“There are different models and approaches for managing knowledge — any of which can be helpful in establishing goals, a strategy, and tactical initiatives for a corporate KM program. Each model narrows the focus to a subset of the larger problem.”
“The reality is that any given KM program has only so much time, money, or attention to spend and must tactically select what problems to attack and how, thereby staking a position on each issue. And when you do, there will be advocates within management, among your professional peers, and in your audience base who will argue — loudly — for the alternative.”
The 4 KM paradoxes are:
1. Tacit vs Explicit
2. Local vs Global
3. Open vs Closed
4. Quantity vs Quality
Andrew Gent’s blog post is a quick and worthwhile read, view his post the KM Core Sample which is related to tacit and codification. I’m just going to comment on the Local vs Global paradox in relation to Communities of Practice as it relates to current talks I’m having at the moment in creating communities for a Procurement practice.
Do we create multiple communities by region, by specialty, do we also have a general community (where there is overlap in interests)? What’s the downside of splintered communities? Will people identify and participate in a general community?
We are thinking about communities by region, as each is a different kettle of fish. But then each region may have about 10% issues in common with other regions, so this discussion could take place in a general or home community.
At the end of this post, you will see, this type of community formation would fail the “I am a…” test, which is more about communities with a speciality, a community people can identity with…
Local vs Global
Andrew cuts to the reality of the situation:
“It is relatively easy to establish a community for knowledge sharing within a local area. Sharing involves trust and trust is easier to establish among people who share physical and cultural proximity.”
“But for large companies, sharing knowledge locally is not the problem. Making information and problem solutions visible and available across the corporation is the issue. Consequently, these localized efforts actually create barriers to sharing knowledge between regions and organizations.”
“Global communities are harder to get started. Individuals don’t feel as connected…there is actually a chicken-and-egg situation…people will claim…there is no benefit in their participating in the global community because it isn’t as active as their local group. But the global community cannot thrive until the individuals get involved…”
“So, the individuals would prefer and will — in the absence of any outside influence — create small, closed, local groups. But from a larger corporate perspective there is a critical need to establish and foster global sharing. And until the global communities are firmly established and prove their worth, there can be continuing and sometimes heated battles over who gets to establish communities and how.”
If we go for the global approach the community is relatively more prone to fail, whereas with a more local community people trust each other enough, and feel they are not wasting their time sharing or explaining things with close colleagues, as this gesture will be understood and reciprocated.
So do we start small to get traction and then overcome the local barrier issue by merging later on, or will it be too late as people will be against the merger?
If so, this is a good thing as it means they are passionate about their community, it has an identity that is being challenged…so it will be best left alone. The only issue we will have is one of convenience of a one stop shop community, but if it’s a choice of one global unactive community compared to several thriving smaller communities then we will have to go without convenience.
Trust and numbers
Is this just about geography, I think it’s also about numbers and who you trust and are willing to spend time sharing information. Let’s also make clear that the higher abstraction (same wavelength) we have with others the more chance there is for their information to be internalised as knowledge. The less you know someone and their way, the less you will be able to intake their information/messages into knowledge, resulting in just an information transfer rather than a knowledge transfer (if you wanna speak the lingo).
In a past blog post I review Dave Snowden’s view on effective community numbers, and also the fact that when communities get too large the quality of dialogue may be diluted by new comers who are not aware of the past interactions and whose contributions are not of the same calibre, which somewhat snags the community. If these new comers out number the originals, the calibre of the community can totally flip, and the originals may leave.
We can only have close relationships with only so many people, we only have a certain amount of time to nuture a close knit of people, and in large communities experts would get burnt out.
Specific or General
I think this scenario is also related to General vs Specific topic communities, again a general community is a convenient one stop shop, whereas splintered communities mean related knowledge is fragmented. But as mentioned above at least we have more participation in more specific communities.
The Anecdote blog share a blog post on how people need to identify with a community, the more specific the more they can identify:
“Etienne was helping a car manufacturer establish a community and practice and the first thought was to connect the company’s engineers. They took this idea to potential community members and discovered there was little interest: the scope was too broad. ‘Yeh sure I’m an engineer but I have nothing in common with chemical engineers.’ The second attempt was to narrow the scope to automotive engineers: still little interest. It wasn’t until they reduced the scope to brake engineers did they find a group of people who thought they had enough in common, a shared identity, to band together as a community of practice.”
They go on to mention the simple “I am a…” test to find promising communities:
“I now have a simple test to gauge whether a community of practice might form. When someone says, “I would like to start a community of practice.” I ask, “Can you describe the potential members by completing the following sentence? I am a …..” If they can fill in the blank in a way that people can passionately identify with the descriptor then there is a chance a community might emerge. Let me give you an example. I was helping the Department of Defence design a community of practice for project managers. ‘I am a project manager’ was a strong descriptor and so we knew we had a chance. During the design process the client has another job type for which they wanted a community to support simply called ‘technical’. ‘I am a technical’ didn’t inspire so we knew it was unachievable. The ‘I am a …” test is easy and effective.”
Shawn Callahan (the author of the Anecdote blog) has also left a great comment on his blog post about never having a hard a fast rule in defining the scope of a community, each situation is different.
“The ActKM (a public CoP) was named with a scope covering all of knowledge management. There have been a number of times when we think that the scope should be narrower but such a move would significantly fracture the group. In ActKM’s case the scope has emerged from the conversations. For example, you are unlikely to see a deeply technical discussion on ActKM but you will find many theoretical discussions on ways to view the discipline. The discussion act as an attractor for certain people and a repellent for others.”
“It’s for this reason why I think you can’t be too rigid with defining the scope. It will adapt with the needs and interests of the members.”
“Another way to look at the scope is to think about the level of abstraction occuring in the discussion. If the discussion is too detailed for the audience the audience will get bored and leave. If the discussion is too high-level and assumes everyone knows the jargon and acroymns the audience is unable to understand and will leave. Like the three bears the level of abstraction in the discussion has to be just right.”