A social knowledge management framework to mitigate rural–urban knowledge asymmetry

In this section we will attempt to give a practical shape to the framework of social knowledge management to mitigate rural-urban knowledge asymmetry through virtual community formation. The objective of our research is to demonstrate how the current internet-based social technology revolution has the potential to build/enhance the existing social capital of rural community by bridging rural—urban knowledge and information asymmetry through this social knowledge management framework. Improving access to knowledge and informational resources through this social knowledge management framework will eventually act as a gateway to make other forms of resources accessible. At the same time, this social knowledge management framework will not only serve as a medium of knowledge and information dissemination but also as a facilitator in bringing together producers and consumers of knowledge and information disregarding geographical boundaries, and thus create a global socio-cultural phenomenon. Such an inter-connected framework not only fosters explicit knowledge exchange among diverse social agents but also attempts to realize practically the spirit of collaboration in its truest essence.

204 Conceptual foundations

The conceptual framework

The proposed social knowledge management framework has been conceptualized as an inter-connected digital space, where people can interact and collaborate with each other, establish community norms and values, share resources and build trustful relationships. The stated aspects which such a collaborative learning space promotes have been identified by several scholars as the core values of social capital: a relational resource composed of a variety of elements, most notably social networks, social norms, values and trust and shared resources (Bourdieu, 1992; Putnam, 2000). Our research is ultimately directed at creating rural transformation, where the sharp economic, social and cultural differences between rural and urban gradually disappear. Rural transformation is only possible when there is livelihood enhancement and holistic empowerment of the rural community using modern social information systems.

Creation and building of social capital within rural communities and across rural and urban communities in facilitating effective collaboration between them happens to be the premise of the social knowledge management framework we intend to propose. The right kind of information and knowledge required to increase social capital of rural communities is made up of access to quality educational support, training and advisory services, knowledge about available local opportunities and market links and, finally, access to a forum to discuss local governance. Our social knowledge management framework attempts to boost social capital of rural communities by cultivating effective knowledge transaction between urban and rural communities using social technology.

In order to achieve the above-stated research objective, realization of our social knowledge management framework is primarily reliant on the accomplishment of the following three tasks:

  • • Developing and implementing an internet-enabled social knowledge management (SKiM) platform using social technologies, which will be a collaborative digital platform using local language. This platform will be designed to practically execute the proposed credentials of our social knowledge management framework.
  • • Equip selected rural communities with smartphones to introduce them to the SKM platform, which will enable need-specific integration of rural—urban communities. Providing rural mass with market connect and knowledge resource, we wish to critically investigate the impact on social capital and community wellbeing through engagement fostered by this SKM platform.
  • • Integrate an online synchronous and asynchronous e-learning platform with SKM to impart vocational training and to deliver online advisory services for members of rural community.

The above objectives can be achieved by establishing effective knowledge transaction between rural and urban communities in local languages and using local content. Rural communities can make use of the knowledge of various

Social knowledge management 205

experts who can act as their mentors, guiding them to access quality resources based on their need, enabling them to share their concerns on public forums and providing them with necessary counselling wherever required. Mentors will interact with the rural community to identify their problems, impart their knowledge to solve those problems and, thus, enhance the social capital of the underprivileged community. Experts may also help rural community in assessing their community assets and competence - such as traditional, but extinct, skills, arts, crafts, culture, and natural flora and fauna, wildlife etc. — and help them translate these assets into opportunities. It is through such symbiotic knowledge exchange that social knowledge derives its dynamicity and gets managed through purposeful communitarian engagement.

With such rural—urban knowledge transaction, several virtual communities will be evolved based on the purpose of interaction (Figure 10.1). It is the ability to form virtual communities that marks the credibility of social knowledge management framework in the context of holistic rural empowerment. Unhindered knowledge exchange facilitated through social knowledge management is conducive to cultivating three types of virtual communities. The communities of

Social knowledge management framework facilitating virtual community formation

Figure 10.1 Social knowledge management framework facilitating virtual community formation

practice will be formed when the rural people seeking quality educational support and other advice get online training and guidance from the relevant professional experts (academic experts, medical experts, lawyers, etc.). Community of practice (Wenger et al., 2002), facilitating practice-oriented collaborations within and across groups, enables rural members to enhance their individual capability. However, it does not necessarily guarantee translation of enhanced capability into the generation of concrete economic results. Thus community of practice can mitigate knowledge asymmetry of rural producers but cannot improve their linkages to larger opportunity structures leading to economic benefits and livelihood enhancement. In order to achieve both, we subsequently advocate cultivating community of purpose (Stukes, 2016) among rural—urban entities.

Communities of purpose will be evolved through interaction of rural and urban communities to solve their market linkage, livelihood-related problems and to promote local community assets. While communities of practice and purpose contribute in enhancing knowledge capability of individual rural producers and can be rightly identified as drivers of self-development along a socio-economic axis, it is only when the rural community derives collective participatory credentials that they are able to mobilize local resources crucial to achieving resilience through formation of community of circumstance. Communities of circumstance will be formed to handle critical emergencies and other circumstantial issues. Such a community can only be formed if the community develops the desired adaptive capacities at a collective level, transcending individual enhancement. This will be illustrated in detail in Part III of our book.

Through the proposed SKM implementation, we wish to answer two research questions:

  • • How can the agency of rural population be enhanced, along with making greater opportunities available to them, to enable them to achieve degrees of empowerment?
  • • How can bridging the rural—urban knowledge asymmetry using social technologies empower the rural population to take informed decisions and purposeful choices, thereby making them agential actors?

The model of intervention

The model of intervention discusses practical means to execute our social knowledge management framework. In order to practically implement the proposed framework, we have designed a digital platform and a mobile app to carry out unhindered knowledge collaboration between rural—urban entities through community formation. In our intervention model, rural producers, who are equipped with smartphones with internet connectivity, are given training to use the SKM mobile app in a local language. The proposed SKM platform will provide social networking opportunities, fostering a high degree of collaboration and connectedness in virtual communities through both synchronous and asynchronous interaction. The overall model of intervention is depicted in Figure 10.2 below, having the following components:

SKM framework to mitigate rural-urban knowledge asymmetry

Figure 10.2 SKM framework to mitigate rural-urban knowledge asymmetry

  • • iVlembers of rural community are equipped with low-cost smartphones with internet connectivity. They can form intra-community knowledge networks using their mobile apps.
  • • Internet kiosks (wi-fi hotspot) are set up in selected village locations with one desktop in each kiosk acting as a wi-fi gateway with unlimited high- bandwidth internet connectivity. The members of the community can access free internet at these kiosks. The kiosks will also have a discussion room with low-cost LCD projectors to conduct online interactive training/ counselling/mentoring sessions and to show (in pre-assigned time slots) online videos such as movies, sports, etc. A local coordinator will manage this kiosk.
  • • An internet-enabled social knowledge management platform with embedded local/regional content will be designed to implement the model of e-interaction and e-collaboration in order to promote purposive rural- urban knowledge interaction. This platform will provide social networking opportunity, fostering a high degree of collaboration and connectedness in virtual communities through both synchronous and asynchronous interaction.


We wish to conclude this chapter with our conceptualization of a social knowledge management framework that can effectively mitigate the extant knowledge asymmetry crippling society by establishing effective collaboration between and across social groups. This part of the book, after highlighting the importance of knowledge management as an effective strategy in boosting both organizational and social performance, articulates our conceptualization of social knowledge management framework and its importance in ushering in holistic rural empowerment by enhancing knowledge capability of rural actors by facilitating effective intra- and inter-group collaboration among them.

The uniqueness of our research contribution lies here. By facilitating unhindered knowledge exchange between and across social groups, our social knowledge management framework does not limit itself to community formation but extends to enhancing knowledge capability of participants by virtue of such formation. An enhanced knowledge capability means that the participants do not exchange knowledge passively but develop the credentials to trigger knowledge collaboration in pursuit of enhancing their opportunity scopes. While efforts to manage social knowledge in the third generation incorporate aspects of community formation, they seldom do so to enhance the knowledge capability of the participants. It is only enhancement of knowledge capability through community formation that sows the seeds for mitigating the extant knowledge asymmetry from which marginalized groups suffer. Mitigation of knowledge asymmetry through enhancement of knowledge capability of marginalized members bears the prospect of attaining holistic rural empowerment through community formation.

So far we have discussed the problems intrinsic to rural context and proposed a social knowledge management framework to usher in holistic rural empowerment by bridging rural-urban knowledge asymmetry. While Part I and Part II of this book are mostly reserved for theoretical articulations, the following part, Part III, has evidence of how the proposed framework can be practically realized to cultivate formation of communities of practice, purpose and circumstance among marginalized rural populations through the design and development of a digital social knowledge management platform. We have designed the social knowledge management platform to enable cultivation of knowledge capability among rural members on a practical level by facilitating practice-oriented, purposive and resilient community formation. It is through active and voluntary formation of such communities that rural members will develop knowledge capability through effective collaboration, which will attempt to realize a holistic vision of rural empowerment through mitigation of extant knowledge asymmetry.


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