Finally, politics and national identity themselves are affected. The global market in information and in goods and services challenges the very notion of the nation-state as the unit of measure of viability in a society. Supra-national economic and political unions are becoming powerful and important, and every nation at some time may find compelling reasons to join. To profit from membership requires a level of agility, connectivity and speed of decision making that can only be achieved with the effective use of technology.
Knowledge assessment will help point to opportunities for links with global partners. Particularly in export industries, but also in domestic manufacturing and services, agriculture, financial services, and other sectors, inter-firm links are increasingly important. In an era of regional trading blocks, it will be difficult for any country to avoid the necessity of joining regional markets and opening the country to trade from abroad. Any local industry is likely to have foreign competition, and the terms of the competition will involve technology and knowledge. The same considerations apply to health care, education, and agriculture, as technologies generate the potential to increase the efficiency of production or service. Further, a trading world is by definition an open world, and economic pressures may likewise force a change in the attitude of governments toward their citizens.
Most developing countries do not yet fall among the ranks of the NICs. As they enter the 21st century, their ability to join the knowledge-based industrial revolution is not secure, and they are in need of a new kind of technical assistance. Timing is critical, because the growth in numbers of competitors narrows the opportunity window in time for responding to new markets and economic environments. The focus of this technical assistance can not be determined without a proper diagnosis of the weaknesses in the national knowledge system—the institutions and the links among them that determine the effectiveness of the productive use of knowledge in the country.
The concept of a national knowledge assessment arose explicitly at a symposium in November 1994 on the topic Marshaling Technology for Development, sponsored jointly by the National Research Council and the World Bank. Several key speakers, including Professor George Bugliarello and Professor Harvey Brooks, emphasized the impact that new technologies are having on business practices, spurring development of new products and services, significant increases in productivity, and realization of a global economy. The same technologies may enable even the poorest countries to participate in and benefit from the changes, but only where the government, the people, and the economic system are sufficiently receptive to innovation. It makes little difference whether an innovation is new to the world or merely new to the country; the process of transfer and adoption is the same. Important factors include the educational system, the skilled work force, research laboratories, the system of measures and standards, the legal system and its ability to protect innovation, and the financial mechanisms to invest in innovation. To these are added the openness of the society to the expression of ideas, the media that educates and informs the public, and the receptivity of the general population to learning, to form what is here called the National Knowledge System.
At the symposium, Jean-Francois Rischard, World Bank Vice President for Finance and Private Sector Development, summed up these thoughts as follows.
“At the Bank we produce country-by-country private sector assessments. Those deal mostly with the regulatory impediments and the other impediments to private sector development, and these assessments also are used to try to develop a sort of road map of strategy for private sector developments. On the other hand the OECD finances reviews of science and technology policies of government, which is a different tack altogether. The way I see it, we could go for something like a knowledge assessment which would be a more ambitious, possibly more powerful undertaking .. to assess a country's ability to capture and generate knowledge, turn it into action, and become what I called ..a ‘learning nation.' So we would look at the various aspects of education, technical literacy, technical training. We would look at the degree of technological awareness of government leaders, of important decision makers, of union leaders. We would look at the business associations' ability to serve as knowledge relays, at the country's internal and external networking capacity, at its access to knowledge in all kinds of channels, including embassies abroad, at its openness to foreign direct investment, to licensing. More generally at its research capacity and its set-up with respect to centers of excellence, .. at whether its labs, its applied research labs, are able to serve as lookout posts for the economy, and of course at the needs with respect to information infrastructure, and so forth.... Indeed, countries increasingly need to look at themselves in this new world economy as knowledge systems, and at how well they have equipped themselves for this high-speed future as knowledge systems.”
Drawing on Mr. Rischard's ideas, we will define knowledge assessment as the evaluation of the ability of an enterprise, an industry, an economic sector, a city, a region, or a nation to create, access, assimilate, diffuse, and use knowledge, and we will seek indicators of that ability. But for many indicators that apply to knowledge assessment, there are no accepted international standards that prescribe for a given country or sector whether the present value of the indicator is adequate or too low to achieve its developmental goals. As there is no single path to development, so there is no easy way to determine, for example, whether two countries with