by Fezile Njokweni – Programme Manager: Knowledge Management at the eThekwini Municipality
The public sector is lagging behind the private sector with regards to embracing Knowledge Management (KM) as a management practice. One of the main factors is that government, in particular local government, lacks knowledge leadership and KM legitimacy remains an unresolved issue. However, the 4th industrial revolution has offered opportunities for local government to consider and perhaps introduce KM as a management practice. But, the concern with local government has always been that KM initiatives have no mandate and hence there is no obligation to implement. However, despite the legislative framework that exists, local government is still failing to deliver public goods and services in an effective and efficient manner. So surely, we ought to question our management practices in this regard.
Metropolitan municipalities in South Africa, albeit in different stages, are embarking in the development and implementation of KM programmes. The inspiration to develop these programmes is drawn from a number of sources. Firstly, the UNDP recognises knowledge as a critical element of human development which can be achieved through better service delivery. Secondly, the World Bank report suggests that the Knowledge Index and Knowledge Economy Index of South Africa has been on the decline since 1995, despite the recent improvements in the Global Competitive Index which came about as a result of the rollout of ICT infrastructure. Thirdly, the review and introduction of the knowledge clause in the ISO 9001: 2015 has brought much required KM legitimacy in both the private and public sector alike. It moves from the premise that KM will improve the quality of products, goods and services. Fourth, the African Union Agenda 2063 and the National Development Plan of SA state that we need to develop capable states that are characterised by strong knowledge bases that will be able to contribute to the knowledge economy. Building capable states and knowledge bases entails developing strong KM systems. Other plans, such as the Gauteng ICT Strategy and the KZN Provincial and Development Plan, are also advocating for knowledge, in a similar way or in alignment to Agenda 2063 and the NDP. The eThekwini Municipality conducted a risk assessment in 2013. One of the findings was that the municipality was rapidly losing institutional memory because long serving and experienced employees were leaving the organisation as a result of resignations and retirement, particularly in the departments of engineering and technical services. It was recommended that the municipality should develop a KM and Knowledge Retention Strategy. This applies to many other municipalities across the country. Municipalities do not have an understanding of critical knowledge areas and hence need to develop and initiate KM programmes.
The participation of metropolitan municipalities in the KM Reference Group (a Learning Network and Community of Practice) and the introduction of KM programmes can be seen as a progressive approach to managing municipalities. These programmes will enable municipalities to be prepared to participate meaningfully in the 4th Industrial Revolution and the Knowledge Economy. This phase of human evolution and development will see a different breed of knowledge workers, organisational culture, leadership, operational systems, and governance and will be underpinned by ICT. The narrative of local government with regards to powers and functions will change completely, and we have seen it already in certain aspects. Municipalities who are engaging in KM initiatives are getting prepared for the transition and therefore municipalities must brace themselves for transformation and change. Stakeholders and communities are demanding efficient services, and that is the promise of the knowledge economy because it will be driven by knowledge, research, ICT and innovation. Municipalities that embrace KM will operate in a business-like fashion that is characterised by efficiency, effectiveness, delivering with less, high performance, accountability, innovation and flexibility….and perhaps progress!