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.