Towards effective governance of information in a Brazilian agricultural research organisation
2014-05-20T14:25:43Z (GMT) by
There are three different uses of the term 'information' in ordinary language: in the restricted sense, it means diverse types of material objects, such as data or documents ('information as thing'); alternatively, the term is used as in reference to the act of informing or becoming informed ('information as process'), or to equate to knowledge ('information as knowledge'). Each of these connotations represents a legitimate view of information in its own right, being equally significant to information-intensive organisations. The literature lacks studies that approach information from an integrative viewpoint, however. The purpose of this study was to explore and develop the notion of 'information governance' as an integrative, systemic approach to information in the context of research organisations. Soft Systems Methodology was used in a case study involving the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. Qualitative data was gathered through in-depth interviews with researchers and information/knowledge managers, followed by a thematic, two-level analysis. From a 'macro level' of analysis (the wider Brazilian agricultural research system) it was found that, to solve increasingly complex research problems, collaborative, multidisciplinary networking is needed. On the other hand, competitive forces are continuously emanating from the systems of research steering, funds and resources' allocation, quality control, and recognition and reward. This conflict inhibits the collaborative sharing of 'information as thing' and 'as knowledge', disturbs internal communication flows and contributes to low levels of synergy and cross-departmental partnerships, ultimately affecting research outcomes. At a 'meso level' (the local practices and culture of agricultural knowledge production), different epistemic cultures were identified (named in vitro, in situ and in silico research), which respond differently to the opposing forces of collaboration and competition. Based on a deep understanding of the agricultural research system and underlying epistemic cultures, a framework for effective governance of information was developed. Action to improve the governance of information at Embrapa would involve nurturing an information culture that supports collaborative work. Given that interactions between researchers are determined by their individual pursuits and struggles, this would require a change in the corporate system of performance evaluation and reward, according to the different epistemic cultures.