Recent Reading on Knowledge Mangement

Last semester I took a class on knowledge management or information in organizations. We talked a lot about the different routines, incentives, and rewards that encourage or discourage people to share knowledge with each other.

Two knowledge management professionals have posted a couple of posts that I’d like to highlight.

Dave Pollard at “How to Save the World” writes about creating our own peer-to-peer expertise finder.

But then it occurred to me that there is a profound difference between ‘know-what’ and ‘know-where’ on the one hand, and ‘know-who’ on the other: Finding the former are complicated search problems; finding the latter is a complex problem. Google can write an algorithm to point you to the documents most likely to be useful to you on subject x, and they can create maps to point you to location y. You don’t have to do anything but ask. And although the numbers are vast, there are only a finite number of documents and places on the planet.

Social networking is only beginning to address these problems. Dave lists a bunch of suggestions about how such a system might work, such as letting people define their expertise in their own way, maintaining votes on your local hard drive, making voting on others expertise easy. All very good things to think about when trying to build the next generation expertise finders. He goes on to identify 25 information dysfunctions and then looks at the failure of KM over the past 12 years.

Most organizations, too, refused to abandon the top-down centralized information model that was already in place, merely institutionalizing it with firewalls, access restrictions, monster centrally-managed one-size-fits-all databases and websites and over-engineered, over-managed collaboration and community-of-practice tools. Democratizing corporate information entails the devolution of decision-making and other power to front-line workers, and executives are understandably nervous about this.

The connections to democracy are intriguing and deserve further thought.

One of the research areas that Mark Ackerman, who taught the class I referred to, is working on is medical information sharing. I thought this post about the different transfers of information in medicine was very interesting. It was posted by Patrick Lambe at Green Chameleon back in February. I wonder if Ackerman saw it because we worked on a very similar diagram in class.

Lambe also addresses “Why KM is Hard to Do”. His ideas parallel a lot of the advice given by Pollard and mentioned in our class.

  • acknowledge institutional baggage
  • consult intensively but streamline decision making
  • use social networks
  • provide for habit changing strategies.

    And a few more.

Todd Suomela
Associate Director for Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Department

My interests include digital scholarship, citizen science, leadership, and communications.