Owentsia Hunt Ball — Chicago (1904)
Commentary on Dave Pollard’s Blog on Social Networking (continued from Part 1)
KM, Social Network Management (SNM) and Conceptual Drift
You then went on:
“Four important unanswered questions:
1. What role can Social Network Enablement and social software play in enhancing individual and organizational learning?”
Social network enablement and social software can provide a stronger foundation for more intensive and connected social interactions. However, this may not have a uniformly beneficial effect on knowledge processing and its outcomes. Much depends on the underlying social psychological preconditions in the organization receiving such software.
If mistrust and division, are present to begin with, SNE software may produce greater integration within conflicting groups and factions and may lead to an increase in inter-group conflict within an organization. Moreover, it is not clear what impact either decreased or increased conflict would have on knowledge processing. Much would depend on the initial state of conflict in an organization and the context of the SNE intervention. I think one thing is fairly certain, however, the impact of SNE and social software on knowledge processing will be beneficial in some respects and harmful in others, and it will be one of the concerns of Knowledge Managers to track the impact.
“2. How do you measure and reward contributions to a network (a) by full-time knowledge workers (people in the organization, like researchers and help desk staff whose sole value is contributing to the network) and (b) by network ‘players’ outside the organization?”
This is an interesting question, but it is not clear that it is a KM question. Isn’t it a Social Network Management (SNM) question? Also, the question implies the desirability of introducing a formal incentive system to “reward contributions” to a social network. But this assumes that it is desirable to reinforce participation in the network beyond the reinforcement provided by participation itself. This may be unwise, because it involves a managerial imposition of a perceived desirable outcome on the network. Enabling the network with software is one thing; manipulating the incentives to participate in it is another. If we want to take advantage of natural tendencies to self-organize, we should avoid the second.
“3. How do organizations equip and foster networks without unduly controlling their actions and membership and therefore crushing them?”
Very carefully. And the real question is, how do Managers, Knowledge and otherwise, equip and foster networks without impairing the organization’s ability to adapt and remake itself by incenting or imposing behavior that the organization taken as a pattern would not incent? I think the answer to this question, is that managers should equip and foster networks, and then do whatever else is necessary to enable people to use them. After that, managers must trust to people themselves to use their social networking tools to do their jobs including solving the problems that occur in the course of doing them.
“4. How do we capture summaries and abstracts of organizational conversations that occur in other than written form (voice-mail, teleconferences and meetings), so that the blog record of networks is complete?”
We wait for the technology that makes it convenient to do this. Until then, we do what we can with what is in the written record.
Of these four unanswered questions, only the first of them relates to either knowledge processing, or KM directly. I think this illustrates where too great a focus on Social Network Enablement and Social Software will take us, namely away from KM and into Social Network Management.
One of the continuing problems in KM is that of “conceptual drift”. Since the foundations of KM as a discipline are relatively undefined and we are in disagreement over what we mean by Knowledge, KM, and the distinctions between Data Management, Information Management and KM, as well as distinctions among a number of other basic concepts, we find ourselves subject, from time-to-time, to claims that KM “really is”, or should be “reinvented as” (take your choice): Quality Management, CRM, Data Warehousing, Organizational Learning, Collaboration Management, Library Management, Information Management, Human Resource Management, Communities of Practice, Content Management, and now Social Network Enablement. I think such advice is incorrect, and, thus far, at least, always based on a superficial account of the nature of KM. In fact, it is because those who offer such proposals do so without a careful analysis of “knowledge” and “Knowledge Management” that their ideas often initially seem plausible.
Even though I don’t agree with your suggestion that we should re-invent KM, I do think that Social Network Analysis is important for KM, and Social Network Enablement and Social Software are important trends that we should incorporate into KM interventions as appropriate and necessary. But as with every other KM intervention alternative, tool, or technique, both before and after we undertake projects that use SNE, we should try to assess what the impact of our intervention will be or has been, as the case may be. And to do this, what we really need, on an urgent basis, is a better network of concepts, indicators, and metrics that will allow us to talk more precisely about the direct impact of our interventions on knowledge processing and Knowledge Management, as well as their indirect impact on other organizational outcomes (for which better metrics may already exist).
Lastly, I hope you don’t consider this or other posts I’ve offered in this AOK session as hostile to you or your work. Actually, I’m very favorable to Social Network Analysis as a perspective, and I think you’ve done a great job with your blogs and the contributions you’ve made here. I’ve offered my posts, because in many respects, my views are different from yours and both of us may benefit by exchanging communications on these differences. I’ve tried not to use any ad hominems or unsupported assertions in what I’ve written, in hopes that you would see this in the way I intend it, as an attempt at discussion.
In Part 3 of “Has KM Been Done?” I’ll finish this series of blogs with an exchange between Dave and I and a preliminary consideration of the question providing my title for the series.