Tuesday 23 September 2014

Knowledge Economies and Knowledge Management

It seems every country around the world wants to be a Knowledge Economy. Yet none of them seem to want to invest in Knowledge Management. Duh?

A knowledge economy is one where  knowledge resources such as know-how and expertise are as critical as other economic resources. It is seen as an alternative to a manufacturing economy, or an industrial economy. A British definition is that a Knowledge Economy is "where distinctive know-how is vital to competitive services and products".

Many countries are struggling with what this means. The UK Government sees the knowledge economy as closely tied to higher education. They measure the economy partly by measuring high-tech industries and university places, and support it partly by funding higher education, partly in using local or regional government to set up "knowledge cities" or "knowledge centres" (local sites for housing start-ups), and partly through what they call "Knowledge Transfer" but which really is the encouragement of commercialisation of University research.

However there is a big issue which these governments have not yet grasped.

A key concept of the knowledge economy is that knowledge can be treated as both a business product, and a productive asset. For a knowledge economy to work, this productive asset needs to be treated carefully, nurtured and grown. In other words the Knowledge needs to be Managed.

Yet few if any governments seem to have grasped this fact, despite encouragement from bodies such as the World Bank (see item 5 here). They seem not to realise that is an economy is to be based on an asset, then the role of the government is to ensure that asset is well managed.

There is definitely a role for Knowledge Management in the knowledge economy, and one which government can and should promote. At Knoco, we see this as having three components.

  1. The first is the most important. Any government seeking to develop a knowledge economy needs to support business in knowledge management. They need to provide a definition of what good knowledge management means, and need to provide education for companies on “learning how to learn”. In future, if the Knowledge Economy is to develop, companies need to be helped to become learning organisations. They need to learn how to learn at a pragmatic level, and this needs support from the government.
  2. Secondly there needs to be a focus on critical knowledge topics, and development of topic-specific knowledge clusters and knowledge cities rather than just “high tech” clusters. This is already happening; for example the biosciences cluster around Cambridge England.
  3. A Government-facilitated regional approach to deliberate, strategic and facilitated networking. we know that networks are where knowledge is shared and built, and the government should encourage people out from their four walls and into face-to-face networking space, through workshops, symposia, thinktanks, World cafes and so on - anything that is not "death by PowerPoint, nor limited to 140 characters.
As I said above, if you want a knowledge economy - an economy based on the asset of knowledge - then you need to ensure that asset is properly managed, and provide the understanding and the expectation that means that companies can do effective KM.

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