A few months ago, I met a very influential person in the public sector. I was there for a different reason, but still got a good insight into what SKL (Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions) considers one of their main strategic challenges. If we continue working like today, with our current ways, processes and routines, the older and hence more service demanding populace (among other things) will create an unsustainable situation for the Swedish public sector.
Through their own research, SKL have arrived at the conclusion that around 500 000 new employees are needed in the public sector within the coming 10 years. This should be viewed in light of the fact that this sector today employs about 1,5 million full-time employees. Hiring these people will be challenging for multiple reasons. One of them is that there’s a lack of people with the necessary skills. SKL and Vinnova (Sweden’s Innovation Agency) want to face this challenge in several ways. Digitization is one such way, and is high on the agenda. This could include using digital tools to facilitate knowledge transfer, meaning the skill requirements can be lowered and more people employed. Digitization comes with quite a bit of work regarding organizational and social norms and will, without doubt, bring big social changes that may in turn solve some of the main problems.
SKL are investing into smart ways of making the public sector smarter. Do you also get the feeling that knowledge sharing is super important when watching their programme video? Source: https://skl.se/naringslivarbetedigitalisering/forskningochinnovation/innovation.4827.html.
From our perspective, as agents of knowledge sharing, it isn’t hard to see that we can contribute quite a bit. All of us who have been working with knowledge sharing within the public sector these last few years besit invaluable know-how and experience with the potential to make this challenge much less insurmountable.
The digitization of knowledge shortens the distance between those who know and those who need to know. It decreases the load on knowledge bearers, as well as the frustration of people lacking the knowledge they need to do their job. The latter alone can possibly, when scaled up and taken to its full potential, remove a lot of the ill health that the aging populace will require the public sector’s assistance with.
Knowledge-related frustration and feelings of inadequacy are major contributors to burnouts and other work environment issues, according to Arbetsmiljöverket (The Swedish Work Environment Authority) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is almost self explanatory that these factors have a negative effect on people, and they can be cured by adopting effective knowledge sharing in a productive and human-friendly culture.
It can be seen everywhere that making job introductions and on-boarding easier allows organisations to employ and put otherwise unqualified staff to work just when they are needed. This is a case of digitized knowledge at its very best; a facilitator of a more dynamic and demand-driven way of working. In the long run our norms surrounding knowledge will need to be reviewed, and the idea that you have your job due to what you know is not completely true anymore. On the contrary, having invested many years into a backpack of knowledge can be a burden to bear and require substantial energy to keep updated.
Detailed knowledge about, for example, methods for the usage of certain tools can become heavy, and actually hinder development and performance. Wisdom, experience and the ability to see macro-level patterns in your environment on the other hand will only increase in importance and necessity.
But, and this is no small issue, we are so specialized today that everyone is doing their own thing. We are striving towards perfection in separated areas of expertise, without taking a holistic approach and seeing the wider picture. Experts are valued higher than contexts. This makes changing our approach a bit hard. It is also what forces among other SKL to put strategic resources to use on refocusing their organization ahead of the coming challenges. We are lacking in generalists!
This means people with the ability to see synergies and the drive to connect them into new and better solutions without falling for the temptation to revolutionize and create opposition. To allow ourselves and other to become generalists we need, more than anything, to start sharing knowledge. We need to do this without the fear of losing our special niches, and instead find the curiosity to cross-fertilize our ideas and knowledge!
So, there are loads of fun things for as knowledge-sharers to do! Loads! Why not apply for a small penny from one of Vinnova’s projects regarding social and norm-critical innovation? We are after all breaking norms around knowledge. Take the chance to start a knowledge campaign in your organisation!