‘Agnotology and knowledge management in parliamentary research services and libraries’
Paper for the ECPRD conference, September 2016 in Oslo, Norway
Knowledge management and ignorance
One possible reason for KM not fulfilling its promise is that it has not fully engaged with ignorance – what it is, how it functions, how it can be managed….
Knowledge is clearly central to what parliamentary research and library services do: they deliver knowledge which parliamentarians can put to use. The discipline of ‘knowledge management’ (KM) is of obvious interest, and in the wider world there is a great deal of thoughtful reflection and IT solutions offered for KM, but it has never seemed to fulfil its early promise and really take-off, no more in parliaments than elsewhere. Why not? The genesis of this paper came during a presentation on the mismatch between parliamentary libraries and research services aimed at ‘full-information decision making’ and the reality where overloaded Members of parliament must, in many cases, make ‘fast and frugal’1 decisions. It was argued that such decision-making is highly effective and economical, whereas the “full-information” model is not feasible, economic or even appropriate – we elect Members to make political decisions, not act as scientists. It was for parliamentary services to diversify their delivery of knowledge beyond the classic quasi-academic (both library & research) to include also methods and products adapted to the real working styles of many Members.
This positive view of how Members work was challenged – very directly – by a colleague in a national parliament who, after decades of experience, felt that some Members in their parliament had no interest in any kind of objective, scientific input, no matter how well designed for their working habits. Those Members simply wanted to take politically-based decisions regardless of evidence or expertise. Is this sceptical view justified regarding (some) Members in general, and is there something in the supposed recent trend to ‘postfactual’ or ‘post-truth’ politics? Has expertise lost its real and symbolic value? And if ‘yes’ to these questions, is there a responsibility and a means for knowledge services to respond? What ethical challenges do we face in this environment? How can we better manage knowledge to help Members? This is a first and tentative look at these issues: the paper raises questions but does not offer many explicit answers….