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Knowledge Loss: Managing Local Knowledge in Rural Uzbekistan

Wall, Caleb and Evers, Hans-Dieter (2006): Knowledge Loss: Managing Local Knowledge in Rural Uzbekistan. Published in: ZEF Working Papers Series No. 14 (2006)


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Knowledge loss is not a remote phenomenon, unique to one knowledge system. Rather we argue that the loss of knowledge is an issue for other knowledge systems as well. Knowledge loss is certainly a concern for anthropologists working on indigenous knowledge, fearful of ‘losing’ indigenous knowledge entirely as a result of modernisation (cf. Cox, 2000). Equally, staff movements within the corporate world probably lead to a large amount of knowledge displacement, yet staff (and thus knowledge) retention is more often seen as a human resource than a knowledge management issue. Similarly in academia, which thrives on the wide interchange of knowledge and ideas and openly promotes the exchange of knowledge, much of this knowledge can be ‘leaked’ (i.e. it leaves academia for another knowledge community, say, a corporation) or it can be ‘lost’ altogether. Thus we attempt here to explain in theoretical terms how knowledge loss operates, what are the drivers of knowledge loss and how these can be ameliorated. We suggest that knowledge loss is a failure of knowledge management insofar as it demonstrates a lack of knowledge sharing, dissemination and use. The central argument being that knowledge must be reproduced (or stored in a repository) for it to be used and to continue to exist. Because local knowledge resides in individuals, who are apt to move to different knowledge systems (leakage) their doing so carries with them a considerable amount of knowledge. Key to reducing this is effective knowledge sharing during the time they are within the community or organisation. This provides the inherent benefit of greater knowledge utilisation through greater knowledge sharing, as well as reducing the risks of knowledge loss. Yet, individuals do not always share knowledge, when they do this sharing can be partial. In many cases this is because of the high transaction cost (and risk) associated with sharing their knowledge. We argue that knowledge management and knowledge governance theory needs to inform institutions (informal and formal policies) which can introduce better protections for individuals to share knowledge, in order to reduce the transaction costs of knowledge sharing. These transaction costs can be lowered by guaranteeing continued ownership of intellectual property, by establishing a proper policy framework for academic honesty and by enforcing these rules in a transparent manner. In the case of local knowledge the transaction costs are somewhat reduced by knowledge sharing within the family, shown in generational transfer of mastership. In the same way should projects, corporations and ultimately nation states develop structures which allow for enhanced knowledge sharing, by reducing the transaction cost of sharing this knowledge. Part of these systems must allow for knowledge which is no longer relevant, which is not useful or which is simply wrong, to be replaced by more appropriate knowledge. In this regard simple databases are somewhat counterproductive as they do not encourage the dynamic displacement and replacement of knowledge, which whilst it involves some knowledge ‘loss’ is actually a knowledge creation and sharing process. Thus we theorise knowledge loss as a phenomenon to be evidence of poor knowledge management. In its own right it is a failure of management and governance to allow knowledge resources, expensively produced within the community, to be lost. On a wider level it evidences a lack of knowledge reproduction and retention, which can be seen as a result of excessive transaction costs and risks to knowledge sharing.

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