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between knowledge management and related fields’ by acting as a ‘broad church’ (Ferguson and Cummings 2005, unpublished).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 To quote from one of the unpublished background documents on reasons for starting the journal: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.

From the editor’s desk

On 22 September 2011, I took part in a panel ”From the Editor’s desk”, convened by Wendy Harcourt and Kees Biekart at the EADI/DSA General Conference in York, UK. The session was conducted as an open discussion among 6 journal editors on the new publishing arrangements with the coming of the digital age among development journals looking at both the opportunities and the current squeeze for resources.

There were 6 editors who took part in the exchange, five of whom are journal editors:
Wendy Harcourt – Development
Kees Biekart – Development and Change
Brian Pratt – Development in Practice
Caroline Sweetman – Gender and Development
Robert Cornford – Oxfam Books
me – Knowledge Management for Development Journal (KM4D Journal)

When it was my turn to talk, I introduced the KM4D Journal and gave some background on how the journal has developed. It is the youngest journal of them all – then in its 7th volume – and it has, unusually, gone from being an Open Journal System journal to one published by the commercial publisher, Taylor and Francis.

After introducing the journal, I very briefly presented some research on development journals that I’ve been doing with Iina Hellsten of the VU University. Iina and I are doing a scientometric analysis of top development journals. As part of this, I presented a few slides showing our preliminary results in which we had considered the institutional and country location of authors of three development journals, based on a sub-set of articles concerned with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for the years 2005-2008: namely World Development, the Journal of Development Studies and Development and Change.

This first slide reviews the institutional affiliations of authors. It shows (and I hope you can read it) that these journals are dominated by Northern institutions, both universities and international organisations such as the World Bank and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Of the institutions listed here, only one, namely the University of Delhi, could be described as a Southern institution.

Our next slide is concerned with the location of the authors in terms of country. Here, you can see the dominance of authors located in the North, and particularly the USA (green) and the UK (blue). This dominance becomes even clearer when we look at the third and final slide in which the authors for World Development are divided between the developed and developing world.

These slides show a reality of development journals being dominated by Northern interests and authors. As I then concluded, this picture makes me doubt the role of development journals as being developmental.

Not for the first time when I’ve presented these results, I received some angry reactions. One participant argued that this was not a problem because authors in the South have their own journals and didn’t need access to the journals in my study. Another argued that although most of the authors are located in the North, they may well be Southerners, and that this undermined my argument. And that my approach was patronising to Southern academics.

As you can imagine, I was getting very worried and upset at this point, wondering if I was indeed chasing an irrelevant red herring…

But then, fortunately for me, Olivier Sagna of CODESRIA was in the audience. He argued that the difficulty of publishing in international journals was perceived as a huge problem by many African academics. He was also of the opinion that the fact that some of the authors were Southerners based in the North did not change the overall impression of bias. He noted that the brilliance of some Southern scholars was not recognised until they caught international attention by attaining senior positions in the North. When this happened, they found it easy to publish in international journals but before this, they had been just as good but had not been recognised.

Please see the full report of the panel, written by Wendy Harcourt.

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

Dgroups research report

After quite some delay, the research report that I completed last year for KIT has just been published. Here is a quote from the Executive summary:

The Dgroups platform currently supports 2,308 dgroups and 88,700 individual users (15 July, 2007), but there has not yet been an analysis of the development role of dgroups on a global scale. Many partners and members of the Dgroups Partnership continue to support the platform, not only because of the access to online knowledge networks with which it provides them, but also because of an intuitive understanding of the processes supported by dgroups.

The study examines whether and how dgroups:

  1. facilitate the spread of information and knowledge among the actors (individual and institutional) working in the thematic areas of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs);
  2. facilitate learning processes (individual, social, and organizational learning) in the diverse institutions working in areas related to the MDGs; and
  3. facilitate the bridging of the multitude of ‘knowledge divides’ in development between the North and South, and South-South; between different sorts of institutions (multilateral, bilateral, NGOs, universities, ministries) and professional groups (practitioners, researchers and policymakers); and in terms of language.

Data were collected in the first half of 2007 by questionnaire surveys of administrators and moderators, interviews with representatives of partners and member organizations of the Dgroups Partnership, and a focus group meeting of lurkers. Additional data comprises web statistics covering the use of dgroups and secondary sources, including a ‘characterization’ of dgroups in Latin America and the Caribbean which took place in 2004 (Lo and Salas 2004).

The number of dgroups has grown at linear rate since its creation in 2002. The number of additional groups per year has been around 500 each year for the past four years. The number of individual users of dgroups has grown at a non-linear, sigmoid rate, consistent with the trend in adoption of new technology identified in the theory of the diffusion of innovations.

The highest number of additional users (26,993) joining the platform was in 2006. Estimates for 2007 may indicate that while dgroup creation remains roughly the same, the number of new users may peak at 26,000 for the year. Whether the trend in the number of additional users will then decline is unknown. There is evidence that there are fields, notably academia, where penetration of dgroups is very low, indicating that there are still areas for possible expansion of the numbers of both groups and users.

It has been concluded that dgroups facilitate information and knowledge sharing within the subject areas of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and that they also facilitate individual, social and organizational learning within these subject areas. Dgroups also play an important role in bridging the ‘knowledge divides’ between North and South, between different types of institutions, and between different professional groups, as well as crossing the digital divide. An ability to bridge South-South divides and to forge links between different language groups has not been demonstrated.

In terms of development impact, Dgroups was found to represent a very cost-effective manner of hosting groups (an average of Euro 60.70 per dgroup per year) and most moderators felt that participation in dgroups was an ‘effective’ use of their time. Dgroups were also found to have had an organizational impact on the way many of the partner and member organizations work. It is argued that Dgroups provides a unique resource: there is nothing comparable within development that facilitates information and knowledge sharing on such a large scale. Finally, some recommendations are made for the future development of Dgroups.

Rules of engagement

Since a remark by Mike Powell and email by Sarah Cummings on how to market KM to CEO’s of selected countries in Africa, who have been ‘sold’ the view that ICT is the magic bullet for rapid development, I have come across interesting papers on how to market KM. Chris Collison’s paper in IK Magazine, was top of the pile, even if it does not offer all the answers. It  opens with this statement:

“You have two hours to run a syndicate session in the chief executives’ forum, and engage the top team in the subject of knowledge management.”  read more of this paper.

Knowledge management – opening content access

The second issue of Drum Beat focussing on knowledge management and open content access:

In this second issue, we take a closer look at how communication has played a role in shaping the way in which all types of knowledge (not only those that are “local”) are being “opened”, even in the context of efforts to own, commodify, and/or profit from content. Below, we highlight some experiences with, reflections on, and resources concerned with this complex and challenging issue of whether and how to work toward enabling broader access to various kinds of knowledge, such as that related to technology, media processes, and education/research.

Knowledge management – cultivating local content

Recent issue of Drum Beat focussing on knowledge management issues:

In this series, we present just a few of the experiences, strategies, resources, and trends featured on our site that explore how communities around the world have used communication tools and approaches to preserve, protect, share, manage, and promote their distinctive forms of knowledge. This first issue in the series focuses on content that is context-specific: indigenous, tacit, traditional, or “local” knowledge.

A tale of 3 papers: Ubuntu, cross-cultural knowledge transfer and KM…

Today, I came accross some really interesting papers which made me think that I haven’t paid enough attention to relevant articles in mainstream knowledge management. Some of them are articles with a twist in the sense that they come from the mainstream (ie non-development literature) but they are focused on issues of interest to us. I’d like to thank Mike Powell for sending me in the direction of ubuntu and Julie for her considerable help in locating the papers..

Paper 1
Ubuntu as a key African management concept: contextual background and practical insights for knowledge application
Karsten, Luchien; Illa, Honorine (2005)
Journal of Managerial Psychology, 20(7), 607-620
The article explores how an increasing attention which is being paid to language and culture in organisations can help people to understand the impact of particular management concepts in business practices. A range of publications has been selected to indicate how important language in organisations is and how particular cultural backgrounds influence the applicabilty of management concepts. This has been illustrated with the concept Ubuntu, which gains popularity in South Africa. The applicabilty of Ubuntu in companies will rely on the habitus of the manager to be a good conversationalist.This very interesting paper refers to two others which, I think, are going to be utterly fascinating…

Paper 2
Building competitive advantage from ubuntu: management lessons from South Africa
M. Mangaliso (2001)
Academy of Management Executive 15(3) 23-34

Although I’m not sure of its contents, having only now asked the author for a copy, the way it is quoted in the above paper by Karsten and Illa makes me very keen to read it:

traditional management training places greater emphasis on the efficiency of information transfer. Ideas must be translated quickly and accurately into words, the medium of the exchange must be appropriate and the reader must accurately understand the message. In the Ubuntu context, however, the social effect of conversation is emphasized, with primacy given to establishing and reinforcing relationships. Unity and understanding among effect group members is valued above efficiency and accuracy of language…’ (Mangaliso 2001: 26)

Paper 3
Why cross-cultural knowledge transfer is a form of translation in more ways than you think
Nigel J. Holden and Harald F. O. Von Kortzfleisch (2004)
Knowledge and Process Management 11( 2): 127–136
Knowledge transfer is often likened to acts of translation. It is argued that translation is a very robust analogue of knowledge transfer and that theory provides insight into cross-cultural sharing processes. Three issues which affect the quality of translation and, hence, knowledge transfer are highlighted: ambiguity, interference (intrusion from one’s own cultural background) and lack of equivalence. Other terms from translation science, which can serve as a useful reference for knowledge management experts, are discussed: translation as a networking activity, process and end-product quality, levels of accuracy and constraints on the production of good translations. A new concept is introduced to the knowledge management community; namely convertibility, which refers to the perceived utility of a knowledge source and the availability of domain experts to reveal its import to final users. Two models representing knowledge transfer as translation are presented, the second of which incorporates Nonaka’s SECI model.

Knowledge management for librarians…

A paper by Michael Koenig, KM moves beyond the organization: the opportunity for librarians was originally presented to the IFLA conference in 2005. Kingo Mchombu, one of the authors of this blog, has identified is as a key ‘must read’ reference for our work.

In this paper, Koenig argues that:

KM is no ordinary management fad – first, it has legs, it is not fading away, and second it clearly is relevant to and overlaps greatly with librarianship.

Despite the overlap with librarianship, librarians have done comparatively poorly on capitalizing on that overlap. The KM movement has gone through a number of stages, and it is now moving into a stage of recognizing the importance of and incorporating information and knowledge external to the parent organization. Such information and knowledge has always been the province of the librarian, and this development presents obvious and important opportunities for the field of librarianship, particularly in the area of the organization’s KM system design.

For those of working in the development field, this has obvious parallels because the wider development knowledge system is also relevant to us. This reminds me of an important paper published by Giulio Quagiotto in the Knowledge Management for Development Journal. In Elective affinities: reflections on the enduring appeal of knowledge management in the development sector, Giulio argues that whilst the knowledge management fad seems to have passed its peak in the private sector, within the context of international development organisations, the appeal of the discipline seems to endure because of its relevance to development. However, Julie Ferguson and I argue in a soon to be published chapter that KM is so relevant to development that there was even a home-grown, development approach to knowledge management, enshrined in the agricultural knowledge and information systems (AKIS) approach, developed by Niels Roling, Paul Engel and others. AKIS pre-dates the current mainstream approach to knowledge management.