Basics on knowledge management programmes

September 27, 2007

I’ve just finished off a two day masterclass on KM in Kuala Lumpur with an evening lecture to University Teknologi MARA at the invitation of the charming and hospitable Indah Sidek thrown in for good measure. As far as the evening lecture was concerned I was merely following in the footsteps of David Gurteen who had been there a few weeks ago. For the masterclass I summarised what to my mind is the essence of getting starting or reenergizing a KM programme. It wasn’t on a slide so I thought I would outline it here, both for the course participants and for a wider audience.

  • There are two key words for the knowledge team: service and symbiosis. Both of these words recognise KM is a support function for the rest of the organisation. It does not stand by itself, but is dependent on the wider needs of the organisation and to be successful needs to create an co-dependence or (to be fancy here) a co-evolutionary potentiality from which symbiosis can emerge. For this reason it is often better if KM is not seen as a route to a politically powerful position. Library science remains a great qualification here. Not just because its a great training for KM, but also because you don’t become a LIbrarian expecting to become CEO; you are fascinated by knowledge, by people and their needs not power. KM must not become a political pawn in battles between users and IT, or HR and others. To achieve that KM must be no threat ….
  • KM more than most disciplines needs to adopt a safe-fail experimental approach rather than attempt to achieve a fail safe design. It is generally true of most IT systems beyond those that simply hand transactions that users do not know what they want until they get it, then they want something different. There is good reason for this in that not all functionality can be known until the potentialities of the software have been explored and experienced. It often surprises me that KM people who should know about the criticality of experience fall back to the tradition of business analysis. With modern social computing tools there really is no excuse for wasting anytime in designing a KM system. Its a lot better to release multiple free social computing tools into an experimental space. Find some of the key people, let them play, as things work give them support, make other people aware of what they do. Keep it messy and patterns will emerge that are either good enough, or which do your design for you. Too many people start with the Its KM so we had better organise a CoP rollout and build a portal rather than allowing a freer experimental approach. To be honest I can’t think of too many things in the collaboration sphere that you can’t do with free or very cheap social computing these days. While we are at it, why not let people choose their own laptops and email systems? In a modern environment there is no more need to enforce a common policy than there is to mandate the make and coloour of cars that people drive to work.
  • A knowledge strategy should be a portfolio of knowledge projects not a justification of the KM departments budget. An associated knowledge audit should not interview people about what they know – that is to ask a meaningless question in a meaningless context. The method we developed focuses on identifying the various aspects of the organisation that are keeping executives awake at night, and then mapping the dependency of those issues on knowledge objects that exist within the organisation derived by studying stories about decision making across the organisation. I wrote this up some years ago in an article which also articulated the ASHEN model, but I am not going to reference it here as it badly needs an update. Thats something I am working on with a method paper and I will blog it when its available (hopefully next week).
  • Its critical to realise that no one will refuse people knowledge in the context of real need, but few if any people will publish what they know in anticipation of need. That means that it is more important to focus on the channels through which knowledge flows than on the knowledge itself. That means linking and connecting people and there are a range of techniques of which SNS is the Rolls Royce It’s also true that using social computing in the way I advocated above will hugely increase the connectivity and the ability of the network to create a resilience and responsive mechanism for distributing knowledge.
  • It is vital to realise that in nature we do not use structured content and case studies. We evolved to handle multiple fragmented narratives which we blend with our own experience and current context to determine how we act. Far too many knowledge management programmes and all too many story tellers focus on a shift away from fragmented material to structured and coherent documents or stories under the mistaken impression that this improves their use. It doesn’t. Instead it makes the material context specific and introduces a high degree of bias in the way the material is constructed. Given a difficult problem most people would prefer access to fragmented raw material from people with relevant experience. Its all about getting the right level of granularity to allow material to be rapidly blended in unexpected ways to deal with changing circumstances. The more structure the less flexibility. It also makes sense to show intelligence in capturing material. I always try and get a student or apprentice to capture material from an expert, not another expert. If you use two experts no one else will be able to use the material, the student on the other hand induces the correct level of response.

I covered a lot more over the two days but this is in many ways the essence.

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