Putting knowledge at the heart of our development strategy
It is heartening to note that discussion is taking place after the release of the 4th edition of the Global Knowledge Index (GKI), jointly produced by the UNDP and Dubai-based Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation. Bangladesh ranked low in GKI among 138 countries. Dr. Saleemul Huq, Director of the ICCCAD at IUB, in an op-ed in The Daily Star on December 30 rightly stressed the need for a "national consensus" to make the necessary paradigm shift to transform Bangladesh into a knowledge economy over the next decade.
Evidently, the government of Bangladesh is well aware of the significance of knowledge economy and how it contributes to the overall development of a country. In the 7th Five Year Plan, the government observed that the country was a long way from catching up to the standards of the global Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) of the World Bank, and hoped to improve its rating through expanding ICT-specific initiatives.
While technology is an important component of a knowledge economy, there are, however, more interrelated and multidisciplinary aspects that require a strong political commitment on the part of all leaders and stakeholders to turn such aspiration into reality.
As a knowledge management practitioner, I would like to use this opportunity to highlight some of the aspects that may generate further discussion on this topic.
In 2018, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) set up a knowledge management team with the goal of gathering evidence on what works and what doesn't and capturing lessons learned from its human rights and good governance programmes, implemented by nearly one hundred partner NGOs across the country. Covid-19 lessons learnt by MJF's partner NGOs clearly demonstrate that multi-stakeholder partnership is key to achieving the desired development outcome for the beneficiaries during a pandemic situation.
In 2020, MJF also joined the Vienna-based international multi-stakeholder Knowledge for Development Partnership (K4DP) to advance knowledge for development in Bangladesh. MJF supports K4DP's 14 knowledge development goals which were presented at the UN Office in Geneva in April 2017. The goals are based on the statements of 130 thought leaders from various countries, among whom 10 were from various fields in Bangladesh.
The goals include pluralistic, diverse and inclusive knowledge societies; people-focused knowledge societies; strengthening local knowledge ecosystems; knowledge partnerships; knowledge cities and rural-urban linkages; advanced knowledge strategies in public and development organisations; capture, preservation and democratisation of knowledge and fair and dynamic knowledge markets. Also included are issues such as safety, security, sustainability; legal knowledge; improved knowledge management competences; the role of institutions of higher education; information and communication technologies for all; and finally, the arts and culture, which are central to knowledge societies. It may be mentioned here that SDG 17 calls for enhancing "knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms".
Various studies have found that several elements of knowledge management (KM) such as acquisition, creation, capture, storage, retrieval, sharing and utilisation of knowledge lead to higher performance of organisations as well as a sustainable development in society.
In the past few years, knowledge sharing has moved to the centre of global development as a third pillar complementing financial and technical assistance. In fact, knowledge management tools have increasingly been recognised by most governments as strategic resources within the public sector. One study found that a government with a strong learning culture is 37 percent more productive. The US Congress passed several laws aimed at bolstering federal learning cultures, including the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act.
The Indian government has developed a system based on a knowledge management maturity model to transform the country into a knowledge economy. For tackling climate change related issues, the government of Nepal has established the Nepal Climate Change Knowledge Management Centre (NCCKMC) as part of the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) process. Bangladesh has also incorporated knowledge management in some of its climate change strategies.
Austria implemented a national knowledge management strategy in 2015 and Uganda developed a National Knowledge Agenda, while Kenya is currently implementing a national knowledge management policy and strategy.
Sri Lanka successfully used a knowledge management campaign to resolve maternal healthcare issues in its tea plantation sector. Public Health England and Health Education England scaled up knowledge services within a short space of time to meet the demand for timely and accurate understanding of the development of the coronavirus.
In 2012, the UAE formed a Knowledge Management Steering Committee in government departments and is now reaping its benefits. The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulations of the UAE has applied a comprehensive KM strategy for nuclear security. Many UN organisations and multilateral agencies such as World Bank, IFAD, ADB, UNESCO, WHO, UNDP, ILO, UNICEF, and IAEA have applied KM strategies for many years.
Armed with these insights, MJF and K4DP had approached three important government functionaries in August 2020 for jointly developing a national knowledge agenda for Bangladesh. Our argument was very simple: Knowledge is at the heart of any societal development and if knowledge is managed in a strategic, targeted, and integrated way, development happens better and faster. Knowledge-based development addresses all societal aspects ranging from inclusion (knowledge inclusion leads to financial, health, economic, and social inclusion) to economic development (knowledge industries are globally the fastest growing sector) to national identity (acquiring new knowledge while preserving traditional knowledge), and more.
We also argued that the range of challenges Bangladesh faces is wide, and without an integrated knowledge agenda and a knowledge management strategy for the public administration, various activities and initiatives of the government may lack necessary integration and effectiveness. While communication with the government is ongoing, we are also fostering partnerships with private universities to train and educate students and professionals in knowledge management and to generate further research and innovation for sustaining Bangladesh's development achievements.
We are still unclear if knowledge management has been included as a separate development strategy in the recently adopted Eighth Five Year Plan of the government. My two-decade experiences in the development sector clearly showed that knowledge is power; however, how people use knowledge is more important than mere knowledge itself. Having said that, creation of new knowledge, developing people-centric analytical models, designing effective tools for organisation and management of knowledge, and understanding knowledge management processes are essential in the era of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) induced by Covid-19. In this context, knowledge, development, and partnership are three important tools for the 21st century, and if used together, can open the doors to prosperity and success.
Rezwan-Ul-Alam, PhD, is Director at Knowledge Management, MJF.