Sunday, June 18, 2006

Manchester as a Knowledge Resource

Conference to close with a return to reality

(this is text as submitted for OhmyNews)

An academic conference on the 'knowledge economy' will close with a keynote from Dr Cathy Garner, currently Managing Director of Manchester Knowledge Capital. It can be assumed that this will relate at least some of the discussion during the conference to a description of actual Manchester as it exists.

Themes include "Discourses and Narratives of the Knowledge-Based Economy" so there could be analysis of some claims as if they were rhetoric, intended to disguise something else. The conference description states that "The Knowledge-Based Economy (KBE) conjures a world of smart people, in smart jobs, doing smart things, in smart ways, for smart money, increasingly open to all rather than a few. It has become the dominant economic strategy for many countries, regions, and cities and is endorsed by many economic, political, and social forces. It has also been criticized for creating a digital divide, new forms of social exclusion, and restricting access to the intellectual commons."

There is a "critique" strand in academic thinking that tends to see any set of words as part of a neo-liberal project to assist globalising capitalism. KBE could be interpreted as just the latest version of this.

Some of these topics relate to the OhmyNews conference on best practices for citizen journalism, both about technology changes and associated developments in culture and social organisation. The 'ubiquitous dream hall' is clearly a showcase for the Korean IT industry but the main topic will be the practice of citizen journalism and wider access to 'the intellectual commons'. My own impression is that citizen reporters are just a part of citizen journalism and that the editors, software and organisation are significant elements. Studies of formal organisation are not always seen as interesting, but I think they remain relevant.

This will be the first major conference organised by the Institute for Advanced Studies, a new initiative for interdisciplinary and postdisciplinary research in Management, Social Sciences and the Arts & Humanities. The Knowledge Based Economy is the focus for the inaugural annual programme, a series of workshops leading up to the conference.

Previous conferences at Lancaster have included two about 'Management Theory at Work'. The idea that 'citizens' or 'practitioners' can contribute to such conferences is officially welcomed. See the recent article by Claire George. However this cannot always be easily reconciled with other views expressed. One closing keynote by Chris Grey argued that Business Schools could not and should not claim to offer any managerial knowledge, but should continue the university role of critique in society. Similar ideas are expressed in a PDF working paper 'Against Learning', available for free download from the Judge Business School in Cambridge.

One of the research clusters at the Lancaster Institute for Advanced Studies is around 'Performativity'. As described on the website,- "Organizations, institutions, nation states even global regions are often portrayed in terms of their performance. Performance itself can be viewed as institutionalised, ritualised, commodified even deified if the discourse pervading managing the public sector is anything to go by."

It is also the case that "Anti-Performativity" can be seen as having so strong a base in universities that it is a problem for practitioners to grasp where theory can be related to any form of activity. My own interest is mainly in quality systems. Since the book 'Making Quality Critical' by Wilkinson and Wilmott was published in 1995 it seems to have been difficult in the UK to relate quality assurance ideas with the study of 'learning organisations'.

The discussion around citizen journalism includes an aspect of 'critique' based on American pragmatism. At last year's OhmyNews Forum, Jeremy Iggers spoke about how he started an experiment in civic journalism in the U.S.

"At the time, I was finishing up a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Minnesota, and writing a dissertation about the ethics of journalism. One of the philosophers who influenced me most was the American pragmatist, John Dewey, who wrote about the importance of having a knowledgeable engaged public that played an active role in democratic life. My thought was that it would be a good idea to see what the newspaper could do to foster public participation, and to encourage better public understanding of important public issues."

There is a connection between Dewey's ideas on education and Deming's ideas on knowledge as part of his approach to quality. This may come up in the discussion about best practices for citizen journalism.

Whatever the reservations about 'performativity', there will also be pragmatic conclusions from the conference on the KBE, at least relating to Manchester.

On 7th January 2005 UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown opened the new North Campus Incubator Unit, part of the University of Manchester.

"What a pleasure it is to be in Manchester to see the huge changes taking place in this great city that led the Industrial Revolution and is now leading the knowledge revolution of the 21st Century," he said.

The Chancellor added that the university would be a future world leader and the city and region would become one of the most prosperous in Europe.

This could be seen as just more "spin" but there is some basis in reality.

No comments: