Barriers and Opportunities to the Introduction of Knowledge Management into Namibian Institutions

Knowledge has become the latest factor of production in addition to land, capital and labour. Organisations in Namibia should therefore introduce knowledge management in order to improve their products and services. The introduction of knowledge management into organisations in Namibia will also lead to improved performance, competitive advantage and also innovation.

According to Santosus (2002), “knowledge management is the process through which organisations generate value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets. Most often, generating value from such assets involves sharing them among employees, departments and even other companies in an effort to devise best practices”. Namibian organisations should recognise and value the knowledge possessed by their employees.

The introduction of knowledge management into organisations in Namibia will help in achieving organisational performance through the combination of people, processes, and technology. This is because knowledge management comprises a range of practices used by organisations to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge for reuse, awareness, and learning across the organisations (Wikipedia: 2008). Therefore the value of organisations is not what they own but what they know.

According to Davenport and Prusak (2000, p.6), knowledge can and should be evaluated by the decisions or actions to which it leads, e.g. measurable efficiencies in product development and production. The introduction of knowledge management into organisations in Namibia will help organisations to manage both tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge through employees and documents; to make better decisions for the success of the organisations.

1. Opportunities to the introduction of knowledge management into organisations in Namibia

When knowledge management is introduced into organisations, there are several opportunities that arise. Organisations must therefore use these opportunities to improve their effectiveness and competitiveness.

Knowledge management involves systematic approaches for finding, classifying, understanding, sharing and using knowledge; it creates value by reducing the time and expenses of learning by trial and error, or reinventing the wheel every time something have to be done. Rather, with the introduction of knowledge management into organisations in Namibia, organisations will be able to map knowledge and make it accessible to everyone within the organisation.

Globalisation is one opportunity that organisation which will introduce knowledge management will use more often to evaluate its standard by making comparison with other organisations worldwide. Knowledge management offers a highly desirable alternative for organisations to improve its services and products. In a way, this can be done if organisations employ knowledgeable people. Knowledge management will enable Namibian organisations to benchmark; share best practices; explore new areas of development and transfer knowledge.

Knowledge must be shared and serve as a foundation for collaboration within an organisation. According to Santosus (2002), knowledge management will help organisations to “foster innovation by encouraging the free flow of ideas; improve customer service by streamlining response time; boost revenues by getting products and services to market faster; enhance employee retention rates by recognising the value of employees’ knowledge and rewarding them for it; and streamline operations and reduce costs by eliminating redundant or unnecessary processes”.

This will be a boost for Namibian organisations that will introduce knowledge management. A good approach to introducing knowledge management will result in improved efficiency, higher productivity and increased revenues, depending on the organisation’s willingness to create a knowledge management-enabling environment.

1.1. The absence or presence of a conducive organisation culture

According to the NHS National Library for Health (2005, p.52), effective knowledge management requires a knowledge sharing culture to be successful. They refer to an organisational culture as a set of values, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes that are deeply held by people in an organisation. Culture is important because it is a medium through which knowledge is shared and exchanged.

If organisational cultures get in the way, they give rise to, and reinforce, behaviours that inhibit knowledge sharing (NHS National Library for Health: 2005, 52). Organisational cultures that do not encourage the sharing of ideas also create conflicts between the employees and top management most often if organisations have hierarchical structures. If an organisation has no knowledge management culture, employees will frequently re-invent the wheel. Therefore, Namibian organisations need a mixture of thinking and acting, learning and doing.

In contrast to the absence of a conducive organisational culture, the NHS National Library for Health (2005, p.52) identifies the following characteristics of a knowledge sharing culture of an organisation: “Top leadership sees knowledge as a strategic asset and provides incentives and support for knowledge management processes; the organisation focuses on the development and exploitation of its knowledge assets; knowledge creation, sharing and use are a natural and recognised part of the organisation’s processes…; groups within the organisation cooperate instead of competing with each other;…and communication channels and a common technology infrastructure enable and enhance knowledge management activities”.

A culture of teamwork, of working with each other is created in organisations that have a conducive culture. Employees should be encouraged to share their ideas with their colleagues. Because all organisations are made up of individuals with different backgrounds, values and beliefs, i.e. cultures; it will be easier to determine “ what the knower sees, absorbs, and concludes from his observations” of a certain situation (Davenport & Prusak: 2000, 12). Therefore, people with different values see different things in the same situation and organise their knowledge by their values.

An organisational culture that enables knowledge management is a non-bureaucratic organisation that rewards employees for sharing knowledge; encouraging network, open to discussion, encourages employees, and builds cooperation and collaboration. However, changing organisational is difficult to implement. During the change process, an organisation is trying to move from one culture to another. This makes it very difficult for employees in an organisation to envisage what change will be like and consequently understand or appreciate the benefits. This may lead to resistance to change and thus preventing knowledge management to take place smoothly in organisations in Namibia.

1.2. Knowledge sharing practices

Tacit knowledge, which makes up 80% in an organisation is difficult to be identified since it is in people’s heads, more than explicit knowledge (20%), which is in documents. A lot of knowledge is therefore not captured and structured because most of the time organisations do not know what they know.

Davenport and Prusak (2000, p.90) states that sometimes organisations are influenced by outdated theories of the nature of work in which they assume that water cooler socialising and talking are a waste of time. This mindset is however not true because employees tend to talk about work. Conversations are the way in which knowledge workers discover what they know, share it with their colleagues, and in the process create new knowledge for the organisation.

Unfortunately, this practice of not allowing employees to talk to each other still exist in most, if not all, Namibian organisations. They fail to realise that employees often share ideas by engaging in conversations. A better advice is to tell employees to “Start talking and get to work!” instead of “Stop talking and get to work!” (Davenport & Prusak: 2000, 91). In a way, this avenue of sharing knowledge creates opportunities for generating new ideas or solving old problems in unexpected ways.

Conversations may be functioning as knowledge-sharing mechanisms for establishing trust and also opportunities for criticism. “Whoso loves instruction loves knowledge, but he that hates reproof is brutish” (Proverbs 12: 1). Organisations should also realise that knowledge shared is knowledge multiplied, and should therefore discourage employees from hoarding their knowledge that is useful for the organisation’s success. Effective knowledge sharing does not drown people in information; instead, it speeds up the problem-solving process. The benefit of sharing knowledge is acquiring new knowledge in return.

1.3. The availability of both ICTs and social tools

ICTs and social tools are both knowledge management enablers and tools. If social tools are available in an organisation, they will help an organisation in many ways. Some examples of social tools include after action review (AAR), communities of practice (CoP), story telling, peer assists and best practices (BP).

After action review will help an organisation to ask four questions after the action or project has taken place: (a) what was the desired outcome?; (b) what was the actual outcome?; (c) why was the actual outcome different from desired outcome?; and (d) what was learnt as a result of this? In this way an organisation evaluates its performance and learns from the mistakes, and thereby ensuring that mistakes do not take place in the future.

Communities of practice are people working together looking for solutions, and share ideas to achieve what they practice. Story telling is a way of telling ideas and transfer tacit knowledge from one individual to another. Story telling is a starting point for action and fostering collaboration. Peer assists are a social group that is utilised to learn from others. It is for people who are on the same level; who share their experiences on the bad and good situations and outcomes of their work. This peer assist will help in building networks, thereby enabling employees to locate the person who owns the knowledge at any point in time.

Best practices involve comparing own performances with other organisations or departments. If a department is performing poorly, the organisation will bring the best practices used by another department to see if there will be an improvement in performance. In this way, knowledge is being transferred from one part to another. And overall, the organisation will improve its performance in all departments.

ICTs are a very important enabler of knowledge management initiatives. ICTs therefore captures 80 % of tacit knowledge in organisation as compared to 20 % of explicit knowledge. Namibian organisations should be aware of both the potential of technology to enhance knowledge, and of the fact that the potential can be realised only if they understand more about how knowledge is actually developed, shared and used.

2. The barriers to the introduction of knowledge management into organisation in Namibia

A barrier can be anything that obstructs knowledge management to take place effectively in organisations. Organisations often ignore people and cultural issues, which are important aspects in managing knowledge within an organisation. In most cases, organisations in Namibia do not have cultures that encourage the sharing of knowledge and knowledge management to take place freely.

One barrier that is common in Namibia is the hierarchical structures of many organisations whereby the power of the authority lies on the top. These structures have an impact on how knowledge is created, shared and used in an organisation. Therefore, organisations should try to make their structures flat to allow everybody to communicate with anyone directly without taking long routes according to structures.

Some organisations also do not allow employees to talk during working hours. Therefore organisation in Namibia should “create locations and occasions for workers to interact informally” (Davenport & Prusak: 2000, 93). These will include organising knowledge fairs, which bring people together, and water coolers. Knowledge management should be based on people, knowledge and business objectives of the organisation, in addition to technology.

The introduction of knowledge management in Namibia may be interfered by historical background, gender dimensions, labour relations, cultural relations, and human resources or intellectual capital. During apartheid rule, blacks were regarded as inferior to whites and therefore most whites occupied top positions in organisations. Women were also not given top positions because they too, were regarded as inferior to men. People were also restricted to work within their regions, e.g. Caprivi for Caprivians. In terms of training, blacks were affected because they could take courses in science fields.

The factors may interfere with the introduction of knowledge management into organisations in Namibia today. This is mainly due to the fact that many organisations have not changed much in terms of organisational culture. Therefore, there should be diversity in organisation in order to employ people regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity and other differences. Diversity will bring people in an organisation to work together in achieving organisational goals. If it is absent, employees will not feel to be part of the organisation, and may not be willing to share their knowledge with others.

3. Conclusion

According to Davenport and Prusak (2000, p.12), companies hire for experience more often than for intelligence or education because they understand the value of knowledge that has been developed and proven over time.

However, Namibian organisations that are just introducing knowledge management should also focus on developing knowledge and experience. This can be done by placing new employees under a mentor. Organisations should also encourage students from higher institutions to apply for apprenticeship programmes. They should also question how effectively staffs employ their qualifications and experience in fulfilling and contributing to their roles in the environment of the organisation and their ability to retain a quality output.

Before introducing knowledge management, organisations should have a culture and infrastructures that enable knowledge management to take place. Once these are in place, employees will be able to use the rules of thumb and intuition. In this way, “those with knowledge will see known patterns in new situations and will respond appropriately. They will not have to build an answer from scratch every time…. knowledge offers speed and employees with it will be able to deal with situations quickly” (Davenport & Prusak: 2000, 11).

By using knowledge management, organisation in Namibia will be able to build on their experiences to provide a historical perspective from which to view and understand new situations and events. This is because knowledge born of experience recognises familiar patterns and can make connections between what is happening now and what happened then (Davenport & Prusak: 2000, 7-8).

Organisations should also invest in educating their employees, and to take advantage of new technologies for acquiring and disseminating knowledge. Organisations should also focus on knowledge workers such as librarians to improve and manage knowledge in organisations. This is because knowledge workers own the means of production.

In conclusion, Barclay (2002) argues that the nature of business has changed in two ways: “(a) knowledge work is fundamentally different in character from physical labour; and (b) the knowledge worker is almost completely immersed in a computing environment. This new reality dramatically alters the methods by which we must manage, learn, represent knowledge, interact, solve problems, and act”.

4. References

Barclay, Rebecca O. (2002) (ed.). Knowledge Praxis. What is knowledge management? Online. Accessed 05 May 2008.

Davenport, Thomas H. and Prusak, Laurence (2000). Working knowledge: how organisations manage what they know. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

NHS National Library for Health (2005). ABC of knowledge management.

Santosus, Megan (2002) (ed.). The ABCs of knowledge management. Online. Accessed 05 May 2008.

Wikipedia (2008). Knowledge management. Online. Accessed 07 May 2008.


One thought on “Barriers and Opportunities to the Introduction of Knowledge Management into Namibian Institutions

  1. Fabian,
    An impressive and clear post, Thank you!
    I find the situation described, as relevant as in Israel and be happy to elaborate and continue the dialog.
    Would you say that there are unique characteristics in Namibia in particular for implementing KM?

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