Managing data in a world drowning in knowledge

With the internet-fuelled explosion of accessible knowledge, managing and storing it systematically has never been more important. On the second day of the K* Conference 2012, a panel of experts explore cutting-edge solutions to data and knowledge management.

Kstar 2012 and data management

Ingo Peters
– President, Domingo Informatics and Associate, Knowledge Mobilization Works – kicked off discussion by providing thought-provoking insights on the use of technology to mobilize knowledge.

The body of human knowledge doubles every ten to fifteen years” said Ingo, “but with innovative use of technology we can increase and expand the knowledge base further”. Key to this rapid expansion is the ability to leverage social media networks to reach beyond our primary networks. Mobilising the “power of the crowd”, emphasised Ingo, is crucial for reaching partners outside of our peers and disseminating knowledge beyond the usual suspects.

But before we race ahead and worship social media as the shining solution to all our data and knowledge management problems, a word of caution is wise. As Ingo keenly called on us to remember, we must not forget over two decades of research which demonstrated the impact, success and benefits of traditional document and content management systems. Systems that introduced rigour into the knowledge broker process and ensured issues of authorship, credibility and intellectual property remain of vital importance.

For Ingo, it is important to fuse traditional and modern approaches to data management, an idea he explores further in this interview.

Unlocking and opening data management systems

Drawing on his experience working on the International Waters (IW) projects of the Global Environment Facility, Andrew Dansie – Fellow, Freshwater Programme UNU-INWEH – stressed the importance of accessible information sharing. Pulling together over 20 years of reports from over 170 projects, Andrew and his colleagues created a central online hub which was searchable, interactive, easy to use, and most importantly, freely accessible.

An open data management system, noted Andrew, enabled knowledge users to ask, research and answer their own questions, which more often than not, explored issues that were previously unseen or under-researched. As a result, new knowledge was created. This, Andrew emphasised, showcases the unique ability and important role that easily accessible and user-friendly data management systems has to play in transferring and brokering knowledge.

Power to the people

Devising cutting-edge solutions to data and knowledge management, however, embraces more than technology and sophisticated systems. According to Gabriel Accascina from the Knowledge Management Group at the United Nations Development Programme, what has been key to effective data management, is not social media, neither is it easily accessible and user-friendly data management systems. Simply, it is people. “Most of the information we circulate is through our heads, and not through paper,” said Gabriel.

Recognising the central importance of people within the process of knowledge brokering, the UNDP has moved from a document centric to people centric data and knowledge management system. A shift, which for Gabriel brought to light that, motivating shifts in culture is just as crucial, if not more so, as introducing innovative technological data management systems.

Unveiling hidden knowledge

An interesting and important issue raised during discussion pointed towards the ‘digital divide’. As Goolam Mohamedbhai stressed “one thing we must bear in mind is that some parts of the world can easily make their research freely accessible to the public, but for other parts of the world they don’t have the tools, experience or the know-how to publish research online”. Thus research may exist, but remains hidden from view and not easily accessible online. To avoid creating a distorted knowledge bank, successful data management systems must ensure such hidden knowledge is made public for the entire world to see.


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