Creating New Knowledge Cultures

It has now been well over fifteen years since a report by the OECD popularised the notion of the ‘knowledge economy’’ as a mode of economic organisation. Aside from occupying the dubious position of a well crafted ideological construct, developed in the service of neo-liberal policy (a pattern that would be repeated a few years later with the ‘creative economy’), the use of the term knowledge economy was an attempt to describe fundamental changes in the way our societies developed, organised and distributed knowledge. But since then, many have hypothesised that these changes represent an emerging structural transformation from the industrial economy. Over the last thirty years developments in communication and information technologies have both accelerated and intensified the flow and exchange of knowledge on an unprecedented global scale. The consequence of these developments has demonstrated the changing significance of intellectual capital and tacit knowledge as a source of innovation, competitive advantage, and therefore, economic growth.

To understand what is potentially new and different about the knowledge economy as a mode of economic organisation, we must first ask, how can we conceive of knowledge existing within an economy? To discuss knowledge within this frame of reference would imply, like many other commodities, that it can be situated within a property relation which is subject to the law of scarcity, as well as that of supply and demand. This means presenting knowledge as a commodified asset within a mode of exchange. Unfortunately, this is far more complex than it first appears. To give a relatively crude account of why this is so, will require us to conceive of knowledge within two forms or stages, immaterial and material.

At the immaterial stage, knowledge is accounted for as pure ideation which operates expansively to defy the law of scarcity, it cannot be conceived of as a stock that becomes depleted by its use, it is not consumable in the traditional sense. Indeed, its value may be modified or even added to through the process of use and reuse. At this stage knowledge is not transparent, it cannot be easily exchanged without understanding the cultures that produced it and the experience that is embedded within it, such as its relevance to a particular purpose, situation or context. And finally, distribution at this stage is also fraught with problems of allocation and control, limiting these parameters is virtually an impossible task.

However, at the material stage these problems appear less difficult to manage. Once knowledge is captured, codified or embedded within a process or system it can begin to resemble and behave like the type of exchangeable commodity that can be subject to all of the laws that we have described previously. In fact, in the last twenty years, as a consequence of the developments outlined above, an entire discipline and industry has emerged to perform the function of knowledge management. Within the space of two decades, due to the needs of managing the increased intensification of both the volume and flows of knowledge, this discipline has matured to occupy a significant strategic place within our institutions and organisations.

So it appears that the material stage of knowledge, in terms of established practices, is covered, but what about the immaterial stage? What established practices for creating new knowledge cultures currently exist? What methods and processes are available to us for the purpose of knowledge creation? This is the area that Create Innovation is set to explore, as the nature of knowledge changes, new and more innovative practices for its creation will need to be found and understood.

However, the task set forth is not a simple one, as Michael A Peters has shown us, creating new knowledge cultures requires a fundamental understanding of shared practices, practices which ‘embody culturally preferred ways of doing things, often developed over many generations’, whilst also acknowledging the ways ‘in which cultures have different repertoires of representational and non-representational forms of knowing.’ New knowledge creation requires ‘the cultural exchange of ideas, and such exchanges, in turn, depend upon certain cultural conditions, including trust; reciprocal rights and responsibilities between different knowledge partners; and institutional routines, regimes and strategies.’

Clearly, there are a plethora of things yet to be known, problems and challenges yet to be experienced, but as Dominique Foray has previously summarised ‘the rapid creation of new knowledge and the improvement of access to the knowledge bases thus constituted, in every possible way (education, training, transfer of technological knowledge, diffusion of innovations) are factors increasing economic efficiency, innovation, the quality of goods and services, and equity between individuals, social categories and generations’. So, let the task begin.