Journal update 1: KM4D and innovation systems

The May issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal was on the subject of Beyond the conventional boundaries of knowledge management: navigating the emergent pathways of learning and innovation for international development with Guest Editors, Laurens Klerkx, Laxmi Prasad Pant and Cees Leeuwis. It comprises 6 articles and one community note:

Knowledge management for pro-poor innovation: the Papa Andina case
Douglas Horton, Graham Thiele, Rolando Oros, Jorge Andrade-Piedra, Claudio Velasco, André Devaux
Development knowledge ecology: metaphors and meanings
Sarah Cummings, Mike Powell, Jaap Pels

One of the objectives of the journal when it was started in 2005 was ‘facilitating cross-fertilization between knowledge management and related fields’ by acting as a ‘broad church’ (Ferguson and Cummings 2005, unpublished). Indeed, one of the objectives was to bring the approaches of innovation management/systems for development (IM4Dev) and knowledge management for development (KM4D) closer together so that they could better inform each other although, in the language that we had available to us in 2005, we called this agricultural knowledge systems rather than IM4Dev or innovation systems. To quote from one of the unpublished background documents on reasons for starting the journal:

It will aim to facilitate cross-fertilization between knowledge management and related fields: for example information management, but also with other development-related approaches: agricultural knowledge systems, soft systems research, and other relevant ‘traditions’.

The rationale for bringing these two approaches closer together was that we thought at the time, intuitively, that KM4D could benefit from the insights of an approach which was grounded in development and which we had also identified as home-grown knowledge management. It is also fascinating to read in the Editorial how the different phases in IM4Dev correspond with the different generations of KM4D and that the Guest Editors consider that the approaches are complementary:

As becomes clear from the several articles, the perspectives of KM4D and IM4Dev do not seem that far apart, and have arrived for example at a similar understanding of the importance and influence of the institutional context for learning and innovation. They are complementary, and could benefit from further integration. Given their explicit focus on knowledge management, KM4D perspectives can help better understand the knowledge sharing and learning process that is crucial to innovation, and which underlies many of the other functions crucial to innovation such as lobbying, and the creation of an enabling environment. IM4Dev perspectives, with their attention to other resources than knowledge needed to feed the innovation process and create an enabling environment, broaden the view on the settings in which knowledge management aims to make a contribution.

One of the advantages of the IM4Dev approach is that it is focused outside organisations while one of the limitations of KM4D has been that, because it comes originally from the private sector, it was originally focused on knowledge inside organisations. Indeed, one of the original criticisms of knowledge-based aid from Kenneth King (2000, cited in Knowledge management: development strategy or business strategy? in 2001, p. 163) was:

The agencies have not started with the dramatic knowledge deficits of the South, nor with the key question of how knowledge management could assist knowledge development in the South. A continuation along their current trajectory will arguably be counter-productive; it will make agencies more certain of what they themselves have learnt, and more enthusiastic that others should share their insights, once they have been systematised.

IM4Dev, and the approaches it encompasses will help us to counteract this tendency which is still visible 11 years later.

PS Please note that I’m consciously using KM4D for the field, to differentiate it from the all important, and very much related KM4Dev community.

Development and the private sector

At a recent meeting of IKM Emergent, we discussed what we mean when we’re talking about the private sector. The reason for this is that there is a general expectation that the private sector should be at the table when there are multi-stake holder processes related to development. But there seems to be a great vagueness about who and what the private sector is…

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Meta-analyses of organisational strategies for KM

RKMDThe first issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal to be published by Routledge (Volume 5, Issue 1, 2009) has now appeared, focusing on the subject of KM in organisations. Guest editors of this issue comprised Ewen Le Borgne, Catherine Vaillancourt-Laflamme and Ivan Kulis. The issue has been produced in the context of the Information and Knowledge Management Emergent Research Programme (IKM Emergent) Continue reading

The importance of being… repositories

Just lately I have been hunting down quite a lot of publications, both official and grey or informal ones, and this has brought home to me, more than ever, the pressing need to preserve the documentary record of development practice. As Ewen Leborgne and I commented in a very recent paper on knowledge management strategies of organisations, many approaches to knowledge management are not fully documented:

The paper is only able to offer a glimpse of the current reality or the tip of the iceberg. This is because what is happening in organisations is not fully documented. Not only are experiences with knowledge management often not published – they remain for internal use only – where they are published, this is often in the form of grey literature which is by its nature less easily accessible and less permanent. Two initiatives which have made efforts to document what is happening in organisations: the organisational case studies collected by the Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) community of practice and which are available on its website and the related Knowledge Management for Development Management Journal…The importance of these two sources is reflected in the references.

As background to the paper, Ewen Leborgne and I have made an inventory of organisational case studies which we will continue to add to and which is fully accessible to all.

But this does not preclude the need for document repositories because documents on the web – particularly grey literature – is not going to remain there for ever. And without this record we can’t get better and learn from what happened before. Continue reading

Share Fair 2: Implications for Development

Today, IKM Emergent organised a Roundtable in the Open Space at lunch time. Although we didn’t get many participants, they made up for lack of  numbers with their quality and they included some of the cream of the KM4Dev community. We discussed and’brainstormed about the implications of all the knowledge initiatives presented at the Share Fair for the broader development sector. In fact, we discussed the implications for how we do development. Although there was general agreement that there were indeed implications for this – which is what Peter Ballantyne predicted! – our discussion was broad ranging:

  • Whether to mainstream knowledge management within organisations or to put it into the hands of knowledge management specialist staff?Our general conclusions was that mainstreaming and drivers were needed and that one strategy without the other might not work.
  • As we had heard much at the Share Fair, power issues hinder knowledge sharing and the work of knowledge networks. Effective knowledge-based approaches in the future might lead to flatter, less hierarchical organisations.
  • The difference in status between researchers (higher) and knowledge managers (low) was not conducive to knowledge sharing. In some cases, support staff in the role of communications or knowledge sharing were seen as a ‘scourge’. Only when they become part of the core business were the accepted by more senior staff.
  • Institutional structures and the emphasis of researchers needing to publish in peer-reviewed journals did not necessarily support the development role of knowledge.
  • Development research in all institutions should have a development focus although that might require changing of the institutional structure funding development research.
  • Management, researchers, support staff and field offices within an organisation will have different ideas about and understanding of knowledge management. An effective organisational strategy will need to recognise the different layers within an organisation.