W. Baker, Chairman:
Ladies and gentlemen, this most interesting workshop has now traveled through leapfrogging, networking, the information revolution, international institutions and national and regional efforts. The partners must really participate if sustainable development is to be more than an idle dream. The most essential element we've seen in reaching sustainability is the generation and distribution of the best knowledge available. Let us now hear from leading companies active in this endeavor. First we have Kimberly Ryan from the Lotus Corporation.
I'm the International Product Manager and what that means is that I concentrate on our products which are sold outside of the United States. So I deal with products that are developed and sold outside and products that are developed here and then sold to the outside world. I first became involved with MIT through the Command System which you saw earlier today from John Williams, and then later through GSSD. And I'll be very honest with you, the lens through which I viewed all of the things you've talked about today have been, “How can I make money from doing this?” Because that's what business is about. How do you make money? The new trends that are happening in the late 1990s really came from the early 1990s when companies started downsizing or rightsizing and as people left, organizations found that a lot of that knowledge left with the people.
So in the late 1990s companies are trying to say, “What can we do to retain our corporate knowledge?” and how can we retain our corporate culture when people leave. And as a result, in the technology industry, we've found that we can sell solutions to people that do just that. So now I'd like to bring you back to some slides that you saw earlier this morning. These next two slides are actually two of my favorite slides. If I had favorite slides of all times the next two would be them. And this particular slide shows Internet connectivity and if you look at the purple that's countries that have Internet connectivity. I really believe that this is an American view of Internet connectivity. And the reason I say that is because when I go back to my office later and I talk to my developers about what are we going to do? What products are we going to build? The whole world pretty much is wired.
If we're going to build a knowledge management system that's going to work globally that's going to be extensible, what does it need to do? Because we can't rely on the Internet. We can't rely on technology. So the requirements that we defined for a knowledge management system that would be successful, that we thought about when we built GSSD, were that it would need to capture tacit knowledge. It would need to identify individuals, teams, centers of expertise. It would need to remove physical barriers to information and the most important thing is that it would need to establish and maintain communication and networks. So earlier we were talking and the question came up well, how are we going to use this? Because the average person doesn't have Internet connection. and it's really that place where the technology stops and the humans get involved. That is when we see knowledge management systems actually working and being successful.
So with that, the Gardner Group which is an industry analyst, has come out and said that it's not actually what's in your database that is important but it's the emphasis that is in it. It's the human cooperation that makes a knowledge management system successful. So what are the barriers then? If we're going to build a knowledge management system and we know that people have to talk to each other and we know that it can't be just all the technology, what are the other barriers to knowledge management? And we assume was brought up, namely language. There is also the concept of information hoarding. If I hold all the keys you need to come to me to get the answers. This is seen as quality control. The Internet is, after all, just a great big database. So trying to search something on the Internet can sometimes be a little bit scary.
So what Lotus did was we looked at what it was we were trying to build. We knew it had to be extensible. We knew it had to be worldwide. And we knew that we had these barriers that need to be transcended.
So we looked at what can we do to eliminate these barriers and what trends and technology are we seeing that we can incorporate into our products that can break down these barriers? I won't turn this into a Lotus commercial. So machine translation was brought up earlier about French and searching on global sustainability. We actually have a product that will allow you to tell the server what language you're querying in and what languages you'd like it to check through. It will come back with a list of documents. Let's say it pulls up a German document and you don't read German. You can actually request that it be translated for you on the fly in German to English and be able to read it. Now it won't be 100% perfect. But it will be better than nothing. Another thing is voice enablement. For the visually impaired, that can be essential. That's another big market that we see and another place I actually heard about illiteracy today. Perhaps it could be used for more than just the visually impaired.
Then we are concerned with Workflow. With the GSSD system you saw that people could type in information and someone can do some quality control and then check it in to the database before it becomes alive. We also have some products that merge synchronous and asynchronous. So if you're on the GSSD site in the future, I'm adding future features to this as I'm standing here. But if you were looking at the site and you were looking at a page and someone else were looking at it at the same time you would be able to see that person as logged in and instantly start a conversation, such as “Hey, I see you're interested in forestry and I've seen you here a few times looking at the same documents I am. Do we have something that we can talk about and maybe get together on?” At Lotus we're also working on solutions which capture communities of practice, i.e., people working together for a common goal, as well as expert networks. So if you wanted to find someone who is an expert in a particular field but perhaps they didn't know they were an expert, it just so happens that they've done a lot of work on it. They don't consider themselves to be an expert. And through data mining their name has come up.
These are the types of future technology trends that we've seen in the industry that we're incorporating into our products and solutions for global knowledge management.
What we learned when we decided to build all these products is that any system we build has to be about cooperation and context. It has to couple both the human and computer interaction. We can't build a product that is just a database on the Internet because that won't be successful. And we need it to be successful in order to make money. But the idea is that we want to reduce the cycle time of ideas. We want to be more productive. And we can use information technology to do that but we have to break down other barriers. Otherwise we will not be successful. Thank you.
I'm from Sony Europe International, from Stuttgart, Germany. We see that attracting business to the GSSD approach is not so easy. If you ask what are the benefits for business and industry of course we say the need platforms, we need distance capabilities. We need content control. But the type of knowledge which we need is maybe slightly different from the knowledge of business at the moment in GSSD.
To give you some hints and to explain a little bit more the difficulties which I see at the moment I will draw on network activity in Europe which is funded by the European Union. This is a project under European Union for industrial materials technologies, closing on the loop of electronic and electric products and domestic appliances. If we adopt a European perspective, it means if you like to bring this expert knowledge on a global base there are difficulties.
On one side you have to strengthen the European approach. On another side you want to contribute to this global approach. And showing also when we consider the consortia we are involved with you can see here--you can find Phillips as a European based company. But you can find Motorola as an American company. You can find SONY as a Japanese company. This means when talking about electronic products and the impact over the life cycle of the products you can't say this is just a European problem. We are all global companies. We have a global design, global production. But we have many, many local impacts which are maybe different in Europe to Asia or to Africa. So we have to find a system how to cooperate.
The goal we now have, as we created this network, called Eco Design is close the cycle from design to production to end of life strategies from a business perspective and relate this to legislation and to public understanding, also talking about end of life aspects for electronic products. In Europe collaborative activities are already started on a large scale. We didn't develop a network in a way like we had the presentations today. Our approach was to create network activities: first, between partners to create knowledge and for this we have many activities. These activities are starting in October in Europe. All these participants are bringing very specific contributions to the network. Even not going into the details I will just say we have a wide variety of expertise in this group. And of course you have also duplication of expertise. And in the process of networking we will develop centers of competency. We all have knowledge but to bring this knowledge in the network we need a kind of focusand one dedicated institute or company has been in charge.
Coming to our relation to the GSSD, the first challenge, of course, is quality control. And if you see we have many topics already in this world of the GSSD, but most are not specific enough for companies for the decision-making process. And we'd like to develop here very specificknowledge in a way that you can really provide policy guidance for the companies but also for the management position tool on different levels. We also need to focus on European opportunities, such as voluntary agreements, and we have to understand different contexts. In this context, we have high connectivity. But we also have very low traffic. So in many companies have nice databases. But if you increase hits to the databases, this means a great acceptance and to create a kind of advertisement scheme to attract engineers, managers to hit the system. We need a range of other means. We need to find means of improving ways to create knowledge.
The next question is how you can bring all this knowledge to ordinary people and here you can attract 50 pages which are behind the topic, you have to create other means. This is connected to the language problems we talked about.
What is very important the level of knowledge and detailing for different target groups. If you go to management and if you have to go for the whole GSSD system in its present status, he will not find it relevant, and he will go once but not a second time.
Talking again about partnerships between GSSD and local systems. Local systems can be regional systems, or they can be company systems, or others also. Of course we are eager to get access to the global knowledge and data, so it's a very good way for the companies to get all this data in a systematic way. Of course to get the data we should create a regional contribution or local contribution from a company.
And we have a basic conflict, our data which are generated in a region or in a company or maybe all the data which are in competition to others, so you need a system to allow only, a subset of data to be available. I bring in the system but as upset is really just for the region for many reasons. But the user should be able to have devices of levels and aggregation.
If we consider the GSSD in a dynamic environment, we have to develop a range of alternative personalities so that we can make it more dynamic. We need to reflect regional, national as well as private and public use.
So, a good strategy is to enter this large system through a sector or in a company as only a subset is relevant of it. And I think here I see a lot of potential in development. Thank you very much.
It's very hard to know what to say at the end of a day like this. So I thought what I would do is try to present, draw back a little bit, not talk about specific technologies but try to present a little bit of context within which this process is occurring. In particular, I want to talk about some of the barriers that exist when you try to turn information into knowledge. My question is: Is what we see as information actually being turned into knowledge that's getting to the right people at the right time? Is it changing or impacting the right decisions. And I suspect that at least to this point it's not. And I'd like to suggest some reasons which are not usually included in technical discussion, they are absolutely critical. In the real world, such reasons can make the difference between achieving a goal that is impacting a decision or whatever, and not being able to end remaining without impact.
As the last speaker my job is also to be short and sweet. There are probably many people in the audience who would be glad if perhaps the last speaker would develop some severe tics or whatever and not be able to go on and we could proceed apace. But I shall be brief.
Let me start by pointing out some of the differences in culture, perception which can make a big difference in the way information gets translated. Now if you start with what we've done in the past in the environment domain, what you're talking about is remediation and compliance. We know how to do that. That's been where environment is. That's fine. We know that when it comes to information, that is relatively simple. That is to say the disciplines that are involved are relatively simple and known, such a toxicology, environmental science, environmental engineering. They're fairly reductionist. They are able to speak to each other because they share not just the same language but the same mental models.
Now think about what we're saying when we say our goals should be global sustainability. Think about the different kinds of expertise that need to begin to come into play. Not only are there many more sciences but also the social sciences, law and economics, technology. And we have to be able to integrate the information that those different fields bring to us new knowledge. Does that happen? The answer is very poorly, if at all. I don't know how many of you have been privileged to listen to a sociologist who believes in a deconstructionist view of technology, that is that technology is basically a social and cultural enterprise. Speaking to an engineer who believes that technology is a firmly objective thing to do. And the fact is it's just like listening to the American Petroleum Institute talk to the National Resource Defense Council about global climate change. Ships passing in the night. Both of them have a lot of information. The knowledge they generate together is close to nil. And that's only the beginning.
So I suggest that's one thing we need to be careful of, and to think about, as we build these knowledge systems. Cultures are embedded in the knowledge systems, and how these affect the knowledge process
Different stakeholders will have different agendas in any discussion of any environmental technology but these are more fundamental concerns. New technologies empower stakeholders in different ways. For the employee, teleworking is a significant advantage. It empowers them. They get to work at home two or three days a week. They really like it. We've had some experience at AT&T. About 55% of our manages telecommute at least six days a month. Which is an extraordinarily high number that I didn't believe for a long time and I made them go back and do another survey and the survey said the same thing. You don't have to believe it. But what it does is gives us experience with that activity, and about the stakeholder.
The employees that do telecommute like it a lot. That's their agenda. The community likes telecommuting to the extent that it reduces congestion. That's their agenda. The environmental impacts of telecommuting tend to be favorable. That is to say, there's less pollution, less smog, less use of fossil fuel and less contribution to global climate change. So that's the agenda of the environmentalists. For AT&T obviously telecommuting is a business opportunity. That's the agenda of AT&T. So with all of that you would think that telecommuting is obviously a slam dunk. Everybody's agenda aligns. They all want to telecommute.
But all of you who work for big companies know, it doesn't work that way. Why doesn't it? Well, the one agenda that didn't get included in that issenior managers. Senior managers hate not having employees at work. Why do they hate it? Because the way they evaluate their employees is how long they stay to work. So if you let somebody telecommute you take away their metric. How do I know he's doing any work? Well, the answer is if you're a good manager you should have known that to begin with. But it frequently doesn't work that way. So one of the things that we've found is that if you begin to implement telecommuting in certain ways the agenda of the managers is more than enough to outweigh all those other agendas. And how do you get to them? Well, what you do is you go to the manager on top of them and say by the way, did you know if you telecommute you could probably cut down on your office space by half which would save you a lot of money.
Learning how to use agendas to turn technologies into something that works in the real world is absolutely critical as a part of turning information into knowledge.
Let me close with something a little broader. I told you I was going to give you a little bit of context so why not go the full route and just talk about the world and the cosmos all at once. One of the things I think is very important to understand is that every institution has limited perception. The national stake has a whole set of ways that it sees you. Your Social Security number and identity card, a tax number. Those ways are not the way, I hope, your community sees you. They're both institutions but they both have different ways of perceiving. And those ways of perceiving imply different information systems. The local community may not give a flip which your identification number is but it may care significantly that you work with the local youth. Similarly, if I want to talk to a firm and I use words and information that is suitable for NGOs I am quite likely not to be heard. Why? Because the perceptual basis of a firm is money, is profit. And if you talk about, for example, the greater glory of sustainable development to a typical American manager in particular, he will say, “what does that mean?” He may care or she may care about the things you're saying. But you have used language that does not translate the information into knowledge for that person. They cannot perceive in a very real sense what it is you're saying. Now why is this particularly difficult? Well, it's particularly difficult now because firms are in the middle of trying to understand what it means to broaden their perceptual field. It used to be that all you had to do was make money. And that was generally good enough. Now it is not.
Firms are beginning to talk about the triple bottom line. That is, environmental, economic and social achievement in efficiency. And the question has got to be asked: do any of them really know what they're talking about? And much as we do it, the answer is probably not. Why? Because you're at the beginning of a long process where the firm is taking a previously limited perceptual field which focused on profit, dollars and market opportunities and growing it to try to understand more of the world around it. As that happens, the information that firms can take advantage of to turn it into knowledge will also grow. But it's not there yet. And you need to understand when you talk to firms what kinds of information are actually going to be perceived and turned into knowledge by that institution.
The national stake, the community and the NGOs all have similarly limited perceptual fields. There is some information that will be important to each of them that will not be important and will not be turned into knowledge by the others. So for me this raises kind of an interesting challenge.
We're talking about global knowledge systems. And yet there are probably fundamental conflicts between each one of these important group of stakeholders that prevent them from understanding the same information as knowledge. And I think that's something that we need to think about and work with as we develop these systems. Because unless we begin to deal with those subtleties our ability to lead and to help people understand what is actually happening will be severely attenuated. We'll create a lot of systems, but we'll be talking to each other. And that, after all, is not the point. Thank you.
I presume in all these talks there is some assumption that the existing industry would provide the translation of information to knowledge. I was assuming that there would be a whole new industry that would understand the new information and the needs of various sectors and they would provide them the product which was new knowledge--, and not depend upon them, the customer, to have to be smart enough to make the translation, but actually to make the translation for them. And some industries might be smart enough to be able to do that themselves. But if they didn't in the international markets somebody would do it for them. And present them a compelling case in their own language that this new information that was talked about, recombinant knowledge, by combining A,B, and C they can in their own language, in their own terms, without changing their culture, make new money or carry out new activities that they couldn't do previously.
I own a convenience store and I want to make money. So I'm going to put the beer next to the diapers. So in case you came to get some diapers, you might grab some beer, anyway. And that's the job of the analyst or the knowledge worker. To take that information that you didn't previously think to query your database for beer and diapers, the information was automatically given to you through data mining, but you have to do something with it. It's up to you. I think that's really what we expect.
I guess all I'm saying is that once you do that for one store you can sell it to a million stores in the information age. And therefore the idea that each individual enterprise is going to have to learn themselves how to make that translation is not to me the way it's going to work out. Because there will be such a leverage once you're connected, once somebody makes an insight of how to translate information into knowledge, they'll immediately sell it to everybody. Because as was pointed out in one of the earlier talks, the knowledge is not rival. It can be used over and over again without depriving the person that uses it the first time with the benefit of its use.
The problem with that is knowledge is specific to its context. My son views Nirvana as being knowledge of a high order whereas I tend to hear noise. And I think the difficulty with what you're saying is twofold. The first is the markets for most kinds of real knowledge are very poorly developed. For things like software, which is a very carefully defined kind of functionality, they're well developed. But for something like what does sustainability mean to me they're not very well developed at all. So it's very hard for anybody at this point to try to profit from developing that kind of knowledge. An easy example is would I presume to tell a developing nation what sustainable development meant for them in a community in that nation. Absolutely not. Because the knowledge I have about that doesn't translate to that context and that culture. And I think that's part of the problem. There's levels of hierarchy of knowledge, scientific knowledge is fairly high. It tends to be common across the world. As that is applied that hierarchy begins to break down and knowledge becomes more and more local.
Second, what may be considered as knowledge may not be generalizable. What I am saying is what works in a village in India may well not work in a village in the Andes. I certainly would not at least presuppose it does. So the question is: to what extent is that knowledge generalizable? Technology can be generalized fairly easily because it is objective. Its application tends to get into the cultural realm and it becomes more problematic.
Just to follow up from the previous question. There's been a number of things which have been arisen by interventions collectively. Issues of tacit knowledge have been in the debate for quite some time. You were just mentioning what the Andean person and the Indian person, might not be the same thing they want. But one of our partners, the Bolivian partners, is in fact trying to build up a project based on e-mail. The example they normally use is that a lot of their workers work conflict resolution in the drug fields in Bolivia. A lot of the techniques that they use for conflict resolution in the villages might be of enormous help to people in Vietnam, for example, that use exactly the same sort--probably are in the same sort of conflict areas. And it would be of enormous help to them, maybe it's not the same thing, maybe it's not applicable. But it would be of enormous help to be able to understand that there is someone else that deals with these. Now this project, conceptually beautiful, is all about knowledge management. So you've got the raw data. You've got the village, the data. Then you've got information that comes from that, the information which the people can put together in forms of documents, etc. That is something which is exchangeable. Even in forms of e-mail. Somebody is actually translating this data into information. And then you've got the possibility of analyzing this information by e-mail asking and what do you think of that after having had this experience?
My point is how do you envisage technologies, like, for example, the one that Lotus was suggesting, to enable people to do that? To enable, for example, someone in Vietnam to access the sort of information. Considering that we have got this project going. We are doing it with our own means. But, of course, is somebody thinking about similar things we would be very interested in knowing about it.
The one question or one point that I want to pick up on is you said what is happening to improve connectivity to the Vietnams of the world and whatnot? While it's outside of the Lotus domain and probably more in AT&T domain, I'm sure many of you are aware of efforts to build a global network. And I actually have a prop from earlier today that I didn't show because I rushed through my slides. But I can surf the Web from my telephone and this relatively cheap device. So while I'm not suggesting that the villagers in Vietnam would actually have something like this, what I am suggesting is that there may be a knowledge worker who has access to information and that person can then have the interaction with the local people in the village and complete the transaction through this human contact. Because I don't think it's all going to be solved through computer networks and the Internet.
I think connectivity is an interesting problem. I don't want to necessarily dive into the technology but part of what's happening in the evolution of the connectivity side of the industry is that there's a number of different technologies which are currently vying for position. I think it's fair to say that international connectivity is high on everybody's list. The caveat to that is the activity tends to be focused on the multinational customer, not on the local geographic customer. And that remains a significant problem.
I have a question or a comment, I'm not quite sure which. All of you alluded-- or said explicitly-- that the business of business is to make money, profit. Agreed. But I was under the impression that this activity (of making money) is now becoming subject to new constraints. These constraints have to do with environment, with social expectations, and with notions of sustainability, etc. The constraints in the domain that of sustainability. Most businesses are visible and subject to liability laws or to regulation are becoming sensitive to the need for knowledge about this particular domain.
So the question is: is there any evidence to suggest that in your own three firms business-as-usual as been affected in any way by this changing context?
Yes, I think the difference is in the terms that you used. When you do a design you have design constraints and design objectives. The problem is as long as business looks at environment and social development as a constraint on its activity, you don't engage industry in the solution of the problems. What you do is you figure out how to make a product anyway that avoids the particular constraints. When you engage business with those issues as objectives, that is to say, for example, the triple bottom line your objective is not just economic but environmental and social, then you begin to engage industry along a whole new dimension. That process is extremely nascent right now. But I think that's the power of the triple bottom line kind of approach that, for example, the world business council on sustainable development is taking. And I think I would be surprised if any forward looking company weren't trying to deal with that in some way or another. I would also make the general assertion that I don't know any of them that are doing a particularly good job yet, partially because it's incredibly complex.
I agree. I think also talking about Sony, we have now the combination from a hardware company and software company, we have Sony Entertainment, Sony Music and talking about sustainable development in this combination a complete new dimension. And the question now is how to translate the contents from the GSSD in a business language. I showed the context also in Tokyo just to bring a dozen of you. It's nice but how I can use it. The question is only how to translate this so business can use it.
I just wanted to make a comment more than a question, and that is to take your information knowledge paradigm both ways. This is “backwards” when we start with the data, we move “forward” from data to information, and from information to knowledge. I think you have a stop there. The real driving force is wisdom.
Wisdom comes from the social interaction, decisionmaking processes, dealing with a community, whatever this community is. What has happened in technology is that technology has been shoved down the throat of society so much that all of them are having “technology” and that brings them problems. That creates a lot of the distortion and a lot of the problems that lead to society being not sustainable.
The technology that Ashok Koshla was talking about, the technology that is available right in Bangladesh, involves three women who are given one cellular telephone. They now become traveling telephone centers. They're going from home to home, connecting from village to village, so it is not only leapfrogging, it's cutting the whole telephone connectivity industry through the satellite into--jumping from the late 19th, early 20th century to the 21st century in one go. These are all possible.
The question is: where does that wisdom come from? The presentday holders of “advanced” technology have been absolutely immoral on this level. We are looking for a new morality, new wisdom in that sense where a completely new type of thinking. We are looking for new knowledge. Then this whole question of wisdom and that wisdom when shared by all is where sustainability will come from. It will not come from just having a lot more of these databases and a lot more hardware.
Companies today realize that in order for a company to be sustainable they have to satisfy both their employees and their customers. So it certainly could not be the case that we could force technology down the throats of unwilling customers. We do need to satisfy our customer base. Otherwise, we wouldn't be in business or make any money. So I'm not quite certain what point you were trying to make or how to rectify the fact that you're saying that information technology is being rammed down the throats of people that don't want it.
From the floor:
In the UN we're very good at holding knowledge or holding information. Now we're doing a little bit better job at disseminating that information. But if we don't present that information in a way that people have an incentive or feel motivated in attracting, we can put all the information about cleaner production processes on the Web that we can possibly find, but if we don't find a way to present that information in the company's field and need to look at it before they make a decision to make an investment, we won't get it. And there are mechanisms through which companies have traditionally gone through making decision processes. There are established processes through which companies in developing countries buy heavy machinery from the developed world. We are tending to set up all these information systems without necessarily looking at the natural way things have been going and using those vehicles in a new way. Or teaching those vehicles that maybe the information they have needs to be framed differently.
We need to learn the language of industry if we want industry to change. We want to learn the language of national governments if we want national governments to change. And if we're the ones that have the information I think it's up to us we're creating this information system. We need to be able to frame the information in a way that people understand us based on their own realities. And I think that is one of the messages that we had a year and a half ago and regrettably, I don't know how we are supposed to change the way we present the information to hit the right people in a way that it's convincing to them. I can't believe that companies can change to cleaner production processes. Oh, they don't care. But the truth is that we can prove that they save money. And in that way there's no argument that they don't care. It's just that the information, even though it's in their faces, they're not understanding it. We need to be able to be make it understandable to the target or focus group.
From the floor:
That's a critical point. Because there's a lot of information out there, particularly for smaller companies about cleaner production processes, changing their lighting systems so they save money, enormous opportunities that, in fact, save them money in significant amounts and they don't take it. Why don't they take it? Well, you get back into things like the corporate cultures that are involved and those kinds of things. We like to try to avoid those because they're very difficult to understand and very difficult to work with. But I think you just made the point better than I did. It's absolutely critical. Because if you don't do that, then you don't go anywhere.
I'd like to ask a follow-up question to the question Nazli put about business as usual. And it's this in a way. Have we any right to expect companies to do other than to pursue business as usual? I'll explain what I mean. Companies have to respond to the economic framework in which they find themselves. And we have got to 1998 with its social and environmental and so forth structures, not because companies have invented them. But because society, governments, authorities, whatever have laid down requirements. And my question to the company representatives is: is it any skin off your nose provided you have a sufficient time to adapt systems, sufficient time to be innovative, to work out how to respond, if governments lay upon you additional social obligations, additional environmental obligations. You may fight them at a political level but in the end provided you have time, you're very inventive. And can you not respond? And isn't the way simply to adapt business as usual to a new set of environmental, social, sustainability criteria? Which in the end have to be laid down by bodies other than the companies.
I think one thing that's important to be careful of is that as you develop policies the people you've hurt are not the multinational corporations. Because, if you made a policy that costs me too much money to do business here there are other countries where I can do business and I'm big enough to do that. A classic example is Japan. Right now it costs me about 10 times to build the same product in Japan as it does in China. And at the end of the month we're going to close our Tokyo development facility and move all of that work to Beijing. But the people you do hurt are the individual companies, the small companies. And at least what I've heard today for these developing nations that's what they have mostly. I've heard that it's small companies. I think it was called a micro company or something like that. And I think that those kinds of companies are the ones that will be hurt if you develop policies.
Let me expand very quickly and just say I agree with you 100%. Corporations, if they don't make a profit, can be sued under any incorporation statute that I'm familiar with. The danger I see coming up is what do you do if multinationals get too big and too culturally powerful to be appropriately bounded by the civil authority we have now? That is, the national state. And that to me is a very difficult and serious issue. That, frankly, most people are not aware of yet.
There's another approach that we haven't talked about in this context at least. And that's public/private partnerships or civil society/private partnerships. For example, that little device that you have, your little phone that goes to the Internet, 10 years from now those things are going to be quite cheap. Villages could buy them. These nets will be around largely supported by the business cultures of the world. So if villages could buy them why would they? Well, that's where the partnership angle might come in. Suppose that development banks, foundations, whatever built local language databases and worked out with companies the equivalent of the 800 number. So that you could call and get local language extension information or health information. Or is it going to be a bad climate year? So plant this kind of seed. Or any number of other things that one could imagine. And I think it's precisely in seeing what the infrastructures the private sector can support and then thinking how to use those creatively by developing new kinds of partnerships that we can really accelerate development paradigms and find ways to create a more sustainable society.
Knowledge is only knowledge if it's related to shared problems and bounded in context. And if we transfer knowledge to other contexts we have to relate it to different problems and to go into a very complicated process of recontextualization and this is not just translation. A part of the problem we can solve by translation. That is complicated but not complex. The complex problem is one of the recontextualization. And I don't see a technical solution for this.
In my slides that was one of my main points. That is that knowledge management systems, and knowledge exist in context and it's really the humans that can bring about that context. Information technology is not 100% of a knowledge management system.
My process question. Are we going to spend time on wrap up? After having been rushed through the previous session we're spending a lot of time here. And I think there's a lot of sort of broad issues that we need to deal with on the structure of what this cyber partnership.
There is a constraint and a tradeoff involved here. The constraint is time and the tradeoff is wine.
One of the questions I had is what is the nature, the enabling mechanisms for actually a partnership process? Among those who are present here with some continuation. What is the means by which this continues? What is the means by which we establish, formalize, decide on the nature of the kind of partnership process that should come out of that?
Formal arrangements can often lead to artificial (and impaired) connections. We have a vision of evolving dynamic, mutually beneficial, interactions that buried a partnership from informal basis to more “organic” manifestation.
I attended a very interesting lecture last night on that very topic. And one of the important points that I took away from that lecture was that in countries where we see a lot of innovation and development, we also see a lot of protection of that innovation. There's a real incentive for me to develop something if I perceive myself as being protected and able to gain some reward whether it be financial or intellectual. And in the first speech this morning when they were talking about the creation of new knowledge and it's difficult to create but it can be used anywhere, the point there was that they didn't perceive it as a requirement to protect knowledge. And I would disagree. In China, for example, the copyright laws don't apply--we don't see a whole lot of new information coming out of China. But I believe that if the laws were changed such that people would be protected, maybe not in China because of their particular political situation, but we would see more innovation development from those countries.
M. P. Salvalierra:
I have a question for the gentleman from Sony but perhaps to all of you, too. You made the comment before referring to the GSSD but I presume that it would also apply to some of the other existing networks related to sustainable development. That you like them. You think they're valuable but you're not quite sure how to use them for your purposes. And I understand that. I don't take issue with that. But my question is: What could you use? What would be of value to you? Obviously, public institutions aren't going to put up information that's directly responding to your profit making needs. But in the context of the triple bottom line or however you want to describe it, what kind of information would you like to have?
We have different customers in different levels of the company. And for this we have different needs. For example, for a company's corporate planning we can use the existing systems very well. Also we have specialists who have the time to search and so on. If you go down to the actual management time constraints. We have no time at all these developments. So you need really a straightforward system for searching. And then on this level sometimes you're also not specific enough to answer questions. And this is a question for which we like to start with in relation to. We can have available knowledge and also some expert knowledge which is related to sectors which we can use. And in this interaction I think we can add much more value to create acceptance, at different levels, in the company.
I think another aspect is that you're talking here to three large multinationals. And probably the biggest bang for the buck initially is information that can be targeted to small and medium sized enterprises. They're extremely hard to get to. EPA has been trying for a long time in this country. And it's a problem that I think needs some very good concentrated thinking. The information is only a part of it. And probably, given the amount of information that the UN and EPA already have on clean manufacturing, probably not the biggest part of it. The biggest part is trying to understand how to reach a very important, very dynamic but virtually invisible sector. I wish I had good ideas. I'm working with an organization in Washington that's trying to do exactly that. And frankly, what we're doing is I'm writing a textbook with a co-author there on industrial ecology that's applicable to small companies.
I just wanted to mention some of the questions coming up now are dealing again with the concept of the diverse audiences that all of our groups are trying to address. And what we've found at IISD is that it's impossible to do it through the same Web site and through using the same tool. As a cautionary note, if you start developing multiple Web sites for multiple audiences it takes a lot of time and it's not just infrastructure investments, it's staff time and intellectual capital. Because, for instance, the framework that I've developed trying to communicate about sustainable development to NGOs and governments through the SD gateway, we have found to be completely ineffectual in dealing with the business community. So IISD went out and hired a business communications officer who has come up with an entirely different framework on how do you bring together concepts like cleaner production and the natural step and translate those to business audiences. But it takes a lot of time. It's been a lot of trial and error so far.
I will speak about those SME problems the day after tomorrow. But let me comment briefly.
First is the triple bottom line strategy. We can go forward if we have representation of a win/win strategy. That is, it's not new constraints but it's new opportunities.
Secondly, we must consider flexibility, or this moves us from constraint to contracts. A contract is a problem of accountability, transparency and relationship with the participating stakeholder process. That is something very new. So you have to “open” the firm. It's mainly cognitive problem. That sort of firm is open, more adaptive and better to have evolution.
Then there is the problem of size. There is a very big difference between a multinational and a small enterprise. In the small enterprise I think the problem is the same as a local community. We must think about intermediate people. We can take some universal knowledge and put it inside the “local” unit. And the global system cannot address directly the local people. We must think about the organization with a mobilization of intermediate level to the local level.
I would like to thank Professor Choucri for having brought together some excellent speakers and some very perceptive questioners. I think Nazli would like to say a word at the end of this workshop.
Thank you for spending the whole day with us here at MIT and thank you for a set of extremely interesting and innovative exchanges. I have actually two or three transparencies to show you simply by way of summarizing where we stand. It goes without saying that everything that is being done here is transitional, dynamic, and changing. This is in large part because the realities out there are transitional and dynamic.
The issue of partnership I believe is by necessity, not by choice. The necessity is that we all recognize that centralized knowledge and centralized knowledge management is no longer possible. The issues are too complex. We also know that it is difficult to organize any group of people to do anything that they do not deem central to their concern. We have proceeded along “voluntary” principles, which institutions express their views, and arguments in areas of special interest to them. They have responsibility for distribution to knowledge to others. Connection among us all creates “more,” and more depth and diversity.
What I'd like to do by way of concluding this session is to share with you our specific next steps. First, we are in the process of concentrating on enriching GSSD knowledge base through collaboration for specialized inputs.
Second, we are in the process of putting in place a mirror site in China to use as a platform for China’s own knowledge base and information. The same is being explored in other regions. Every time we establish a mirror site GSSD is expecting reciprocal collaboration and knowledge exchange with other institutes. Because we are operating in the public domain, this type of synergy is possible.
Our next concern is innovation in the delivery system related to the issue of language.
Finally, we are looking forward to the discussions as the next two days—at the Symposium on Global Accords for Sustainable Development.—to find ways of better using our combined knowledge.