Peter and Justin: when and how does information make sense?

Last week when I was over in Ethiopia I had a wonderful dinner at a great Belgian Restaurant in Addis together with Peter Ballantyne of ILRI and some of his friends; A great bunch of people, some of who like Peter are working on knowledge sharing (and knowledge management although Peter hates the contradictory term knowledge management just as much as I do).

Peter Ballantyne

Peter shared his current considerations about the Justin idea, as a way of defining when information makes sense to someone and becomes useful as you share it. The Justin idea is the following (as much as I understood it and I invite you Peter to chip in on this):

  • Just in case is the lot of information that is saved and stored just in case someone may need it. It’s the typical case of many 1st KM generation initiatives: collecting and storing without paying too much attention to the actual needs for this information by various audiences. A rather useless approach even though for the public good it does make sense to have large repositories of information (like vast public libraries). But is it justified for all organisations to favour this approach? I’m not sure…
Justin... time
  • Just in time is information that is shared by two people in a timely manner. Examples of it would be a Q&A helpdesk request handled, information found by searching through the internet or other means. This is obviously a very useful Justin approach and one that I think should be encouraged more (at a personal level through effective means of searching information and at an institutional level through helpdesk and match-making services). However the interface that is required to match demand and supply may limit its applications.
  • Just in space is the point that Peter is working on, to find out if there is a way to make information useful in a particular context. It is probably a mixed case of just in time but perhaps with the added benefit of local relevance that may not be considered in a heldesk request handled, simply because there hasn’t been enough time to share the contextual needs between the requester and the broker. Another example of just in space could be information that is shared by two people in the same place without having the chance to express their contextual needs: e.g. a new worker receiving lots of information from the departing colleague without being able to place this information in a way that makes it useful / actionable, an emergency situation where agents have to quickly move on and may not be able to explain how this information makes sense.

I would add two other Justin approaches:

  • Just in need: Perhaps a combination of time and space, just in need would favour sharing knowledge on the spot and applied to a specific context. Typical examples may include coaching advices provided on the spot, working together and sharing knowledge while working. To me this is probably the most important of all Justin approaches and in my eyes should be the focus of most KM initiatives by connecting appropriate sources of information with receiving ends in a shared contextual environment. This can happen by means of encouraging coaching, joint work, local matchmaking knowledge centres, communities of practice about a fairly common practice indeed, ideally with a certain cultural focus (one may not apply KM in a similar way between two countries or event two distinct groups within a same community).
  • Just in transition: Finally, we do receive a lot of information by various means and we cannot always make sense of it on the spot. But sometimes later we make other associations which turn that stored information (in a transitional knowledge state in our heads) into useful knowledge that we can then apply in different ways. Even a piece of advice that has helped in one way at one occasion could be reinterpreted in different useful ways later. This is the typical case of books that we read and re-read with a different lens, picking up messages that would not or could not resonate with us before. This transitional information collection happens anyway and it is useful in encouraging serendipity. If we would receive only the information that we really need all the time we may not be able to see a bigger picture and to get out of our active ‘scoping’ mode (looking for specific information). This is also probably why a community of practice with a diverse group of members is so relevant because it helps you address the issue at stake but also make associations with other bits of information that can help.

While we are probably moving on from just in case to just in time and space with our KM initiatives, let us focus more on ‘just in need’ and encourage or remain open to ‘just in transition’ to keep innovating and making sense in the longer run…


Published by Ewen Le Borgne

Collaboration and change process optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. Nearly 20 years of experience in group facilitation and collaboration, learning and Knowledge Management, communication, innovation and change in development cooperation. Be the change you want to see, help others be their own version of the same.

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  1. Hello Peter and many thanks for your comment! Stimulating as ever 😉

    I think you have a point there and I share it. There is a lot that we don’t know we may need but somehow we collect some stuff because we feel we will need it. This verges on innovation somehow.

    What I’m sort of standing against is the vast amounts of information that are collected without prior assessment of its potential use.
    It’s all a question of assessing how much efforts you will put in collecting/organising that information and how much value this can provide now or in the future (and crucially: to whom?). Difficult to assess but I think it’s good ask ourselves this question before engaging in these enterprises. And they have been the bulk of KM1 efforts, to very little result.

    Besides, in the digital age when so much is available online anyway, I personally favour the ‘go grab it when you need it’ approach, and the mixed systems like a.o. online bookmarking (…

  2. But how can you have serendipity or “just in transition” moments if you did not have “just in case” storage in the first place? Mostly you do not know which information or knowledge is going to be of most use to you in advance. Sometimes you realise its value because you have it just when you need it, but mostly (in my case at least) because I deleted it just before I needed it! It seems to me that the human mind is “just in case” storage because it ‘knows’ that this often turns out to be useful.

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