A Study of the Asian Development Bank’s Knowledge Taxonomy
Arnaldo Pellini and Harry Jones
In September 2010, the Overseas Development Institute was tasked by the Knowledge Management Center in the Regional and Sustainable Development Department in the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to conduct a study of ADB’s knowledge taxonomy. The study aimed to explore, recommend, and draw implications from a classification of knowledge products and services to improve ADB’s organizational efficiency, from an internal and external perspective.
In its basic definition, a taxonomy is a structured set of names and descriptions used to organize information and documents in a consistent way (Lambe 2007). A knowledge taxonomy focuses on enabling the efficient retrieval and sharing of knowledge, information, and data across an organization by building the taxonomy around workflows and knowledge needs in intuitive structures (Lambe, 2007, Malafsky, 2008). The study embraced the idea that
knowledge taxonomies can serve multiple purposes within an organization and that these purposes are the key to decide what type of taxonomy is required. Taxonomies not only help structure information and support expertise and learning, they also contribute to greater sharing, and can change the working environment, moving towards greater creativity and collaboration(Lambe 2007, Hedden, 2010). Interviews were conducted with 32 staff at ADB’s Headquarters and Resident Missions from November to December 2010. An online questionnaire aimed at ADB’s Knowledge Management Coordinators was circulated to help inform the final study report by validating conclusions derived from the interviews.
The research findings indicated that there are a number of learning issues which could be improved upon through working on knowledge taxonomies: these relate to issues with document storage and retrieval, with capturing and retaining knowledge, with facilitating coordination and linkages, and with managing knowledge for external audiences. There are some important dynamics that lie beneath these issues, which have relevance to both the
‘supply’ side of taxonomy development, e.g., existing taxonomies, information technology infrastructure, and the ‘demand’ side, e.g., business processes, career development, and organizational culture.
Based on these findings, we make the following recommendations. First, taxonomy development should be managed through a typical project management structure. The delivery of the taxonomy activity would have to start with a clear mandate to design an overall corporate
taxonomy for ADB and validate or merge existing local taxonomies. The mandate should also provide adequate financial resources.Second, the taxonomy development should proceed in an incremental manner, looking
to improve knowledge taxonomies in ADB in small, discrete steps. Priorities for action should be: a basic country-sector-theme taxonomy to be rolled out first to all operational departments and include compulsory tagging; improved consistency and labeling in the database of ADB
staff; working to bring greater consistency between internal and external lists of sectors and ‘topics’; and, a facility to allow for decentralized taxonomy development, to fit within relevant corporate taxonomies. Third, the taxonomy development should be treated a key activity within the knowledge management project, and should be carried out in tandem with: the development of an internal policy on which documents can be considered final and of ADB-wide relevance; investment in IT iv and a corporate search engine; strengthening of the role of the Knowledge Management Coordinators.
Finally, it is important to develop a communication strategy to keep the staff informed about the various activities under the umbrella of the knowledge management project, and, in
particular, for taxonomy development.