The Relationship between Archives and Knowledge Management: Some Evidence from Australia

By Martin, Bill | The Australian Library Journal, November 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Relationship between Archives and Knowledge Management: Some Evidence from Australia


Martin, Bill, The Australian Library Journal


This paper emerged from an earlier survey of developments in knowledge management within the Australian Public Service (APS). The earlier study pointed to future research possibilities in an emerging relationship between knowledge management and archives and records. The resultant case-based research reported here shows that this relationship operates most strongly in the context of key drivers of knowledge management within government agencies and departments, and in linkages between the work of the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and that of other Commonwealth organisations. Knowledge management also emerges as an important strategic issue for the National Archives of Australia. Eleven issues emerging as common in the previous study were discussed at the NAA: Perceptions, Approaches, Drivers, Links to core business, Obstacles, Enablers, Structures, Frameworks, Metrics, Champions and inter-agency networks. In overall terms the NAA emerged as an organisation that was at the development stage for knowledge management and one that was taking conscious strides in this direction.

Introduction

ONE NOTABLE FEATURE OF THE CURRENT KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT LANDSCAPE IS THE reported interest being shown by governments and international agencies in the subject. There is a dearth of publicly available information on the nature and scale of knowledge management practices within the Australian Public Service (APS). An earlier study revealed that knowledge management was a feature in little more than a dozen Australian government agencies and that few agencies had a real strategic perspective on knowledge management or saw it as a key driver for the achievement of corporate objectives. Possible explanations for the slow take-up of knowledge management included confusion over the nature of the subject, a tendency to equate it with developments in information technology, and cultural resistance to the concept (Stephens 2000) The Australian experience has been acknowledged in other countries, where governments have been struggling to come to terms with knowledge management. A major survey conducted by the OECD, while reporting that knowledge management was high on government agendas and that necessary cultural changes were underway, reported the absence of deep organisational changes as well as the costs associated with the introduction of knowledge management in government departments (OECD 2003). The OECD survey also identified widespread government concern with respectively, a greying civil service, competition between the public and private sectors for knowledge-intensive inputs, and the increasing complexity of public policy goals (OECD 2003). Australia was not named among the countries for which responses to the survey were recorded. This was disappointing in that not only had the Auditor General for Australia been a repeated advocate for knowledge management within the APS (Barrett 2001), but also the former National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) had worked steadily to promote the concept.

Methodology

The case study approach was employed as a means of yielding rich insights in social contexts (Galliers 1991;Yin 1994; Walsham 1995), in this case the organisational environment of the National Archives of Australia (NAA). Although strictly speaking not part of this project, data from two previous web-based surveys conducted by the researcher--one of chief executives in government, the other of chief information/chief knowledge officers--provided valuable input to the design and content of the interview template.

The case study of knowledge management at the NAA

The findings from the previous survey served as the basis for interviews with senior staff at the Archives. These issues are depicted in Table 1 and discussed individually below.

Knowledge management at the NAA

The direct involvement of the NAA in knowledge management is now assessed in the context of the issues contained in Table 1.

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