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Becoming Knowledge Focused - Book Review

1 December 2009
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

Published in 2008, "Becoming Knowledge Focused" addresses knowledge management within international non-profit organizations, including operative entities such as the OSCE, a United Nations sub-organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and normative organizations like the IAEA (International Nuclear Energy Network). Dr. Ugochukwu Ugbor, the author, is a knowledge management expert based in Austria working at OPEC. The study primarily draws examples from OPEC, strongly emphasizing UN-sponsored organizations.


Dr. Ugbor presents an integrative framework that applies the concept of knowledge management across diverse organizations. Despite its specific focus, the book holds relevance for organizations differing significantly from its context, making it valuable even where a direct contribution may take time to be evident.


The title, "Becoming Knowledge Focused," emphasizes the belief that knowledge cannot be managed but asserts that focusing on the subject improves the preservation, sharing, and accessibility of knowledge.


Encouraging thorough reading, the book provides a detailed description of case studies from eight international organizations. It is particularly recommended for research enthusiasts, featuring numerous excerpts referencing an additional 169 studies and books.


The book covers the following topics:
  • International organizations

  • A snapshot of organizations concerning knowledge management

  • Reinforcing factors for knowledge management

  • How to become a knowledge-centric organization

  • Appendix Case Studies


Happy reading.


International organizations

This book defines international organizations as "a collection of nations, founded or recognized by nations for the advancement of a common goal. An international organization is a formal arrangement with institutions and a mechanism that regulates cooperation between members in social, security, economic, or similar fields."


To grasp the knowledge needs, it is crucial to identify the stakeholders in such organizations, which are typically diverse entities:

  • External stakeholders: super organizations; governments and state representatives; academia; relevant industries; other international organizations; directors (of governments); the public.

  • Internal stakeholders: committees, management, professional teams of consultants, and general staff.


International organizations primarily serve normative or operational functions:

  • Normative – influencing the perception of actors' positions in the international community on defined issues, while the realization remains the stakeholders' responsibility, especially the states.

  • Operational – executing operations in countries where agreed upon by partner nations.


The activities of organizations, both normative and operational, can be primarily viewed as collaborative and capacity-building. In business organizations, knowledge management is often driven by the desire to create competitive value or by the information systems body. In international organizations, the situation is more intricate:

  1. Success is challenging to define, with different stakeholders having diverse goals and definitions for organizational success.

  2. Immediate market feedback and margins need improvement, making them less inclined to seek efficiency.

  3. Processes in the organization are not just means but are significant in themselves.

  4. Usefulness holds more importance for stakeholders in these organizations than efficiency.

All these factors influence knowledge and knowledge management less as a tool and more as a general application.


Knowledge management in international organizations is defined as harnessing the human capital of the organization's members and knowledge workers across various countries to enhance organizational learning, international cooperation, and international governance. It provides a knowledge-focused perspective to aid in achieving the organization's goals.


Human capital in these organizations is typically found in the collaborations among stakeholders rather than within the organization itself. Building trust among stakeholders in international organizations is vital to the organization's activity and success. Knowledge management is gauged through collaboration, access to knowledge, recognition of experts, and awareness of the need for knowledge management.


A snapshot of organizations concerning knowledge management

Knowledge workers in international organizations are recognized for their effective utilization of knowledge. Surveys conducted in 1994 and 2004 across 25 UN institutions indicate a substantial increase in knowledge workers within these organizations.


A 2006 survey by the UN and its institutions reveals that knowledge management is still in its early stages within international organizations, often primarily driven by the information systems body. Additional internal findings accompanying this survey currently assist UN organizations in preparing to enhance the situation. Effective knowledge management must be situated in the correct social context, emphasizing that treating it solely as a technological matter is insufficient.


An overview of knowledge management within eight organizations illustrates that normative organizations typically focus their knowledge management activities on addressing specific problems.


Metrics for knowledge management in organizations involve increasing collaboration, enhancing accessibility, recognizing experts, and raising awareness. The following outlines the status of indicators achieved in knowledge management activities concerning various activities and stakeholders in organizations:


Project:

  • Acquiring knowledge: collaboration, knowledge submission

  • Knowledge Development: Collaborativeness, Knowledge Submission

  • Knowledge provision: collaboration, knowledge submission, recognition of experts, awareness of knowledge management


Expertise:

  • Acquiring knowledge: collaboration, knowledge submission, recognition of experts

  • Knowledge Development: Collaborativeness, Knowledge Submission

  • Providing knowledge: collaboration, knowledge submission, awareness of knowledge management


Organization:

  • Acquiring knowledge: collaboration, knowledge submission

  • Knowledge Development: Collaborativeness, Knowledge Submission

  • Providing knowledge: collaboration, knowledge submission


Public:

  • Acquiring knowledge: collaboration, knowledge submission

  • Knowledge Development: Collaborativeness, Knowledge Submission

  • Knowledge provision: knowledge submission, recognition of experts, awareness of knowledge management


Focused consultation:

  • Acquiring knowledge: collaboration, knowledge submission

  • Knowledge Development: Collaborativeness, Knowledge Submission

  • Providing knowledge: collaboration, knowledge submission, awareness of knowledge management


Reinforcing factors for knowledge management

Three factors significantly enhance the ability to manage knowledge in organizations:

  1. Trust: Trust is the crucial element exerting the most significant influence on knowledge sharing among all stakeholders. Sharing is complex due to differences among stakeholders and the multitude of languages (23 in the EU, for example). The primary reinforcing factors for trust include enterprise leadership and the organizational framework, encompassing technocracy, bureaucracy, and decision-making processes.

  2. Knowledge Products and Services: International organizations operate at three levels: project-based, consulting-based, and expertise-based. The knowledge associated with these levels includes:

    a. Project knowledge tailored to specific needs.

    b. Expert knowledge, ranging from functional to holistic.

    c. Consultative knowledge encompasses regulatory knowledge (general or adapted) and predictable knowledge.

  3. Technology and Knowledge Management: Knowledge management in international organizations takes two primary forms:

    a. Collaborative between people, with greater significance in operative organizations.

    b. Linking people to documents with greater significance in normative organizations.


Knowledge management technologies can transcend time and space, but typically:

  • In normative organizations, time takes precedence.

  • In operative organizations, it spans space (with a slight overlap into time).


Examples of knowledge management applications include:

  • Same place, same time: Project screens, conference rooms.

  • Same place, cross-time: Chat, shared electronic screens, video conferencing, Skype, iPods, and other mobile accessories.

  • Cross-place, simultaneously: Portals, knowledge sites, document management systems, records management systems, content management systems.

  • Cross-place, cross-time: Faxes, emails, letters.


How to become a knowledge-centric organization

Based on the conducted research, the book's author recommends how organizations can evolve into knowledge-focused entities, initiating a knowledge management process. The knowledge management journey encompasses three key stages:

  1. Strategic Analysis:

    a. Understanding the organizational type (normative/operational).

    b. Analyzing external and internal factors and constraints.

    c. Identifying human capital assets and strategic capabilities essential for dealing with constraints.

    d. Identifying relevant knowledge products for organizational activity.

  2. Strategic Choice:

    a. Choosing the implementation tools.

  3. Strategic Implementation:

    a. Restructuring processes related to knowledge products.

    b. Linking visible knowledge to the organizational functions it serves.

    c. Applying acquired technologies for various knowledge products.

    d. Managing cultural change, emphasizing overt factors and particularly addressing hidden ones.

    e. Overlapping retiring teams and employees with new staff.

    f. Conducting knowledge interviews for retirees.


Appendix Case Studies

The organizations scrutinized in the book include:


IAEA

  • Activities: International Atomic Nuclear Authority

  • Motivating factor for knowledge management: Retirement - skills depletion

  • Main knowledge management activities: Promoting human capital through a website used for sharing documents and linking to experts.


IMO

  • Activities: International Maritime Organization

  • Motivating factor for knowledge management: Safety - Regional maritime transport standards

  • Main knowledge management activities: A portal aiding countries in planning maritime standards.


OFID

  • Activities: OPEC Foundation for International Development

  • Motivating factor for knowledge management: Geopolitics - Damages and Debt Burdens

  • Main knowledge management activities: Conducting Retirement Surveys, Significance Assessments, and managing a Knowledge Site.


OPEC

  • Activities: Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

  • Motivating factor for knowledge management: Security - oil supply and demand requirements

  • Main knowledge management activities: Forming work teams for researching critical issues, enhancing human capital, adding supporting information systems, and utilizing a portal-based WEB2.0 approach.


OSCE

  • Activities: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • Motivating factor for knowledge management: Perception of attitudes - attitudes regarding a reform program

  • Main knowledge management activities: Utilizing mobile workstations for enhanced accessibility and ongoing efforts on a portal and document management system.


UNITED

  • Activities: United Nations Industrial Development Organization

  • Motivating factor for knowledge management: Reform - a demand to improve program implementation

  • Main knowledge management activities: Enhancing collaboration between people, linking them to documents, and streamlining programs from 250 to 16 to 8.


UNODC

  • Activities: United Nations Agency for Drugs and Crime

  • Motivating factor for knowledge management: Geopolitics - increasing complexity in crime

  • Main knowledge management activities: Utilizing enterprise computing and LOTUS NOTES for sharing information and knowledge.


EU

  • Activities: European Union

  • Motivating factor for knowledge management: Perception of attitudes - growing skepticism about the EU

  • Main knowledge management activities: Supporting a comprehensive research program on various subjects through knowledge sites (including research in knowledge management) and managing CAFÉ sites and forums.


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