Mike Gotta has a brilliant post on traditional Knowledge management structured systems compared to networks and free form systems…especially in regards to the two kinds of participation; direct and volunteered.
I’m going to highlight some gems in this post…
- Stakeholders (incl. employees) have a greater influence on long term success over products or services
- Informal networks and social relationships have greater influence on long-term success over managerial practices
“…social software is considered a complimentary component for delivering applications that engender greater levels of contributions from stakeholders that have been disenfranchised by outdated human capital management tactics…”
Form follows Function
“…applications (representing “form”) in response to business requirements (representing “function”)…”
“…automate the transactional, informational, and analytic needs of those work functions…”
“…worker contributions can be constrained by applications designed to support formal and structured work tasks…”
I think this paragraph says it all concerning the lack of free form systems up until now, and why email has been so important:
“Systems designed to support functional requirements do provide ways for workers to contribute, however the contributions are part of their explicit work actions and generally known ahead of time. Such systems cannot effectively support contribution scenarios not captured as part of the design process. Those involved in the application design process often place little effort on requirements that address the social and emergent aspects of communication, information sharing and collaboration. Workers resort to e-mail to solve such contribution gaps – a key reason why e-mail remains the most popular tool used by workers to express themselves. E-mail is one of the few universal tools workers have access to that allows contributions in a free-form manner.”
Directed vs. Volunteered participation
There are many reasons why people contribute beyond the task at hand, and the solution to store and share these contributions (knowledge) has still followed the “form follows function” approach…basically a structured system designed to capture knowledge. This hasn’t worked as these systems are rigid and not a natural way or inducive to want to share, plus they are hard work when you want to find stuff related to your needs. I think the most important mistake is that sharing knowledge has been seen as a task, it has been a chore for people to contribute as they don’t see what it will do for them later on.
Just before publishing this post I came across Bill Ives’s post on the Fastforward blog, which echoes my comments on the new KM:
“…when I say workflow or work process I do not mean the static inflexible workflow of old style content management or project management tools. The advantage of these new tools is that they allow work processes that are more organic and dynamic. They allow the users to control the workflow or process, build it up from tasks and make changes as needed. And, to repeat, they allow for transparency and archiving, and thus KM, to be a byproduct of work, rather than an added requirement.”
My past posts on social computing as the new KM (km 2.0 enablers: blogs, wikis, and social networks, CoPs and Informal networks, More on the new knowledge diffusion, and Knowledge sharing in the new KM) delve in this new situation of KM as part of getting things done, in the end it’s not even really KM, it’s just social computing (blogging, social networking, and sensemaking).
In one of these posts I point to a podcast with Andrew McAfee explaining the emergent quality of free-form publishing tools, and since then I have come across another podcast, this time a video clip interview with Andrew McAfee by David Weinberger at the FastForward 07.
This short interview goes over the failed KM 1.0 approach of knowledge as objects, systems with pre-defined structures, and how this database approach is restricting as these fields might not map to how a worker might want to share information…so they may walk away.
There is also the personal point of motivation to share information, it shouldn’t feel like a task, people were asking why am I doing this, and what will I get out of it. This robotic method just isn’t effective ie. sharing information in a rigid way as a task, and searching a massive database to find information related to your needs.
The new free-form tools are much more unstructured, information nuggets can be published very easily, this is two fold; one click publishing and a text box to write anything.
Then others can subscribe to everyone else’s “log”, this way information is filtered and flows to you…rather than your relationship with of the rest of the social capital being limited to looking for information only when you need it, you are reading knowledge worker information as daily news (educating each other).
When you do need to discover if a nugget of information exists, instead of relying on search skills in a massive database, and spending all day sifting through results, and finding as Euan Semple says “out-dated documents”, you can search blogs, etc..as these are human interfaces to the filing cabinet. Why search directly in a document management system, when you can search blogs that have filtered the cream of this stuff, and not only that, blog posts are content in themselves.
You don’t have to just rely on searching the internal blogosphere, you can discover content by tags, plus just looking at a tag cloud gives you a picture of emergent patterns, or what people are talking about, and what is important. As I’ve mentioned before blog posts may give you information around the object you are after, more context and peripheral insight.
The third way (after search and tags) is, as mentioned before, subscribing to blogs as your social filter, or asking your social filter (social network) your information requests…a contact in your informal network will point you in the right direction.
Being connected to a network where information comes to you far outweighs being on your own searching the corporate intranet.
Subscribing and networks makes this a perpetual process as part of your daily work life, rather than a task or thing in itself. It enables you to read and converse the daily enterprise worker news…one day you may require a piece of information you read 3 months ago in one of your subscriptions (network contact).
In the old approach we wait till we have a need, and then search for documentation. We can still do this in the new approach, only we are no longer on our own, but the added benefit is that we are knowledge sharing even if we don’t need or require the information, we can tap into the flow of discussion, and be educated by colleagues everyday…a staff generated internal news and conversation market.
See more on search vs networks on Dave Weinberger’s interview with Euan Semple at FastForward 07.
Is KM 1.0 really about a knowledge exchange?
Mike goes on to say: “…form-follows-function applications play a role in reinforcing cultural messages that social interaction, relationship-building and knowledge sharing are not valued.”
Traditional KM tools indeed don’t allow people the freedom to share and connect, creating their own ecosystem…the design simply isn’t geared towards this at all. They are great to streamline work processes, but what about stuff you learn along the way, stuff you don’t anticipate…the tools aren’t designed for what life brings to the table as they are not organic enough. I agree KM 1.0 tools are great to automate, and make things efficient, but they lack flexibility, and when it comes to extracting tacit knowledge, they are just not designed to how humans work…with KM 2.0 we now have tools that are not designed for a specific task, instead they are more open ended tools, that can be used and mashed up for any use case, and most importantly a way to instantly publish personal information and findings.
What knowledge sharing or sensemaking should be about it not an explicit task “you must share knowledge”, it is more simply the way you do work. You are documenting or publishing snippets of stuff you do in your normal day, it’s how you get things done…it’s not a thing in itself, it’s just part of your regular process of doing work.
This in turn becomes sharing knowledge, as others can tap into your daily flow and benefit…and indeed sometimes you may explicitly publish and push knowledge onto certain people, as you know what you have mused is relevant and can be applied right now.
In what environments or circumstances do “volunteered” contributions thrive?
Mike divides participation into “directed” versus “volunteered”, and contrasts this against 4 participation models which have been quoted below:
“Process: A process is a structured collection of tasks that are often sequences in a particular way with workers interacting based on their respective roles and duties within that collection of tasks.
Activities: An activity is a collection of semi-structured tasks that are not rigidly sequenced but are often co-dependent and completed within a certain time period.
Communities: A community is a relationship-based group structure (as opposed to a task-based structure) that forms around a shared interest area (e.g., anyone who is interested in improving customer service) or a shared practice (e.g., all nurses who want to improve patient care).
Networks: A network is a social structure comprised of people that have some inter-connecting bond based on a variety of factors (e.g., personal friendship, similar values, shared relationships, common educational or work experience). Social networks are rarely driven by tasks or activities per se. However, people reach out to their network contacts frequently in response to a process, activity or community event. “
Most work is driven by management and is processed based that is supported by tools based around this function.
Activities are less structured and more dependant on a deliverable…“Joint work dependencies do indeed solicit participation and contribution from those that have a vested interest in the activity but the majority of the participation and contributions remain directed towards the outcome of the activity (e.g., a document or a presentation).”
Communities are a place where people join of their own accord, this is a much more volunteered environment.
Networks are also volunteered environments, but whereas a community has a group purpose or aim, a network is an aggregate of individual nodes, so participation is in a flow environment, where individuals seek and share what they need to get things done…“Networks are almost always informal and based on voluntary relationships.”
People need different tools to participate and contribute, these new tools enhance the ability or drive to voluntary participation, which in turn creates a knowledge flow culture where people are sharing or tapping in to what they need.
I’ll leave with Mike’s summary:
“What excites strategist are social applications that catalyze volunteered participation and user contributions – a long-standing objective of knowledge management and human capital management strategies for decades.”