, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 917-925

Absorptive Capacity as a Guiding Concept for Effective Public Sector Management and Conservation of Freshwater Ecosystems

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The ability of an organisation to recognise the value of new external information, acquire it, assimilate it, transform, and exploit it, namely its absorptive capacity (AC), has been much researched in the context of commercial organisations and even applied to national innovation. This paper considers four key AC-related concepts and their relevance to public sector organisations with mandates to manage and conserve freshwater ecosystems for the common good. The concepts are the importance of in-house prior related knowledge, the importance of informal knowledge transfer, the need for motivation and intensity of effort, and the importance of gatekeepers. These concepts are used to synthesise guidance for a way forward in respect of such freshwater management and conservation, using the imminent release of a specific scientific conservation planning and management tool in South Africa as a case study. The tool comprises a comprehensive series of maps that depict national freshwater ecosystem priority areas for South Africa. Insights for implementing agencies relate to maintaining an internal science, rather than research capacity; making unpublished and especially tacit knowledge available through informal knowledge transfer; not underestimating the importance of intensity of effort required to create AC, driven by focussed motivation; and the potential use of a gatekeeper at national level (external to the implementing organisations), possibly playing a more general ‘bridging’ role, and multiple internal (organisational) gatekeepers playing the more limited role of ‘knowledge translators’. The role of AC as a unifying framework is also proposed.