“Every amateur epistemologist knows that knowledge cannot be managed. Education has always assumed that knowledge can be transferred and that we can carefully control the process through education. That is a grand illusion.” David Jonassen
While knowledge cannot be managed [at an organizational level*], we can work at managing our own knowledge. That’s what personal knowledge management (PKM) is all about. Individually we can manage information flows, make sense of them and share with others, especially people with similar interests or common goals. Enterprise “knowledge management” initiatives have not been proven to work very well and may even be irredeemably corrupted. Dave Pollard’s experience with knowledge management shows how important it is to personalize our sense-making and how futile standardized methods and practices can be:
So my conclusion this time around was that the centralized stuff we spent so much time and money maintaining was simply not very useful to most practitioners. The practitioners I talked to about PPI [Personal Productivity Improvement] said they would love to participate in PPI coaching, provided it was focused on the content on their own desktops and hard drives, and not the stuff in the central repositories.
Luis Suarez prefers the term knowledge sharing to knowledge management. If this helps us move away from central digital information repositories (Knowledge Management, Document Management, Learning Content Management Systems, Content Management Systems, etc.) then I’m all for it. I’m not advocating tearing down any existing IT infrastructure (yet); but we need to enable a parallel system that can handle the distributed nature of work in addressing complex problems, namely weaker central control and better distributed communications and decision-making.
The best first step in getting work done is to help each worker develop a PKM process, with an emphasis on personal. As each person seeks information, makes sense of it through reflection and articulation, and then shares it through conversation, a distributed knowledge base is created. It’s messier and looser than traditional KM, but it’s also more robust. This is what many of us already do. If you take all the published resources of my colleagues at the Internet Time Alliance you will see a loosely connected knowledge base of thousands of assets. They can be found, sometimes by searching and frequently by asking the person who created them. We each use different systems and connect with the open protocols of the web, like RSS, hyperlinks, OPML, etc.
The way to implement organizational knowledge sharing is already visible on the edges of the workplace. Many bloggers are doing it and have been for years. All it takes is getting everyone to do some form of PKM, on their own terms. Once most everyone is seeking, sensing and especially sharing, it’s a relatively easy task to start harvesting and analyzing our collective knowledge. For instance, take what Tony Karrer has done with eLearningLearning and expand this to include social bookmarks and synthesized micro-sharing, like my weekly Friday’s Finds on Twitter.
The real value of PKM is when enough people in an organization do it and create a critical mass of diverse conversations. PKM is our part of a social learning contract that makes us better off individually and collectively. For workers to be engaged over the long term, PKM must remain personal, and the organization must use a gentle hand at all times.
Using open Web systems ensures that not only will the organization get access to valuable information flows, but workers will be able take their piece of it if they leave. A little give and take will go a long way. Allowing the tools to be portable will ensure commitment and engagement without any coercive action on the part of the organization.
The collective sharing of PKM in the enterprise has the potential to create a dynamic knowledge base for idea management that can drive innovation.
* added to give clarification, in case of any confusion