Title: From Quality Management to Knowledge Management in Research Organisations
Authors: JAIME, ASTRID., GARDONI, MICKAEL., MOSCA, JOEL., VINCK, DOMINIQUE
Subject: Knowledge management
Status: full text
Source: International Journal of Innovation Management; Jun2006, Vol. 10 Issue 2, p197-215
Preparation: Scientific Database Management Journal Articles www.SYSTEM.parsiblog.com
Abstract: Some scholars have recognized the important role of publicly funded basic research (Salter, AJ and BR Martin (2001). Research Policy, 30(3), 509–532; Szulanski, G (2000). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82(1), 9–27) for the production of knowledge. Among the identified benefits is an increase in "the stock of useful knowledge" available to society, which could be used for innovation and in this way contribute to economic growth (Szulanski, G (2000). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82(1), 9–27). Thus, it is important to support scientific activities. We claim that a way to support them is to use quality management complemented by knowledge management as a way of improving the process followed when carrying out research activities. Consequently, we studied the methods used while implementing a quality management system within various research organisations. This lead us to propose an approach which integrates quality management and knowledge management as a way to support the scientific activity.
Keywords: Quality management; knowledge management; research laboratories; capitalisation; basic research. --Download Article
Introduction: According to Chalmers (1991), “the goal of science is to produce knowledge about the world ”. Therefore, it is an activity that increases “the stock of useful knowledge” (OECD, 2002) available to society, which could be used for innovation and in this way contribute to economic growth. However, there are multiple definitions of knowledge. It is therefore important to define our understanding of the concept.After looking into several definitions, we propose one based on the work of Frank (2003) and Simoni (2001) as follows: Knowledge is a temporally stabilized comprehension resulting from interpretations of information, human experience and reflections based on a set of beliefs, which resides as fictive s in people’s mind and is suitable for transformation into action.
Given that science produces knowledge, the reliability of such knowledge is an issue that has been reflected upon by certain groups. Among the main ones are the French Working Group “Quality in Research” and the AFNOR (French Standardization Association). They have proposed quality management (QM) as the response to this problem. According to the ISO 9000—2000 (AFNOR, 2000a) QM is defined as the “coordinated activities to direct and control an organization with regard to quality”. The latter is defined as the “degree to which a set of inherent (existing) characteristics fulfils requirements”. It is then necessary to understand the meaning of these concepts in the scientific environment in order to be able to introduce them. However, fulfilling this requirement requires an understanding of the actor(s) whose needs research organizations are meant to fulfill. This is not clear in basic research.1 Additionally, the introduction of QM into the scientific environment is not currently backed by a well-defined methodology. In fact, QM has traditionally been used by industry. However, the general characteristics of scientific activity are different from those of industrial activity in terms of working conditions, goals, resources, tasks performed, etc. Thus, the introduction of QM requires a methodology adapted to the scientific environment.
In spite of this, during the last few years, some research organisations have invested a part of their efforts into QM as a way to deal with the multiple concerns of their activity (see section “The reality observed at research organisations”). Therefore, we observe a situation where, while some groups claim that QM can be used by the scientific actors, some research organisations are indeed implementing quality systems within their organisations. For this reason, we have started a research process that aims to knowthe real problems faced by research organizations when implementing QMsystems, and the role this system can play in the transmission of knowledge. In particular, our ive is to verify the hypothesis according to which QM can be used to support the knowledge production process by providing researchers some tools (which could be methodological) to assist their activity. Therefore, we find the concept of knowledge management (KM) pertinent.
According to Wunram et al. (2002) it “is the systematic, goal oriented application of measures to steer and control the tangible and intangible knowledge assets of organizations, with the aim of using existing knowledge inside and outside of these organizations to enable the creation of new knowledge, and generate value, innovation and improvement out of it.” Hence, it is desirable to use it in the research context. For that reason, we will aim at showing how the implementation of QM systems has led to the introduction of some KM initiatives, in a group of seven research institutions we have observed.
In the first part of this article, we describe the context of our research. In the second part, we will show our observations about seven research units trying to implement QM systems. In the third part, we will look into some KM aspects at these research units. Finally, we propose a representation of a methodology for implementing QM and KM as a way of supporting the knowledge production process.
Several authors have worked on joint approaches addressing both QM and KM. For that reason, we propose a typology of the different approaches we have found. It intends to facilitate the comprehension of the existing approaches and not to strictly separate them. Thus, we have found several works that could be grouped in to four types:
1. Those that propose approaches integrating QMand KM: Zhao and Bryar (2001), Rodr?guez-Ortiz (2003).
2. Those that apply QM and show how QM supports KM: Johannsen (2000), McAdam (2004), Linderman et al. (2004), Bénézech (2001), Molina et al.
3. Those that use KMfor improving the results obtained from QM: Galendere-Zile (2002).
4. Those that apply KM and claim that the use of QM can help achieve better results: Tsai (2003), Pfeifer (2000).
In this framework, our hypothesis is that QM, when applied to basic research activities, requires KM. Consequently, we position ourselves in the first group. To verify this hypothesis, we have performed a fieldwork as the basis for our research. The complete research methodology we have used is explained in the next section.
The research methodology
Given the lack of literature on QM in research organizations, we have started by using a sociological approach that is later coupled with the use of engineering analysis tools.This work has been complemented by the definition of some proposals and has two main phases:
1. Field work: Sociological work that was performed in several parts.
• Observation: This phase consisted of the observation of a research laboratory, the ACROE — ICA, where efforts for improving the development of the activity are carried out, but without following any of the existing Quality Standards.
• Interviews: In this phase, eight interviews with the people responsible for QM at seven research organisations where formal efforts of introduction of QMS were carried out. These interviews account for approximately 16 h of voice recordings. These interviews were done in two stages: The first one, at the beginning of the year 2002, when two laboratories were interviewed. The second one, during the first semester of the year 2003, when five additional laboratories were interviewed. It is important to note that the formal character of the initiatives going on in these laboratories is shown through the establishment of a specific QM project, with a well-defined working group, a budget allocated for the development of the activities and the support of an external consultant to guide the activities of the project. These projects, with one exception, have all been started voluntarily.
• Follow-up study: This consists of the follow-up of the implementation process of the quality system at a research laboratory during 18 months. This work has been done at the Astrophysics Laboratory of the Sciences of the Universe Observatory of Grenoble (France), which is one of the seven organisations where the interviews were carried out. This work corresponds to the participation, as observer, at eight meetings (of approximately 3 h each) of the piloting committee responsible for the implementation of the quality management system. This committee is headed by a senior researcher. In it, representatives of the realization of the organisational aspects of the laboratory also participate. Concretely, the person in charge of the administration and the one in charge of the computing support. Additionally, some researchers, who have additional responsibilities in charge, also participate. These researchers are the one in charge of communications, the one in charge of the technical support, the one in charge of Safety and Hygiene, and the one responsible for training of students. There are also other persons who participate depending on the subject of the meeting. Among them is the director of the laboratory, who only participates when a general balance of the project is done. In addition, we participated at four sessions of the working groups in charge of the realisation of the activities defined by the committee:
One session of the working group in charge of the development of the procedure for the integration of newcomers, another one of the working group on administration (that works on purchasing, displacements and internal regulations), a session of the working group on the management of instrumental projects and one session of the working group on quality in research activities. The latter was the one in which we were more interested. It did not pursue its activities because the committee considered the project demanded already an important load of work and decided to wait until the other actions were already implemented.
2. Analysis of the information gathered: Here the aim was comprehension of the situation, which would allow us to propose a system for implementing QM at research organisations.
The reality observed at research organizations Through the field work we were able to note that there are several situations present at research organisations which complicate management:
— the freedom granted to researchers for the registering of or the traceability of
— the diversity of activity fields, working methods and activities;
— the large quantity of records (digital reports and files in particular) to be
— the large turn-over of researchers,
— the difficulty of establishing, from the beginning of a project, the ive to
be fulfilled and therefore the precise characteristics of the product of research
(which could be a physical product or a conceptual product) and
— the difficulty of access to the history of the realization of a project.
In addition, interviews with the managers of the laboratory we studied verified that the ive of research activity could be defined as the growth of knowledge. In contrast, we noted that there are certain practices, such as the freedom granted to researchers, that affect the results obtained. The disparities in the contents registered by researchers entail differences in the information transferred from one project to another, affecting the sharing and capitalisation of knowledge. Therefore, an important question that arises is how to structure and instrument activity in order to manage and capitalise the knowledge produced. We think that QM could be used for this purpose, given the formalisation of practices and the constant improvement spiral it induces in the main processes of the organisations who adopt it.
A project-driven mode of operation
Another important aspect regarding research activities is that, according to the results of research in the sociology of sciences and our own observations, they are usually developed in the form of more or less structured research projects. Vinck (1995) writes The activities in the laboratory are structured in projects. The project is a sequential unit whose completion is the writing of a research report or of a publication. The project seems to be the unit of organization that allows the allocation of tasks to members of the laboratory, the ordering supplies, the preparation of equipment, the proposing of phenomena to be studied and the defining of the orientation of library research . . . although the various tasks of a project can be carried out by different people, work is often carried out by only one person. The reason given by researchers is the need to access the history of the procedure by which the phenomenon is made visible.
These observations lead us to consider the practices regarding the management of projects in a way that allows us to take advantage of the knowledge acquired and produced in an on-going project for the development of subsequent projects. From a sociological point of view, a very important aspect seems to be the need to know the contingent history2 associated with the constitution of a phenomenon or with the establishment of a fact or a statement. Given this history and the high mobility of researchers, the issue of the documentation, as a way of elucidating the process carried out, becomes a concern for the researchers themselves when they are involved in the reconsideration of a former stage or when they have to take charge of a project started by a colleague. This aspect directs our attention towards acute problems of traceability. A basic problem is to know how to document and transmit the information relating to intermediate choices and results as a way of supporting the realisation of subsequent research phases or projects.3
In this context, we have studied the various approaches used by some research entities implementing a QM system. We paid special attention to the management of information (data, documents, etc.), since “knowledge is based on data and information” (Wunram et al., 2002). In the next section, we explain the positioning of QM and our observations regarding its introduction at research organisations.
Research Organisations and Quality Management
The role of QM
Some institutions around theworld have recognised the importance of implementing QM practices into the research activities. This has led them to establish some directives indicating the implementation of this practice into scientific environments. Examples include the U.S. Department of Energy which, in 1991, established that the basic and applied research facilities sponsored by the Office of Energy Research “shall develop, implement, and maintain a written Quality Assurance Program”, NASA which, in 1996, decided “to be leaders in the world of quality” (Kasvi et al., 2003), and the AFNOR which, in 2001, published a documentation booklet (AFNOR, 2001) that proposes the application of QM to the research process. The latter is meant to be the first work of this kind at an international level. It marks a very important step forward in QM in research, given its official nature and its broad application spectrum. The considerations that preceded the publication of this document indicated that the key word in this context is “confidence”, mainly between the laboratory and the external actors (Groupe de Travail Français “Qualité en Recherche”, 1997). Therefore, QM is seen as a way of keeping scientific rigour and obtaining valid results. This would imply the establishment of procedures to maintain the quality of the research activity during all the scientific production process until the validation of results. In the AFNOR document (AFNOR, 2001), “the approach proposed consists of “Co-producing quality, the knowledge and knowhow associated, by the ensemble of the involved parts within the framework of a progressive and continuous learning process”. Nevertheless, the recommendations given are rather general.4 Consequently, it would be necessary to define and implement methods tomanage this process in order to try to reach a quality level resulting from the quality of the process. Given these claims, we wanted to compare them to the reasons expressed by the organisations that have actually started working on these processes. This is the subject we present in the next section.
The motivations behind work on QM
The research projects carried out at the observed organisation (see section “The reality observed at research organisations”) is based on the works done by those who are its initial founders and current directors. Therefore, the coherence of the research results with the basic initial concepts is considered fundamental to ensure robustness in the evolution of the work. Consequently, they realised the need for establishing QM practices that allow:
1. the maintenance of respect for the basic theoretical principles,
2. the maintenance of coherence between the activities and
3. the facilitation of project development.
According to one of the directors, the volatility of concepts, of “knowledge” necessitates the implementation of the means to maintain them, which means guaranteeing their conformity to the original meaning and their transmissibility. This is an essential aspect regarding the implementation of QMmeasures in research organisations:
respect for concepts is one of its major concerns. The problems are mainly related to the maintenance of the knowledge concerning the scientific concepts that support the activity, because its respect, by all the actors who take part in the research process, is difficult to attain given the characteristics of the research organization (see section “The reality observed at research organisations”). Nevertheless, there is a divergence between this vision of the management, and the perception of the personnel, who express a lack of structure in the activity, which is reflected in very practical situations that affect daily activity. Themanagement has acknowledged this situation and has concluded that the absence of external directives leads to a situation where “the first customer of the organization is the team itself”.
It is thus necessary to implement a system that respects the management’s vision and that, at the same time, satisfies the staff needs. This situation is verified in the organisations in which we conducted interviews. All of them, with one exception, started working on QM because of internal needs. Most of them perceived the need for improvement and found in QM concepts a possible answer to their concerns. Hence, the motivation comes from inside and not
from outside the organization... --Download Article
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