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.

Human elements in the KM puzzle

I came across The knowledge management puzzle: Human and social factors in knowledge management by by J. C. Thomas, W. A. Kellogg, and T. Erickson from the 2001 IBM Systems Journal and thought it would be worth mentioning.

Abstract: Knowledge management is often seen as a problem of capturing, organizing, and retrieving information, evoking notions of data mining, text clustering, databases, and documents. We believe that this view is too simple. Knowledge is inextricably bound up with human cognition, and the management of knowledge occurs within an intricately structured social context. We argue that it is essential for those designing knowledge management systems to consider the human and social factors at play in the production and use of knowledge. We review work—ranging from basic research to applied techniques—that emphasizes cognitive and social factors in knowledge management. We then describe two approaches to designing socially informed knowledge management systems, social computing and knowledge socialization.

The authors use the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle to motivate their discussion, suggesting that IT is only one of many pieces to the puzzle for knowledge management.  And they also acknowledge that there are pieces they may not know that create still other pictures when the pieces come together.  They also provide a great set of references for the curious.  Some of the pieces:

  • Knowledge is not as atomistic as IT-centric KM leads you to believe (knowledge nuggets), particularly in light of discussions of intelligence.
  • Communication is not just a matter of providing text (or audio or video).  We can't write down everything we know (Snowden), nor can we absorb everything we read. 
  • Social context is greatly important in how people act, regardless of what they actually say.  It also impacts how people learn.
  • Knowledge work happens in social groups, amongst social networks.
  • Innovation (building new knowledge, creativity) is generally not supported by common KM techniques.
  • Trust and character as lubricants in the social context.
  • Conversation ties together trust, context and intellect.

Rather than describe a complete puzzle, the pictures they draw are through examples based on IBM research.  They use their examples to highlight ideas of "social translucence" and "knowledge socialization" as supported by tools.  Their first example, Babble, is focused around messenging and social interactions.  The tool had been in place for several years (as of 2001), and they saw strong evidence of social translucence in how people were using the tool.  Their second example is a prototype around extracting structure from stories and narrative for later use. 

I particularly like this article because my only experience with IBM and knowledge management had been in a response to an RFP that was very much a technology-centric solution.

An aside: The authors made the interesting observation that conversation is a critical part of knowledge management.  It is both an intellectual endeavor and a social process.  My aha?  Maybe this is why voice response telephone systems annoy me so much.  They strip any intellectual or social interaction to the experience.  Any error I make takes far too long to correct, even if that is only a few extra seconds.

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