Part of Personal Knowledge Management is seeking sources of knowledge (Seek-Sense-Share).

To be able to seek, first you have to be aware. Wolfgang Reinhardt has looked at knowledge workers, researchers in particular, and examined how they can be aware in their fields of expertise. Wolfgang graciously sent me a copy of his PhD thesis (Awareness: Support for knowledge workers in research networks) which he will be defending on 5 April at the Open Universiteit Nederland in Heerlen.

Wolfgang describes 10 knowledge worker roles that I think are helpful in understanding how all collaborative workers can share their knowledge.

  1. Controller
  2. Helper
  3. Learner
  4. Linker
  5. Networker
  6. Organizer
  7. Retriever
  8. Sharer
  9. Solver
  10. Tracker

Think of these roles, and who will do them, as you start or support a community of practice. There are also 13 different knowledge actions conducted by these researchers, to varying degrees, that Wolfgang has found in his research.

  1. Acquisition
  2. Analyze
  3. Authoring
  4. Co-authoring
  5. Information search
  6. Dissemination
  7. Expert Search
  8. Feedback
  9. Formal & Informal Learning
  10. Information organization
  11. Monitoring
  12. Networking
  13. Service search

How many of these are done on a regular basis, and with some degree of consistency, in knowledge-intensive organizations? How can this be improved?

Finally, the generic model of awareness describes how “the overall awareness of objects declines the further an object is away from oneself”.

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Awareness of current practice
  3. Awareness of the local research organization
  4. Awareness of the personal research network
  5. Awareness of the research domain

In complex fields, where various researchers are working on similar problems, it becomes rather important to know who has done what. The challenge for distributed research teams is to find ways of understanding what is happening and ensuring it is communicated throughout the network.

Not only does distributed research need collaborative researchers but there must be an understanding of the role that awareness plays amongst knowledge workers. In complex networks, basic management approaches are no longer adequate.

Some final notes from Wolfgang’s defence:

The term “awareness” in Research Networks is a multilayered term that reaches far deeper than just emulating face-to-face situations in distributed collaboration.

Without supporting the awareness of network researchers, innovation, collaboration and knowledge exchange will not reach its potential.

Omitting support for social interactions between stakeholders in scientific events amounts to wasting the opportunity to recommend objects and increase the strength of research networks.

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