Environmental Management

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 917–925 | Cite as

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

  • K. Murray
  • D. J. Roux
  • J. L. Nel
  • A. Driver
  • W. Freimund
Article

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 Insights for implementing agencies relate to maintaining an internal science, rather than research capacity; making unpublished and especially tacit knowledge available through informal knowledge transfer; not underestimating the importance of intensity of effort required to create AC,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.

Keywords

Prior related knowledge Knowledge transfer Gatekeepers Social ecological systems Systematic conservation planning Freshwater biodiversity 

References

  1. Armitage D (2005) Adaptive capacity and community-based natural resource management. Environmental Management 35:703–715CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Berry H (2003) Leaders, laggards and the pursuit of foreign knowledge. Academy of Management Best Conference Paper 2003 IM:D1-D6Google Scholar
  3. Cohen WM, Levinthal DA (1990) Absorptive capacity: a new perspective on learning and innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly 35:128–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cohen WM, Levinthal DA (1994) Fortune favors the prepared firm. Management Science 40:227–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Criscuolo P, Narula R (2002) A novel approach to national technological accumulation and absorptive capacity: aggregating Cohen and Levinthal. MERIT-Infonomics Research Memorandum series. MERIT—Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology and the International Institute of Infonomics. Maastricht, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  6. Driver A, Maze K, Rouget M, Lombard AT, Nel JL, Turpie JK, Cowling RM, Desmet P, Goodman P, Harris J, Jonas Z, Reyers B, Sink K, Strauss T (2005) National spatial biodiversity assessment 2004: priorities for biodiversity conservation in South Africa. Strelitzia 17:1–45 Pretoria: South African national biodiversity instituteGoogle Scholar
  7. Garvin DA (1993) Building a learning organization. Harvard Business Review July-August:78–91Google Scholar
  8. Graf H (2007) Gatekeepers in regional networks of innovators. Jena Economic Research papers 054: http://www.wiwi.uni-jena.de/Mikro/dime_ws-10-2007/papers/graf.pdf
  9. Grünfeld LA (2003) Meet me halfway but don’t rush: absorptive capacity and strategic R&D investment revisited. International Journal of Industrial Organization 21:1091–1109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hahn T, Olsson P, Folke C, Johansson K (2006) Trust-building, knowledge generation and organizational innovations: the role of a bridging organisation for adaptive co-management of a wetland landscape around Kristianstad, Sweden. Human Ecology 34:573–592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hicks D (1995) Published papers, tacit competencies and corporate management of the public/private character of knowledge. Industrial and Corporate Change 4:401–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kamien MI, Zang I (2000) Meet me halfway: research joint ventures and absorptive capacity. International Journal of Industrial Organization 18:995–1012CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kim L (1998) Crisis construction and organizational learning: capability building in catching-up at hyundai motor. Organization Science 9:506–521CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Knight AT, Cowling RM, Rouget M, Balmford A, Lombard AT, Campbell BM (2007) Knowing but not doing: selecting priority conservation areas and the research—implementation gap. Conservation Biology 22:610–617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lane PJ, Koka B, Pathak S (2002) A thematic analysis and critical assessment of absorptive capacity research. Academy of Management Proceedings BPS: M1Google Scholar
  16. Loh J, Wackernagel M (2004) Living Planet Report 2004, World Wide Fund for Nature. Accessed online March 10 2010: http://www.panda.org/downloads/general/lpr2004.pdf
  17. Mackay H, Roux DJ (2004) Water services: taking South Africa into the next century. Service Delivery Review 3:46–50Google Scholar
  18. Minbaeva D, Pedersen T, Björkman I, Fey CF, Park HJ (2003) MNC knowledge transfer, subsidiary absorptive capacity, and HRM. Journal of International Business Studies 34:586–599CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Nel JL, Roux DJ, Abell R, Ashton PJ, Cowling RM, Higgins JV, Thieme M, Viers JH (2009) Progress and challenges in freshwater conservation planning. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 19:474–485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Republic of South Africa (RSA) (2004). National environmental management: biodiversity act no. 10 of 2004Google Scholar
  21. Ricciardi A, Rasmussen JB (1999) Extinction rates of North American freshwater fauna. Conservation Biology 13:1220–1222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Rogers K, Roux D, Biggs H (2000) Challenges for catchment management agencies: lessons from bureaucracies, business and resource management. Water SA 26:505–511Google Scholar
  23. Roux DJ, Murray K, van Wyk E (2007a) Principles enabling learning environments for good ecosystem governance. In: Turton AR, Hattingh J, Maree GA, Roux DJ, Claassen M, Strydom WF (eds) Governance as a trialogue: government-society-science in transition. Springer, Water Resources Development Series, Berlin, Germany, pp 253–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Roux DJ, Nel JL, MacKay HM, Ashton PJ (2007b) Cross-sector policy objectives for conserving South Africa’s inland water biodiversity. WRC Report No. TT 276/06. Water Research Commission, PretoriaGoogle Scholar
  25. Roux DJ, Ashton PJ, Nel JL, MacKay HM (2008a) Improving cross-sector policy integration and cooperation in support of freshwater conservation. Conservation Biology 22:1382–1387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Roux DJ, Murray K, van Wyk E (2008b) Learning to learn for social-ecological resilience: balancing strategy options in public sector organisations. In: Burns M, Weaver A (eds) Exploring sustainability science—a southern African perspective. Sun Press, Stellenbosch South Africa, pp 599–625Google Scholar
  27. Roux DJ, Murray K, Nel JL, Hill L, Roux H, Driver A (2011) From scorecard to social learning: a reflective coassessment approach for promoting multiagency cooperation in natural resource management. Ecology and Society 16:24. Online: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol16/iss1/art24/
  28. Schmidt T (2005) What determines absorptive capacity. DRUID 10th Anniversary summer conference. Dynamics of industry and innovation: organisations, networks and systems. Copenhagen, Denmark, June 27-29Google Scholar
  29. Teece DJ, Pisano G, Shuen A (1997) Dynamic capabilities and strategic management. Strategic Management Journal 18:509–533CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Todorova G, Durisin B (2007) Absorptive capacity: valuing a reconceptualization. Academy of Management Review 32:774–786Google Scholar
  31. Vinding AL (2006) Absorptive capacity and innovative performance: a human capital approach. Economics of Innovation and New Technology 15:507–517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Welsch H, Liao J, Stoica M (2001) Absorptive capacity and firm responsiveness: an empirical investigation of growth-oriented firms. Proceedings of 2nd USASBE/SBIDA Conference, An Entrepreneurial Odyssey, Orlando, USAGoogle Scholar
  33. Westley F (1995) Governing design: the management of social systems and ecosystems management. In: Gunderson LH, Holling CS, Light SS (eds) Barriers and bridges to the renewal of ecosystems and institutions. Columbia University Press, New York, USA, pp 391–427Google Scholar
  34. Yaffee SL, Wondolleck JM, Lippman S (1997) Factors that promote and constrain bridging: A summary and analysis of the literature. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Accessed online November 23 2009. http://www.snre.umich.edu/ecomgt/collaboration/Factors_that_Promote_and_Contrain_Bridging.pdf
  35. Zahra SA, George G (2002) Absorptive capacity: a review, reconceptualization, and extension. Academy of Management Review 27:185–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. Murray
    • 1
  • D. J. Roux
    • 2
  • J. L. Nel
    • 3
  • A. Driver
    • 4
  • W. Freimund
    • 5
  1. 1.Insight Modelling ServicesPretoriaSouth Africa
  2. 2.Monash South AfricaJohannesburgSouth Africa
  3. 3.CSIRStellenboschSouth Africa
  4. 4.South African National Biodiversity InstituteCape TownSouth Africa
  5. 5.College of Forestry and ConservationUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA

Personalised recommendations