge workers: “experts want to keep their knowledge to themselves”, “sharing is not taking place”, and “competition stops people sharing knowledge”.  This seems to be in striking contrast to the development sector where, sharing via knowledge networks and communities of practice, is really taking place, although limited by time pressures and other practicalities.

When I mentioned this stark difference between sectors, the reaction of the other participants was  “Oh, it’s because your sector is non-profit…” but I wondered if there is not a deeper explanation and went further with my probing. I came to the conclusion that the difference is that many development organisations are seriously committed to becoming learning organisations: without organisational learning, they can’t do better development. This commitment takes, of course, various forms, but there is usually a general agreement that it is necessary. Although I am, of course, making generalisations, this appears to be in stark contrast to the situation in the private sector where there seems to be the rhetoric of the learning organisation but that commitment of management does not always carry through: in good times, there is no need to change, and in bad times the resources aren’t there. I think that another difference is the common understanding within development – despite natural organisational rivalries and a host of other impediments – that we are all working towards the same objective, and the same humanitarian objective at that.

Kindly note that I am here not trying to bad-mouth my fellow participants here: they were all very committed and are grappling with the same issues. When I explained about IKM Emergent, and told that it was funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one participant reacted:

Oh, there is commitment to knowledge management at the top, no wonder knowledge management is more accepted!

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