Knowledge Sharing at Buffalo City Municipality hampering Effective Service Delivery - Study

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In 2015, the Buffalo City Municipality in East London became the first South African municipality to appoint “knowledge management champions”, develop a knowledge management strategy and framework and conduct training for officials, managers and political representatives.

In 2023, eight years later, researchers from Fort Hare University examined how the process was going. 

They concluded that knowledge transfer in the Buffalo City metro is limited and stifled by bureaucracy. However, there is a reason for hope.

“A knowledge transfer system would allow employees and political representatives to share what and who they know to speed up and provide efficient service delivery to residents, improve decision-making and achieve business goals in the municipality. 

“To rethink service delivery, [the metro] needs to find better ways to share information assets, business processes and staff expertise with their citizens and business partners,” a paper written by Samuel S. Ncoyini and Liezel Cilliers from the Department of Information Systems at the Faculty of Management and Commerce reads.

Ncoyini and Cilliers examined how the municipality’s knowledge management system was functioning.

For their research, they interviewed five mid-level and senior managers working in the information technology and knowledge management units and collected data from other relevant sources.

“A lack of knowledge management and the transfer of knowledge and information have been identified as two of the main contributors to poor service delivery, not only in the Eastern Cape but throughout South Africa,” the paper continues.

“The study found that the municipality’s bureaucratic organisational structure hampers any attempts at knowledge sharing. 

“It was also found that information is not seamlessly transferred between managers and their subordinates. The municipality has a culture of knowledge hoarding in attempts to augment personal importance or worth. 

This means that the structural position of the knowledge management department in an organisation is crucial.

The research found that the culture in the Buffalo City metro had not been  supportive of a knowledge system because the” hierarchical and bureaucratic management suppresses any  attempts at openness and

support.”

It was a step in the right direction to move the knowledge management unit to the Office of the City Manager, the paper continues but warns that a culture change must be sustained. The researchers said that “knowledge hoarding [was rife] to augment personal importance or worth.”

The municipality’s organisational strategy must include knowledge management, the researchers advised. The study also recommends that knowledge transfer practices and initiatives are fully supported and promoted by the top management. 

“Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality employees need to be educated in using a knowledge management system and any other technological tool that can be useful in sharing of knowledge,” they wrote adding that investment in technological infrastructure would be crucial for a successful knowledge transfer.

But they added the following cautionary note:

“Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality’s most valuable intellectual resources are entrenched in the employees' minds. Therefore, if the municipal employees are not motivated to share their knowledge, no amount of investment, infrastructure and technological intervention can make knowledge transfer effective. Training is critical for effective knowledge transfer among the municipality employees. 

The paper also identifies the exclusion of knowledge sharing as part of performance appraisals as another barrier to effective knowledge transfer.

“Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality top managers must recognise the shortcomings of bureaucratic structures and acknowledge that they slow the processes and limit the information flow. The reporting procedures in current structures consume excessive amounts of time for knowledge to filter through every level of the municipality. Knowledge transfer succeeds with structures that support ease of information flow, with fewer boundaries between divisions,” the paper concludes.