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Knowledge Management 97:
A Short Content Analysis of Day 1

by Jan Wyllie
Trend Monitor International Ltd


Knowledge Management 97 marked the completion of a transformation of this community of practice from one focused mainly on technical and software issues to one with an agenda containing a much more open set of processes focused much more on human and management issues. The top five themes expressed by the day's speakers were:

  1. the importance of verbal communication in the creation and sharing of knowledge (as opposed to the data or knowledge transfer metaphor)
  2. how much feelings are part of the communication of knowledge and belief in knowledge (as opposed to the striving for the elimination of feelings in the name of Platonic objectivity)
  3. a growing focus on context as the source of meaning and reality (as opposed to a focus on elements as the objects of reality)
  4. a perception of organisation techniques as being open networks using standard classification schemas (as opposed to closed knowledge collections using ad hoc personal organisation )
  5. the experience that social barriers and engineering principles were impeding good practice (rather than technical complexity and costs being perceived as the main problem.


Words: The use and organisation of words as the medium of communication was emphasised by virtually all the speakers as being at the heart of knowledge management. The communications processes involved were presented variously as "languaging", conversation, story telling and iterative questioning. Internets and Intranets were reported forcing information systems developers to implement standard naming practices and protocols, as well as design deeply structured documentation.

Feelings: There was overall agreement among the speakers that "hands and hearts", passion and spirit, tempered by common sense were necessary elements of good knowledge management which can deal effectively with tacit as well as explicit knowledge. Fun was also considered to be an important ingredient in what was characterised as an essentially the human experience of understanding. A different perspective was shown at the end of the AT&T presentation. The delegates were shown a television clip of a mother looking through a computer screen at a baby crawling around in its cot with the caption, "tuck your baby in from the airport".

Contexts: The importance of context was universally recognised by the speakers. Creating the right context, rather than trying to manage people and events, was seen as a key activity. Three types of contexts required to nurture knowledge management were identified as being important: 1) a sustainable bio-evolutionary ecology (natural); 2) an atmosphere of play and discovery (human); 3) a new culture of exchange and valuation (economic). [Note: The difference between knowledge management and knowledge economics is trading. - J Wyllie]

Techniques: The way to promote best practice in knowledge management was described as seeding networks by connecting people in self-managing groups based on relationships rather than tasks. These groups align themselves by means of promoting common understandings of multiple view points. Standard knowledge formats (also known as ontologies) and formal social protocols were reported being developed as a way of linking separate knowledge domains and communities. The resulting knowledge network of collaborating, but independent, beings was portrayed as being naturally antipathetic to gurus.

Practice: The process of sharing knowledge nuggets in order to learn, both from best practice and from mistakes was said to be most seriously impeded by social barriers, as recognition alone is not seen as enough to motivate sharing. Although it is hoped that the lessons of Business Process Re engineering have been learned by the new knowledge managers, best practice still suggests that the best way to motivate people to share their knowledge is by building it into their job description. It was noted by an IBM presenter that, in practice, artificial intelligence tools, such as expert systems and Case Based Reasoning (CBR) will not be effective knowledge management tools for "at least 10 years", although the building of Intranets and Extranets was portrayed by nearly all the speakers as no less than de rigeur.

Jan Wyllie
Managing Director
Trend Monitor International Ltd.
*The Information Refinery*
3 Tower Street, Portsmouth
Hants, P01 2JR, UK
Tel: + 44 (0)1705 864714
Fax: + 44 (0)1705 828009
Email: jan@trendmonitor.com
Web: http://www.trendmonitor.com

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