Recently, public sector organisations have been put under significant pressure to continuously increase their effectiveness and enhance their services, which has been aimed at improving their competitiveness both in the public and private sectors. While knowledge management (KM) is not a new concept for the public sector, the manner of institutionalising the knowledge and converting it into a systematic framework, which comprises a clear set of processes, practices, indicators and documented outcomes, is a recent innovation.
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In this report, an assessment of the KM ways and practices of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) as a learning KM organisation is presented. The assessment covers the whole KM cycle and elements starting from leadership commitment, the organisational vision and objectives, KM structure and processes as well as the benchmarking exercise that EAD had conducted with other governmental entities. A case study of the EAD school KM initiative is presented.
Finally, the challenges that are typical for EAD KM are also addressed from the organisational perspective. The conclusion is made that EAD has been effectively adopting the concept of KM, but the process is not finished yet, and significant challenges require the attention of the managers. To conclude the report, recommendations concerning the future development of the EAD KM framework are suggested.
The leadership plan and ambitions of UAE compel it to strive to become one of the top governments in the world. Therefore, both federal and local public organisations are now put under pressure to deliver more efficiently despite the constrained resources. This process is an especially actual topic in the modern era that is associated with global economic challenges, fast and all-encompassing development and rapid transformation in the field of communication and information technologies.
As a result, we are expected to revise our business conducting methods that are not efficient anymore. Knowledge-based economy has become the foundation for business competitiveness among public and private sectors. Only a few organisations have realised the fact that KM is a significant success factor for performing in an optimal manner.
In the UAE, the understanding of KM, as well as the maturity of the framework’s implementation, varies among public organisations. From this point of view, the organisations could be divided into the entities that are just beginning their KM journey, the “learning” ones, and the mature, pioneering ones.
Apart from that, many companies can be defined as positioning themselves between the two extremes. The EAD has already performed a number of steps in the direction of KM development, having learned particular lessons and encountered certain challenges in the process that is going to be discussed in this report.
KM Journey of Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi
EAD was established in 1996 as the “Environment Research and Wildlife Development Agency-ERWDA” (Law No. (16), 2005, par. 3). Its aim consisted in conducting environmental studies concerning wildlife and marine biodiversity conservation. In 2005, the EAD was restructured as per the Law No. (16) of 2005 pertaining to the Reorganisation of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency (2005).
The restructuring was meant to transform the agency from a research body into the environment competent authority. It has empowered EAD to be the regulatory authority through enforcing environmental laws and regulations in order to ensure that the enormous rapid development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is growing in the most sustainable manner with minimum impacts on the environment.
EAD had created and inherited an impressive amount of research and scientific studies. While some of them have been lost or inadequately stored and utilised, many have been published and successfully disseminated to those who need the knowledge domestically, regionally or internationally.
Leadership Commitment to Strengthening KM Culture
EAD leadership has recently recognised the organisational knowledge gaps that represented the lack of a comprehensive institutional KM framework, and the implementation of KM practices in the organisation was set in motion. In 2010, a decision was made by the EAD senior management to create a new division called “Knowledge Management,” which demonstrated their commitment and dedication to promoting the idea.
This division was responsible for 1) building an organisational framework for KM; 2) compiling inventories for all knowledge related reports, skills, and practices; 3) providing necessary solutions and technologies to adequately store, maintain and disseminate knowledge, which presupposes providing the access to it whenever necessary (Alhosani, 2015).
Another strategic shift was the enforcement of the necessity of building a comprehensive understanding and knowledge based strategy as a valuable asset that the organisation must maintain in every respect. EAD leadership team always supports and endorses innovative knowledge initiatives that serve EAD mission and mandate (EAD E A-A, 2015).
For example, EAD management has endorsed the “Think Lab” initiative. This initiative is aimed at creating new innovative ideas that will help EAD in achieving its goals and objectives internally and externally.
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KM in the organisational structure
As a major outcome of EAD latest organisational re-structure, and the decision of establishing the KM division within the agency, EAD went through several benchmarking exercises with other governmental entities in Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Emirates. The benchmarking was aimed at specifying the details of KM division creation, and the participants included Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA), Dubai Municipality and Dubai Police (Alhosani, 2015).
After the completion of the benchmarking exercise, it has been decided to endorse the structure that is more aligned with ADFCA and, to some extent, with Dubai Police. The reasons for the choice include its convenience; the system itself that is described by Figure 1 places KM Division in the Corporate Services Sector that reports to the top management of the organisation (Alhosani, 2015).
Figure 1. The structure of KM Division in EAD (Seba, Rowley, & Delbridge, 2012).
The two main units that were established under the KM Division in EAD are responsible for supporting the leadership of the department of institutional knowledge, documenting and disseminating the knowledge as well as issuing scientific reports, bulletins guidance, and information on a regular basis (Alhosani, 2015).
It provides a safe infrastructure technology that ensures proper storage and facilitated access to knowledge and information. The “organizational structure is recognised potentially to have a significant impact on communication, and therefore on knowledge sharing practices” (Seba, Rowley, & Delbridge, 2012). As a result, EAD KM division is expected to provide the suitable mechanism for the knowledge flow and through several communication channels such as electronic gates to the state of the environment.
The KM strategy has been endorsed, and, according to CKM Strategy (2015), it includes the following aims.
- To manage knowledge and embody knowledge culture within the organisation.
- To optimise human resources KM in order to enhance the knowledge dissemination and utilisation processes.
- To manage knowledge assets efficiently and maximise their benefits.
- To increase the organisational awareness of the knowledge concept and its importance.
All of these aims are consistent with the global understanding of KM (Selden, 2008). Similarly, EAD strategy corresponds to Lam and Chua studies that identify the critical success factors (CSF) of KM (Jennex & Smolnik, 2011).
The CSF include a clear KM vision and strategy, alignment of KM strategy to business goals, the continuous support from top management, a flexible organisation structure, a learning culture and a specific community that provides a context in which KM can flourish. The usage of KM CSF by EAD can be demonstrated through the analysis of the process of its implementation.
KM Process and Implementation
KM plays a most important the role in the organisational development and appears to be one of the keys to success (Cong & Pandya, 2003). The content of the notion as well as its process includes numerous ramifications and interconnected implementations that significantly vary from an organisation to another. In the case of EAD, KM Department that is on the medium maturity level has finished creating and approving the KM plan and strategy and defined the key roles of the process.
Numerous factors have overlapped to enhance its EAD KM strategies and consequently its organisational performance (CKM Strategic Plan, 2015; CKM Strategy, 2015). Indeed, “managing what an organisation already knows provides organisational value that exceeds the cost and effort of creating it” (Simard & Jourdeuil, 2014, p. 5). The current EAD performance is an example of this fact.
The process of implementing KM strategy can be reflected on Huber’s model that was developed by Jimenez-Jimenez & Sanz-Valle (as cited in El-garaihy & Al-bahussin, 2013) in 2013. The model includes four phases: knowledge acquisition, knowledge distribution, knowledge interpretation, and organisational memory.
Knowledge acquisition or knowledge capture is described as “a systematic procedure for organising, structuring knowledge to make it accessible and usable to people” (Baporikar, 2014, p. 58). EAD has implemented various procedures to serve the goal of the most effective usage of human and technological resources to promote knowledge sharing (CKM Strategic Plan, 2015). Currently, the KM Division at EAD is serving as planners and auditors of KM implementations (Ali, 2015).
Knowledge audit is an essential tool for allocating the knowledge within an organisation by going through the three following stages. The first stage initially “focuses on people”, that is, “their knowledge and expertise and their connections to others” (McInerney & Koenig, 2011, p. 38).
EAD policy to gather all information from their employees with regard to their expertise and qualifications has started with EAD technical experts but then was spread to all the levels of EAD employees. The second stage is related to gathering the information concerning projects, courses, and programmes (McInerney & Koenig, 2011).
This process is clearly reflected in EAD decision to modify and update the personal system for EAD employees in Oracle in a way that contains the languages and courses, in which employee have participated, their hobbies and specialised knowledge in the field of work (CKM Strategic Plan, 2015).
The third stage is focused on “documentation and how information is captured explicitly” (McInerney & Koenig, 2011, p. 38). To achieve this, all EAD employees were highly encouraged to document the tacit knowledge they already have by publishing reports on EAD internal portal (CKM Strategic Plan, 2015).
After gathering all the tacit and explicit knowledge of the organisation, it needs to be organised and distributed in a way that ensures the best dissemination of the information to those who need it. The process of knowledge distribution is affected by two factors: the desire of an individual to share the knowledge and the request of an individual to share the knowledge (El-garaihy & Al-bahussin, 2013).
KM division with the support of HR department requires talented or experienced employees to give presentations to their colleagues. Also, EAD has launched the “Participate” initiative to encourage the transmission of information between its employees. This initiative presupposes that employees who participated in an external career development course give a training presentation to their colleagues in the organisation (Lobo, 2015).
In addition, EAD implemented a programme called “accompanied by expert” as part of the initiative “Who we are and what we do” to the employees of EAD. This initiative ensures the circulation and transfer of knowledge within the organisation and between its employees (Lobo, 2015). KM Division supports the development of the institutional means of learning through internal audits and KM system evaluation, meetings as well as cyclical and quarterly periodic reports (Ali, 2015).
Knowledge interpretation is the “process through which organisations make sense of new information that they have acquired and disseminated” (El-garaihy & Al-bahussin, 2013). According to Ali (2015), EAD is planning to reach this stage within a year and a half.
Organisational memory presupposes “preserving, collecting, codifying and storing knowledge” (Baporikar, 2014). It requires constructing a model of efficient knowledge organisation that is needed for easy access and can be achieved through highly systematised technology infrastructure (El-garaihy & Al-bahussin, 2013).
EAD has a partnership with Dubai Police, to familiarise itself with the mechanisms of storing knowledge by using available programmes such as the intranet, document management system, and email system. Activation of documentation management and archiving system in EAD will be implemented under the supervision and standards of The National Archives. Organisational memory in EAD will be measured and maintained mainly by KM division (Ali, 2015).
It can be concluded that EAD has achieved significant improvement in the field of knowledge acquisition and knowledge distribution while the future development of the two remaining aspects is supplemented with consistent plans. The achieved success must be maintained, and various initiatives have been undertaken for this purpose.
Innovation KM Initiative – Case Study
EAD Sustainable Schools Initiative
EAD has worked on increasing environment awareness and sharing knowledge in schools as well as spreading education in schools across all stakeholders. This was done through an innovative initiative called Sustainable Schools. EAD ensured a proper implementation of KM within the programme, and the SECI model that is based on dynamic interactions between tacit and explicit knowledge was regarded as a useful tool for the innovation (Rahman, 2015).
EAD has been implementing the part of the model that is based on socialisation; to achieve this, classrooms were used to build environmental awareness among students in schools. Moreover, students were encouraged to learn new skills such as critical thinking and problem solving in the field of climate changes and environmental issues.
The second phase included externalisation by developing concepts, which embed the combined tacit knowledge and communication. As a result, teachers became facilitators who encouraged students to discover solutions independently. The third component was a combination of various elements of explicit knowledge.
The project included interactive and participatory components that are different from the traditional systems where teachers play the roles of “Problem Setters” and “Solution Providers”. In the final phase, internalisation or the learning by doing was used.
Sustainable schools encouraged students to do the work of auditors and assess their environmental impact or set targets to enhance their performance each year in consistency with the procedures of the EAD Green School Manual. In addition, students were encouraged to form the Eco Club. ‘Hands-on’ field trips and “Train the Trainer” Programme were also organised to support the interactive and engaging environment (EAD, 2013).
The initiative has introduced the students to the concept of KM and encouraged the knowledge flow towards those who need it, which demonstrates the dedication of EAD to the ideas of KM.
Since KM is still developing in EAD, the challenges are concerned with the first stage of the process and include ecological and technical ones. The challenges that are related to people include the resistance to sharing knowledge, for example, out of the fear of losing the job, because of the lack of time management or motivation and devotion (Ali, 2015).
The Emiratisation initiative is seen as a barrier to knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer, because of the concern of the expatriates who expect to be replaced with nationals (Alhosani, 2015). Also, an important challenge is the expertise lost with the retirement of the employees who did not store this knowledge (CKM Strategy, 2015). EAD will consider choosing the best technological tools and systems to document the knowledge that is still accessible.
As for the problem of public sector employee management, it has been raised by numerous scientists, and the difficulties that it can pose for KM have also been stated (Goss, 2011; Shields, 2007; Cong & Pandya, 2003). Given the fact that employees are one of the main sources of the knowledge, motivating them to contribute to KM through different monetary and non-monetary incentives is most desirable (Shields, 2007; Boswell & Boudreau, 1999; Hunt, 2007).
Knowledge should be continuously and dynamically evolved when practising and learning new things. A culture of knowledge sharing should be founded within the organisation and outside of it. In EAD, the top management has fully supported KM, and the efforts of developing and distributing research and scientific studies locally and internationally have been made.
There is a pool of data analysed and interpreted into useful information that helped in major initiatives and projects contributing to resolving environmental issues and enhancing environmental status.
In addition, due to the analysis of knowledge gained from the studies, best practices were taken into consideration for project implementation. EAD also has an approved mechanism to exchange knowledge and information gained from training workshops attended by the employees and provides multiple channels for knowledge sharing.
The CSF of EAD KM include the clear vision and strategy, the alignment of KM strategy to business goals as well as the continuous support from top management. The learning as a culture is being established through numerous initiatives.
EAD is still in the process of KM implementation with two more staged mostly planned, but the organisation has achieved significant improvement in the field of knowledge acquisition and knowledge distribution. This success needs to be maintained, and EAD demonstrates the determination to follow KM guidelines.
EAD should proceed to maintain and improve KM by creating and implementing new initiatives, developing and managing the technical expertise, including the part that can be lost during career rotation, encouraging employees to share the knowledge, managing change that helps to support KM, updating current information and data and ensuring its accuracy and accessibility.
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