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KM 2.0 and Knowledge Management: Part Eight, Early 2008 Discussion

September 12th, 2008 · No Comments


Well, we’ve finally arrived at 2008, certainly the most active year thus far in the KM 2.0 boom. I don’t know whether this is the Year of KM 2.0, since perhaps we’re still not at the peak of debate and discussion over the idea. But 2008 has certainly increased the frequency and intensity of discussion to a new level.


On January 22, Mike Gotta posted a blog on the importance of social software relating it to KM. Among other things he said:


“The benefits gained from galvanizing the creativity and know-how of people is not a revolutionary concept. Knowledge management strategies over the past decade have long sought to improve communication, information sharing, and collaboration across information and knowledge workers. . . .”

“There is a paradoxical nature to participation that should be recognized when discussed in the context of social software. It is obvious that after decades of people using content management and collaboration systems there is ample evidence that people participate and contribute through these tools and the applications constructed using these tools. Yet the exuberance associated with social software, often under the guise of Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0, is driven by the argument that only certain tools (e.g., blogs, wikis, tags/bookmarks, social network sites) support the “architecture of participation” concept put forth by Tim O’Reilly. If people already have tools at their disposal to participate and contribute, why do they need different tools to participate and contribute? It seems contradictory on many levels.

“To unravel this enigma, it is helpful to divide participation into actions and contributions that are “directed” versus those that are “volunteered . . . “


Mike Gotta then offers four basic participation models: process, activities, communities and networks and points out that the first two involve primarily directed and task-oriented participation, while the last two involve voluntary participation. He then makes his central point:


“It’s not the case that organizations perceive that they need social software to dramatically improve the quantity and quality of participation that is directed. The real objective is to catalyze voluntary participation and contributions across all work categories to improve communication, information sharing and collaboration. Many different social software tools can be used to support functional applications that direct some level of participation and user contributions. What excites strategist are social applications that catalyze volunteered participation and user contributions – a long-standing objective of knowledge management and human capital management strategies for decades.”


It’s clear from the above that Mike Gotta views KM as directed toward improving communication, information sharing, and collaboration, and sees catalyzing “volunteered participation and user contributions” as one of its longstanding objectives for decades. While there may be some case to be made that the above are among things that Knowledge Managers aim at, it seems doubtful that these are the central purposes or objectives of KM. Again, in this post, we see a tendency on the part of supporters of social software and its use in KM, to associate KM with collaboration and communication rather than directly with enhanced knowledge processing. The argument has the form: KM is about enhancing collaboration and communication, social software does that for us. Thus, social software represents a new direction in KM.


A blog by Bill Ives on January 28, entitled “Top articles of 2007 for McKinsey & Web 2.0 and one prediction for 2008” provides a slightly different perspective on Web 2.0 and enterprise 2.0 tools. It asserts:


“another major emerging use is the application of web 2.0 principles to workflow applications. There is a new breed of web 2.0 or enterprise 2.0 tools that go beyond blogs and wikis to create workflow applications that incorporate this new transparency. Many of these have been covered in this blog. The transparency these tools offer allows for better team work AND a searchable, archived window into what the organization is doing for all who need to know, should know, and can benefit from this knowledge.


“Now, when I say workflow or work process I do not mean the static inflexible workflow of old style content management or project management tools. The advantage of these new tools is that they allow work processes that are more organic and dynamic. They allow the users to control the workflow or process, build it up from tasks and make changes as needed. And, to repeat, they allow for transparency and archiving, and thus KM, to be a byproduct of work, rather than an added requirement. If they are smart at McKinsey this will be a feature for one of their articles or studies in 2008.”


I think this emphasis on increased transparency resulting from Web 2.0 tools, and also on their significance for creating more dynamic and organic workflow is very well-taken, but I must admit I don’t understand his notion that “they allow for transparency and archiving, and thus KM, to be a byproduct of work, rather than an added requirement.” I suspect that what Bill Ives means is that greater transparency and archiving contribute to enhanced knowledge processing that is integrated better into everyday workflow. But KM and knowledge processing are two different things, and I don’t think there is anything about Web 2.0 that makes KM “a byproduct” of Web 2.0 enabled work. Also, even though some aspects of knowledge processing may well be enhanced by Web 2.0 tools, which aspects are enhanced, which are not, and in what ways, needs to be analyzed in far more detail.


The arguments of Mike Gotta and Bill Ives were commented on favorably by John Tropea in a blog on January 29th. And he added the following important comments expanding on the points made by both:


“Traditional KM tools indeed don’t allow people the freedom to share and connect, creating their own ecosystem…the design simply isn’t geared towards this at all. They are great to streamline work processes, but what about stuff you learn along the way, stuff you don’t anticipate…the tools aren’t designed for what life brings to the table as they are not organic enough. I agree KM 1.0 tools are great to automate, and make things efficient, but they lack flexibility, and when it comes to extracting tacit knowledge, they are just not designed to how humans work…with KM 2.0 we now have tools that are not designed for a specific task, instead they are more open ended tools, that can be used and mashed up for any use case, and most importantly a way to instantly publish personal information and findings.


“What knowledge sharing or sensemaking should be about it not an explicit task “you must share knowledge”, it is more simply the way you do work. You are documenting or publishing snippets of stuff you do in your normal day, it’s how you get things done…it’s not a thing in itself, it’s just part of your regular process of doing work.


“This in turn becomes sharing knowledge, as others can tap into your daily flow and benefit…and indeed sometimes you may explicitly publish and push knowledge onto certain people, as you know what you have mused is relevant and can be applied right now.”


I think some of the assumptions in the background of this statement, especially those concerning “KM 1.0” are a bit questionable. Basically, the position being taken is that KM 1.0 tools were always about facilitating explicit tasks that could be automated and that are tied to directed work, whereas “KM 2.0” tools facilitate work that is more-open-ended and flexible and “organic.” I don’t think this assumption is correct. For example, tools for supporting communities of practice pre-dated “KM 2.0” tools. So did portals. So did search tools. All are tools that are open-ended and not designed for specific tasks. No doubt, “KM 2.0” tools are easier to use and less expensive than these earlier tools. They are also implementable on a non-centralized and distributed basis, and this makes them much more suitable for enhancing self-organization in the enterprise and for “creating their own ecosystem.”


However, even though the freedom to share and connect, and the open-endedness and flexibility of “KM 2.0” tools certainly provide new possibilities for KM to enhance knowledge processing in organizations, the conclusions that these tools enhance collaboration, communication, self-organization, and content management, don’t imply that using them in KM interventions will enhance knowledge processing in organizations. This comment may seem puzzling, in light of the notion that the above enhancements would certainly improve capture, sharing, and broadcasting. The problem, however, is what the tools contribute to distinguishing knowledge from information and the various aspects of problem solving. Without explicit reasoning showing that “KM 2.0” tools can enhance functioning in these areas, we cannot say whether these tools are really KM 2.0 tools, or just Information Management Tools, and we cannot tell whether they facilitate knowledge sharing or information sharing. This point should suggest one of the central problems of the whole KM 2.0 movement, namely that, like the old, First Generation Knowledge Management, it has no way of distinguishing knowledge from information, or Knowledge Management from Information Management. In that sense, it is not a step forward for KM, even given its increased technical sophistication and more human-compatible tools, but rather is a step backward into the conceptual vagueness and ambiguity of the KM of the 1990s.


To Be Continued

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