Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Knowledge management has lost its bark

I'm reminded of the old saying "It's not what you know but who you know". This struck me when reviewing a large and beautifully presented collection of "good practices" collated onto a website by an organisation. This is one of many I see and the teams involved assure me this is part of their knowledge management strategy and one of the mechanisms they are using to share the good practices amongst their constituents.

So I've been wondering for whom these databases have been designed. The measures applied are mostly about counting the number of entries and the number of "hits". This no doubt gives the owner of the system some satistfaction that the extracted knowledge (and I use that term cautiously) is being tapped into. Personally, I am a great deal more sceptical about the whole business.

There is an industry of "knowledge management" and a quick search through the academic publishing databases through up some interesting omissions. I could find little researched and/or published about how individuals or teams successfully used databases and turned them into practical changes that delivered improved results in their organisations - as this is the expressed intent of those who are creating these systems. It is as though the databases have become their own self-sustaining life form, with a purpose now disconnected from their original objective. At what cost?

The databases hold the "what" of information. Some individuals may remember the database exists, find the time to search it, reach the case study, work out how it fits in their circumstance etc. In my experience, most people will either start to solve the problem they have on their own or at best, will find someone in their personal network who can give them some advice. So, how can we find ways to help people extend their personal networks so they can connect to people who can help them answer the questions they want?

Part of the answer to this is a technology literacy - being able to access and use some of the Web 2.0 function including networking sites like LinkedIn, chatrooms, wikizines, collaborative documenting etc. Part is an emotional literacy - having the conversational and interpersonal skills to connect with others.

By over-emphasising the "what" are organisations deskilling the "who"?

For an example of a wikizine go to
and please post some content!

(c) 2008, Sarah Fraser

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