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Belgian Nuclear Research Centre

Practical KM Approach in a Scientific Environment


Knowledge development and management is the mandate of the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, and knowledge is the key asset of the organization. Nuclear knowledge includes vast amounts of scientific research reports, engineering analysis and models, technical data, codes, maintenance records, and more, combined with a complex community of professionals (engineers, scientists, chemists, technicians of many disciplines).

KM is viewed as crucial in the nuclear sector in order to encourage innovation, to preserve the results of nuclear research and the benefits of nuclear applications related to electricity supply, human health, food and agriculture, silicon chips and other industrial applications for future generations.

Detailed Description of the Tool/Practice

The primary drivers for building the KM program are:

  • Preservation of knowledge and institutional memory. The Belgian Government is phasing out nuclear power plants; privatization and deregulation rules have been implemented which will result in increased competition for the nuclear industry in the “green energy” sector. This will lead to:
    • Downsizing in the industry, particularly in R&D.
    • Fewer young people studying nuclear science and nuclear engineering.
  • The experienced nuclear workforce is retiring with no corresponding influx of qualified younger people to replace them.

The Centre decided to set up a KM Programme. The following steps were taken:

  • Developing a KM definition
    • Used a knowledge value chain definition which consists of cyclic phases: determining the necessary knowledge; making an inventory of available knowledge; developing knowledge; deploying knowledge and evaluating knowledge. The definition used “KM is the way in which data, information, knowledge are managed with people, technology and processes in one portfolio”.
  • Selecting and aligning a KM strategy with the organization’s objectives.
    • As an R&D organization it needed to define the kind of value it intended to provide, and to whom. This step identifies the knowledge that needs to be captured and distributed in order to guarantee the survival and growth of the centre.
    • Capture and sharing of critical knowledge & expertise.
    • Access to common resources to facilitate integration of information, of sharing; turning Centre knowledge into added value for their stakeholders.
    • Created inventory of Centre’s core competencies and key capabilities (know-how). {Areas include: health related services covering radiation protection, medical applications; safety analysis, site remediation; computational modeling and simulation, etc.}
    • Link KM Strategy with IT – but IT is the enabler and not the driver – enables knowledge search and retrieval. Centre leveraged open technology standards to ensure interoperability of systems. Documents are being converted to XML standards.
  • Choosing a “middle-up-down” approach to address the knowledge related needs and issues.  This approach requires top management to create the vision; middle management develops concrete concepts that front line employees can understand and implement.
    • Middle management played the “bridge’ role between broad vision and realities of knowledge workers.
    • Identified a Knowledge Network to be first involved in a KM project – to find the adopters and champions. Chose a project that people wanted / needed. First project is on geological disposal of radioactive waste.
    • Analyzed existing process that capture internal and external knowledge – then organized and shared it throughout the centre.
    • Have transcribed some parts of tacit knowledge
    • Implemented a number of Cops based on shared domain knowledge, engagement in joint activities and sharing of collected resources.  Also set up interactive communities through web-based portals.
    • KM Programme began with improving their information management in terms of structure, standardization and cataloguing of available information so that better retrieval and access of existing documents and data .could be achieved
    • Developed and implemented on-line and e-learning.
    • First pilot project – Waste Disposal Community Portal. This pilot approach will then be used to develop other knowledge portals. For the pilot, the Centre has implemented the building blocks inside an Internet standards based portal.
      • Tools for recording, cataloguing, and indexing readily available information from reports and other publications of the R&D program.
      • Integrating various databases which have developed over time.
      • Established a permanent review and annotation system on all the data and reports gathered
      • Established community driven entities including internal meeting places for discussion groups; share document collections on topic oriented projects and task groups.
      • A review system called “knowledge tracks” where the tacit knowledge of experts and scientists is recorded on specific topic.
      • The use of standards for optimizing the re-use, searching and annotation of all the information required for a given task.


Lessons Learned

  • Do not install a portal first and then look for KM issues to resolve.
  • Define a clear KM strategy, objectives and approach upfront.
  • Determine to strategic IT issues.
  • Identify informal knowledge networks and knowledge champions willing to play the role of early adopters for KM.
  • Realize the complexities involved in implementation, maintenance and acceptance of a portal by knowledge workers (acceptance by employees cannot be overstated).
  • The willingness of employees to share and contribute what they know and to leverage explicit and implicit content is one of the greatest pitfalls for a successful KM implementation. Integrating portals into the organization’s business processes by finding the right incentives and creating a knowledge culture is the most difficult part of KM implementation.


Refer to article: Knowledge Management at the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre: State of the Art of a Practical KM Approach in a Scientific Environment, by Marie-Laure Ruyssen