We are fringe!

fringe.pngChristopher Perrien, key-note speaker at our next Open Day FRINGE event on Web 2.0 and knowledge management (more info in my post below) sent a real interesting link to a blog on knowledge management and community building (”This guy might interest you”), which I would like to share with you all: http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/

P.S. I should mention that our forthcoming Open Days event is not part of the official OPEN DAYS programme but a FRINGE event (we were kind of late not meeting the deadline). I promised this to the CoR. It seems they think there is an IP or Brand protection issue here. So I repeat: we are not running in competition to the Open Days show.

O.K., so we are FRINGE. But then think Edinburgh. Sometimes Fringe is the real thing: edgy and interesting! I am sure the way the Open Days is presented online and the way all the knowledge that is presented there is made accessible (and searchable?) online (which is clearly not cutting edge) could benefit from this discussion on the fringe ?.

Read also the briefing I sent to our key-note speaker from the United States. It is certainly a bit oversimplifying but it should outline clearly the problems we face due to a lack of knowledge management in regional cooperation. There is more to it, which I will come back to in future postings

Dear Christopher: While the EU is made up of the EU institutions (e.g. the European Commission, the EU Parliament, more info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union) and the EU Member States (27 National Governments), regional governments below the nation-state level have mostly no direct influence on decision-making, but they can influence the process through lobbying.

That’s why about 250 regional governments have a representation in Brussels, so they can influence decisions by the EU that affect them. In addition their offices often serve to attract EU funding for their region’s development, since the EU operates multiple funding programmes in areas relevant to regional development and innovation. Due to these programmes Brussels has also become a sort of hotspot for exchanging knowledge on how to develop regions economically and make them more innovative and competitive.

ERRIN’s goal is to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and information between our members, on how to stimulate innovation in their regions and on how to best benefit from EU support (i.e. EU subsidies, knowledge). This is mainly done through physical meetings but we are now starting to look at web 2.0. tools to improve services to our members, become more interactive (not rely on face-to-face meetings only) and streamline operations so that knowledge in the network is better captured, stored and made accessible.

So while we clearly have a KM issue to solve ourselves, this public seminar goes beyond our organisation towards the wider context involving the level of the European Union’s public agencies and in particular the agencies that are responsible for regional development subsidies (more info below). The aim is to raise the awareness on knowledge management with the European Institutions and in particular its Directorate General for Regional Policy and the regional development programmes operated by the EU.

We would like to start a public debate to improve knowledge management and raise awareness on the need to move forward and adopt web 2.0 technology as one element of the solution. The seminar should only be the start of a debate on knowledge management on which we will follow up with our own pilot activities and lobbying of stakeholders.

Between 2007 and 2013 (7 year budget period of the EU) the EU is going to subsidize cooperation between local and regional governments (“Territorial Cooperation” in EU jargon) with nearly 5 billion Euros (soft measures like this account only for about 2 percent of all the subsidies for regional development, the majority of regional subsidies goes into financing of infrastructure, mainly in Eastern Europe).

The subsidies for cooperation are administered by a range of decentralized programmes (known as “INTERREG” programmes), which are operated by “Managing Authorities”, which are public authorities, mostly at the regional level, that are appointed by the EU-Member States to run the programme on behalf of several Member States. The programmes fund cross-border cooperation between local and regional public authorities. The resulting projects, selected by competitive call for proposals or agreement between the parties in case of smaller bilateral programmes aim at exchanging experience and knowledge on regional development issues (e.g. innovation, environment, transport) and provide joint solutions to common problems.

However, although most EU cooperation programmes generate knowledge rather than tangible assets such as infrastructure, these EU programmes do not always seem to properly manage the knowledge they create. Instead, programme administrations tend to focus predominantly on project activities (who does what and when?) and finances (how much did it cost and was it eligible?). This is probably due to a general lack of awareness about knowledge management as well as a lack of resources in an already demanding administrative environment, where people are mainly scared about financial control.

The implementation mechanisms of EU programmes are mainly input-, not output oriented. The consequence of this is that the Managing Authorities and other programme bodies are mainly interested in monitoring the correct financial performance of EU-funded projects.A “good” project, in the eyes of the prevailing monitoring system, is a project that performs exactly the way foreseen in the application form without any deviation, i.e. producing certain predicted outputs (e.g. a “Good Practice Guide” by a certain deadline with a certain fixed cost exactly as described in the Application Form.

A “bad” project would be one that shows deviation, e.g. the price of the output being lower than forecasted, independent of the actual quality of the output or of methodology issues. The signals sent by programmes focusing on financial implications rather than methodology issues and quality of output combined with an increasingly complex administrative environment creates reinforcing behaviour patterns among project promoters, i.e. you end up getting proposals by people that are experts in navigating these administrative procedures but are often as less interested in the true quality of their outputs.

For instance, there is no joint European database that would provide information on which projects are being funded, although, I was told this is going to happen some time in the future. The question is, however, whether they will not include a lot of useful information of the content and methodology of projects and whether they will be helpful in stimulating community building. This lack of proper knowledge management also creates a serious dilemma for communication. Namely that you often do not get the type of information you would need to promote the programme and its operations because they are simply not collected and managed properly.

Communication at programme-level is, therefore, often relegated to picking individual “success stories” and promoting that, instead of contributing to produce better projects.Systematic knowledge management, therefore, has to become the third pillar of programme management after financial management and activity management. It needs to provide the infrastructure for systematic quality management in programmes all along the project cycle management, starting with the application phase and going all the way down to the dissemination of results.

Introducing so-called “capitalisation” in programme management, as was promoted by the European Commission more recently, is a step into the right direction and is certainly an important part of a more systematic Knowledge Management. However, the concept is somewhat misleading. Its assumption is that you only need to pick a good project output and show it around and people will understand better why we need those programmes.

Given what we have said above, capitalisation is not sufficient and does not treat the root cause of the problem. It is, on its own, simply not enough, to contribute to a culture of quality in cooperation programmes, it is output-oriented but it does not treat the symptoms of “market failure” and “market distortion” on the input side. It does also not help to create a mindset among project promoters that with their actions and outputs they do actually contribute to a growing and important European knowledge base, because such a system does not exist.

So what does such a European knowledge system mean in practical terms? It means a better understanding of the critical factors of cooperative learning and innovation. It means learning from tools already used in the business and planning fields such as intellectual capital concept, social network analysis, foresight initiative, team building, analysis of project environment, evaluation and others. It means measures like training for project partners and a systematic collection of project outputs. It means thematic workshops and conferences already in the project development phase as well as accompanying project implementation. It means a stronger thematic mentoring of projects.

It means more transparency in project selection and outcomes (e.g. transparent peer-review for project appraisal employing external experts, project and programme evaluation that actually looks at cost and benefit). And it means tools and incentives for community building beyond the individual project partnerships.Benefits of introducing knowledge management in European cooperation programmes would be an increased quality-orientation and innovation potential of projects and programmes, increased programme visibility, improved outputs, a sense of community that we are all working for the same objective, which is to create a stronger Europe and stronger and more innovative regions at its heart.

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