I think everyone who works inside organisations - or across them - has knowledge management problems, but maybe don't call them that. They may be about how to find the information you need, get other people to tell you what they are doing, not re-invent the wheel because you know someone has tackled that tough issue before.
Maybe you say: if only we had a good database and information officer! If only the management would install a proper intranet and get everyone to use it! If only the systems in different organisation linked up with each other! If only we could collect and organise our information better! If only there was one place I could go!
Tonight another of David Gurteen's excellent Knowledge Cafes addressed just those issues, with a gathering at Ernst and Young of people whose day job it is to ... well, manage knowledge. We were privileged to have as guest Dave Pollard, whose blog How to Save the World I have long admired for wisdom across a wide range of topics, not just KM. His blog posts are longish, his arguments highly reasoned, his tables and flow charts are everything you might hope for. It's the sort of stuff you bookmark, and feel a little guilty you don't spend more time on.
Dave in person was even better, because he managed to give us the essence of his thinking on KM in about 15 minutes. By the end he had, I think, convinced - or maybe confirmed - us in the view that top-down approaches aren't likely to work. We may need databases, information workers, systems .... but the real solutions are personal rather than central.
Dave started by setting out three principles: things happen in organisations for a reason; people will generally find the best way to do their jobs; and the best way to share knowledge has always been by conversations. From that he explained the importance of peer-to-peer networking for exchange of knowledge and problem-solving, and understanding how people really do things in practice. Instead of thinking just about finding, gathering, collating, tagging information, think about how to find the people you need. It's about connection, rather than collection. The old adage about it's not so much what you know as who you know still holds true. Maybe we just forgot in the fascination with big data-driven KM systems.
So... goodbye centralised KM, hello personal KM. We need to get better at managing our own knowledge, and sharing it with others ... using tools like blogs and wikis. Enter also the idea of reintermediation. In the first IT wave we got excited by disintermediation - cutting out the intermediaries so customers and suppliers, producers and users, creators and audiences could deal direct. However, in the networky environment of personal KM some management is needed to observe, support, facilitate, add value by helping make sense. We need some reintermediation.
At this point I saw connection with discussions among a group of us bloggers talking about technology stewards in communities of practice, buzz directors in organisations, and social reporters in networks. Wow, we are in the right business! We are reintermediators!
At this point Dave encouraged us to turn theory into practice, and share some knowledge by talking to each other ... which is just what the knowledge cafes are all about. Dave gave us a few questions for starters, and our table talked a lot about the difficulty of making the case within an organisation to senior execs about the value of this bottom up approach. At it's (apparent) simplest, it could be "why we need a blog". But behind that lies the issue of who wants to talk, who wants to listen ... and who is allowed to have a voice in the style they wish. We also shared some insights about when wikis work (clear shared tasks) the differences between blogging inside an organisation, and "in the wild".
It all went very well, although I find feedback within the cafe format is always a bit of a problem. One person can't really summarise the views of a table: you either get a boring list of bullet points, or one person's perspective ... which is OK as long as they don't hog the microphone. It showed that eight people can have a conversation, but when you try and share that across 60 or so you probably need ummm, some reintermediation?
At the end Dave graciously delayed a trip to the pub to give me a few minutes of video. I managed to mess up the tape in my DV camera and run out of space on my other Nikon S1. Sigh. This reintermediation is just as hard as it sounds. Fortunately Dave managed to condense the key points to 90 seconds. That's what I call personal knowledge management.