Sense-making is where the real personal value of PKM lies. The knowledge gained is an emergent property of all sense-making activities. In the PKM framework of Seek > Sense > Share, it is often sense-making that is most difficult to master. I often refer to Ross Dawson’s five ways of adding value to information, to introduce sense-making (my examples/descriptions follow):
- Filtering (separating signal from noise, based on some criteria)
- Validation (ensuring that information is reliable, current or supported by research)
- Synthesis (describing patterns, trends or flows in large amounts of information)
- Presentation (making information understandable through visualization or logical presentation)
- Customization (describing information in context)
These are examples of Pushing knowledge, adding value for oneself, that may in the future be useful for others. I have noted before that the difference between PKM and Curation is that the former is personal, while the latter is for an intended audience. I practice PKM for myself and my blog’s primary audience is me. Sharing online makes it social so that I can learn with and from others.
But sometimes the act of sharing is also a sense-making activity. Knowledge can be Pulled by those seeking answers. Nancy Dixon describes how Rob Cross and Lee Sproull examined tacit knowledge-sharing in a large consulting firm. Even though there was a solid knowledge management (KM) structure in place, most people preferred to have conversations with others when discussing ambiguous issues. Cross & Sproull identified five categories of responses, according to Nancy Dixon:
- Answers: “The seekers were looking for the application of facts or principles in order to develop a solution.”
- Meta Knowledge: “This category was about where to go to get more information on the issue, or conversely where not to go because a certain report was out-dated, or superficial.”
- Problem Reformulation: “To gain meta-knowledge and/or problem-reformulation requires the source to be willing “to understand the problem as experienced by the seeker and then shape her/his knowledge to the evolving definition of the problem” and is best served by the give and take of conversation.”
- Validation: [also identified by Ross Dawson] “Validation also provides seekers the certainty that they have done enough background work, saving the seeker the time it would take to gather further data.”
- Legitimizing: “As with validation, legitimizing can save the seeker time by reducing the amount of proof or data that may need to be collected before the client is willing to act. It also serves to head off arguments others might raise.”
As knowledge is pulled through these conversations, a good PKM practice would be to record and reflect on these in some way, adding another layer of value and making at least some of the knowledge artifacts retrievable. Seek-Sense-Share is a continuous flow, with fuzzy boundaries, but all leading to better understanding, for ourselves and with others.