May 21, 2024

My Memorable Collaboration with the CEF

Vincent Ribiere, CEF Associate Fellow and Managing Director and Co-Founder of the Institute for Knowledge and Innovation Southeast Asia (IKI-SEA) in Thailand, is a renowned expert in knowledge management and innovation. In this interview, he shares insights from his extensive experience, discussing his collaborations with CEF, the skills public sector professionals need to excel in knowledge management and innovation, common obstacles faced by public institutions, and his upcoming projects.

Recently, you had the opportunity to collaborate with our team at CEF headquarters in Ljubljana. Could you share one or two particularly memorable moments from your time spent in our learning environment?

Collaborating with the CEF teams is always an enjoyable and enriching experience for me. I embrace the quest to consistently deliver novel topics in a nontraditional way. As someone who champions creativity and innovation, it is a great pleasure to explore new territories at the CEF.

Among many memorable moments, one stands out: the Training of Trainers (ToT) delivered to the CEF coordinators in June 2022. It was my first event with the CEF, and I collaborated with Ajda and Ivana. They wanted an original concept for this event, so we brainstormed based on the content we aimed to deliver. We came up with the concept of "Pirates of the South East Europe, in Quest of Knowledge."

The idea was to highlight the positive traits of pirates, such as courage, camaraderie, loyalty, boldness, initiative, and strategic thinking—qualities essential for change-makers and institutional change toward becoming learning institutions. As facilitators, we dressed as pirates and invited participants to wear pirate accessories we brought for them. We were not sure if participants would fully engage, but they did, embracing this unexpected and adventurous learning experience.

As of today, this remains my most memorable experience, but I look forward to many more in the coming years.

From your perspective, what specific skills and knowledge do public sector professionals need to provide better public service, particularly in the context of knowledge management and innovation?

We are now all aware that we live in a world where conducting “business as usual” has been replaced by conducting “business as disrupted.” Governments are also facing disruptions and need to develop capabilities to become more resilient and adaptive. It is crucial for these institutions to become learning organizations. Continuously learning, unlearning, and relearning is part of the solution. Learning involves acquiring new knowledge and ensuring it flows throughout the institution, allowing everyone to benefit from each other’s experiences and insights.

Public sector professionals need to embrace this new mindset, be ready to accept change and view obstacles as opportunities. Double-loop learning, which involves not only questioning what we are doing but also examining and challenging the underlying assumptions and beliefs behind our actions, is critical for finding innovative solutions and better ways to address new challenges. Without the desire and systematic practices to continuously learn at the individual, team, and organizational levels, institutions will rapidly fall behind and be unable to maintain their quality of services to citizens.

With your extensive experience, could you highlight some common obstacles public institutions face when implementing knowledge management initiatives and how they can overcome them?

The main challenges are always linked to the human aspect. It is estimated that 70% of an organization’s knowledge resides in its employees’ heads. When they leave the organization each evening, it temporarily loses 70% of its knowledge. Therefore, by managing and retaining people, organizations indirectly preserve institutional knowledge, which is crucial for business continuity and reducing the risks of knowledge loss. However, this alone is not sufficient. Ensuring that this knowledge is shared and leveraged among employees is essential.

Knowledge is often misperceived as being equivalent to power, making the challenge of knowledge management about encouraging employees to openly share knowledge rather than conceal it. Creating a culture of open sharing and continuous learning remains the main challenge for any organization. It's crucial to foster a culture where knowledge sharing is perceived as power.

To achieve this, leaders must lead by example, demonstrating the behaviors they wish to see. Recognition mechanisms should be in place to acknowledge and reward those who share their experiences and encourage others to do the same. Additionally, taking the time to reflect on and capture experiences and lessons learned is vital. The CEF’s brochure on becoming a learning organization illustrates the six important pillars needed for organizations to achieve this transformation.

As we conclude, could you share something personal with us? What significant endeavor are you most excited about undertaking in the coming year?

I would love to find the time to write a book reflecting on my 25 years of experience in knowledge management and innovation management, working with various types of organizations worldwide. I also look forward to continuing my collaboration with CEF to help institutions in the SEE region become stronger learning organizations.

Let me conclude this interview with a pirate's saying: “A smooth sea never made a skilled pirate.” Our seas are unlikely to be smooth in the future, so we must keep learning and collaboratively find solutions to overcome the challenges ahead. Knowledge is our treasure, and by sharing it indefinitely, we make it even more valuable — knowledge shared is knowledge squared.