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KM 2.0 and Knowledge Management: Part One, Early KM 2.0

August 1st, 2008 · 2 Comments

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For about three years now, the meme of “KM 2.0” has been circulating. It began with the introduction of the label “Web 2.0” to describe a collection of IT applications called social software. These applications first included blogs, wikis, social network analysis, social networking applications, collaborative content tagging, folksonomies, community support/collaboration software, and project collaboration software. But as time passed, the category came to include many web services applications, “mashups,” digital videos, podcasts, social bookmarking, news aggregation, and virtual environments.

Pretty soon after the introduction of Web 2.0, some enterprising observers (beginning with Andrew McAfee), thought they could get a pretty good meme going by the simple expedient of talking about “Enterprise 2.0” as a type of enterprise that has implemented “social software platforms” and, more generally, Web 2.0 techniques for purposes of increasing social connectivity, collaboration, and decision support. Once “Enterprise 2.0” began to gather a buzz, it was not long before people began asking whether there wasn’t a KM 2.0 in that mess somewhere. The KM 2.0 meme surfaced in 2005 and has been gradually spreading ever since. IBM Global Business Services picked up the meme fairly early on and lent considerable weight to its circulation, and, by last fall, Information Today, the company that holds the KM World and Intranets Conferences and also publishes KM World, had made the theme of their 2007 conference, “KM 2.0.” But, what, exactly is “KM 2.0?”

Well, in the beginning, in a blog post entitled “KM 2.0,” and dated October 10, 2005 Euan Semple (who may have originated the term) seemed to equate it with:

. . . people, connected people, empowered people, people who don’t always do what you expect or what you tell them but invariably end up taking you to exciting places you that would never have expected to get to.

And not only that but you can do this using tools that cost peanuts!”

So, Euan thinks it’s about people and using inexpensive Web 2.0 tools. Specifying a bit, we might infer that this refers to a type of KM which acts to enable self-organization by people by introducing appropriate Web 2.0 tools. These words are a bit different from Euan’s and I hope they don’t distort his intent.

Jack Vinson quickly picked up on Euan’s blog and in a blog of his own on October 8th, added this thought:

Anything that gets you to look at something in a new light is good. Euan is suggesting that maybe a parallel change in the view of KM from command-and-control, “I know what’s right for you,” to more distributed and a sense that “we know what is right for each other.” “

Jack thus, explicitly introduced the view (which Euan had merely implied) that KM had previously been focused on command-and-control approaches, while KM 2.0 was focused on self-organization and community.

Anyone knowing the literature in KM before 2005, knows that this distinction between an older KM as command-and-control oriented and a KM 2.0 oriented towards self-organization and community doesn’t accord with the facts of KM. Complexity theory had appeared in KM at least 10 years earlier than 2005, and most of the major approaches being advocated in KM after the year 2000 were based on complexity, community, and the idea of ecological approaches to KM, rather than on command-and-control notions. Sometimes the IT tools supporting KM interventions, such as portal installations and Content Management Systems were expensive interventions requiring heavy organizational financial investments, and high-level executive support, but even these were seen as providing ecological support for individual connectivity and voluntary collaboration with others. If they were KM interventions, “command-and-control” wasn’t involved.

Having said the above, I hasten to add that Web 2.0 tools have provided much more lightweight and inexpensive possibilities for self-organization and collaboration than had existed previously, and that I am not claiming that such tools don’t bring new support capabilities for KM interventions, and a much increased capability for self-organized collaboration. They most certainly do. However, the implication that KM used to be about “command-and-control,” while KM 2.0 is about self-organization and collaboration is a myth.

Luis Suarez, social computing evangelist at IBM has been focusing on Web 2.0 applications since the beginning of 2006. Along the way he has written a good bit about blogs, wikis, and other Web 2.0 tools bringing us closer to “KM 2.0.” In one post, Luis discussed a post of Dan Kirsch’s and offered this comment:

“. . . When people are “best” connected, relationships build and trust improves — all of which tend to improve both communications and transfer of knowledge” Amen to that! I doubt I would have been able to put it in a much clearer way than that ! This is actually one of the key fundamental factors for which I have always believed that social software is truly going to revolutionalise the way we conduct business. It is happening now already but we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. As more and more businesses get to adopt all those social media tools we would be entering the next generation of KM: i.e. KM 2.0.

I think this quote embodies an important aspect of the reasoning behind the spread of the KM 2.0 meme. It says that KM 2.0 is introducing social media tools to improve connectivity, resulting in building relationships and trust, resulting in better communications and knowledge transfer. This, of course, is a simple theory. But it is at the heart of the claim that social computing tools will provide more success in knowledge sharing than previous KM efforts that did not use social computing have delivered.

The idea of KM 2.0 gathered momentum in 2006, and as people blogged about it, and began to implement it, it became clear that some identified the term “KM 2.0” with KM interventions that used an organic/ecological approach to KM, to encourage self-organization, and employed Web 2.0 tools in the service of that kind of approach, while others identified “KM 2.0” with the tools themselves. There was a bit of a replay here of the early days of KM where some entering the field viewed KM as a field within IT, or as a different sort of IT, called Knowledge Technology, whereas others always recognized the distinction between KM as a management activity with certain knowledge-related purposes that focused on software tools because they had certain advantages in achieving those purposes. For the second group, the idea of creating an ecology that would facilitate connectivity, self-organization, social relationships, trust, better communication, and knowledge sharing, using software tools was primary. And it is such an approach that also defines KM 2.0 in the current Web 2.0 context for those who see beyond the social computing software to the deeper meaning of KM.

In Part Two, I’ll continue the story of the development of KM 2.0 in 2007. But before I end, I want to emphasize, once again, the key theory underlying the broader view of KM 2.0. Specifically, that social media tools are used in the service of creating an ecology that improves connectivity, resulting in building relationships and trust, resulting in better communications and knowledge sharing. This theory is, after all, a conjecture, it may be true, but to use the old cliché, the devil is in the details, and the details may not be wholly in the social software. As a general matter of social theory, increased connectivity doesn’t always serve to build relationships and trust, and even if that should be the result of interventions employing Web 2.0, and even if higher quality collaborations and communications follows on such a result, it may or not be the case that more knowledge is shared in the end. The reason why not, is that knowledge workers may end up with improved information sharing rather than knowledge sharing, unless, of course, either the new tools, or the combination of those tools with the way people use them allow a distinction to be made, and measured, between these two outcomes.

Tags: Complexity · KM 2.0 · KM Software Tools · Knowledge Integration · Knowledge Management · Personal KM

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