Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Information is a commodity. In fact it is the commodity. All large organisations are information‐based, whether they think they are or not. A non‐governmental development organisation like Oxfam differs from most large multinational organisations, mainly in that its ultimate object is not to make a profit from its end‐users/clients/customers but is (or should be) to empower them. It should be seeking to liberate them from dependence, rather than, as is the case with commercial organisations, trying to increase their dependence. A textbook on information management for development organisations should, therefore, have much in common with a standard management textbook, but have totally different objectives. This must mean, inter alia, that its ideas on information‐handling have to be less strictly quantitative. A core slogan of management science is “if you can't measure it you can't manage it”. In one of the examples quoted here, however, the accounts of expenditure of one Oxfam branch simply read “Paraffin £100”. On investigation it appeared that a group of village women had set up their own trading and social co‐operative organisation, had designed and built a new village hall for themselves, and had simply asked Oxfam for assistance in heating and lighting it. A splendid example of what Oxfam should be doing, that does not lend itself to simple accountancy measures. On the other hand, of course, it is feasible that building the hall could have been so stressful that the village had divided into two warring factions over it, which would have then made it a failure, equally unmeasurable from a simple set of accounts.
It seems to me that more could have been made of this, even as a philosophical basis for less altruistic organisations. The reductionist, goal‐driven, single‐line thought pattern of traditional Western management science is not necessarily the most useful approach to a complex world of multiple relationships and linkages. A holistic or Zen approach might perhaps be a more useful basis for understanding and managing a future information‐based organisation. I would have liked to have seen the author bringing in more about the ways in which large organisations like Oxfam or Exxon can learn from their end‐users, rather than simply imposing practices on them.
This book is designed for managers of development organisations. It would be well worth considering for the stock of other management libraries, as containing some small steps towards a new general theory of management. All librarians should be considering their roles as information managers in a rapidly‐changing environment, and so should be aware of some of the concepts that this book promotes.