Recently, there have been a few really interesting articles written on the issue of ‘why people share their knowledge’.
Nancy Dixon, Oscar Berg and Luis Suarez all reflect on the issue, mainly talking about interpersonal sharing and the corporate environment. However, I think there is a few important things in there that are worth it reflecting on in relation to cross-organisational knowledge exchange in international development.
People share knowledge: the reason why I think that these observations and questions are crucial is because it is people who share knowledge. They are embedded within contexts, which include the organisation they might work for, but the psychology of why people share and how they share seems to me like a crucial point that finds little recognition in literature on knowledge sharing in international development. This is not surprising since KM4D is still heavily influenced by the World Bank legacy and, thus, often seen as a macro rather than a micro-issue (Out of interest I searched the web for [the related issue of] personal knowledge management in the international development context and was pretty unsuccessful, please let me know if you have any related sources!).
Social Animals: what all three authors stress is our craving for (peer) recognition and appreciation by our fellow human beings. We share to be appreciated and demonstrating that we hold knowledge is just one way of telling people, in a meaningful way, about who we are. Sharing knowledge is one of many things we do to create and maintain social relationships with our fellow human beings. In a knowledge exchange setting ‘knowledge’ is the matter of the relationship, which over-arches and permeates it. Do you think that this story looks different when looking at inter-organisational or inter-community knowledge sharing/relationships?
Supplying knowledge?: approaching the issue of knowledge sharing and exchange via the question “why do we share?” is just one side of the picture. In international development there is lot of discussions going on about where valuable knowledge is situated (science, indigenous knowledge, etc.) , how it can be verified and how its sharing (or transfer) can be encouraged (or managed). As mentioned earlier: what is less frequently discussed is the question of “why do people seek out for knowledge?”. This could lead to many other questions like: “What are people hoping/looking for when they seek out for knowledge?”, “How do they seek out for knowledge?” and, finally, “what implications does this have for the facilitation of knowledge sharing and exchange?”. Using economics to describe it: It is a good thing to know that people are happy to supply knowledge; but to understand the market we also need to understand how the demand side looks.
So, assuming that the psychology of intraorganisational knowledge sharing/supply is applicable to interorganisational and intercommunity knowledge sharing as well, we still need to understand what people are looking for? Why they do it? And how they do it?