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Has KM Been Done? Part 1: Conceptual Drift in KM

April 16th, 2008 · 1 Comment

 



Rain, Steam, and Speed (J. W. M. Turner, 1844)

In March of 2004, David Pollard served as the Star Moderator in the Association of Knowledge Work’s (AOK) Star Series. Many subjects were covered during the very fruitful exchanges of Dave’s tenure. One of my posts (message 1484) was a commentary on one of Dave’s blogs called “Social Networking, Social Software and The Future of Knowledge Management.” In this blog, I’ll first reproduce (with a few minor revisions) a good part of my commentary, then supplement it with another post (message 1498) recording an exchange between Dave and myself on KM Value propostions; and then I’ll discuss the significance of these posts in suggesting the question: “Has KM Been Done?” This first of three installments will cover the portion of my commentary dealing with the issues of “KM’s failure” and Dave’s proposal to reinvent it as Social Network Enablement.

Commentary on Dave Pollard’s Blog on Social Networking

KM’s Failure? Dave,In your blog on “Social Networking, Social Software and The Future of Knowledge Management.” you said: “In most organizations KM is epitomized by the corporate intranet, the extranet, community-of-practice tools, sales force automation tools, customer relationship management tools, data mining tools, decision support tools, databases purchased from outside vendors, and sometimes business research and analysis. In other words, it’s certain specialized technologies and information processing roles, with a thin wrapper of “knowledge creating” and “knowledge-sharing” processes.Most of the organizations that have implemented KM bemoan their people’s inability to find stuff, the lack of demonstrable productivity improvement, the complexity of the technology, and the absence of significant reusable ‘best practice’ content.”
I agree with this characterization, except that I would replace the word “epitomized” with the phrase “perceived as epitomized”. The difference is that whatever the perception may be, these tools are not KM tools, either singly or in combination. And their identification as KM tools has been due to a failure among KM practitioners to clearly specify the key concepts and scope of our discipline and its precise relationship to various tools and techniques associated with it, by those who seek the “halo effect” of KM.
Some of us have been warning for at least 5 years now, that continued failure to carefully specify the central concepts and scope of KM as a discipline would lead to its discredit due to just the sort of misperception you¹ve described. But throughout this period,”practical” people have contended that theory wasn¹t necessary and that what we should be doing is to get on with the use of the”practical” techniques and tools of KM, without bothering to consider whether they are, in fact, KM tools and techniques at all.Again, I disagree with the view that you expressed in another of blog advising people not to worry about what they mean by “knowledge”and “KM”, but to be concerned only with the impact of their interventions on the effectiveness of knowledge workers. It is exactly this sort of view that has led “practical” people to identify the above tools and techniques with KM, and to bring KM into disrepute due to people¹s association of it with the often less than impressive results of interventions using them. KM should be associated with the performance of policy and program interventions that reflect a careful conceptualization of what it is and what kinds of interventions it involves. It should not be associated with interventions that use the latest “flavor of the month” IT fad in thoughtless ways, while labeling such interventions KM. KM is More than Social Network Enablement and Its Needs Exceed the Capabilities of Social Software You then said: “Now along comes Social Networking and Social Software, also with its adherents from academia, consultancies, and IT. Beneath the torrent of hype and theory, it may reveal an important truth about KM, business, and how we learn: Social networks can provide the essential context needed to make knowledge sharing possible, valuable, efficient and effective.What are ‘social networks’? They are the circles in which we make a living and connect with other people. . . . If we were to ‘reinvent’ KM as, say, Social Network Enablement, what would change?”
I believe in the importance of social networks and social software. The foundation of much of KMCI thinking on KM is a complex adaptive systems framework that emphasizes the transactional and social networking character of the organizational system (See, for example, Excerpt #1 from the Open Enterprise). We believe that it is in the context of such networks that organizational behavioral processes, including the knowledge processes of knowledge production and integration (including knowledge sharing), arise. In addition, I also agree with you that “Social networks can provide the essential context needed to make knowledge sharing possible, valuable, efficient and effective.”
In spite of my agreement on these two points however, I don¹t agree that KM should be “re-invented” as “Social Network Enablement”. I¹ll explain the reasons why I think your suggestion goes too far below, beginning with a consideration of your analysis of what would change. You say: “Intranet as connector and link harvester: The intranet would become a people-to-people connector instead of a content repository. It would become a ‘link harvester’, scanning all traffic across it and dynamically identifying connections to people and their knowledge. New tools would be needed to allow such functionality.”

This change is certainly positive, and when someone has a problem, it is useful for acquiring information, to be able to identify the people who are propagating knowledge claims and who will be able to provide you with other valuable knowledge claims if you make contact with them. But upgrading our ability to acquire information is only a first step in generating new knowledge and solving problems. Furthermore, to be really useful for making new knowledge, our knowledge claim “harvesters” need to go beyond merely identifying connections to people. They also need to harvest the knowledge claims and meta-claims about their performance that are associated with the people and their previous activities.
Without being able to access the content of knowledge claims and the record associated with their continued use, we don¹t have what we need for good Knowledge Claim Evaluation, and without good Knowledge Claim Evaluation we cannot have effective KM. In my book, Enterprise Information Portals and Knowledge Management (EIPKM), KMCI Press/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003, I¹ve outlined the requirements and architecture for the Enterprise Knowledge Portal (See,Chapters, 5, 6, 10-11, and 13), an IT application that would provide the sort of “intranet” functionality needed. You say next:
“Decentralized content, with blog as surrogate for the individual:
Content would shift from centralized, shared databases to personally- or
team-owned databases, journals and stories, where the owner(s) provide
essential context. (See my post on The Weblog as Filing Cabinet ). Each
individual’s subscribable, personally-indexed Weblog would be a
surrogate for the individual when s/he’s not available personally.

Again, while you¹re on the right track here, blogs are too low in functionality to fit the requirements of KM. The kind of surrogate we need to support knowledge production and knowledge integration is an”avatar”, an intelligent agent representing the individual to the organization. The avatar would not only maintain the individual¹s sharable content, but would also maintain cognitive map representations of the knowledge claim networks expressed by the individual. The knowledge claim networks would also record the meta-claims about the knowledge claim networks expressed in previous work. It goes without saying too much, I hope, that the content maintained by the avatar would provide all of the context for knowledge claims we could possibly ask for.
Avatars would not only represent individuals to their social networks, they would also be in constant communication with those social networks. Their analytical functions, combined with those of other avatars and with widely distributed intelligent server-based Artificial Knowledge Managers in the organization, would analyze and produce models of the patterns of knowledge claim networks and meta-claims of teams, groups, communities, and the organization. The results of these analyses would be available to every avatar and every individual to provide context for their own decision making, which in the end would be based on their own cognitive maps and values and their interpretations of their organizational roles and obligations. Again, I¹ve described the requirements and architectural considerations for such avatars in my EIPKM book (Chs. 6, 10-11, and 13). Avatars would also provide the ultimate functionality, for “having it your way”, as you¹ve advocated in another blog. That is, the individual¹s own cognitive map, always maintained and updated by the avatar could be used as the navigational interface for the individual. What the avatar represents, of course, could be immediately edited by the individual, if he/she thinks the avatar is mistaken in its representation.You then said:


“Decentralized security, organizational boundaries blurred: Organizational boundaries become irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether the person you are sharing with is a work colleague, a supplier, customer, friend or advisor, an individual or a team, inside or outside the company. You share what you know with those you trust, the same way regardless. Security would be provided at the individual level, not managed by the enterprise. The same way employees know what hard-copy documents can be shared with whom, they set up subscription access to their blog categories correspondingly.”

I very much agree here and also note that such security capabilities are envisioned in my EKP construct (see chapters 10-11 of EIPKM).

“Greatly enhanced weblog functionality, emphasis on access: Today’s blogs are not nearly enough to fully enable social networks. They need much more connectivity functionality. A user should be able to call up a visual of their own network, or the network of expertise corresponding to a particular subject. The tool that does this would operate much like a search engine except it would retrieve people (and links to people) instead of documents. It would also have to aggregate various means of access to those people: e-mail, voice-mail, video and whiteboard, meeting scheduling, IM, weblog subscriptions and commenting, and new means of access just being developed. And it would need some mechanism to create a ‘biography’ of the user by automatically summarizing the total content of their weblog.”

I agree as far as you go. But, as I¹ve indicated above, I think we need to go further. The visuals must be of knowledge claim and meta-claim networks, which, of course would include social networks, workflow networks, and any other knowledge claim networks expressed in the organization in question.

“Enhanced organizational change functionality: The exhaust from the increased connectivity could be browsed and canvassed to identify organizational change opportunities. Popularity indexes could pre-sage emerging business issues needing management attention, and could be used as a key part of the performance evaluation and reward process, and to identify de facto organizational thought leaders and potential strong recruits. It could incorporate Tipping Point functionality to propagate important ideas, Power Law analysis to identify and spell employees suffering from ‘network overload’, and perhaps even new “Network Traffic Analyses” to identify communication logjams and disconnects. Intriguing, and perhaps a bit scary.”

All useful, but again, not enough, and not enough precisely because it doesn¹t deal with knowledge claim networks and their associated meta-claims explicitly. Especially, in this last change, you are not talking about KM but offering a hypothesis about the anticipated effect of social networking enablement, completely apart from its effects on knowledge processing.
In contrast to your specification for SNE software, the EKP construct I’ve specified in my book is Social Network Enablement Software Plus. That is, the “Plus” includes support for all of the areas of Knowledge Processing specified in KMCI’s Knowledge Life Cycle framework, including and especially Knowledge Claim Evaluation. In addition it supports the main activities of KM identified in our KM Framework as well. So my contention is that KM needs Social Network Enablement Software Plus. And that an important part of the Future of KM will be the development of a real EKP, rather than the EIP applications that have misappropriated that label today; or, alternatively, the same application using another name such as a Distributed Knowledge Management System (DKMS), or a Knowledge Base Management System (KBMS),or an Artificial Knowledge Management System (AKMS). The name is ultimately not important, but the functionality for supporting problem formulation, knowledge production, knowledge integration, Knowledge Management and knowledge use, is. My next blog will cover the part of my commentary dealing with KM, Social Network Management and Conceptual Drift.

Tags: Complexity · KM 2.0 · KM Software Tools · KM Techniques · Knowledge Integration · Knowledge Making · Knowledge Management

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 KM 2.0 and Knowledge Management: Part Seven // Sep 9, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    [...] a very interesting take on KM 2.0 by one of my former correspondents, Dave Pollard (See for example 1, 2, 3). Dave, who is given to emphasizing the social networking aspects of things provides this [...]