Personal Information Management for Sense-making

George Siemens calls it information management (what I describe as PKM).

I specifically use the term information instead of knowledge. Our encounter with information is one of sensemaking and wayfinding. We encounter a continual flow of information – most of it will never become “knowledge”.

From my perspective, the knowledge aspect of PKM is an emergent property of the activities conducted, many of which are merely information management. A more appropriate term would be ‘Personal Information Management for Sense-making (PIMS?)’, but PKM is the term I’m sticking with for now. For sure, merely tagging an article does not create knowledge. The process of seeking out information sources, making sense of them through some actions and then sharing with others to confirm or accelerate our knowledge are those activities from which we can build our knowledge. Managing and sharing information, especially through conversations, are fundamental processes for sense-making, as we get inundated with increasing amounts of information.

George describes some key activities and decision points (especially in Selection & Use) in the figure below. These five actions pretty much mirror my own PKM processes.

George says that, “Too many aspects of my sensemaking system are manual”, but I think this is a strength of PKM and other sense-making practices. By keeping them as manual activities we are forced to do something. For me, the act of writing a blog post or a tweet or an annotation on a social bookmark all force me to think a bit more than clicking once and filing or having it served up from an automated system. The weekly routine of reviewing my Twitter favourites and creating Friday’s Finds is another manual routine that I find helps to reinforce my learning and (hopefully) add to my knowledge.

Like George, I’m sure we can get better systems to help us, but for now I find the manual nature of my sense-making is an essential part of it. But then, I’m probably not as busy as George 😉

4 thoughts on “Personal Information Management for Sense-making”

  1. Hmmph I like the “Friday Finds” great idea. Ironic that for PKM we want manual yet for KM in organizations we need automation. The thing is intuitively we know what’s important to us and how much information we need to keep. [ I have folders that date back to 2004 that I still go to! ] Organizations on the other hand need intuitive applications. Great post!

  2. I like Mendeley because I can tag, note etc. but it crashes often on Mac. Now I’m trying with another tool – DEVONthink. It has tagging, organizing and apple scripts for exporting from almost all applications. But I have not yet found a way to make my own notes for the clippings or documents.

    But ‘recalling’ is still a manual process. I believe it will remain a manual process for long. I would like a tool to help me though.

  3. Hmmm, my main “filter” missed this great post, but luckily my “backup filter” picked it up (a little late, but still) 🙂

    The difference between personal information management and personal knowledge management is important, and I agree with you that “sense-making” is the important step !

    “Too many aspects of my sensemaking system are manual”
    – to filter the information and make sense of it (for you !) and to convert it to knowledge will usually imply some sort of manual process…

    In the age of information overload, I understand that people want automatic processes and tools, but they will then only deal with information, not knowledge…

    If you want knowledge, you need to make sense of it; until then, it remains information that may or may not be useful to you….

    Most people will not “make sense” of the information they collect, but rather just “dump” it in their PKM tool of choice – the goal should not be how easy you can store the information, but rather how easy you can find your knowledge (when you need it, or need to share it).

  4. The way you describe the benefits of manual activities reminds me of a technique that psychotherapists use. After the patient finishes saying something, when other people would normally respond, the therapist says nothing, enticing the patient to continue talking. This forces the patient to follow trains of thought that would otherwise get cut off in surface level, knee-jerk human interaction. Consequently, they learn something new about their self.


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