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5.2.5 Information and knowledge management

Contents
5.2.5.1 Introduction
5.2.5.2 Knowledge forms and knowledge sharing
5.2.5.3 Selection of records for retention

5.2.5.1 Introduction

When sites make the transition from clean-up to long term stewardship, site stewards and stakeholders should be given detailed information about the location and the nature of residual hazards, the processes that generated them, and the engineered and institutional controls that are part of the remedy.

There is a general notion that future generations will command more knowledge and capability than the present generation. However, as is evident from many archaeological mysteries, such as the true purpose and design objectives of the Egyptian pyramids, and lost production technologies, such as the composition of some medieval stained glass, knowledge and insight might also be lost. Another example is the loss of knowledge, technology, infrastructure and institutional control associated with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. It took nearly a millennium and a half to again reach the same level of sophistication in some areas. It is interesting to note that knowledge was slowly recovered through decentralized and redundant record keeping: much of the writings of the ancient Greek and Roman authors was preserved in the Arab world and fed back into the Western world.

It should also be noted here that the majority of texts on related subjects, such as knowledge management, are concerned with the preservation of knowledge as a corporate (or group, such as the nuclear industry as a whole) asset. In this sense, it is about ensuring that the knowledge of an individual is shared with others and about making this knowledge available at any time. In the present context the time horizon is much longer and may go well beyond the lifetime of individuals or corporations, even beyond the duration of a society.

Site specific knowledge and information is much more vulnerable to loss than are generic knowledge and capabilities. An example here may be the ancient city of Troy, where knowledge of its exact location was lost but general awareness of its former existence remained, due to written sources. Eventually modern archaeological science was able to re-establish its location by inter-relating a variety of decentralized sources of information. There are similar examples from other parts of the world.

Long term knowledge management and the intentional transmission of information will have to address four main issues:

  1. How to transmit knowledge over long periods of time;
  2. The kind of knowledge to be stored;
  3. The types of data and information needed;
  4. The types of storage media.

The first of the above issues is the most important and the most difficult to resolve.
In Section 2.11, record keeping is treated extensively for all phases of the live cycle of an industry and its site.

5.2.5.2 Knowledge forms and knowledge sharing

A multicultural panel on science and sustainable development, held at the sixth session of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) of the United Nations in New York, considered issues such as these and made the following recommendation:

‘… every possible effort should be made to improve the processes of generating, sharing and utilizing science for sustainable development, and that this will need to include a commitment to overcome the communication gaps within the scientific community and between scientists, policy makers and the general public’.
The panel statement suggested that appropriate elements of quality assurance, science communication and public policy processes will include:

‘… new institutions and public procedures for the social evaluation of science advances; technology transfer seen in the framework of reciprocal learning and capacity building; and a reassessment of the forms and locations of the ‘centres of excellence’ capable of contributing knowledge and judgement needed for sustainability’.

Mobilizing knowledge for sustainable development and stewardship requires attention to the forms of knowledge sharing, including their institutional, technical, economic, linguistic and cultural preconditions. Social trust and partnerships are constructed through dialogue and cooperation – among scientists and technical experts with policy makers, implementers and stakeholders – including experts with site specific (local) knowledge that complements methodological and coordination expertise. Knowledge as a resource must be accessible to the actors and pertinent to the context of their action [Funtowicz-1998].

Following these arguments, it is important to adopt a pluralistic approach to building the knowledge base. Science (understood as the activity of technical experts) needs to be considered as an important part of the relevant knowledge base that needs to be developed and mobilized in order to provide evidence in a decision or policy process. However, the ideal of rigorous scientific quality assurance is complemented by a commitment to open public dialogue. Citizens and stakeholders have a fundamental role in a knowledge partnership process.

The strength and relevance of scientific evidence is amenable to assessment by citizens, who contribute to the framing of the issues and to judgements about the acceptability of proposed solutions. In this perspective, all parties come to the dialogue ready to learn. Through this co-production of knowledge, the extended peer community creates a (deliberative) democracy of expertise.

The ‘post-normal’ model of science practice, developed by risk assessment experts Funtowicz and Ravetz [Funtowicz-1990], [Funtowicz-1991], [Gallopin], places the emphasis on quality assurance through extended participation. A pluralistic, participatory and democratic view is developed of the knowledge and judgement base for policy actions:

  • The old distinction between hard facts and soft values is replaced by a soft facts/hard values framework – admitting the complexity of emergent system properties (and hence uncertainties, etc.), and admitting the plurality of quality and legitimating criteria (e.g., there are different definitions of a problem, different ways of selecting and conceiving its relevant aspects, as well as different definitions of goals, depending not only on conflicts of interest but also on cultural factors).
  • The highly asymmetrical distinction between experts and non-experts is reframed. In a sense, when facing a post-normal problem, all stakeholders are experts: in different ways, from different points of view and with regard to different aspects of the problem. Thus, it is necessary to extend the number and type of actors, both individual and collective, legitimated to intervene in the definition of problems as well as the selection and implementation of the connected policies. This extension does not only fulfil the requirements of democratic decision making but also improves the quality of decisions. The way of conducting a decision process dramatically influences its results. The dialogue between different actors is essential for quality, credibility and legitimacy, and hence the prospects of success of policy implementation.

The efforts to extend the time window for understanding ecosystem behaviour through recourse to what has become known as traditional ecological knowledge may serve as an example of formal and informal knowledge. Traditional ecological knowledge can be defined as any cumulative body of knowledge and beliefs, often partly tacit and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment.

An attribute of many societies with historical continuity in resource use practices is that they are non-industrial or less technologically advanced, many of them indigenous or tribal. There is little doubt that traditional ecological knowledge can be valuable for developing long term time horizons for system stewardship. Both the habits of thought and the substantive environmental knowledge can be sources of wisdom. Records of traditional ecological knowledge may be helpful in reconstructing the ecological history of a given area, thus extending our design base over longer time spans. Better supported predictions of future developments might be possible in conjunction with modern system analytical and modeling techniques. As this ‘knowledge’ typically combines digested experience with myth and has no established time frame, it is difficult to deduce the time period for which it would be valid.

However, it should not be assumed that ‘traditional’ practices and the knowledge and values that they embody are automatically aligned to contemporary site stewardship needs. Some commentators convey the idea that indigenous populations living on the basis of traditional ecological knowledge always do/did so in a sustainable way. This is not necessarily the case. While some behavioural patterns may have been aimed at conservation of resources, for instance those arising from hunting taboos, the lack of baseline data and a detailed analysis of the ecosystems in question make a proper judgement difficult. Historical evidence also shows that traditional ecological knowledge is not always very resilient and adaptive to changes in the ecosystem if the rate of change is too fast. It could even be argued that modern western thinking developed in response to challenges by the surrounding ecosystem. Apparently there were important incentives and drivers for such a development and they outweighed the loss of ‘sustainability’ [Middleman].

Observations of indigenous populations are generally based on a rather short timescale, the observation times typically not extending beyond a few decades into the past. For a given ecosystem and indigenous population, the situation may appear stable over the observation time and the changes induced by the human population may be too small to observe. It is also important to remember that every continent (exept Antartica) once had an ‘indigenous’ population that, over time, showed itself to be able to shape its environment beyond recognition.

5.2.5.3 Selection of records for retention

A major challenge in record keeping anywhere is the decision about which records to retain and which records could be disposed of. As has been discussed above, the importance that is attached to a certain record may change with time and depend on the stakeholder concerned.

A categorisation of records according to levels of importance, such as critical, necessary or useful, might be helpful in deciding which material requires most attention and in focusing resources on its preservation. A road map that indicates in which way the importance of a certain record changes with time might be a useful management instrument.

The timescale of retention of individual records would be determined by the needs of the stewardship programme. Certain records would be reclassified as time progresses; for instance, operational records would become historical records. A risk assessment may need to be undertaken in more complex cases to achieve a balance between the possible cost arising from no longer having certain records available and the cost of storing these records. It may actually be cheaper to store all records indiscriminately than to scrutinise them and make selections – with the risk of destroying some that may later be deemed valuable. For certain types of records there may be legal requirements to retain them for a specified period of time; for example, tax offices may require that documentation supporting tax returns be kept for a certain number of years, or a contractor may be required to retain certain records for warranty purposes.

In addition to the operator and their successors, for example the steward, the regulator may also have collected various types of records. Often, these duplicate records may have been generated or held by the operator and may provide a certain redundancy. Different rules and regulations for retention may apply for the regulator and other government authorities. Some governments may have a well established system for assessing and retaining records. The regulator may require the operator to prepare a summary report on records held.