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Second eForesee Pilot

"Knowledge Management in solving agricultural problems in Cyprus"

The Importance of Knowledge and Learning. In an innovation-driven economy, and a world characterized by the emergence of a mosaic of lifestyles and intermixing of cultures, a commitment to continuous learning and the generation of new knowledge has become vital to sustain economic, social and cultural development. This applies equally to individuals, organizations, whole communities and regions, as well as to Europe itself.

Knowledge - what we know and what we can do - describes a state or potential for action and decision in a person, organization or group.

Learning - indicates some change in the state of knowledge often manifested by a change in understanding, decision or action. Highly developed knowledge and learning process characterize the superior intelligence, and dominant position of our species. As such, they are fundamental in determining our continued development in all spheres of civilization - society (community, group identity, relationships) the economy (the material world, services, work and production), the realm of ideas & culture (services, arts, philosophy), and regulation of the interaction between the previous three.

In economic terms especially, knowledge has become the primary resource and path to power, prestige and prosperity. Between 70 to 80 % of economic growth is said to be due to new and better knowledge.

A definition of Knowledge Management. "Knowledge Management (KM) is a systematic process of finding, selecting, organizing, distilling and presenting information in a way that improves an employee's comprehension in a specific area of interest. KM helps an organization to gain insight and understanding from its own experience. It also protects intellectual assets from decay, adds to firm intelligence and provides increased flexibility".

What is Knowledge Management? KM is recognized as a function of society in that is has always been around, and, even though it is complex, everyone uses it for their day-to-day living. Organizations are artificial constructs. Hence, in organizations KM involves the identification, optimization and active management of intellectual assets, both in the form of explicit knowledge held in databases and files, end as tacit knowledge possessed by individuals and communities.

KM is a strategic discipline for organizations in the knowledge-based economy. The application of its methods and techniques has proven successful in an increasing number of firms in European Industry. Europe is reported to lead the world in the use of KM in business. The challenge is now how to use KM efficiently in the Research context, and more particularly in the synergistic constellation of the European networks of excellence aimed at within the ERA framework.

The benefits of KM. KM is an organizational issue, a method and a set of techniques with the potential to radically transform the work environment in ways that aim at sharing, creating and leveraging what individuals know and which demand a strong commitment from all levels of the hierarchical chain.

Critics tend to suggest that KM is so more than a passing fad. But in positive and verifiable terms KM is "the attempt to recognize what is essentially a human asset buried in the minds of individuals, and leverage it into an organizational asset that can be used by a broader set of individuals on whose decisions the firm depends."

Knowledge and information. Before one can discuss Knowledge Management practices, one has to clarify the meaning of the term 'knowledge' itself. A critical distinction has to be made between knowledge and information. Both concepts are essentially different.

Knowledge is occasionally viewed as processed information, the line of causation being from information to knowledge. Information is perceived as a commodity capable of yielding knowledge. However, under conditions of uncertainty when information is incomplete, the line of causation between knowledge and information may be reversed. Here, knowledge could be used to interpret the incomplete information.

There are a variety of different concepts associated with 'knowledge'. In epistemological terms, knowledge represents a set of justified beliefs, whereas 'knowledge' in technology studies and the innovation literature is often understood in a very inclusive manner. Skills ('know-how', or 'can-do') are also subsumed as tacit components of knowledge.

This is not the place to contemplate about the nature of knowledge. However, it should be clear that knowledge flows are essentially different from information flows. Information flows can be understood as transmissions of some sort of data from a sender to a receiver, as the processes that are directed at understanding the messages - the 'information'. Knowledge flows are more reciprocal. Sender and receiver need to understand the information that is exchanged. This necessitates reflection on both sides, based on previous experience. Typically, these exchanges are hardly ever unidirectional, but the application of that information also requires personal interaction for the transmission of associated tacit knowledge and skills.

Based on case studies in Japan, Nonaka has developed a model of the several ways in which organizations create knowledge:

"The SECI model is based on the idea that knowledge is created in a continuous process where tacit and unarticulated knowledge is converted into explicit and articulated form, combined with existing articulated knowledge, and internalized by individuals and in organizational practice. According to the SECI (socialization-externalization-combination-internalization) model, tacit knowledge is converted to tacit knowledge in a socialization process, tacit knowledge is converted into explicit knowledge in an externalization process, explicit knowledge is systemized in a combination process, and, finally, explicit knowledge is converted back to tacit form in an internalization process."

Levels of Knowledge Management. Knowledge management is an issue at different levels. A principal distinction is the one between macro- and micro-level knowledge management. The term 'knowledge management' is mostly attributed to the micro-level, in particular to business firms. A vast business literature has developed in the area of knowledge management. However, also not-for-profit organizations are exposed to the information overload. But also at the macro-level, there are challenges in terms of knowledge management.

Approaches to Knowledge Management. Four emerging approaches to knowledge management are: 1) the repository model, the most common approach, focuses on managing documents and reusing knowledge in tangible forms, 2) the "communities of practice" approach which builds expertise within affinity groups by encouraging dialogue between experts, surfacing less tangible knowledge through interpersonal interaction, e.g. brainstorming sessions and, 3) the continuous learning approach which enhances an individual's ability to acquire information and use it for problem solving and decision making. A fourth approach, business intelligence, gathers valuable information by mining enterprise-wide databases.

The need for foresight. Over the last decade foresight has become a highly visible and widespread way of informing the decision-making process relating to technology policy planning (primarily at national level). It is used to systematize the debate on future prospects and desires driven by science and technology, with a view to influencing present-day decisions and actions. It is particularly useful to leverage the knowledge of a wide range of stakeholders on new S&T developments as well as on societal and business needs. The tacit and tangible "results" of foresight are recognized as valuable inputs to the setting of priorities for public and/or private initiatives, vision building, network formation, education and knowledge dissemination among relevant actors, especially among policy decision-makers.

Skeptics argue that adequate strategy and policy planning methods and process are already well established at all levels of public and private decision-making. But the rules of the game are changing radically, eroding the value of more rational planning and linear methods of policy development, accentuating the need for more real-time interactive methods which foresight typifies.

The characteristics which newly emerging forward-planning foresight-type practices demonstrate, is the dominance of interactive and participative methods of exploratory analysis and study, in what could be termed a new paradigm. The methods are not "new" in the strictest sense, as they have been practiced and developed over several decades. Nor do they replace more traditional forms of planning or serious scholarly study in the desk and field research mode. However their use is becoming more and more extensive and they increasingly constitute a decisive element within a planning exercise. What seems to be determinant in this trend is the fact that accelerated rates of change in society, markets, technology and science have over-stretched rational planning approaches the utility of which depends on long periods of relative stability. What foresight methods impart is a much more "emergent" planning approach which functions in a more real-time way.

Foresight as a KM Approach. The central question is "How to select and access relevant knowledge in times of information overload?" Depending on the country, different answers to this issue have been developed. The launched of Foresight exercises is one approach to address this question. A number of countries have followed this idea to identify major technological and social trends and evaluate their impact on society and the economy. The underlying rationale is to timely devise appropriate policy strategies that address major socio-technological challenges.

Foresight is not a KM method itself, but should be viewed as a toolbox comprising a number of quite different techniques.

Setting in motion a Learning Europe Policy Process. Bottom-up effort and specific policies, which target individual and organizational learning, need to be accompanied by top-down framework and system level initiatives, which aim at inducing a broad learning culture. New learning "institutions" (in the 'rules of the game' sense), and multilateral co-ordination (between government, private sector, unions, civil society, knowledge-infrastructure organizations), must ensure both the provision of learning opportunities as well as the financial and cultural incentives for individuals and organizations to avail of them.

At whatever level - be it a locality or the EU - the engagement of all classes of stakeholders in an interactive policy discussion, has a strong impact on the effectiveness and relevance of the policies derived. Such so- called participative policy analysis constitutes an important learning experience for all involved, with the further significant effect of appropriating the policies and visions to the stakeholders themselves as well as establishing new networks and linkages. Such approaches have characterized the strategic planning practices in several large firms for many years, but have only recently entered the public policy realm.

The most significant example of a learning - for - policy approach has been the rapid rise in the use of Foresight processes to inform research, technology and industrial development policies in individual countries, and more recently in some sub-national and transnational regions.

The situation in Cyprus. Cyprus disposes high skilled human resources which are in the position to absorb new conquest developed in different levels of the socioeconomic life. Involvement of Cyprus to knowledge management programmes is relatively limited and is localized in a rather theoretical level.

Participation of the Agricultural Research Institute to the eForesee project provides the opportunity for the execution of pilot exercise with the aim to prove the utility of knowledge management in improving the situation of Cypriot agriculture. In this respect a special effort will be given to transfer existing theory and international experience at the practical level. It is expected therefore that the pilot exercise will result to useful conclusions and recommendations with direct implementation.

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