Key reflections on KM


Today I read the great article by Margaret Wheatley about ‘The real work of Knowledge Management’ (http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/management.html). It was very inspiring reading touching upon a number of ideas that are also central to my conception of KM – to start with a human conception of KM, not a technological one.

Some other thoughts I particularly liked:

  • Only quantifiable information makes it into our considerations – certainly at work. Without figures, we don’t deem a certain information relevant. What a wrong idea indeed. But how to make everybody understand the value of the the fuzzy unquantifiable?
  • KM and change do not (should not) start from changing people’s habits but looking at peoples’ needs and changing their practices to better address these needs. And yet very accurately Margaret pointed out that we often blame staff for their resistance to change, simply when their situation is not well understood by designers of change.
  • People must trust their leaders to change, manage their knowledge and share it. Managers are still a crucial element that is not well addressed in KM strategies, when they are part and parcel of the solution. And all the while it should indeed be just sooo easy to sell KM to them, as they need their organisations to adapt to change quickly.
  • One final point and a new epiphany for me: knowledge management is an oxymoron. If, as I think, knowledge is never a contained but the result of a process in interaction with a person, a message, a fact, it means that knowledge is about managing data or information, and in that respect knowledge management is an oxymoron, knowledge is management.

This leads me to think that

  1. Although I hate this discussion, we still need to come to a satisfactory common understanding of what knowledge is, what information and data and wisdom and all other elements usually associated with these definition discussions entail.
  2. We need to stop discussing KM among ourselves, converts of learning and adaptive change, and find the strings that will create the tipping point to convince managers of the importance of KM – and as Margaret once again rightly points out, of the importance of reflection, sharing, writing/documenting, even if this appears as unproductive time.
  3. One of the major issues in KM is still to start from the point of view of the end-beneficiary. However obvious that seems, we are still guilty of keeping in our comfort zone (looking from our perspective), trying to adapt others to our ideas, systems and processes, instead of turning those to the needs of the people we claim to help.
  4. When it comes to KM for development, the latter point stresses our failure in letting people in developing countries design their own KM vision, world and tools. We are still in the phase of dropping systems, smart tools, fuzzy concepts on our partners in Africa and other areas, but should their understanding of their situation, their needs, their problems, not define the way we design our actions? Where is our willingness to share the design of our interventions? Knowledge comes in a framework. We are ready to share the knowledge, but not the framework. How can this be our standard?

I am also victim of these shortcomings, but I do hope that we are increasingly aware of this and progressively improving our approach, in projects like IKM emergent (http://ikmemergent.wordpress.com/) and in our ongoing projects. In the meantime, it will take more Margaret Wheatleys to spread the good word.

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