cynefin and pkm

I am following up from thoughts on the cynefin framework and how it has informed my own work since 2007. We are almost at the end of our exploratory looking at ways in which personal knowledge mastery and cynefin may be connected, and I hope this will lead to better ways of sensemaking in uncertainty.

The first concept that I would like to use is — levels of abstraction. Low levels of abstraction mean that information and knowledge are understandable to few people. The lowest level would be me understanding something only to myself. Higher levels of abstraction would make this more understandable to more people, but losing nuance and context in the process. High levels of abstraction are good for things that everyone should understand, such as the symbols and markings on a map.

I have taken the basic model I use to explain PKM, with teams in blue, communities in red, and networks in green, along two axes — high & low structure, and low & high abstraction. I have then split these in half — one for the complex domain, and the other for the ordered domains (complicated & clear).

What this tells me (this is a work in progress) is that there are (at least) two modes for each form required to work and learn.

Teams can be semi-permanent and collaborative in ordered domains but should be quicker-forming temporary negotiated hierarchies in the complex domain.

Formal communities can provide continuity in ordered domains but informal communities are needed to provide more flexibility in crossing expertise silos and disciplines.

Established knowledge hubs provide all the structured information that a discipline requires, like the Project Management Body of Knowledge, but open knowledge networks are better when facing the complexity of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic as they need to quickly incorporate new findings and knowledge.

Given that all organizations are likely to face complex challenges at some time, I would suggest that these forms for complexity should be incorporated into how organizations are structured and how professionals engage. For some aspects of this, an individual may need permission, but much of this can be done independently and especially interdependently between professionals.

PKM with a cynefin lens

3 Responses to “cynefin and pkm”

  1. Jane McConnell

    Harold, I like the new diagram very much. I have just one comment. You say “ Formal communities can provide continuity in ordered domains but informal communities are needed to provide more flexibility in crossing expertise silos and disciplines.”
    However, formal communities can also be composed of people with different expertise and from different disciplines just as informal communities may be made up of people from the same domain or expertise. The difference between formal and informal is based on how the community is created (spontaneous or designated), how people join (volunteer or assigned), the type and degree of governance, and other criteria based on interactions, not on profiles, knowledge or expertise.

  2. Harold Jarche

    Most formal communities are structured in accordance with whatever discipline informs them and I think that would make them less open to ideas from outside the core field or discipline. I see informal communities as crossing more boundaries and having fewer rules. I would say that our shared community on Slack is very much informal, even though membership is self-selected.


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