This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Wikis for knowledge acquisition

KnowledgeBoard has posted Christian Wagner's Document Library - Breaking the Knowledge Acquisition Bottleneck Through Conversational Knowledge Management from Information Resources Management Journal 1Q 2006 edition.  Abstract:

Much of today's organizational knowledge still exists outside of formal information repositories and often only in people's heads. While organizations are eager to capture this knowledge, existing acquisition methods are not up to the task. Neither traditional artificial intelligence based approaches nor more recent, less-structured knowledge management techniques have overcome the knowledge acquisition challenges. This article investigates knowledge acquisition bottlenecks and proposes the use of collaborative, conversational knowledge management to remove them. The article demonstrates the opportunity for more effective knowledge acquisition through the application of the principles of Bazaar style, open-source development. The article introduces wikis as software that enables this type of knowledge acquisition. It empirically analyzes the Wikipedia to produce evidence for the feasibility and effectiveness of the proposed approach.

I like the tone of this article.  It does a nice job of giving some context to where "knowledge acquisition" has come from, particularly in reference to expert systems and attempts to accurately embody the knowledge of experts.  At its core, the issue is that while much of the know how of experts comes from experience and "feel" rather than from books.  As a result, recording or transmitting that knowledge to others is quite difficult.  And it is generally accepted that most knowledge isn't (or can't be) written down or recorded. 

Wagner then looks to the open source software movement for inspiration around other means for knowledge acquisition, and from there suggests that making conversations and interactions available electronically are a way to get around some of the traditional issues with knowledge acquisition.  This draws on the idea that communities of similarly interested people can work together to develop and expand a body of knowledge, either toward a specific end (a project) or for a longer term need (a scientific community).

From here, Wagner dives into his research and the reason for the paper.  He suggests that wikis might be a particularly useful technology for knowledge acquisition, as a community can collectively develop the knowledge base.  Wagner uses the Wikipedia as a specific example to answer his research questions:

  1. Is conversational knowledge management, as demonstrated in Wikipedia, consistent with Bazaar-style knowledge asset creation?
  2. Is conversational knowledge management, as illustrated by Wikipedia, able to achieve the benefits of Bazaar-style development?

Based on his analysis, Wagner answers these questions in the affirmative with some caveats. 

I can see his point of view, and I think wikis are a great tool for continually-developing knowledge as is represented in many "best practices."  They provide the opportunity to acknowledge that our understanding continually grows and the context in which these practices operate continually shift.  Of course, there need to be dedicated "gardeners" for this information, just as there is in formal knowledge repositories.  The interesting thing about wikis, as designed, is that the barriers to using them (and thus acquiring knowledge) are low relative to document / content management systems.

I would like to see this work expanded to include discussion of the actual conversations that go on behind the scenes as the body of knowledge develops.  Within a community, ideas get thrown around before they are committed to a FAQ or similar document.  This has always been the value of discussion lists and various online forums.  But, as Wagner acknowledges, by themselves the knowledge in these discussions is buried and often not discernible outside a very tight context.

[Many thanks to the Idea Group for making this available to the Knowledge Board community.  I found a reference to the article via one of my KM search feeds.  Many people have linked to this article, according to Talk Digger, but few appear to have commented on it.]

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