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Professionalism in KM: a minor rant

October 14, 2007

It is nice to see Graham Durant-Law joining the blogosphere. His second post makes a plea for KM people to read some basic epistemology before engaging in What is Knowledge Management debates on the listservs. Something I would endorse. A lot of sterile debates could be avoided with the investment of a couple of hours reading into the subject. An even easier introduction would be Sophie’s World or the Wikipedia entry on the subject (although this one is weak compared with other philosophy pages). If knowledge management practitioners want their field to be considered a professional discipline then it behooves them to behave professionally in knowing some of the theory.

The journals, and other publications

To be fair the academic KM Journals are starting to do a good job of documenting the field. The practice journals are more of a mixed bunch. I was sorry to see that Graeme Burton was moving on from Inside Knowledge and hear disturbing rumors as to his likely successor, which if true will lead to a dumbing down of the journal. It always surprises me that people with some claim to qualifications journalism, just take, without validation case study material as their publication deadlines come near. I have sat in many a conference listening to a presentation from a KM person in a company where the statements about what has happened bear little relation to the reality on the ground. It’s another example of Cognitive Dissonance (see yesterday’s post).

The same is true in the non academic journals and it was in part the reason behind the falling out with Uncle Jerry on the now defunct AOK listserv. He put up two so called “Stars” who self evidently were talking about things as they should be in their ideal world rather than reality. He had previously published uncritical case studies in Inside Knowledge and did not enjoy the challenge when several of us raised difficult questions that, if he had been acting professionally as a journalist, he would have asked before publication.

Professional Qualifications

There is an obvious route here, namely to qualify in Library Science then the professionalism would be there with both a history and a sufficiently rigorous qualification process. There are also many masters degrees in KM and other properly validated material. I don’t think there will ever be a professional body (such as we have in accounting) partly because I don’t think KM will last long enough for one to form, but also because the field cannot be defined in the same way.

That is in sharp contrast with those offering certification courses in KM where the intellectual vigor, examination and other processes pick up on a long tradition in the USA of offering degrees (and religious qualifications) for sale based on “life experience”. In an on line debate with one of the certifiers recently I asked a simple question: How many people do you fail, once they have paid you money. To date I have received no answer which does not surprise me.

There used to be a long standing tradition of applying tar and feathers to snakeoil salesmen and it might be time to resurrect it.

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