KM=CDL, on the journey to universal sense-making

Knowledge management (KM) is about conversations. It’s about conversations that make us more effective, both personally and collectively. It’s also about the documentation of these conversations, so that we can track back information coming from those conversations for the record, or to help others who didn’t participate to these conversations connect to them. And in the middle it’s about ensuring that these conversations and documentation help us learn to get more effective, innovative, relevant, purposeful, connected and connectable.

KM, connecting all knowledge constellations for universal sense-making? (credits: Extrabox / FlickR)
KM, connecting all knowledge constellations for universal sense-making? (credits: Extrabox / FlickR)

This is about my working definition of KM these days.

And it goes further: I believe KM is meant to connect us to a meta-grid, a matrix of understanding where all our collective wisdom could flow simultaneously and solve problems as and when. This is of course a far and ideal destination. In development work, this ideal would also conjure up the imperative of empowerment: learning to become autonomous and to make choices that affect our livelihood; that is when the meta grid allows us to be active connections and connectors because we naturally help connect to others through our choices.

This is why we need both conversations,  documentation and learning. KM=CDL.

  • Conversations connect us, help us break down language barriers and speak the same language, to let that knowledge flow on the collective grid. We can have conversations that tend to innovate and explore (vertical conversations, as we are trying to go deeper and deeper) or that tend to consolidate and level understanding among people (horizontal conversations). These conversations can either be synchronous or asynchronous, face-to-face or online. But they are the main gate to connect individual dots on the grid.
  • Documentation keeps fragments of conversations that can also help connect to other people, networks, organisations. It invites others to join in on this conversation and subsequent related ones. Blog posts, wiki pages, discussion list archives, tweets, Yammer messages etc. are all traces that help others engage, question, comment, respond to etc. Of course, they may not connect as powerfully to the grid as synchronous (and particularly face-to-face) conversations but one learns a lot by reading too.
  • Learning (through either conversations or reading documentation) empowers us and gets us more effective. It not only creates sense for us to join these conversations (as we see the value of being connected to the grid) and use this documentation but in the process hopefully it also gets us to learn about learning, understand how we can become better at the art of conversations and the science of documentation. To get the grid to work effectively, each and every one of us has to be an active learner, converser, documenter, to inspire others to do that too and increase the pace of connecting everyone to the grid up.

Joining the grid is our distant goal, but we are following a course that is drawing us closer to it at every step. Every time we are better able to collectively deal with problems, making the most of connected intelligences and emotions. And all dots want to join up, because we human beings are curious, so we keep looking around the edges of our world, helping that grid shape up through connections between distant regions.

As Jennifer Sertl was saying on Twitter: “We used to write stories on walls in caves now we write stories on walls in clouds…”. On this reflexive Sunday, KM could be considered the epistemological discovery of man, a voyage into our collective history of thoughts, actions and emotions and into our destiny. No less…

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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. I like the description, for true KM4Dev a few elements could be added, probably summarized in “capacity development” including overview, access and support in how to use…

  2. Dear Veronique,

    I’m glad if this post provoked some thoughts and reactions. I agree with you that a lot of KM initiatives focus on the systems (and now big data) and sure that has to be there, but the most important side of KM in my view is how the human interactions are basically helping make use of this (system) information and connect with each other – which is what I mean with the ‘meta grid’ it’s like a network as you perhaps describe it.

    And in turn: What’s the context around you in positioning KM? What do you see as the next mile? What are you doing to effect change?

    Thank you for engaging 🙂

  3. Dear Ewen,

    It is refreshing to come across your work and to hear how you have shifted to knowledge sharing. People have knowledge to share and enjoy sharing it through conversations, meaningful conversations.

    Your perspective of conversations, documentation, learning can be a process as well, that we go through to make sense of “stuff” information that is brought our way. As you say: “to work effectively, each and every one of us has to be an active learner, converser, documenter, to inspire others to do that too and increase the pace of connecting everyone”. I am not sure about the concept of a “meta grid”, reason for me leaving it out. I don’t come from a techie area so this might be my reason for missing the point. I can identify with it; I could see it as a meta-network, which might be similar.

    Knowledge management has become more about technology than about people in businesses and I am wondering if the non-profit/NGO world would have much more to contribute to knowledge sharing? Bringing communications, knowledge sharing and possibly organisational development together, to mingle and to elaborate, makes more sense.

    Thank you for inspiring me. I look forward to reading your posts again.

  4. Hey Natalie!

    Thank you very much for your comment, very nice of you!
    I agree with you that KM and OL – the way it is often applied – tends to overlook conversations and learning. Particularly what organisational learning seems to miss out on is the conversations at the edges of the organisation, which are increasingly recognised as essential for the organisation itself, that is where the whole organisation transcends the sum of individual employees (and their networks).
    Barriers to talk – yes it’s weird, there are a lot of these barriers inherited from the taylorist/fordist era when the job was all about getting more efficient (single loop learning), not necessarily effective (double loop) or dynamically effective/adaptive (triple loop).
    Thanks for your engagement 🙂

  5. I absolutely love this post Ewen. I am a huge believer in the interconnectedness of all human beings and of the vastness of space. I appreciate you articulating KM in a more practical way of CDL = that’s really what it is all about – Conversations, Documentation and Learning. I have come to dislike the term Knowledge Management actually because it doesn’t cover the conversation or learning element very explicitly and makes it that much more challenging to translate to newbies in an organization. We are now calling it organizational learning, to get around this “management of knowledge” idea. but I like CDL, because even organizational learning can miss the conversation piece – when people just want to get their learning from a platform! Why are there so many barriers to even getting people to talk? its so irritating. I even like how you relate documentation back to the conversation and the learning. thanks for the post!

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