(Im)Proving the value of knowledge work: A KMers chat on monitoring / assessing knowledge management


KMers chat on 16/02/2010 on monitoring/assessing KM

On 16 February 2010, I will be hosting a KMers chat about the topic of ‘monitoring / assessing knowledge management’ (1).

When Johan Lammers (one of the founders of KMers and of WeKnowMore.org) invited KMers (the people, not the platform) to host a discussion I jumped on the occasion. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s fun, it’s useful: what else can you dream of? And talking about useful discussions, it just fitted my work on this topic of monitoring knowledge management very well.

So here you go, if you are interested, this is the pitch for this KMers chat:

Knowledge management is ill-defined but even more crucially ill-assessed. The inaccuracy and inadequacy of monitoring (2) approaches for KM has left behind a trail of tensions, heated debates, frustrations and disillusions. Differing perspectives on the value of KM and on ways to conduct monitoring have further entrenched these reactions.

How to reconcile expectations from managers / donors on the one hand, from teams in charge of monitoring knowledge management and clients / beneficiaries on the other hand? How to conjugate passion for and belief in knowledge-focused work with business realism and sound management practice?

What are approaches, methods, tools and metrics that seem to provide a useful perspective on monitoring the intangible assets that KM pretends to cherish (and/or manage)? What are promising trends and upcoming hot issues to turn monitoring of KM into a powerful practice to prove the value of knowledge management and to improve KM initiatives?

Join this Twitter chat to hear the buzz and share your perspective…

In this particular KMers chat we will grapple with four key questions, i.e.:

  1. What do you see as the biggest challenge in monitoring KM at the moment?
  2. Who to involve and who to convince when monitoring KM?
  3. What have been useful tools and approaches to monitor KM initiatives?
  4. Where is M&E of KM headed? What are the most promising trends (hot issues) on the horizon?

This discussion ties in closely with a couple of posts on this topic on this blog (see for instance this and that post) and three on IKM-Emergent programme’s The Giraffe blog (see 1, 2 and 3). Simon Hearn, Valerie Brown, Harry Jones and I are on the case.

Back on this KMers’ chat, here is an outlook on some issues at stake – I think:

Fig. 1 The starting model we are using for monitoring KM (credits: S. Hearn)

  • KM is not well defined and the very idea of ‘monitoring’ knowledge (related to the M in KM) is fallacious – this is partly covered in this post. What does this mean in terms of priorities defined behind a KM approach? What is the epistemology (knowledge system) guiding KM work in a given context?
  • KM is often monitored or assessed from the perspective of using intangible assets to create value. Is this the real deal? Perhaps monitoring may look at various dimensions: knowledge processes and initiatives (inputs & activities), intangible assets (outputs), behaviour changes and ultimately valuable results (outcomes and impact). See fig. 1 for a representation of this model.
  • In this, where should we monitor/assess knowledge, knowledge management, knowledge sharing and possibly all knowledge-focused processes – from the knowledge value chain or another reference system?
  • Monitoring is itself a contested practice that is sometimes associated with only the simple focus of ‘progress monitoring’ i.e. establishing the difference between the original plan and the reality, to prove whether the plan is accomplished or not. Where is the learning in this? What is more valuable: to prove or to improve? And could we not consider that monitoring of KM should arguably look at other valuable monitoring purposes (like: capacity strengthening, self-auditing for transparency, sensitisation, advocacy etc. (3)?
  • With respect to the different epistemologies and ontologies (world views), isn’t it sensible to explore the different knowledge communities (see slide 8 on Valerie Brown’s presentation on collective social learning) and expectations of the parties involved in monitoring/ assessing KM? After all, the monitoring commissioner, implementer and ultimate beneficiary (client) may have a totally different view point on the why, what and how of monitoring KM.
  • If we take it that monitoring moves beyond simple progress monitoring and does not simply rest upon SMART indicators and a shopping basket for meaningless numbers, what are useful approaches – both quantitative and qualitative – that can help us understand the four dimensions of KM monitoring mentioned above and do this with due consideration for the context of our knowledge activities?
  • And finally what can we expect will be the future pointers of this discussion? I am thinking here both in terms of broadening the conceptual debate, looking at promising new approaches (such as the semantic web and its possibilities to map contextualised information, Dave Snowden’s Sense Maker, Rick Davies’s most recent work on the basis of his old Most Significant Change method) or developing a more practical approach to make sense of knowledge and to support the work of KMers (us), our patrons, our partners and our beneficiaries / clients?
  • Do you have case studies or stories about the issues sketched above?

Hopefully, further down the line, we may have a clearer idea as to turning what is too often a costly and tiresome exercise into an exciting opportunity to prove the value of knowledge-focused work and to improve our practices around it…

If you are interested in this topic or want to find out more about KMers’ chats, please check in on 16 February and join the chat; oh, and spread the word!

Notes:

(1)    KMers is an initiative that was started in late 2009 and has already generated a few excellent discussions (the last one was about knowledge for innovation), usually hosted on Tuesday around 1800 CET (Central European Time). The chats Twitter-based and always involve a group of dedicated KM heads that are really passionate and savvy about the broad topic of knowledge management.

(2)    By monitoring we mean here the ‘follow up of the implementation of programme activities AND periodic assessment of the relevance, performance, efficiency and impact of a piece of work with respect to its stated objectives’ as regularly carried out in the development sector. In this respect we include the purposes of evaluation in monitoring as well. In the corporate world I guess you would translate this in regular assessment. Monitoring / assessment may happen by means of measurement and other methods.

(3)    A forthcoming IKM-E paper by Joitske Hulsebosch, Sibrenne Wagenaar and Mark Turpin refers to the nine different purposes for monitoring, that Irene Guijt proposed in her PhD ‘Seeking Surprise’ (2008). These purposes are: Financial accountability, Operational improvement, Strategic readjustment, Capacity strengthening, Contextual understanding, Deepening understanding, Self-auditing, Advocacy, Sensitisation).

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4 thoughts on “(Im)Proving the value of knowledge work: A KMers chat on monitoring / assessing knowledge management

  1. Great job framing your chat. Johan and I will do our best to direct as many chatters as possible in this direction before Tuesday.

    Cheers,
    Swan
    @swanwick on Twitter

  2. Dear Nick and Joitske,

    Thank you Nick for the case studies, I will not fail to check them prior to the KMers chat, when I’m back home tomorrow.
    As for your paper Joitske, I will investigate what’s happening with it at IKM-E’s end, I hope that it will be coming out rather than coming up soon!

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