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Social Work and Social Services in the Perspective of Knowledge Management Literature - Book Review

1 September 2017
Dr. Moria Levy
A person holding a sphere with a glowing light

Knowledge management is relatively young, with less than 25 years of history, and it continues to evolve globally. Its primary focus is the efficient management and utilization of employees' knowledge for the benefit of organizations. This encompasses the preservation of expert knowledge, the sharing of information among employees and partners, the promotion of innovation, and ensuring accessibility throughout the organization.

 

This youthfulness also impacts the available literature, which remains limited, consisting of just a few hundred books. These books can be broadly categorized into two main groups: those that cover general knowledge management concepts for organizations and those that are tailored to specific fields, such as knowledge continuity, storytelling, lessons learned, and knowledge communities, among others. Notably, there needs to be more specialized literature specifically addressing knowledge management in social services. However, this scarcity still needs to diminish the importance of this field. Similarly, in other areas, technical literature is either scarce or nonexistent. Nevertheless, case study collections touch upon knowledge management in social services among their various topics.

 

Hereby is an overview of three representative articles published in the last decade:

  1. "Knowledge Management in Elderly Care" by Carina Abrahamson Löfström (2014).

  2. "Developing Knowledge in Collaborative Processes in the Community Services Administration of the Jerusalem Municipality" by Rinat Salem (2017).

  3. "Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning at the Annie E. Casey Foundation: Assisting Disadvantaged Kids and Families" by Thomas Kern (2008).

 

The first article delves into knowledge management in Sweden, specifically within the elderly care sector, which encompasses health and social services. At the national level, there was a concerted effort to promote knowledge management to enhance the well-being and dignity of older people. This endeavor involved the formulation of guidelines, the establishment of a knowledge-centric website, the introduction of university training programs, and the provision of scholarships. In healthcare, these concepts found successful implementation thanks to the existing culture of scientific evidence and well-established local practices.

 

However, in stark contrast, the social services field, as observed by Abrahamson Löfström, appeared to lack systematic processes for sharing knowledge. The article raises fundamental questions about the feasibility of knowledge management within such services, scrutinizing social services within the elderly care system through the lens of Myers' normative model. Abrahamson Löfström comprehensively evaluates organizational values, structure, and available resources.

 

While the values of trust and learning appear to be upheld, the crucial aspect of transparency needs to be revised. To address this gap, an alternative approach involving the sharing of guidelines is suggested. Furthermore, the article identifies deficiencies in structural elements such as flexible roles, recruitment mechanisms, decentralized decision-making, and boundary management, but it also offers potential solutions to address these issues. There is promise for improvement in terms of resources, including workforce and computing support.

 

Additionally, the article discusses the applicability of the 7C model, which encompasses elements such as connection, communication, competence, and culture. This model could be effectively applied to the Swedish social services sector if knowledge management were implemented. Significantly, such implementation would extend beyond employees to encompass all stakeholders involved with older people.

 

It is worth noting that despite the coherence of Abrahamson Löfström's analysis, his proposed solution predominantly focuses on routines and processes, which he identifies as lacking within the Swedish social work sector. This distinction sets it apart from the approach taken in medical care for older people.

 

In a separate article, Salem investigates the processes of knowledge-sharing and development within the Jerusalem Municipality, explicitly focusing on the Community Administration and the Welfare Department. The article delves into generating new knowledge from employee experiences and collaborative learning groups. This process results in the creation of coordinated products that play an integral role in the overall functioning of the division.

 

What makes this endeavor particularly intriguing is the unique characteristics inherent to the municipality and the Welfare Department, necessitating the development of distinct knowledge. Salem attributes the success of this learning process to collaborative efforts where knowledge is collectively generated from group experiences. Additionally, she highlights the significance of an organized and systematic approach to knowledge collection.

 

One noteworthy aspect underscored by Salem is the importance of team heterogeneity, a concept that aligns with Surowiecki's conditions for mass wisdom. While this may not fit the traditional definition of crowdsourcing, meeting these conditions is pivotal in consolidating professional knowledge within the Welfare Department.

 

Kern's article delves into knowledge sharing and development among social workers who work with families and foster children. It is part of a comprehensive book highlighting successful knowledge management (KM) practices within the Annie E. Casey Foundation in New England, USA. The book offers valuable guidance for similar organizations nationwide. In 2002, the KM initiative was designed to achieve several objectives, including enhancing information sharing, establishing effective KM processes, fostering a learning culture, and setting clear KM goals. Activities implemented as part of this initiative encompassed community-building efforts and the development of a collaborative website.

 

Measuring the return on investment (ROI) for KM posed a significant challenge due to the unique nature of the service sector. To address this challenge, the organization assessed ROI using the Balanced Scorecard concept, considering financial and performance aspects while ensuring alignment with organizational goals. Several critical success factors emerged from this endeavor: a clearly defined vision, a culture prioritizing learning, a strong focus on output, and dedicated senior leadership. Continuous improvement efforts were instrumental in tailoring KM to the organization's specific needs.

 

While these three articles maintain their distinct focus, they share common themes. One of them explores the theoretical potential of KM, while the others emphasize practical implementation and its achievements. Notably, the methodologies employed in these articles offer generalizable insights that can be applied to the broader field of social work. The latter two articles, in particular, concentrate on specific populations, namely adults and young mothers. Nonetheless, they all highlight the unique challenges and considerations inherent to social services and social work, each within its context. These challenges may encompass issues related to transparency, distinctive population factors, or the measurement of quantifiable outcomes.

 

The authors exhibit an in-depth understanding of their subject matter. However, the unique aspects they emphasize are not limited to welfare and social services organizations alone. Issues related to transparency can be observed in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, security, and competitive industries. Similarly, organizations dealing with broad consumerism often encounter diverse populations and distinct work components. The challenge of assessing outputs and achievements extends beyond human capital. It encompasses various business sectors where success is contingent on factors like brand value, employee engagement, and the meaningfulness of work.

 

While existing literature suggests that welfare and social services organizations are not unique in facing knowledge management challenges, this does not diminish the importance of dedicated literature within this domain. Despite their differences, these organizations share commonalities with various sectors. This shared ground offers opportunities for cross-sector learning and the exchange of insights regarding both successes and challenges.

 

References

 Salem R. (2017). 9. Development of knowledge in collaborative processes in the Jerusalem Municipality Community Services Administration. Knowledge Management in Israel 2017: Collaborative, 166.


Kern T.E. (2008). 5. Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning at the Annie E. Casey Foundation: Helping Disadvantaged Kids and Families. Making Cents out of Knowledge Management, 53.


Löfström, C. A. (2014). 7. Knowledge management in elderly care. Handbook of Research on Knowledge Management: Adaptation and Context, 111.


Myers P.S. (2014). 3. A normative model of knowledge management effectiveness. Handbook of Research on Knowledge Management: Adaptation and Context, 28.


Surowiecki, J. (2004). The wisdom of crowds: Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business. Economies, Societies, and Nations, 296.

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