Nov 3, 2012

Plagiarism vs Knowledge Sharing in a Public Sector Organization - different or not ..

I've recently been engaged in debate as to the differences in perspective between Plagiarism and Knowledge Sharing in the Educational Setting vs Government Public Sector organizations seeking to overcome Silos.

Having spent 12 years on the Council, the governing body of the local University, I had been very exposed to the Plagiarism issue - even participating in a Council sub-committee to investigate allegations of student plagiarism. Plagiarism is a key issue for universities and other education bodies and with the ever growing possibilities of the internet of course it has to be taken very seriously.

I had also spent over 12 years as an elected city councillor, and 4 years as a director of a public electricity utility. My experience was that these are quite different "animals" to the university setting, when it comes to the sharing of knowledge and experience, not to mention avoiding Silos.

There is an expectation that public resources & dollars should be used efficiently, and that public sector departments should not be unnecessarily reinventing the wheel. Rather such bodies are expected to collaborate or knowledge share - to leverage off examples of best practice or leading practice. Thus to reduce the burden on the tax payer and the public purse.

As a consequence, a lot of cross sharing goes on informally and formally. And it would be considered possibly unusual to admonish, or "out", a public sector organization as having ostensibly "plagiarized", for utilising another like organization's wording for a plan, policy or procedure.

Typically where a public organization or authority is recognized as having developed some leading practices then it is often happy to share its manuals and documentation with other like organizations. As such it wouldn't consider it plagiarism if some of its work were appropriated into another organization's documentation, unlike in the education sector. Additionally it is not expected that every source document would be referenced in the types of such documents listed above, ie policies, plans or standard procedures. In fact many such organizations, with their professionals committed to their discipline area, are in fact flattered to be requested to share their experience by such "borrowing" by their peers.Attribution of the original source is of course desirable.

For example in Australian Local Government there are annual awards for good or leading practice which other councils may then adopt, even expected to do so, or adapt to their own needs - see more. The Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government was set up in part to promote such Knowledge Sharing. There have long been ROC-like organizations in local government ie Region of Councils and Roundtables for many years which promote and facilitate the sharing of leading practice to improve efficiency, lower costs, avoidance of reinventing the wheel.

There are also groups such as Communities of Practice (COP's) within various professional disciplines which break down Silos, facilitating sharing between members within and outside an organization. Often there is a generous sharing of documentation within such bodies, and indeed is considered  part of developing Organizational Social Capital.

Sharing in other levels of government include :

In the private sector, there  have been undeniable problems with intellectual property, copyright, confidentiality and patents. Plagiarism could be argued where a design of artwork or fashion has been copied - or in journalism notably more recently with online newsmedia. And there is brand plagiarism too, especially with logos.

Also the legal cases between Apple and Samsung regarding smartphones and tablets have provided current examples of conflict on copying.

What do you think in the Public Sector context ? Borrowing words from a policy, standard procedure or plan shared by professional colleagues in public sector bodies? In doing so is it more about knowledge sharing to leverage efficiencies for cost cutting within the government sector ? Or could it be considered plagiarism of the sort worthy of grave censure and outrage in universities ?