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KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT IN MARDI: PRACTICES, CHALLENGES AND THE WAY FORWARD

 

Azrina Asmuni, Aida Al-Quswa Mohamad Ali, Farah Nadiah Mohd Junaidi

1Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI),

Persiaran MARDI – UPM, 43400 Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia

Email: azrina@mardi.gov.my

 

ABSTRACT

MARDI has embedded KM initiatives in the business process, particularly in research and development activities since its establishment. The concept of KM was first introduced in MARDI in the late 1990s using various combined tools and techniques of Non IT and IT methods. ICTs can support the transformation of tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge and vice-versa. The most important ICT tools deployed in KM include organizational web pages and special portals created for specific commodities and sectors. All information, scientific findings and agricultural skills that have been captured both internally and externally and  are being used to ensure that the right information is delivered to the appropriate place or competent person at the right time to enable informed decision. All of these methods of sharing and disseminating knowledge even though bring ‘quick win’ in implementation of KM in MARDI but needs improvement in certain areas due to the challenges faced. The scope of this paper is to share MARDI’s KM practices, techniques and tools in handling both tacit and explicit knowledge as important elements which are considered critical factors and the next steps strategies for increase speed in decision making, execution and higher decision quality to achieve business objectives.

 

Keywords: Knowledge Management, Tacit, Explicit, ICTs, R&D, Social Media, Platforms, Combined Tools, Challenges, way forward.

INTRODUCTION

The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), one of the agencies under the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) was established as a statutory body following the approval of the Parliament of Malaysia Act 11, MARDI Act 1969, in October 1969. MARDI’s main office, which is located in the district of Serdang in Selangor state consists of eight main research stations and 24 support stations in a land area of 7,065 ha with about 2,976 staff across Malaysia. MARDI’s Vision is to be the leader in agro food research and innovation. Its mission is to create inclusive knowledge and technologies for sustainable agro food sector. To make this become reality, actions need to be taken as follows:

  1. Generate inclusive and competitive technologies and innovations in agriculture and agro-based industries for the wellbeing of society;
  2. Strengthen the technological and services delivery systems to increase productivity of Agrofood sector;
  3. Empower  conducive capability  and environment for Agrofood  research and development (R & D); and
  4. Develop competitive agropreneurs and agro-based industries (efficient, sustainable, modern, global)

MARDI’s early stage

MARDI officially went into operation in March 1971 with the mandatory task to perform research and development (R&D) on all agricultural crops except rubber. When the Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (PORIM), now known as the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) and the Malaysian Cocoa Board (MCB) were established, all activities related to oil palm and cocoa were reassigned to their respective bodies. The progress of research activities in the ‘70s was rather sluggish due to limited staff and expertise. However, in the following two decades, the ‘80s and ‘90s saw a more aggressive progress when more staff were trained and their expertise enhanced. The research and development activities were implemented in line with Malaysia’s Master Plans. Linkages were established with local and foreign research bodies such as the; IRRI, AVRDC, CIAT, IDRC and etc. The World Bank also provided funds and seconded experts to MARDI.

In the earlier part of its establishment, several staff were recruited to MARDI from the Department of Agriculture (DOA) and the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS). Others were sourced from outside, including experts from overseas. When the Food Technology Division of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) was absorbed into MARDI in 1975, the research activities began to evolve actively.

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT

Knowledge Management (KM) is involved in the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organization1. MARDI refers to KM as a multidisciplinary approach to achieving organizational objectives by making the best use of knowledge2. All the data, information and knowledge have been stored in the systematic ways for the purpose of creating value, meeting tactical and strategic requirements which later can be used to gather further insights. KM in MARDI is being implemented in various ways using different methods and tools.

Types of knowledge management

Knowledge management can be divided into two types: tacit and explicit. Tacit is information or knowledge that MARDI would have extreme difficulty operationally setting out in tangible form whereas explicit is information or knowledge that is set out in tangible form. Tacit knowledge is essentially personal in nature, and is therefore difficult to extract. The transfer of tacit knowledge is best accomplished by the transfer of people as ’knowledge carriers’. Furthermore, learning in an organization occurs when individuals come together under environments that encourage them to share their ideas and to develop new insights together that lead to the creation of new knowledge. MARDI had adapted itself through three generations of knowledge sharing since its establishment.

  1. First generation: the traditional way of knowledge sharing is the concept of codification (Hansen et al., 1999) and storage. This way can easily be supported by information technologies.
  2. Second generation: focuses on the social component, personalization (Hansen et al., 1999), and the way people cooperate and communicate. Formal and informal opportunities can be used like mentoring, coaching or face-to-face meetings. Codification is mostly used as a starting point, were new employees can find out what employees know and what knowledge is available. Personalization is used to see the application of the available knowledge.
  3. Third generation: social networks are the new ways to get in touch with experts and to search for knowledge outside the organization. Using social media tools enable less physical contact between employees.

MARDI’s KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

MARDI had introduced the concept of KM with the same objectives set up by the Malaysian Administrative Modernization and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU) who carries out the following six major roles:

  1. As a catalyst for change in administrative and management services in the public sector;
  2. As the leader in developing ICT for the public service sector;
  3. As consultants in management organization and ICT for the public service sector;
  4. As facilitator in the implementation of modernization and transformation programs in the public sector delivery system;
  5. As researcher in administrative modernization and management planning for the public sector; and
  6. As promoter of government services to the public

MARDI’s KM objectives:

  1. Managing knowledge systematically;
  2. Creating a learning organization;
  3. Establishing an organized knowledge repository shared by everyone and usable by all;
  4. Establishing a lifecycle of knowledge production, integration and validation (creation, share and innovate);
  5. Creating an ongoing and adaptive interaction with the knowledge base;
  6. Allowing for organized and proactive transfer of skills, knowhow and expertise;
  7. Instituting support through integrative technological means (e.g. knowledge management systems); and
  8. Instituting better governance for promoting knowledge sharing and creation for the benefit of the whole centers.

MARDI’s development era

The awareness programs begin when MARDI invited speakers to talk about knowledge management attended by the senior officers in 2005.  MARDI also sent officers to attend the training programs and gradually embarked on knowledge management initiatives.  MARDI has officially adopted knowledge management in business operation in 2006 through MARDI’s Strategic Plan 2006-2015 and the development of KM in the organization can be seen in the context of MARDI’s development eras.

Beginning era (1969 – 1983)

  • To spur agricultural technology to increase productivity of agriculture sector – main focus were rice, palm oil, pineapple, meat, fresh water fish
  • MARDI started with 422 staff, with 71 researchers

Development era (1984 – 1992)

  • Develop research capacity and infrastructure – to include fruits (banana, papaya, durian, star fruit, cocoa), orchid
  • To modernize agriculture sector based on technology
  • To assist small & medium scale enterprises in food processing
  • Started international networking and agricultural projects with other countries

Transition era (1993 – 2000)

  • In 1995, integrated information system has been developed with fiber optic network to connect the headquarters in Serdang, Selangor with eight main research stations in Malaysia.
  • Emphasis on R&D in controlled environment agriculture, fertigation, mechanization and automation.
  • Economic recession in 1998 has affected the manufacturing and services sector, as such the agriculture sector is the best alternative to help the economy – increase technology transfer and commercialization activities

Transformation era (2001 – 2015)

  • Emphasis on knowledge and innovation to develop competitive technology in agriculture biotechnology
  • Exploitation of biology resources of herbs for pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and cosmetic purposes
  • Establish Malaysia Agro Exposition Park in Serdang (129 hectares) for internationally recognized Malaysian Agriculture, Horticulture and Agro-tourism Show (MAHA).

METHODOLOGIES AND TOOLS

ICTs in Knowledge Management

To ensure MARDI is leading in food and agriculture technology evolution on the global platform, immense efforts had been taken to collate technologies and knowledge into a sharing platform as a source of reference. In order to achieve knowledge management objectives, MARDI migrated from manual operations to e-management for higher efficiency as well as applied knowledge management as practices to enhance the innovation processes. MARDI effectively tied KM to strategic research themes to build enhanced KM ICTs as creation of new knowledge or new combination of existing knowledge in the early KM ICTs initiatives.

Early Knowledge Management ICTs initiatives:

  1. Myfruits (Fig. 1) - Myfruits is a one-stop-shop for information about tropical fruits. It offers over 1,000 information sheets on all aspects of tropical fruit production, processing, and marketing.

 

Fig. 1.  Myfruits: One-stop-shop for information about tropical fruits

 

  1. MePIS (Fig. 2) - Provides information on tropical herbs R&D, e-gallery, and books.

 

Fig. 2.  MePIS: Information on tropical herbs

 

  1. AgroBIS (Fig. 3) - An information system developed by MARDI to provide the public direct access to data on all biological genetic resources conserved at MARDI. The system contains germplasm information of more than 40,000 accessions of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA), which includes fruits, rice, vegetables, and medicinal plants. The system also consists of information on 2,500 isolates of microbial genetic resources and about 30,000 specimens of arthropods.

Fig. 3. AgroBIS: Information system on all biological genetic resources conserved at MARDI.

 

  1.  iSMART (Fig. 4) - Provides information on hundreds of technologies developed by MARDI, commercialized, or in the up-scaling status

Fig. 4.  i-SMART: Information on hundreds of technologies developed by MARDI, commercialized, or in the up-scaling status

 

  1. AnjungNet (Fig. 5) - An intranet for MARDI’s staff, which facilitates internal communication through e-forums and e-news

Fig. 5.  Anjungnet: An intranet for MARDI’s staff, which facilitate internal communication through e-forums and e-news

 

Enhanced Knowledge Management ICTs initiatives.

  1. Padipedia (Fig. 6)

Padipedia is a web-based portal with searching capabilities, basic analysis and reporting function using Semantic Technology. The development of paddy ontology is an attempt to utilize semantic web technology for organizing knowledge. The paddy ontology will be the repository for storing and connecting the knowledge of the whole value chain of paddy production which includes breeding, agronomy, production system, pests and diseases management, post-harvest and product development which is in line with the research scope of MARDI. Padipedia culminated from the need to preserve paddy knowledge and make it accessible for knowledge discovery. Researchers, modern farmers, technology followers or other types of users can have paddy-related information not only from within MARDI but from external sites as well.

Fig. 6.   Padipedia: A web-based portal of Paddy ontology, utilize semantic web technology
for organizing knowledge with searching capabilities, basic analysis and reporting function. Social media

 

  1. Social media

Social media has a variety of broad definitions, such as "collaborative online applications and technologies which enable and encourage participation, conversation, openness, creation and socialization amongst a community of users” (Bowley, 2009:15), web-based tools and practices enabling participation and collaboration based on individuals’ activities (Storey et al., 2010). Surowiecki (2005) defined that social media is to make use of the “wisdom of the crowd”. Group of people are better at problem solving, fostering decision making than individuals alone. New ways of inspiring and exploiting knowledge sharing are forcing organizations to expand knowledge sharing technologies and practices (Mentzas et al., 2007). Vuori (2011) characterizes social media by considering the extent to which they support communication, collaboration, connecting, completing and combining (5C) (Jalonen, 2014).

These technologies foster MARDI’s efforts to have a more socially connected platform:

  1. Blogs - blogmardi.wordpress.com;
  2. Video sharing - youtube.com/MARDITubechannel;
  3. Presentation sharing - scribd.com/user/280591083/MARDI-Scribd;
  4. Social networking service (https://www.facebook.com/mardimalaysia; twitter.com/MARDItweet);
  5. Instant messaging service for example Skype;
  6. Groupware for example Google Docs

MARDI uses Social media tools to complete content by describing, adding or filtering information, tagging contents, and showing a connection between contents of all platforms stated. For example, Fig. 7 shows from the hashtags mentioned analysis it is found that #bettermardi in Twitter has received the highest shares over social media which indicates that #bettermardi is receiving the highest engagement and retweets. By tracking this hashtag; MARDI could gauge people interests and interactions concerning a certain topic which is tagged with the #bettermardi hashtag.

Fig. 7.  Social media tools

 

3. MARDI Agro Apps Store by MARDI Apps - various Apps developed by MARDI available to be downloaded through Play Store for Android users and App Store for Apple users: 

 

  1. MARDI Padi Aerob – Application used to send reminders to farmers on their smart phones or tablets regarding the activities they should do for the planting of Aerobic Rice, and to remind the farmers when it is time to do certain activities. It has a calendar where all the activities are recorded, including the farmer’s biodata and field information. There are also other features such as graphs, where the farmers can view the profits and costs for each harvesting season. The app also provides several other general information regarding the Aerobic rice planting.
  2. MARDI Cendawan Tiram Kelabu – Application used to send reminders to farmers on the smart phones or tablets on the activities they should do for the planting of gray oyster mushrooms, and to remind the planters when it is time to do certain activities. It has a calendar where all the activities are recorded, including the planters’ personal schedules. There are also other features such as graphs, where the planters can view the profits and costs for each harvesting season. The app also provides several other general information regarding the gray oyster mushroom.
  3. MARDI Teknologi Lebah Kelulut  - Application used on the smart phones or tablets of the stingless bee technology
  4. MARDI MyJagung – Application used on the smart phones or tablets of sweet corn production technology
  5. MARDI Fertigasi Cili – Application used on the smart phones or tablets of chilly planting using fertigation method.
  6. MARDI MyJagungManager – Application used on smart phones or tablets that can help maize farmers plan their activities on field.
  7. MARDI MyOnFarmFruits – Application used on smart phones or tablets of fruits.
  8. MARDI MyKompos – Application of production of compost
  9. MARDI MyPerosakPadi – Application of pests and diseases of rice
  10. MARDI Direktori Usahawan – Application shows a list of MARDI’s entrepreneurs.
  11. MARDI Teknovasi – Application of latest information in MARDI
  12. MARDI Fertigasi Melon – Application of Rock Melon Planting using Fertigation Method
  13. MARDI Penternakan Ayam Kampung – Application of  Ayam Kampong breeding guide
  14. MARDI Lembu Brakmas – Application of Brakmas cattle breeding guide
  15. MARDI Tek. Kambing Pedaging – Application of Dairy Goat Technology
  16. MARDI Green Pharmacy – Application of Herb Directory
  17. MARDI Hidroponik Salad – Application of Lettuce planting using Hydroponic Method
  18. MARDI Fertigasi Tomato – Application of Tomato Planting using Fertigation Method

 

List of Apps available in store as shown in Fig. 8.

Fig. 8. List of Apps available in stores

 

Non-Information Technology (IT) methods

  1. Throughout the years since its establishment, MARDI had developed abundant of R&D technologies. Farmers and entrepreneurs that had adopted MARDI technologies had contributed to the development of the national food, agriculture and agro-based industries. This has made the agricultural sector a compelling contributor to the national economy. These technologies in the forms of information, knowledge, scientific findings, and agricultural skills acquired from the R&D activities are shared and channeled via exhibitions, conferences and seminars at national and international levels.
  2. MARDI’s staff especially researchers are encouraged to write in various publications such as Journal of Tropical Agriculture and Science (JTAFS), Economic and Technology Management Review (ETMR), Corps Technology Bulletin, Food Technology Bulletin, Poultry Technology Bulletin, technology manuals, books, and monographs. The list can be found in Knowledge Centre (Fig. 9) by accessing OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) (Fig 10). Knowledge Centre is an information warehouse/library that provides access to information. The OPAC search form allows searching by any combination of author, title, and subject/keyword.
  3. The R&D initiatives undertaken by MARDI are appropriately based on the concept of development with a human touch or people centered development to ensure R&D outputs are efficiently transferred and utilized by stakeholders. This is to ensure that the expertise connected in the technology value chain system perform excellently at the commercialization stage. Furthermore, establishment of infrastructure in MARDI is geared toward developing Centers of Excellence (COE), accredited and specialized laboratories, facilities, and technology information centers.

Fig. 9. MARDI’s knowledge centre

 

Fig. 10.  MARDI’s WebOPAC

 

4. Other various platforms are created to encourage researchers and staff tapping into tacit knowledge such as:

a) Knowledge Café (K-Café) (fig. 11) - A knowledge café brings people together to have open, creative conversation on topics of mutual interest. It can be organized in a meeting or workshop format, but the emphasis should be on flowing dialogue that allows people to share ideas and learn from each other. It encourages people to explore issues that require discussion in order to build a consensus around an issue.
b) Brainstorming session: for policy and planning
c) Coaching and mentoring: for human resource development
d) Innovative and Creative Circle: for improvement in work process
e) Forum: to exchange ideas and perspectives
f) Public lecture: to share research findings
g) Structured interview: to gauge knowledge in specific areas
h) Assignment analysis: to benchmark work process

Fig. 11. MARDI’s Knowledge Café (K-Café)

 

CHALLENGES IN KM IMPLEMENTATION

Since its establishment more than 45 years ago, MARDI had gone through various challenges in research and development (R&D) projects as well as technical services and entrepreneurship development in food, agriculture and other fields related to the industry in the forms of advisory, consultancy, technical trainings, analytical laboratory services and quality assurance, product development and processing and also technology upscaling. MARDI also has assisted hundreds of domestic ’agro-preneurs’ or agricultural entrepreneurs in research and development and commercialization (R&D&C). The assistance to agro-preneurs includes:

  1. Technology transfer: such as food processing technology and seeding technology;
  2. Technical consultancy: such as standard operating procedures and waste management; and
  3. Skills training: such as factory management and estate management

The key challenges at present can be divided into three perspectives: meeting stakeholder demand; human resources capability; and resource allocation.

Stakeholder demand

MARDI is a public-sector funded and research and development (R&D) driven institute.  MARDI’s R&D portfolios have changed from being mainly public goods to market driven via R&D contracts. The stakeholder demand competitive products and services, higher level of R&D and effective intellectual asset management.

Human resource capability

Retirement of MARDI’s staff and frequent transfer of knowledge workers across government departments also create challenges for the retention of knowledge and preservation of institutional memory and the training of new staff.  Fig. 12 indicates the number of staff, researchers and non-researchers decreased from year 2014 to 2016. There is also competition for talent in various fields related to agriculture and management. Fig. 13 shows the distribution of MARDI’s expertise.

 

Fig. 12.  Number of MARDI staff by cluster from year 2014 to 2016

 

Fig. 13. Distribution of MARDI’s expertise by area

 

Resource allocation

In a knowledge economy, government agencies are increasingly facing competition at the national and international levels in terms of funds.  At the international level, government agencies are in competition with foreign organizations delivering similar services. As such, research organizations compete to attract the best talents and funding.  MARDI is in the R&D business and it is even more challenging when it comes to transfer of R&D to commercialization. 

Other main obstacles while implementing KM are:

  1. Less involvement of employees;
  2. Unlinked information;
  3. Complex development process; and
  4. Organization is not ready for a fully documented process

THE WAY FORWARD

MARDI needs a transition plan for moving the community from the current operating level to an enhanced knowledge enabled capability. A firm understanding of where MARDI stands and the challenges it faces need to be strategized. Therefore KM roadmap must be revisited from time to time. Fig. 14 shows KM roadmap that can be used in implementing KM and as an assessment of KM’s current level. Hall and Andriani (Hall and Andriani, 2002) have identified the existing gaps between the current knowledge possessed by an organization and the required knowledge while introducing new products and services. Tiwani (Tiwani, 2001) has also introduced some infrastructural gaps which hinder the creation of knowledge management systems. Gaps that have been identified later will be addressed in KM strategies roadmap.

Fig. 14.  KM Strategies roadmap

 

CONCLUSION

Since its establishment, MARDI had introduced many technologies on food, agriculture and bio-based industries. These achievements are testaments of MARDI's strength in R&D that has been built over the years. MARDI hopes this effort will help in fast tracking the process of technology transfer to interested parties and thus will contribute in the transformation of agriculture and the agro-based sector into a modern third engine of growth for the national economy.

MARDI’s ability to manage knowledge effectively is the most important factor in enhancing the productivity and competitiveness as markets shift, uncertainty often occurs, technologies may proliferate, competition may increase, and products and services often become obsolete. Platforms that use advances in ICTs for KM can support development and sharing of appropriate and relevant content for researchers, farmers, industry, traders and policy makers. Experimenting with various platforms of KM clearly revealed the importance of addressing the organizational barriers in knowledge sharing. Knowledge management requires not just automation of processes, but also cultural change. Knowledge management not only had to be embedded in the organization but also embodied in the people. 

REFERENCES

Girard, John P.; Girard, JoAnn L. (2015). "Defining knowledge management: Toward an applied compendium"(PDF). Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management. 3 (1): 14.

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ISSN 1479-4411 185 ©ACPIL, Gaál Z, Szabó L, Obermayer-Kovács N and Csepregi A. “Exploring the        role of social media in knowledge sharing” The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management        Volume 13 Issue 3 (pp185-197), www.ejkm.com.

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