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Knowledge Management and Learning

Since the early 1990s, it has been widely accepted that the management or administration of knowledge (knowledge management) is key to the success of any business, organization, program or project. This concept consists of a strategic approach to actions based on the theories of organization, education and research, which enable individuals and institutions to identify, develop, acquire, distribute and adopt ideas, knowledge, skills, lessons learned and experiences, to increase the likelihood of success of the activities to be implemented.

At the start of the new millennium, public and private organizations have begun to develop institutional, governmental and business strategies based on knowledge management. This includes strategic actions like staff training in areas such as systems management, business administration, management of physical and virtual libraries, computer science, communications, politics, public health, and social and environmental management. Such entities develop internal programs that are responsible for the management of knowledge and the associated learning process, or they outsource consulting firms, which provide advice and training to people in the area of knowledge management.

Organizational learning is considered to be one of the key elements of knowledge management. It is crucial in order to increase productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, innovation, the exchange of information and knowledge, the development of best practices and in learning from past lessons.

Progress in the Management of Environmental Knowledge

In our "Knowledge Age" it is recognized that the main competitive advantage for any individual, company or organization is the proper management of knowledge. Today, in the early twenty-first century, knowledge development, management, and distribution are key elements to the success of any operation. In addition, technological advances such as the development of digital information systems allow a modern management of knowledge in today's world.

Globalization, technology and social networks are transforming the way in which we communicate and how we manage information and knowledge for our short, medium, and long term purposes. In fact, knowledge is seen as an unlimited resource. As our understanding grows each day, the information that we manage increases and so does the number of concepts and practices that we acquire. Intellectual capital is, indeed, the bedrock of progress of any individual or group of people: a well-informed community is a more successful community. Such intellectual capital encompasses three components: human capital (i.e., people and everything they know); structural capital (the knowledge acquired and managed in an organization), and relational capital (the body of knowledge in an organization and the manner in which it is valued and communicated between the actors involved).

Over the past 10 years, there has been substantial progress in the area of environmental knowledge management, especially at the digital level. There are thousands and thousands of pages on the Internet dedicated to environmental issues, such as microorganisms, deforestation, the use of fertilizers, the management of protected areas, diseases caused by pests, climate change, wastewater treatment, environmental policy instruments, wind power, non-renewable resources, biofuels, etc.

At the same time, more organizations and companies are developing documentation centers where they store printed publications. In addition, they develop information management systems to store, manage, and distribute their digital data, associated information, and basic and advanced knowledge to internal and external users. As mentioned before, such mechanisms for managing and exchanging information will help improve the organizational strategies and increase the success of the actions proposed in the thematic areas of interest, such as environmental management, among others.

Perception and Environmental Knowledge

A valuable example of environmental knowledge management has been submitted by experts Lilia Susana Padilla and Ana Maria Luna, who have studied perception and environmental knowledge in four sample areas of the Quintana Roo coast in Mexico. Through interviews with residents of Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Tulúm, and Chetumal, they defined the environmental perception and the level of knowledge that the residents have on various environmental issues. The study was conducted with the goal of understanding the relationship between certain micro-social elements in the economic area of tourism, and the state of the environment on the coast of Quintana Roo. Such elements are considered key factors which influence the objective characteristics of the geographical area in the region. This study detected the existence of different perceptions depending on the patterns of social interaction of the groups of individuals. These differences result from the nature of their socio-productive practical activity, or from the nature of the services they perform, and even from their educational level. The authors of the study conclude that the analysis of the results facilitates the identification of needs in terms of environmental education as a learning process that guides the participation of the population in the solution of environmental problems.

Another example of knowledge management that is worthy of mentioning in this context, is the research conducted by international experts Laura Barraza and María Paz Ceja-Adame, who analyzed the environmental knowledge of children and their perception of nature in several communities in Mexico. The experts evaluated their environmental knowledge, considering two fundamental aspects: 1) how children learn about environmental issues (their familiarity and their understanding of concepts) and the level of environmental knowledge that they have and, 2) the perception towards nature of children from a rural community that has been successful in its forest management.

Barraza and Ceja-Adame clearly recognize that in Mexico, and particularly in the countryside, the quality of training in basic skills of thought and development in children is in general, poor. In their study they highlight the fact that generally speaking, the skills of observation, concentration and attention span, creativity, analysis to solve problems, just to mention some relevant aspects of analytical training, are absent in rural education programs and receive very little curricular attention. Furthermore, these authors indicate that more than half of the children in rural communities drop out of school before completing their primary education, which, to some extent, is due to the fact that young ones are of greater value to their parents in the preparation of the land for crops, and they perceive school as a place where there is no sense of immediate usefulness, neither for the children nor for their families and communities.

Several conclusions were drawn in this study, which were key to understanding the level of environmental knowledge of children and their perception of nature: 1) children generally manifest a strong tendency to perceive nature in simple elements, specifically related to plants and animals; 2) reference to biological elements is described much more in detail than the physical elements of the environment; in fact, the combination of both is only expressed when children describe landscapes; 3) in public schools, affection towards nature is reflected in a positive way, specifically by showing respect, and also by indicating an awareness of certain environmental problems and the willingness to act in response to them; 4) children from 7 to 9 years of age have a limited perspective, reflected by spontaneous and concrete thinking, formed by their sense of logic, which explains the fact that, for the most part, they only consider isolated elements of flora and fauna; 5) children between 10 and 12 years of age, despite the fact that they still only perceive isolated elements of natural environments, are those who, for the most part, adopt an attitude of respect towards nature, and are aware of the fact that it is necessary to act positively to avoid harming it; 6) in terms of environmental knowledge, there is a gap between the official programs of the Mexican school curriculum and community activities; and finally, 7) education is, without a doubt, the path to development and it is essential to propose other teaching alternatives in rural areas.

Environmental Education

As a result of the previous study, it can be concluded that environmental education in elementary schools is among the most important strategies of knowledge management. Paramount to this is the development of the environmental knowledge of elementary school teachers and its transmission to students. In order to be acquainted with the attitude and level of environmental knowledge of elementary school teachers, researchers Gáleas Gálvez and Elsy Dineyda studied the case of elementary schools and their teachers in the city of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, in the year 2006. In this region, there is a range of environmental problems such as marine and coastal pollution, improper management and disposal of solid waste, air pollution, and over-fishing of marine resources, all problems that deserve the attention of the local population, an informed population that possesses environmental knowledge.

Gálvez and Dineyda used a social, ethnographic and educational approach and utilized a constructivist structure that allowed them to analyze the results obtained through multiple methodological tools, such as the analysis of content, surveys, before and after tests, interviews, field journal notes and photographic control. The results of the study showed limited thematic environmental knowledge among elementary education teachers in regards to topics included in the 1993 plan of study and curriculum. They also showed a moderately active environmental activity, and a medium environmental knowledge among teachers of both public and private schools. In turn, Gálvez and Dineyda found that the implementation of workshops on environmental education, which involve a comprehensive systematic approach together with the environment, succeed in creating a proactive activity and an integrative knowledge of the environment among participants. Such an approach helps to raise the level of awareness and improve knowledge management, based on the principles of collective learning.

Knowledge Management Initiatives in the Dominican Republic

Recently, the South-South Cooperation Network to Eradicate Hunger and Malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean has launched a knowledge management initiative in the Dominican Republic. The Network recognizes that knowledge management is a strategic instrument that aims to maximize the collective intellectual capital of an organization within a thematic area, to facilitate the attainment of objectives and thereby achieve results. In addition, it notes that it can also act as a catalyst that links human resources with the flow of work processes, using Internet technology to promote and enable learning, exchange, and the continuous creation of knowledge.

The Network initiative in the country serves as an effective tool for accomplishing the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as it will facilitate the formation of strategic alliances between government, NGOs and the private sector, in hopes of improving the coordination and collaboration in the country.

Through the Country Office for the Dominican Republic and since 2007, the development of the initiative has been supported as a tool for the reduction of malnutrition, and can be useful for decision-makers in the country. This approach seeks to ensure the gathering of relevant and consistent information that strengthens the continued use of networks and portals, as well as the dynamic interaction between actors involved. To date, there have been meetings and personal interviews of rapprochement, which also seek the promotion of knowledge management initiatives with priority organizations, as well as with other entities such as universities and organizations working in the area of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

Since the beginning of the initiative, an institutional inventory and a database of organizations that could provide input to the knowledge management initiative, in one way or another, have been developed. These entities were divided into the following categories: government, civil society, international cooperation (United Nations and donors), academic (research centers and universities) and companies. This important inventory was made possible thanks to the information received from experts and thematic organizations, in addition to relevant information from publications, guides, manuals, and reports, among others. It is expected that the data collected will help, through an efficient and effective knowledge management, to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in the Dominican Republic, as an adequate knowledge management could make the difference in the long term.