The mainstream application of knowledge management, and I would include learning management, over the past few decades has got it all wrong. We have over-managed information because it’s easy and we’re still enamoured with information technology. However, the ubiquitous information surround may put a stop to this. As enterprises become more closely tied to the Web, the principle of “small pieces loosely joined” is permeating our industrial walls. More and more workers have their own sources of information and knowledge.
Following on from yesterday’s post, connecting and communicating through effective conversations, I’d like to quote again from Dave Pollard’s experience with knowledge management:
So my conclusion this time around was that the centralized stuff we spent so much time and money maintaining was simply not very useful to most practitioners. The practitioners I talked to about PPI [Personal Productivity Improvement] said they would love to participate in PPI coaching, provided it was focused on the content on their own desktops and hard drives, and not the stuff in the central repositories.
We can add to Dave’s anecdotal evidence the research from Wharton’s Haas & Hansen in Does Knowledge Sharing Deliver?, via Tony Karrer. The researchers found that the two types of organizational knowledge – codified in a knowledge base and interpersonal sharing – are appropriate to different tasks. Generally speaking, codified knowledge does not help teams to produce any better unless the team is rather inexperienced. Interpersonal sharing can be more effective for some teams but it is time-consuming. According to Haas:
“We find that using codified knowledge in the form of electronic documents saved time during the task, but did not improve work quality or signal competence to clients, whereas in contrast, sharing personal advice improved work quality and signaled competence, but did not save time,” Haas says. “This is interesting because managers often believe that capturing and sharing knowledge via document databases can substitute for getting personal advice, and that sharing advice through personal networks can save time. But our findings dispute the claim that different types of knowledge are substitutes for each other. Instead, we show that appropriately matching the type of knowledge used to the requirements of the task at hand — quality, signaling or speed — is critical if a firm’s knowledge capabilities are to translate into improved performance of its projects.”
The inability of expensive enterprise knowledge management systems to deliver broad results is similar to the 80-20 funding ratio between formal and informal learning. We’ve been putting too much money in the wrong place.
A way forward for KM and Informal Learning 2.0
We should move away from central digital information repositories (KM, Doc Mgt, LCMS, etc.). I’m not advocating tearing down any existing IT infrastructure; just enabling a parallel system, which may exist already, to grow. Some suggestions:
- Develop measures that can help experienced knowledge workers capture and make sense of their knowledge.
- Support the sharing of information and expertise between knowledge workers, on their terms, using personalized knowledge management methods & tools.
- Keep only essential information, and what is necessary for inexperienced workers, in the organizational knowledge base – keep it simple.