The one true KM challenge


As I view mailing list threads dedicated to KM, read documents about KM, talk with colleagues and partners about KM, work on KM programmes, it is becoming clear to me that the one main challenge we are struggling with is this:

How much should we try to document (i.e. observe, analyse, write and arguably stock) experiences to make them accessible to others and how much should we just share by talking or acting together?

Obviously both are needed. We need to talk and do things because it is the way we are creating sense and indeed turning information into knowledge. To me this is by far the most powerful way to learn: talking with and practicing about. But at the same time, the bias of talking / acting together is one of scale: we cannot share verbally with all people nor work together with them all. There is a certain degree of necessity in codifying / documenting / capitalising on what we have experienced to make it accessible to others – so that they don’t spend the same time making the same mistakes and end on the same results, but instead focus on the follow up to our own actions.

Now the trick is really that increasing amounts of information are available and as we have increased opportunities to communicate with more people, carry out various tasks at the same time, our time is reduced to read. And indeed people read less and less. So how to make the codified information useful, in a format and with content that is appealing to those who may enjoy the fruits of our experiences? And even what information is useful to document? Is it better to provide hands-on guides on a particular practice/experience or simply to indicate where more information can be found about it? Because knowledge is so much dependent on the previous experiences, personal view of the world, and immediate sense of purpose for which we will use information, is it even useful to make how to’s and other solidified knowledge? In many cases, how to’s end up being either so general that they are at best common sense check lists or so specific that they are not useful in other contexts. What always seems useful are the practical cases in which the context is created.

Is it not better to document instead emerging patterns? The cracks and holes of our paradigms? The unachieved or yet unspoken of? Documenting that information could be more useful to creating a framework for accommodating more useful knowledge. In other words, instead of trying to ‘make knowledge’ available as in statements (or rather ‘affirmations’ in French), we could instead propose emerging questions, insights and doubts to help the quest for knowledge more than the knowledge itself.

It strikes me now that we (here meant as KM4D practitioners) are aware that we  are not trying to single out knowledge and to put it in a jar, but still our quest for consolidated knowledge makes us forget that what matters is the learning process, not what we have learnt. And the codification / consolidation of knowledge is perhaps mostly a question of getting it organised on a personal level… at least until we find an example of an organisation that has consolidated all its experience and practices in a directly useful way to its employees and audience.

Until we find that example, I will keep for more examples of how to consolidate information well and why or in what conditions…

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