a simpler approach to km

A recent posting for a six-week knowledge management contract was posted by the UNDP. When it comes to requests for proposals, if you ask for something, you will definitely get offers to produce it. But is this what they need?

“Conduct initial research on industry standards for KM measurement to inform the design of UNDP’s KM performance measurement, and develop tailored metrics for monitoring and measuring UNDP performance;
Identify and recommend suitable tools and mechanisms to collect the data necessary for KM monitoring;
Formulate standard operating procedures for data collection and monitoring and analysis of KM metrics.” —UNDP

The RFP is for a measurement framework that reflects current industry standards. But what if those standards are useless cookie cutters?  Is KM about collecting data or is it really about sense-making on an organizational level? The only way to enable the latter is to get everyone involved in knowledge sharing and then harvest what emerges. It is messier, and it is the opposite of what most of KM has been about.

Here is a simple guide on how to enable organizational sense-making, not the mere management of data and metrics.


1. Establish methods that enable tacit knowledge to flow. People need to have better and deeper conversations around issues that matter. Training on better communication and meeting techniques can be offered. Examples of knowledge-sharing need to be made by decision-makers. People need to select their own tools, develop their own PKM practices, and be allowed to experiment. This takes time and a safe place to share. Monitoring is done while immersed in this complex adaptive system of people learning and sharing knowledge in multiple ways.

2. Establish places for teams to narrate their work. An enterprise social network is one such environment. However, these groups will only share their knowledge if individuals have the abilities and aptitudes to do so. You may have to go back to step one.

3. Finally, once people are conversing, sharing, learning, and experimenting in the open can the organization start to harvest insights from community managers and through good curation practice. This explicit knowledge becomes the stock on which to build the system of record, and such things as lessons recorded, and perhaps even learned. of course, there has to be something to curate, and that is only available when most people in the organization freely share.

The foundation for KM should be active sense-making and a solid practice of adding value through engaged learning, within a structure that encourages open sharing. I doubt that any of this will ever appear in an RFP in the near future, or that PKM, with an emphasis on personal methods, would be an acceptable framework for those obsessed with measurement. It’s just too simple.

10 Responses to “a simpler approach to km”

  1. Siobhan Heaney

    Excellent commentary here. Measurement is meaningless without real engagement and experimentation. An over emphasis on systems for retrieval without regard to a culture of sharing experience and learning renders those systems unable to deliver the “answers” required. This disappointment or perception of failure can hamper future investment and development of practical and meaningful KM.

  2. Mark Britz

    “Is KM about collecting data or is it really about sense-making” – An excellent question to start any executive dialog on this topic. Sadly technical systems vs. human systems have dominated this conversation for far too long so it is quite cemented for many. Your 3 points are excellent and success ultimately, and once again rests on trust doesn’t it?

  3. Tom Dobrydney

    I agree that there is a problem if the RFP was about measuring traditional KM concepts and processes. But, for sake of argument, suppose UNDP was committed to the networked organization and PKM concepts, and wanted to measure how well it is progressing in that direction. What performance metrics might be applied?

    Assuming that a networked organization will improve in creativity and innovation, and that would show itself in its performance against mission – is that where we find the needed metrics ? If we are “not there yet”, how do we determine which aspects of a networked organization need some additional maturity?

  4. Tom Dobrydney

    Harold, I didn’t see a direct response to my last post, and your last two posts seem un-related to the core of my question, so let me re-phrase my question. What evidence would you look at to understand whether one’s efforts to build a networked organization are successful? What evidence would you see as suggesting that additional intervention was needed? I am pretty sure you would observe how things were working, right?

  5. Joel

    It struck me that this post describes the situation healthcare improvement initiatives are facing: they (providers, administrators, etc.)want measurements of their “success”, while patients want to team up with providers to be able to accomplish what they value. Of course , building trust is imperative to the co-production. This seems to apply to improving education systems i.e. teacher/student relationships, as well. A simple example but Is this a fair interpretation/application of you ideas?

  6. Harold Jarche

    Patients are not part of the healthcare system, so that is a major barrier to knowledge sharing and sense-making, in my opinion, Joel.


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