by: Tri Aji Nugroho, Member of Nurul Fikri Strategic Human Resource Education Program Regional II, Bandung. October 2007
Are the concepts of knowledge management (KM) applicable to schools, colleges and universities? Some would argue that sharing knowledge is their raison d’être (reason of being). If that is the case, then the higher education sector should be replete with examples of institutions that leverage knowledge to spur innovation, improve services, or achieve operational excellence. However, although some examples exist, they are the exception rather than the rule. Knowledge management is not a new field, and experiments are beginning to mature in higher education.
I believe there is tremendous value to higher education institutions that develop initiatives to share knowledge to achieve business or organizational objectives. What are the basic concepts of knowledge management, how the trends, and how it might be applied in higher education and whether higher education is ready to embrace it or not, we will know through this article.
Knowledge management is the process of transforming information and intellectual assets into enduring value. It connects people with the knowledge that they need to take action, when they need it. In the corporate sector, managing knowledge is considered key to achieving breakthrough competitive advantage. But what is knowledge? Knowledge starts as data—raw facts and numbers—for example, the market value of an institution’s endowment. Information is data put into context—in the same example, the endowment per student at a particular institution. Information is readily captured in documents or in databasses; even large amounts are fairly easy to retrieve with modern information technology systems.
Before acting on information, however, we need to take one more step. Only when information is combined with experience and judgment does it become knowledge. Knowledge can be highly subjective and hard to codify. It includes the insight and wisdom of peoples. It may be shared through emailed “best practices” memos or even sticky notes on a cubicle wall. And once we have knowledge, we can put it to work and apply it to decision making. A popular framework for thinking about knowledge proposes two main types of knowledge: explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is documented information that can facilitate action. It can be expressed in formal, shared language. Examples include formulas, equations, rules, and best practices.
- Easily codified
Tacit knowledge is know-how and learning embedded within the minds of the people in an organization. It involves perceptions, insights, experiences, and craftsmanship.
Tacit knowledge is:
- Difficult to formalize
- Difficult to communicate
- More difficult to transfer
Most business actions require the guidance of both explicit and tacit knowledge. How does knowledge work in organizations? Knowledge originates in individuals, but it is embodied in teams and organizations, as shown in Figure 1. In an organization, examples of explicit knowledge are strategies, methodologies, processes, patents, products, and services. Examples of tacit knowledge in an organizational context are skills and competencies, experiences, relationships within and outside the organization, individual beliefs and values, and ideas. Knowledge also is embedded in work processes, and it exists in all core functions of an organization as well as in its systems and infrastructure. Effective knowledge management programs identify and leverage the know-how embedded in work, with a focus on how it will be applied. The challenge in knowledge management is to make the right knowledge available to the right people at the right time.
New Trends in Knowledge Management
Several trends will shape the field of knowledge management in the not-too distant future (even now):
- • Emerging technology solutions
- • The convergence of knowledge management with e-business
- • The movement from limited knowledge management projects to more enterprisewide projects
- • Increasing use of knowledge management to enhance innovation
- • Increasing use of tacit knowledge (rather than explicit knowledge)
Moving from Best Practices to Innovation
Today survey report indicated that most knowledge management programs are still focused on creating repositories for storing and diffusing best practices, focusing on operational excellence and cost reduction. While many companies or organizational have earned a significant payback from these efforts, the real payoff may lie in applying knowledge management to spur innovation. Nokia is a good example of a company that has applied knowledge management to encourage innovation in its R&D and product development functions. The company uses knowledge management practices to make sense of market trends and customer requirements and quickly puts that knowledge into action in the product development pipeline. Industry analysts report that Nokia delivers a new mobile communication product about every 25 days.
Advances in Working with Tacit Knowledge
Explicit knowledge, which consists of formulas, equations, rules, and best practices, is easier to work with than tacit knowledge, which involves perceptions, experiences, and insights because it can be recorded, stored in databases, and transported easily. But the characteristic is that it is a little too portable—if you have it today, others will likely have it tomorrow. And in any case, the mechanics of managing explicit knowledge are sufficiently well known that it will not provide a lasting competitive advantage. The ability to manage tacit knowledge, on the other hand, promises to deliver huge returns for organizations that learn to use it effectively. The reason is that in the most valuable knowledge intensive businesses—software development, say, or product design—the difference between a good performer and the best performer is huge. And the difference that matters most lies in tacit knowledge: a deep understanding of how to act on knowledge effectively.
Applying KM in Higher Education
Using knowledge management techniques and technologies in higher education is as vital as it is in the corporate sector. If done effectively, it can lead to better decision-making capabilities, reduced “product” development cycle time (for example, curriculum development and research), improved academic and administrative services, and reduced costs. Consider the number of faculty and staff who possess institutional knowledge. For example, what institution does not have a faculty member who has led successful curriculum revision task forces? Or a departmental secretary who knows how to navigate the complex proposal development or procurement processes? Or a researcher who has informal connections to the National Science Foundation? Or a special assistant to the president who has uncovered (or generated) useful reports that individual deans or department chairs could use to develop their own strategic plans?
Relying on the institutional knowledge of unique individuals can hamper the flexibility and responsiveness of any organization. The challenge is to convert the information that currently resides in those individuals and make it widely and easily available to any faculty member, staff person, or other constituent. An institution wide approach to knowledge management can lead to exponential improvements in sharing knowledge—both explicit and tacit—and the subsequent surge benefits.
Is higher education ready to embrace knowledge management? A key ingredient in an institution’s readiness to embrace knowledge management is its culture—the beliefs, values, norms, and behaviors that are unique to an organization. Informally, it is the unwritten rules or “how things really get done.” Higher education is moving from the old culture that considers, “What’s in it for me?” to a new culture that says, “What’s in it for our peoples?” And it is developing a culture that is ready to embrace knowledge management.
Schools, colleges and universities in Indonesia have significant opportunities to apply knowledge management practices to support every part of their mission—from education to public service to research. Knowledge management should not strike higher education institutions as a radically new idea; rather, it is a new spin on their raison d’être. But implementing knowledge management practices wisely is a lesson that the smartest organizations in the corporate and not-for-profit sectors are learning all over again.