To solve any problem, people need knowledge. The needed knowledge is there somewhere,
described in some way, but it is often unavailable to those who need it most and at the right
time and place.
A short story from Maharashtra, India.
During a workshop on knowledge management I asked if workshop participants could tell me
about a real life example of seeking the knowledge that has not been readily available. They
told me about the situation a few years ago when after several years of shortage of onion on
the market, farmers had very good year and there was a big surplus of onion supply. Many
farmers couldn’t sell their crops. The problem was that after so many years of selling very
easily, almost immediately after the harvest, they did not know how to store onion for a longer
time to sell it later on local or international markets for a better price.
I did not know much about the preservation of onion, in particular, in tropical climate, but I
was quite sure that such knowledge must exist somewhere and that it has been described in
some form. Well, I did some search on the Internet, and I found that a group of researchers at
the University of Michigan had been conducting research on the preservation of onions and
garlic in the tropical climate and elaborated simple methods that were tested with farmers.
There was a missing link that would allow for bringing the existing knowledge to farmers in
Maharshtra described in their language.
A farmer needs to know how to produce new and better crops and deliver them to the market;
an extension worker needs knowledge of new agricultural technologies; an administrator
needs to know new legislation and about governance; a decision maker needs the knowledge
relevant to developing new policies.
Defined practically, knowledge is the ability to take effective action [Dave Snowden]. This
means that just making information available is not enough - to become knowledge,
information has to be made to have some kind of effect. For example, unless a farmer can
understand information about fertilizers so that it can have a tangible effect on his crops, the
information is not knowledge.
The main issue is how to make knowledge available to those who really need it. In the age of
great scientific advances we appear to possess knowledge on just about everything. This
includes technical issues, social and political sciences and expertise in financial matters. But
if there is so much sophisticated and advanced knowledge, why it is so difficult to solve such
basic problems like providing clean drinking water, effective health care and education for
everyone, and eliminating hunger and poverty?
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