posted 1 Nov 2002 in Volume 6 Issue 3
Country focus: Denmark
Simon Lelic talks to Mette Mønsted, a professor in KM at Copenhagen Business School, and Hans Siggaard Jensen, research director at Learning Lab Denmark, about the evolution of knowledge management in Denmark
Copenhagen Business School (CBS) is the largest business school in northern Europe, with close to 14,000 students. Learning Lab Denmark (LLD) is a research and development unit, founded in 2001, which focuses on expanding public awareness of the role of learning in our collective transition towards becoming a knowledge society. Together, CBS and LLD are collaborating to create a Masters-level course in knowledge management, which will launch in January next year (www.masterkm.net). Both organisations sit at the forefront of the KM movement in Denmark, and to a large extent have been responsible for the continued evolution of the discipline in the country.
Mønsted’s colleagues at CBS, for example, together with researchers from Aarhus Business School, are currently working on the development of intellectual capital statements for use in a corporate setting. Supported by the Ministry for Industry, the programme has already attracted the participation of 17 organisations, with a further 120 in the processes of joining up. The ultimate aim, says Mønsted, is to develop a common model for use across all types of organisations, in turn promoting the values of knowledge identification, sharing, application and creation.
This work continues the tradition of knowledge management research in Denmark, which, inspired by the likes of Tom Stewart and Leif Edvinsson, has focused primarily on the concepts relating to intellectual capital theory since the discipline first made an impact in the country. As Mønsted says, “Due to the interest and public support for IC statements, this perspective of KM has dominated for a long time, and has played a larger role in companies in Denmark than in any other country.”
Which is not to say that other aspects of the discipline have been ignored, however. As Jensen says, the integration of HRM and KM has received a great deal of attention of late, as has the association between knowledge management and organisational learning. “And, especially since 1998, there has been considerable interest in KM as representing a response to the demands of a knowledge society, and how to deal with knowledge workers,” he adds. More recently, a number of successful conferences and research programmes have also focused on the use of storytelling as a means of overcoming organisational barriers to knowledge sharing.
Jensen points to several developments as evidence that knowledge management is, as he puts it, being “institutionalised” in Denmark. The first doctoral programme in KM was launched in Denmark in 1999, for instance, while the formation of the European Doctoral course in Knowledge and Management (EUDOKMA) in 2000 crystallised, in Jensen’s opinion, the belief among scholars across Europe that KM represents the boundary between philosophy, management, strategy development, organisational learning and innovation. Likewise, it was on the direct request of the Danish Ministry for Education in the wake of an OECD conference on KM in February 2000 that CBS and LLD agreed to create their masters programme in knowledge management.
Yet despite such a seemingly broad understanding of so many facets of KM, many firms in Denmark, as in so many other countries, continue to regard knowledge management primarily as an IT-based discipline. Mønsted believes this is partly because it was software companies and IT departments that led the KM crusade in the country in the early 1990s. “Even though there is a more widespread assumption now that the cultural dimensions of KM are just as important, many firms still talk about knowledge management in a form where it is basically information structuring,” she says. “Intranets are labelled KM systems, for example, as are other forms of electronically structured information, such as databases.”
More widespread adoption of KM-related practices is also hampered by the make-up of the Danish economy, says Jensen, in which 92 per cent of firms are small or medium-sized businesses, employing less than 500 people. Many such enterprises continue to regard knowledge management as being the domain of larger, multi-national oragnisations, a myth propagated by much of the KM literature in Denmark, and indeed beyond.
Yet Mønsted and Jensen are confident that most businesses in the country have at least a superficial understanding of the concepts embodied by KM, in particular of the fundamental differences between tacit and explicit knowledge. “The awareness of KM problems and of the new demands for management is also spreading,” says Mønsted, who points to the creation within many leading consultancies and larger corporations in Denmark of teams dedicated exclusively to KM as evidence of this. And with the launch next year of the CBS/LLD masters programme in KM, interest in which is already building steadily, the profile of the discipline looks only set to grow.