The term the “black economy” refers to those parts of the economy which are underground and out of legislative and supervisory sight. It covers a raft of activities from the sinister to the mild, from extortion, drugs, illegal weapons trading and human trafficking, to money laundering, tax evasion and moonlighting. The bigger the black economy is, the less transparent the real economy is, and the harder it is to legislate for or manage (as in purposefully influence) in any significant way. In fact, the harder it is to do legitimate business too, because the lack of price transparency makes it difficult to plan for costs and profits. That’s quite apart from being able to collect enough tax to govern properly.
It strikes me that if we consider the flows of information and knowledge within organisations, and looked at it like an economy, then we often have very large, opaque, “black” knowledge economies, where most of the transactions are underground and out of sight, much of it moving through email. And just as with real black economies, the greater the attempts to govern and rein in these activities, the more they evade capture. I’m thinking of one former client in particular, where whenever there is a push towards using the formal knowledge management system, token visible efforts are made, but there is a surge in the improvisations around personal hard drives and email attachments.
So the question for many information and knowledge management initiatives is, how do (a) we design the environment and (b) improve our governance so that the transactions come out into the open, and so that our knowledge consumers start to get some visibility into the value that can be created from knowledge sharing. And can we learn from the strategies employed by economies that have successfully controlled their black markets?
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