Friday, August 1, 2008

Better knowledge management to improve performance in the public sector

Role of Public Sector
In this era of New Public Management, the public sector is customer driven. (Osborne, 1993) The government no longer retains a monopoly in service provision and it has to compete with private sector, international organisations and NGOs. The customer centric approach involves satisfaction of customer needs through focus on service delivery. The central resource available with the government and for this is knowledge and not goods & capital. (UNPAN, 2003) Therefore, public sector can only deliver effective performance by successful management of its knowledge, which is the ‘ability of an organisation to use its collective knowledge through a process of knowledge generation, sharing and exploitation enabled by technology to achieve its objectives.’ (Davenport and Prusak, 1998)

The essay uses the ‘Three fold Knowledge Management framework’ of Holsapple and Joshi, (2002). The framework has three components; a knowledge resources component (organization’s reservoirs of knowledge), an activities component (functions an organization performs in processing its knowledge resources) and a KM influences component (factors that affect the conduct of KM in an organization). The aforementioned role of public sector is discussed in conjunction with knowledge management components to suggest ways for improvement of public sector performance.

1. Acquiring knowledge
The knowledge resources component consists of two kinds of knowledge. (Holsapple and Joshi, 2002)The ‘explicit knowledge’ or the knowledge contained in computer systems, organisational codes, procedures & rules, books, brochures, videos, tapes and other artifacts. This knowledge is easy to identify and collect. The second type of knowledge is the ‘institutional knowledge.’ This stored in the minds of the people. It is hidden from the public and from the parts of the organisation itself. This knowledge is difficult to share. As a result, a lot of ‘wheel reinventing’ goes on in public administration. (Metaxiotis and Psarras, 2005) However, this ‘tacit knowledge’, is required to be collected and made available when needed. (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995) This is difficult as in the public sector, there is culture based on lack of trust and of not sharing knowledge. (Bate & Robert 2002) The people in organisation hoard knowledge as it gives them power. (Luen and Al-Hawamdeh, 2001) In public service, the premium on hoarding knowledge has to be offset with incentives like recognition and awards for knowledge sharing. The first step in knowledge management is therefore gathering and sharing the explicit and tacit components of organisational knowledge. Knowledge sharing will help the public sector organisation to have greater access to the knowledge of their employees. As Lew Platt, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard pointed out, ‘if only HP knew what HP knows, it could be three times more productive’. Knowledge management and sharing will thus prevent ‘duplication of effort and help to make better decisions.’ (CIO Council, 2001) It will help to increase efficiency and produce better service delivery by the public sector.

Further, in public sector employees over a period, either move across departments or retire. They take their ‘tacit knowledge’ with them. Knowledge management can be used to help in retention of the ‘Institutional knowledge’ and preservation of institutional memory. This will bring stability and continuity to the organisation. (Milner, 2000) The performance of public service will be thus unaffected by such organisational changes. This knowledge can be further utilised in human resource management to train the newly recruited staff and reduce organizational learning time. This in turn will increase efficiency.

2. Processing knowledge
The second component of effective knowledge management involves classification and retrieval of knowledge from organisational memory and making it available for the users. (Holsapple and Joshi, 2002) The commonest devices to collect, process and store knowledge are computer systems. Some people believe that knowledge management is about ‘capturing all the best practices and knowledge that people possess and storing it in a computer system in a hope that someone will use them.’ (NHS, 2003) This may lead to wastage of resources. However, if information technology is used intelligently by integrating content and technology it can provide customer oriented services. In public sector, the user has to interact with multiple agencies for similar kinds of needs. Through knowledge management and use of information technology, the information, which is routinely required, can be shared among various public services to prevent duplication of information. The public service can ‘join up all services to focus on the needs of the customer’ and thus create a ‘one stop shop’ for the customer. (Reid and Bardzki, 2004) It will help the user in not filling multiple forms and accessing different public service offices. It will help the public service staff by reducing workload and increasing efficiency. It can also help to decentralize decision making at the operational level for better delivery of services. This process has been implemented in UK under the Modernising Government Agenda, where a portal ‘UK Online’ has been set up to provide services. (Reid and Bardzki, 2004) Online knowledge based service portals can thus serve a dual purpose of firstly, in intelligent capture, storage and retrieval of knowledge on computer systems and secondly, in providing online delivery of services. In a public sector, use of information technology based knowledge management can minimise human intervention in service provision. The computer being indifferent to the user can provide information without bias or premium. This will improve ease of access and availability of service. (Xiaoming and Kaushik, 2003)

The responsibility of the public sector is towards the stakeholders and not shareholders and under the new public management; this means their involvement in the process of policymaking. (UNPAN, 2003)The policy making now a days takes place outside the usual framework of bureaucracy and is mostly carried by informal arrangements called the ‘policy networks.’ (Rhodes and Marsh, 1992) The ‘policy networks’ comprise of the users & stakeholders and include their knowledge and experience. They also reflect their needs and expectations from the policy makers. Effective knowledge management can help in collection of knowledge from the policy networks and process it around policy initiatives. This can help to deliver a policy, which is more participative and focused on the needs of the people. Knowledge management can thus help in knowledge sharing which can help in power sharing. Knowledge sharing also promotes transparency in society. Transparency is a key factor to improve performance, as it can expose corruption and incompetence and can allow for checks and balances and stakeholder participation.

3. Utilising knowledge
The third component of knowledge management relates to the conduct of the knowledge. The knowledge, which has been collected and processed, can be used to deliver improved public service. (Holsapple and Joshi, 2002) One such mechanism is formation of ‘Collaboratives.’ This involves creation of horizontal knowledge networks that cut across hierarchical lines across several organisations. Collaboratives bring together wide range of professionals, who share their knowledge and learn the best practices from each other. (Bate and Robert, 2002) The collaboratives liberate individual ‘tacit’ knowledge and make it ‘explicit,’ through sharing of ideas & experiences. This knowledge is utilised by the members in their respective organisations. (Sveiby and Simons, 2002) The NHS has formed collaboratives, which help clinicians and local mangers to redesign services around the needs of local patients. (Department of Health 2000) Another mechanism of effective knowledge management is creation of ‘Communities of practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991) which are informal groups, working across internal or external boundaries, sharing knowledge and experience. The members put forward solutions based on their knowledge and experience as problems arise (Dougherty, 2004). An example of communities of practice exists on the Indian Administrative Services where officers of the batch, which join the service and train together, remain connected to each other throughout their service careers. The officers, who are posted in different parts of the country, interact with each other to share knowledge on solving administrative problems, handling public welfare programs and policy formulation & implementation. This helps them in finding quick solutions to public service problems. The GSDRC in the University of Birmingham has formed knowledge networks based on the concept of communities of practice to bring together people from a wider variety of occupations and interests. This puts the GSDRC team into contact with experts on various fields and helps it to learn from them by drawing on their experience from different situations. This knowledge is used by DFID for policy formulation and better service delivery. The information is also available on the website for use of common public and other stakeholders. (Lucas, 2007) Thus, these networks help in management of knowledge and improve the performance of the public sector.

The current public sector performance paradigm seeks to orient services and policies around the user. Knowledge management, which is the mental, behavioural, and cultural shift from the old adage ‘knowledge is power’ to the new mindset ‘sharing knowledge is power’ can assist this process. Effective knowledge management can provide means to enhance the ability of public service organization to achieve its organizational objectives by addressing to the needs of its stakeholders. It can help to decentralize decision making at the operational level for better delivery of public service and facilitate participation of the stakeholders. This in turn can help to bring the government closer to citizens, by making it convenient and cost effective. Knowledge management can also increase the efficiency of public service organisation by helping it to learn from its employees. This saves on duplication of effort and finds best solutions to the problem.

Contributed by: Dr Harmeet Singh, MBA(Birmingham)

Bate, S. P. & Robert, G., (2002) Knowledge Management and Communities of Practice in the Private Sector: Lessons for Modernizing the National Health Service in England and Wales, Public Administration, 80 (4), pp. 643-663

CIO Council, (2001), “Managing Knowledge @Work, An Overview of Knowledge Management”, Knowledge Management Working Group of the Federal Chief Information Officers Council, August.(Washington: CIO)

Davenport, T., and L. Prusak, (1998) Working Knowledge: How Organisations Mange What They Know, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press)

Department of Health (2000) The NHS Plan: A plan for investment, a plan for reform (London: DOH)

Dougherty, D. (2004) Organizing practices in services: Capturing practice-based knowledge for innovation, Strategic Organization, 2(1), pp. 35–64

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991), Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge)

Lucas, B., (2007) Communities of Practice: MBA Course Pack, (Birmingham: IDD)

Luen, T.W. and Al-Hawamdeh, S., (2001) Knowledge management in the public sector: principles and practices in police work, Journal of Information Science, 27 (5) 2001, pp. 311–318

Metaxiotis, K. and Psarras, J. (2005) ‘A conceptual analysis of knowledge management in e-government’, Electronic Government, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp.77–86
Milner, E.M., (2000) Managing Information and Knowledge in the Public Sector (London: Routledge)
NHS (2003) KM principles and practices, NeLH Specialist Library, available online at: (accessed on 17 March 2007)

Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995) The Knowledge-Creating Company, (Oxford: Oxford
University Press)

Osborne, D., (1993) Reinventing Government, Public Productivity & Management Review, 16(4), pp. 349-356.

Reid, V. and Bardzki, B., (2004) Communication and Culture: Designing a Knowledge-enabled Environment to Effect Local Government Reform, Electronic Journal of e-Government, 2(3), available online at (accessed on 21 March 2007)

Rhodes, R.A.W., and. D. Marsh, (1992) New directions in the study of policy networks, European Journal of Political Research, 21, pp.181-205.
Sveiby, K.E. and Simons, (2002) Collaborative climate and effectiveness of knowledge work – an empirical study, Journal of Knowledge Management, 6(5), pp. 420-433
UNPAN (2005) Unlocking the Human Potential for Public Sector Performance, World Public Sector Report 2005, (New York: UNPAN)

Xiaoming, C. and Kaushik, V. P.,(2003) Issues of Knowledge Management in the Public Sector, Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management, 1(2), pp. 25-33 Part of Dream Weave Walk

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Need for an Internal Control Mechanism for the Media

Role of Media

The power of media has never been in question.
It can influence the key policy makers by swaying the public opinion on various national and international issues.
It has the ability to play a significant role in spreading awareness about various developmental issues.
It also highlights the various ills plaguing our society.
In India, barring a few brief spells, media has largely had a free run. This freedom is all the more evident today with the advent of a multitude of newspapers, Private TV channels Radio Stations and Internet.
Too much of this freedom is now causing some serious concerns.

Where things are going wrong

Technology has outpaced journalism. Television has become the Raw News, because of live reporting and in an effort to be the First with the News; exaggerated, unanalyzed facts are often reported.
No discretion is exercised in reporting of Disaster news. Graphic descriptions and photographs of hanging, suicide, accident victims etc are prominently splashed. Watching too much disaster coverage is adversely affecting the viewer. Similarly juicy photographs, videos and clippings are unleashed without restriction on unsuspecting children.
There are two sides to any event - two ways to interpret it: one positive and the other negative. Newspapers and journalists seem to specialize in negative reporting.
Intruding into the privacy of any citizen has become a norm. No restraint is exercised in publishing the most private details of an individual. Competition creates the need to produce something with shock value, something that will be remembered, something chat-pata (sizzling) so that people are back for more.
In a country with tremendous inequality, indifferent or poor governance, and worrying societal trends there is a whole range of reporting that simply does not get done, because it means harder work, more news gathering expenses, and more reporters on beats. The problems run deep- digging them up and exposing them for action is a thankless task.
In a bid to have more advertising pages, miscellaneous bits of information is served up to inform, satisfy curiosity and meet the small town hunger for both sensational and neighborhood news. Media does not connect events with processes.
Another major issue today is ethics of what the media devotes space to, and how it allocates its manpower. There are beats for restaurants and fashion, there are no beats in most newspapers for agriculture, labor, education, infrastructure, or health and whatever little exists caters to up-market urban class.
Media has started another new concept of Trial by Media. A person is investigated by media, found guilty and sentenced without waiting for a legal investigation or trial.

Question of accountability of the Media

Today the Media is all too powerful.
Accountability is anathema to media.
There is fierce opposition to any watchdog body.
No dispute resolution mechanisms are operative.
Newspapers have not appointed an ombudsman to receive complaints from the public on the newspaper's functioning.
They do not have codes of conduct which are actively implemented.
They do not have a firm corrections policy, to dictate fair display for the corrections that newspapers should carry after they have damaged somebody's reputation.
There are hardly any debates in the media about the performance of media.
An irresponsible government can be brought down through a no-confidence motion in Parliament. But the there is no mechanism for the readers to discipline an irresponsible press.
The Media holds all rights to publish or not to publish. Readers cannot get even a denial or a rejoinder published as a matter of right.

Control mechanisms

Suddenly there is significant media presence. But there are no financial or intellectual resources to monitor what the media does on an ongoing basis. In a free and democratic society everything must have reasonable controls.
Censorship has been the most misused and regressive type of control. It defeats the very purpose of having a Media. This has never been successful in achieving any thing meaningful and does not merit any further discussion.
Press Councils India enshrines the noble concept of having press councils to ensure that the reader is not short-changed by unscrupulous or shoddy journalistic practices. They provide a platform to ventilate grievances against biased, inaccurate or inadequate reporting on matters of legitimate public interest.

However experience has shown that they are largely ineffective. Petitions drag on before the inquiry committee, for several years. They have little or no legal teeth to punish the guilty. At the end of the day they are not delivering enough to be effective and trusted.
Peer reviews of what the media is doing are few and far between. Little or no mechanism exists for this kind of monitoring.
In India we don’t have the concept of a press ombudsman.
There are no codified media ethics in place.
There are no statutory media audits on the reporting and coverage by a newspaper or a Television channel.
Monitoring websites There are perhaps only a few websites like The Hoot and India Together which regularly publish articles on the aberrations in media coverage and failings of the media.

Self Regulation

The more developed countries are much more evolved in the area of media ethics. Our media is still young, our regulations still in the pipeline. Until then it is better to have internal mechanisms in place rather than those enforced from outside. In my considered opinion the best form of regulation is voluntary and self imposed.
Self regulation has none of the complications of law - but still provides a system in which publications are committed to the highest possible ethical standards.
As a part of this mechanism the Newspapers, TV channels and websites can
Spell out guidelines for Advertorials , Government orders and advertisements, Health and medical matters Opinion polls, Photographs, use of Religious and casteist terms, Selection of newsworthy stories, privacy of individuals, Suicide reporting, Suppression of names of sources, Witness payments etc.
Invite complaints through phone, email or mail by stating so in the media.
Create a voluntary forum of representatives from the public, industry, government, media and judiciary but independent from the editorial and management to speedily look into the matter and deliver a verdict in 7 days.
Publish the complaint and the decision verbatim.
Take action against the errant journalists and in case of bogus complaints highlight the same.
This mechanism would be effective only if it has the ability to take action. This would bring about accountability for the newspaper and ensure transparency for public


Definitely, the media has the potential to unleash all the positive energies that are held together by 'we-the-people'. They must create commonality of interests between themselves and the readers. They must deliver to the audience information that empowers and is not guided merely by commercial interests.
They have also to understand their ever increasing responsibility.
Responsibility of being honest, impartial and fair.
Responsibility of exercising restraint and discretion.
Responsibility of protecting privacy and innocence.
And all this must come from within and not reach a stage when this has to be enforced externally. -

Contributed by:Dr Harmeet Singh MBA(Birmingham)

Part of Dream Weave Walk