What’s old is new again – test your knowledge about knowledge systems

D Cash HarvardMany of us think that KM (KT/KE/KTE/KI/KMb… whatever) is an emerging discipline.  It may be an emerging academic discipline but the practice isn’t new.  Jonathan Lomas [Brit Med J (2007) 334:129] reports that KM-like networks of industry and academics were active in the German dye industry in the late 1800s (side bar, this might have been more like industry liaison than KM, for more on that see our blog August 6, 2009).  Also, the University of Wisconsin State Agents performed a KM-ish role for local agriculture at the turn of the 20th century [Educational Record (1992) 73(2): 12].  Nonetheless, I still get pleasantly surprised when I read an “old” article that reads like it could have been written today.  In 2003, David Cash (then at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University) wrote “Knowledge systems for sustainable development” [Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 100: 8086].  Read the full article here.
PNAS July 2003How many of these key points from the article sound familiar to you?

  1. Effective knowledge systems engage in communication, translation and mediation
  2. Efforts to mobilize are more likely to be effective when they manage boundaries between knowledge and action
  3. Active, iterative, and inclusive communication between experts and decision makers proves crucial to systems that mobilize knowledge
  4. Mobilizing requires active mediation (at ResearchImpact we call this knowledge brokering)
  5. Mediation works through increasing transparency (for more on transparency, see our blog on August 25, 2009)
  6. Systems mobilize knowledge for action by translations that facilitate mutual comprehension
  7. Mediation activities help make the boundary between experts and decision makers selectively porous

If you got 7 out of 7 congratulations, you’re new knowledge isn’t so new!
Employing these methods of communication, translation and mediation enables an organization to become a boundary organization.

“These functions can be institutionalized in ‘boundary organizations’, organizations mandated to act as intermediaries between the arenas of science and policy. As originally conceived, boundary organizations have at least three features: (i) they involve specialized roles within the organization for managing the boundary; (ii) they have clear lines of responsibility and accountability to distinct social arenas on opposite sides of the boundary; and (iii) they provide a forum in which information can be co-produced by actors from different sides of the boundary through the use of ‘boundary objects’”

Note the emphasis on co-production, something we highlighted in our recent paper in Evidence & Policy.
So, we might as well all go home as in 2003 David Cash and his colleagues wrote all that I could ever want to write in 2009.  The challenge now is to practice what he preached.  York University, the University of Victoria and ResearchImpact are boundary organizations.  Our knowledge brokers have a foot in both (ok, many) camps and seek to continuously make boundaries pourous by increasing transparency allowing knowledge to be co-produced by researchers and decision makers.
Hold the date of February 9, 2010 for our 3rd annual KM Expo that will feature discussions of boundaries and means of overcoming them.