A knowledge management primer (2): DEFGHI


 

And the primer continues...

And the primer continues…

This is a new series of posts, an alphabet primer of agile knowledge management (KM), to touch upon some of the key concepts, approaches, methods, tools, insights. And because there could have been different alternatives for each letter I’m also introducing the words I had to let go of here.

 

Today, after covering the ABC of knowledge management I’m continuing with the next six letters of the alphabet primer: DEFGHI.


D for Documentation

Following my definition of what KM is, documentation is another leg of knowledge management, focusing on information management and curation. But documentation is also about taking it to a personal and behavioural level, in order to learn (e.g. blogging!). Where discipline reaps rewards and inspires others too. In this respect, documentation

D could also have been…

Data – I don’t believe all too much in the logical model of DIKW from data to wisdom but data is – or can be – definitely an important part of KM. Data are surrounding us and part of the information management is to organise that data and turn it into information that is available, affordable and accessible. Under ‘data’ you also find databases and ‘big data’. The former were the object of the first generation of KM, while the latter is what preoccupies a lot of new knowledge managers now…   

E for Engagement

Let it be said once and for all: KM is not just about the systems and tools, it’s crucially about people. Engaging people in KM is as important as -and I would argue even more important than- the information systems that hold the promises of big data… Engage for success! And there are many traditions of engagement to start from.

E could also have been…

EmpowermentEmpowering employees or the people generally involved in a KM initiative is not always an objective. But sure enough it helps engage them in your general KM approach and with the tools and systems that it relies on.

Enabling (environment) – Management, funding etc. are all part of an environment in which knowledge gardening can really thrive. The culture is also a big part of this enabling environment if it emphasises curiosity, learning, openness, acceptance of others and of failure, empathy, humility etc.

Exit interview – After action reviews are one well-known KM tool. In the older tradition of KM, exit interviews are another one. How to make sure that a person leaving is not leaving with all their knowledge, network and more. This has been the object of fascinating debates on KM4Dev and I already reflected on this in the past.

F for feedback

Feedback and its specific offshoot ‘feedback loops’ are central to any knowledge management approach that puts learning at its centre. Feedback is -on a personal level- an essential piece in improving one’s actions and questioning frames of reference and mindsets. And it’s all the more important to make feedback an important part of KM that it is difficult to give feedback, and even more so to give (and receive) good, useful feedback.

Feedback loops, are to knowledge management processes what feedback is to interpersonal relationships, a way to build in signals giving indication of what is going well or not along the way. Feedback loops are essential to any learning system or approach. And the earlier they kick in, the better!

F could also have been…

Failure – What with the fail fair, safe-fail approaches and more. Failures in KM are not the holy grail, but they’re one sure way to learn from important mistakes and improve (feedback loops again). Fail fast, fail often, stand up again. Quick & dirty KM to get to the real thing. That is also the history of development cooperation.

Facilitation – Nick Milton from Knoco said it: the first skill any KM team should learn is facilitation. Without it, how to get the best thinking from everyone to make a KM approach work? And with knowledge sharing and learning at the heart of KM, there is just no way around understanding how facilitation helps and applying it to all collective endeavours.

Folksonomy – Taxonomies are an important part of information management, to agree on the terms that will help curate a collection information items on a meta-level. Folksonomies are crowdsourced -or at least user-defined- taxonomies that help users find content related to what they’re searching, using their language (rather than language defined by a corporation).

G for Gardening

Knowledge is a garden, and knowledge management is the gardening of that knowledge. The knowledge ecology that KM feeds off of depends on the sowing (starting individual or collective initiatives), fertilising (capacity development, innovation, monitoring around these), pruning and trimming (curation) etc.

Knowledge gardening for collective sensemaking (credits: Jack Park)

Knowledge gardening for collective sensemaking (credits: Jack Park)

G could also have been…

Gamification – An increasingly important approach in various areas, but also in KM the use of games or gaming elements applied to serious initiatives is a way to create buy-in where simple databases and manuals failed miserably.

Gains – Since KM is so much about behaviour change, the idea of gains must be central to any KMer, Articulating the gains, the win-win, the ‘what’s in it for me’ is essential for KM buy-in.

H for humility

Learning (the third and in my view most crucial element of KM) is an eternal quest towards recognising the limits of your knowledge and building our (understanding of our) world upon the shoulders of giants. As such it makes us humble about the wealth of uncharted knowledge that we still have to get familiar with. But humility is also about managing expectations about KM. Since knowledge management has so much to do with behaviours, it takes time to effect change and being humble rather than over-promising is a useful stance when you have to roll out a KM program. I mentioned in the past how the path to wisdom is paved with effectiveness, focus, humility and empathy.

H could also have been…
Honesty – This was the only other H-word I found useful in the realm of KM, though there must be more of these out there. In any case honesty is, for very similar reasons to humility, a useful quality to have in KM particularly when it comes to managing expectations, and making yourself and your work more acceptable by building trust (and trust is the truth.

 
I for Infomation (management, systems)

After the letter C, I is another one of the KM heavyweight letters in this alphabet primer. The choice here is large, as you can see from the other options below. But of course information should be sitting on the I-throne. Information is at the core of KM, both in the documentation side of things, on the personal learning side through absorbing that documentation, and generally because it is about codifying other peoples’ know-how and knowledge in ways that benefit a much wider group of others than would be possible through human mediation. Under information come also information management and information systems.
I could also have been…

Innovation – More than KM, innovation has really become the centre stage of knowledge work and some would even mention that of all KM generations, the new one is all geared towards innovation. For sure getting people to share knowledge and learn together brings them to innovate. If a culture of curiosity, safe failing, encouragement, daring is there, then the ground is extremely fertile for ongoing innovation capacity.

Institutional memory – Another of the classic entry points to knowledge management: how to make sure an organisation remembers what happened in the past and prevents reinventing the wheel all over again. This goes together with exit interviews but goes much beyond that to the collective records of an organisation or network.

Intention – The last I-word I would add to this list – more could have made it – but an important one: the sense of purpose, and the intention that is at the heart of the rituals of learning. Intention helps us get better and that is why it features highly in agile KM initiatives…

And let thy feet milleniums hence be set in midst of knowledge - Tennyson (Credits: Joanna Penn)

And let thy feet milleniums hence be set in midst of knowledge – Tennyson (Credits: Joanna Penn)

 

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Knowledge management in cartoons – A selection


KM in cartoons, a selection (Credits: Shutterstock)

KM in cartoons, a selection

Because good visuals pin an idea with so much more strength…

And fun helps move sensitive ideas forward…

Hereby a selection of cartoons that may help you and others understand the value of knowledge management, through the challenges KM is facing or the initiatives it proposes to deal with them.

Challenge: reinventing the wheel

Initiative: helping ideation and covering new grounds (and pissing people off in the process)

Credits: unclear

Dealing with innovation (Credits: A. Bacall)

Challenge: retaining peoples’ experience and knowledge

Credits: MTN / George Dearing

Initiatives: portals and databases

KM portals and databases (Credits: Grantland)

Challenge: recognising information needs

Recognising information needs (Credits: Scott Adams)

Initiative: building taxonomy

An example of taxonomy (Credits: The New Yorker / Green Chameleon)

Challenge: Dealing with information overload

Dealing with email or information overload (Credits: Pryor)

Initiative: knowing what to do with what you know – and setting standards

Knowing what to do with what you know (Credits: A. Bacau)Knowing or doing (Credits: B. Watterson)
Setting data standards (Credits: XKCD)

Challenge: dealing with difficult dynamics in meetings and events

Dealing with difficult dynamics at events (credits: Oslo)Initiative: Trying new ways of dealing with conversations, meetings, events (err, what about facilitation?)

How about trying something new for your meetings? (Credits: T. Goff)

And to keep some healthy distance from the fact that KM is not the ‘be all, end all’, the last couple of cartoons are for Dilbert, preceded by one by Christian Young:

Bad knowledge management (Credits: Christian Young)

KM for morons? (Credits: Scott Adams / United Feature Syndicate)

Hoarding and sharing knowledge (Credits: Scott Adams)

Related blog posts:

Killing my darlings: the workshop


Last week I facilitated a really hectic workshop on the fascinating topic of ‘community-based adaptation (to climate change) and resilience in the East and Southern African Drylands‘. A number of us (in the organising team) wondered at a point or another if the workshop was the best venue to create new meaning around this complex topic.

Workshops... are they still any good to express ourselves and create new meaning? (Credits: UNAMID / FlickR)

Workshops… are they still any good to express ourselves and create new meaning? (Credits: UNAMID / FlickR)

Simultaneously – aaah serendipity… – my friend Amanda Harding posted about ‘Reinventing the workshop‘, giving the example of an event (that suspiciously looked like a writeshop, if you ask me though).

Perhaps ‘workshops’ are indeed past their prime?

And since change is here to stay and we have to facilitate it, one of the things we’ll have to do on a regular basis is to kill our darlings, our pet ideas and approaches, our professional hobby horses.

At least review them critically. To see if they still strike a chord in our changing environment.

 

So one of my darlings is about to be killed right here: THE WORKSHOP

Particularly if the objective of ‘THE workshop’ is to carve out new grounds…

The problem of wishy-woshy workshops… Idealistic without a focus…

Amanda points in her post (co-written with Red Plough‘s Terry Clayton) that the workshop has become a ‘meme’. And indeed a number of things are wrong with workshops: They can be terribly designed and end up like orchestrated death-by-Powerpoint anti-learning operas; they may tend to solve everyone’s problems without any clear focus (see meme here); badly facilitated, they can actually contribute to worsening understanding AND relations between people.

But what I’m thinking about here, together with another mate who attended the same workshop last week is this:

Even if well designed, even if well facilitated, have workshops not become a standard solution that we revert back to, in a standard mode and in our comfort zone?

Where is the triple-loop learning here?

It’s not the first time that I have my doubts about workshops and what they can achieve… And one of my conclusions is that despite the best intentions probably the single most important aspect remains building and strengthening connections and relations: the social weaving. But that doesn’t stop me from looking at possible options.

Isn’t there an alternative?

Should we not follow the example of the World Bank’s John Heath (see 12th minute onwards in this excellent videotaped discussion of how The Bank learns) and focus on making time for learning by not jumping on what it is we want to achieve with events or happenings.

 Should we not follow the recommendation to bring diversity and argument at the centre of our deliberations (recommending again this great BBC article about the fallacy of the wisdom of the crowds on this topic) and rather focus on bringing very small groups of very diverse people together, outside their normal work environment, in a sort-of retreat, to explore promising new avenues and explore old topics with fresh pairs of eyes and complementary brains?

Should we not leave our voice and our pens/computers outside to let our other senses guide us in exploring the edges of our consciousness? Creative drawing, using metaphors, miming, observing (e.g. animals), using our body to solicit other avenues of our resourcefulness… ?

Should we not encourage more walking about, more journeys together to reflect on work, more cooking and eating together to explore new surfaces – indeed perhaps a cookshop might be as ground-breaking as a workshop for that matter?

Should we not refuse to bring people together physically and rather bring together virtually a group of people who practice Personal Knowledge Management to explore each other’s questions and musings and build upon that? Could a duo’s journey be not innovative than an entire room full of people?

Hmmm… lots of options hanging up and I’m not sure any of these would bring us further?

And what if the answer is in the workshop itself?

If un-conferences and workshops are sticking around, can we not think of a set of alternatives – which are already tested anyway:

    • Pure Open Space Technology workshops?
    • Other events without a preconceived agenda where perhaps organisers get participants to think about hard/complex questions they want to explore and filter out the most complex/interesting questions in a crowdsourced manner, to go more deeply in the fields concerned?
    • Happenings with staged ‘conversations and interactions for change’ such as this useful idea below…

The bottom line is also that we should clearly understand and distinguish when we want to have a workshop, a workstop (where we would stop working and explore relationships), a talkshop (where people have the entire liberty to explore anything in conversations), a writeshop where the point is to write some outputs etc.

One of the most important questions (from the BOSSY HERALD) to ponder when thinking about organising an event is whether we want to level knowledge or deepen it, and whether we want some output or some interaction. Totally different dynamics are at play in either case…

And all that said, I am still pondering the following, perhaps you have some answers:

  • Can we genuinely ‘explore new grounds’ with a group beyond 40-50 participants?
  • If so, what have been the ingredients, principles or heuristics that worked in your experience and that you would suggest following?
  • If not, what have been the best alternatives to workshops to bring up a totally different experience, that you think could be reproduced in other settings?
  • What have been your best examples of events or happenings that led people to change, not just to learn new ideas and share much? How did IT work?

Phew! Sounds like this reflection might go on for a while still…

Related blog posts:

 

Knowledge Management… the fountain of resilience, adaptation, innovation and sustainability (and buzzwords!)


It goes back a long while that I’ve been asking myself what KM is and why it matters. This morning, while running, it struck me: it is just what makes us more resilient, adaptive and innovative, beyond the immediate challenge we are facing. Incidentally, KM is also dangerous with that ability to catch all buzzwords in its trail (resilient is the new adaptive, and innovation is the talk of E-town)…

Miracles of Evolution - Africa - Tihamer Gyarmathy, 1977 (Credits: WikiArt)

Miracles of Evolution – Africa – Tihamer Gyarmathy, 1977 (Credits: WikiArt)

What is KM trying to do? 

Of course KM supposedly helps organisations achieve their mission, be more effective in that endeavour, but KM focuses a lot (my expectation) on ever-learning, looking back to look forward, keeping track and avoiding to reinvent the wheel (though it’s sometimes ok), institutional memory curation, lessons learned, picking peoples’ brains and co-creating… so really KM is about developing a collective intelligence and finding ways to anticipate and prepare for what comes next, away from silver bullets, in the itchy corner of our brain where the next solution (trial) lies.

That is at the heart of being resilient, of adaptive thinking and working, of innovation.

Hmmm. Only given that some key things are in place. I am thinking about all these things right now when thinking about our local KM4Dev Addis Ababa/Ethiopia network, so I can progressively disengage myself from the coordination side to ensure that this network can continue on its own (without a non-Ethiopian to coordinate it). So what helps in strengthening resilience, adaptiveness etc.?

  • Thinking from the start about an exit strategy (and a good induction program) or some strategy to ensure that the initiative is embedded and owned by whoever is directly concerned, independently from the individuals involved in that initiative;
  • Developing capacity consciously, from the start and throughout, by questioning beyond the WHAT? and focusing on the knowledge, attitude and skills required to make the initiative successful;
  • Documenting the process throughout, so that all the generic context (simple or complicated, not complex) of an initiative, can be partly passed on to anyone else;
  • Making sure that there isn’t a single point of failure, that responsibilities are shared over teams so the success and transferability of good work does not depend on one person only (even though individuals matter a lot);
  • Mapping relations and expertise so anyone can find out where to go to find answers to their questions…
  • Organising conversations around these issues of resilience, adaptiveness, sustainability, long-term, roles and responsibilities, risks and how to mitigate them…
Diversity... also good for better outcomes (Credits: Steve Jurvetson / FlickR)

Diversity… also good for better outcomes (Credits: Steve Jurvetson / FlickR)

Now, away from that KM4Dev network and back into the reality of organisations…

The issue – and the problem of a lot of KM initiatives – is that the transition from ‘the team here and now’ to ‘the others out there, now and for the eternity’ often proves a real chasm and gets in the way of making use of all the good work by that team.

Scaling up, out, in space and time, that is the real challenge of resilient, adaptive KM.

And yet organisations are much better placed than individuals (and perhaps even networks) to make that leap. Because organisations (supposedly) have a coherent narrative to them, that all their employees can relate to, whether they like it or not. And crucially an organisation has some control over its employees. So it can probably enforce the transfer of skills, the curation of information and the sharing of knowledge to other teams and future employees (the latter is notoriously difficult still)…

Is it actually desirable to seen an organisation enforce this? And does it really happen? There are quite a few other questions to sharpen our critical thinking about the promised lands of resilience, innovation and sustainability (and yes indeed Nancy, critical thinking is subtle):

  • Is it better to go for KM below the radar (stealth mode) as I usually advocate, or to go for a slightly more ‘out in the open’ approach that perhaps has better chances of achieving that resilience and innovation at (a larger) scale?
  • Is there actually a point at encouraging organisations to be resilient, adaptive, innovative, if their finality is perhaps to disappear (I’m thinking about international, Northern hemisphere-based organisations working on global development). Isn’t there a risk of perpetuating structures when they may not be needed, or even helpful?
  • Related to the previous point: is it possible, over the long haul, to combine resilience/adaptiveness with sustainability? Isn’t that a contradiction in the terms?
  • Where does KM set the boundary in focusing on the organisation’s mandate or rather on the wider agenda that consider tradeoffs or compromises in space or time (more on that in another post)…, with the risk of going against the organisation?
  • What are the political options of KM to counter with the self-sustaining drivers of organisations (how can KM continue to promote the right ideas despite the organisation’s [hidden?] agenda to invest in its survival cost what cost)?

Perhaps these questions are some of the reasons why scaling up good KM (in space or time) does not easily take place… and why KM keeps focusing on the next buzzword to find another way to get at the same objective?

Related blog posts:

Research, KM and multi-stakeholder processes: cross interview with Cees Leeuwis and Mark Lundy


Cees Leeuwis (Credits: C.  Bilonda / E. Le Borgne)

Cees Leeuwis (Credits: C. Bilonda / E. Le Borgne)

Last week, I had the privilege of sitting with two people I’ve been following with interest over the past few years:

  • Cees Leeuwis, Professor of Communication and Innovation Studies at Wageningen University and a lead thinker on multi-stakeholder processes and social learning processes involving research.
  • Mark Lundy, senior researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and one of the forefront CGIAR thinkers and leaders on multi-stakeholder processes such as learning alliances (which later inspired my former employer IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre to a.o. develop this publication).
Mark Lundy (Credits: C.  Bilonda / E. Le Borgne)

Mark Lundy (Credits: C. Bilonda / E. Le Borgne)

They kindly accepted to answer a couple of questions about their current sources of (research) interest, knowledge management and multi-stakeholder processes.

What are you currently working on or interested in?

(Cees) I’m interested in so many things! The overarching theme in my work is around the relationships between technology and society, looking at innovation; it is about saying that innovation is more than technology alone, that it combines hard- soft- and org-ware and about thinking through the implications of that combination. This focus is very important and helps us explain why a lot of things go well or wrong and to rethink the role of science in the innovation process, how one can stimulate, organize and contribute to innovation.

(Mark) Two major things: (a) business models for sustainable trading relationships between small farmers and buyers (see: http://ciat-library.ciat.cgiar.org:8080/jspui/bitstream/123456789/6593/1/LINK_Methodology.pdf); and, (b) Research in development platforms building on CIAT’s experience with Learning Alliances and Innovation Platforms. I find these two topics fascinating and would happily give up my role in other programs I’m involved to dedicate myself to them.

What role do you see for knowledge management (if any) in the work you are doing and more broadly?

(Cees) KM is a problematic term. My real work on KM is related to how to embed research in society. I think that should be the role of KM: to help make people wait for research before it’s even finished. The idea is that you manage the production of research in such a way that there is some guarantee that people are waiting for it.

(Mark) KM is critical for nearly everything we do. My personal focus is on KM in the form of feedback loops for improved decision-making in business models and KM at the level of Research in Development platforms. I also see a critical role in regards to policy incidence which, historically, has not been the forte of the CGIAR.

Where do you see research on social learning and multi-actor initiatives go in the coming years?

(Cees) I think there will be more attention the dynamics of tension and conflict in these kinds of processes and the implications this has for facilitating such processes. In the end, change is about altering the status quo and usually many stakeholders are not very interested in that. And at the same time there may be competing initiatives for change. So tension and conflict are inherent to multi-actor initiatives, and I think we need to get better at dealing with this. There is a lot we can learn from studies in conflict management!

(Mark) From a CGIAR perspective, these topics need to be recognized as legitimate research topics in their own right. The CG can do brilliant upstream research but if we don’t find ways to effectively connect this to development demand in ways that add value to both research and development we will have negligible impact.

Related blog posts:

Life after KM?


After so many years working on knowledge management I have grown tired of the term (and even finding it an oxymoron). I like to refer to ‘KM’ because it rolls easily in the tongue, but when I look around at other people that also work explicitly on KM, it gives me the impression that we are a bunch of stuffy dinosaurs fighting an old war.

So what is it that KM really means to me? What could be a better term to describe this?

What's my next destination on this KM sense-making journey? (Credits: James Jordan / FlickR)

What’s my next destination on this KM sense-making journey? (Credits: James Jordan / FlickR)

Recently I suggested that KM was the combination of conversations, documentation and learning. Conversations and documentation are the means. Learning is the end. Is it really? Learning for the sake of it is irrelevant too. It’s learning for action. But what action?

Learning for change perhaps? We mean to change our actions, be more relevant. But sometimes change is not the best pursuit either. Change for the sake of it is no more worthy of attention than learning for the sake of it. Remember the baby with the bathwater?

Ha! I know: Innovation! This surely is the holy grail. But (constant) innovation is yet another fantasy to chase. There is a time for innovation. And that time is not ‘all the time’. Same case as change. Nothing should motivate this innovation hype I already talked about.

Adaptive management is perhaps more accurate? We want to be able to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Yeah, but what about being proactive rather than adapting reactively? And most importantly, it’s not just about ‘management’, it’s about all of us, whether in managing positions or not. I care about empowerment. I want everyone to be part of the movement, each at their scale and pace.

Perhaps it is indeed what Jennifer Sertl refers to when talking about ‘agility’. I haven’t read her book but what I like about that concept of ‘agility’ is that it focuses on a general state of flexibility and for that it encompasses learning (you need to master learning to be agile – you need to practice it in tacit ways); potential change and innovation (if you are agile you can change and innovate); adaptation but also proactive preparation for the next changes; and it doesn’t just emphasise management, it is for everyone – so it implies the use of personal learning/knowledge/networks to amplify the capacity of a group of people to act more effectively and dynamically (i.e. to remain most effective at all times).

The only thing is: agility might be Jennifer’s trademark and I’m not necessarily using it along her understanding. So for now let me stick to KM and just say I work on agile KM… Check this blog header’s title, it’s just started another little life of its own…

Related blog posts:

The birth of a thought and the life-times of a concept


I love thoughts, always have: How they come about, what lineage they follow etc.

The birth of a thought? (image credits: unclear)

The birth of a thought? (image credits: unclear)

Something as simple as a thought is somehow as thorny as impact and as untraceable as a travelling lighter:

Who came up with a thought first? The person that first talked about it? The person that promoted it? The person that applied it?

Can we actually come up with genuinely original ideas?

Are we not the product of a constant to-and-froing of ideas with others as shown on the illustration on the right?

Isn’t there also something to say about how we use our tacit knowledge (in Michael Polanyi’s sense, e.g. the insights we have but do not think about it any more because they are part of us, they have almost become  reflexes) to include streams of thoughts from the past too?

Are we not just the fruit of a long history of mingling with others’ minds?

We may have just made ours what others said and did in the past. We are “resting upon the shoulders of giants” – whether we like to recognise it or not.

So we might want to remember at all times that thoughts and ideas are: collective, iterative, multi-faceted, ever improvable (like a diamond asking to be ever more polished); that they benefit from slow simmering and from confrontation and combination with other ideas – whether from reading or talking with others. At any rate, time is an essential element in the creation of (good) ideas.

Steven Johnson’s video illustrates this very well.

There is some kind of a parallel here with the lifetime of concepts – the glorified generic thoughts that illustrate a category of things

I also love talking about concepts. And yet, that’s where problems start: we all have a different perspective, different glasses on, and every concept means something slightly different to each new person. When it means anything at all.

Sometimes, the concepts that matter to us are totally useless to others… and sometimes, we just don’t know that we don’t know something, like a concept. That’s the blind spot or the unknown of the Johari window.

This is really important for our use of concepts: It’s all in the timing. A concept is only really useful when people are aware of their need to get their head around that concept or – more likely – its practical application. A) Before that time, the concept is theoretical fluff – because people don’t know that they don’t know (or they don’t know that they might need this concept). If you invest a lot of efforts, you might convince them about that blind spot they have and about doing something to tackle it, but it’s a long way. B) Past that time of emerging or felt need, they might have embraced the concept and its practice so totally that it has become tacit knowledge (hello Michael Polanyi again!). It could also mean that the concept has gone mainstream to the extent that it’s old news that does not interest anyone any longer – as has been the case with storytelling for a long while for instance. It could also mean that the concept was not used at all and it was a missed opportunity – but there’s no point running after it.

The lifetime of a concept does not limit itself to one time and one space though: it goes through several of these stages of before-during-after. It gets discovered, applied, integrated, forgotten by different people at different times. It has different lifetimes, different iterations in which other people rediscover the power or relevance of that concept again and need to apply it in a different context. With a slightly different focus this time.

When we work on or with concepts, we might want to find out at what stage of discovery the concept is, at what iteration in its lifetime. This requires a bit of research. It might be annoying to look back and dig through the archives, but paying attention to history guarantees a better embedding of concepts in peoples’ practice.

An example? Knowledge management: yesterday it actually meant information management and it was a rage; then as KM initiatives promising the right information to the right people at the right time started to falter it became a plague and was abandoned by much of the corporate sector. Now it’s just yesterday’s news, a slightly embarrassing term. It is progressively upgraded to the much sexier and fresher ‘innovation’ – the new buzz in town – with the danger of getting rid of all the good lessons of the golden age of KM. The reality behind a certain conception of KM (the idea of connecting people and their knowledge) has never been more topical. And talking about KM is both highly desirable (in the knowledge age) and potentially very hazardous (because knowledge cannot be managed). How will these ideas unfold in the golden age of innovation?

At what iteration in its lifetime is KM in your context? Is it worth pursuing it or focusing on innovation like everyone else? How to avoid the ‘baby-out-with-the-bathwater’ syndrome? It might be difficult to tell, but it has perhaps never been more relevant to question this…

Related blog posts:

Communication, KM, monitoring, learning – The happy families of engagement


Many people seem to be struggling to understand the differences between communication, knowledge management, monitoring, learning etc.

Finding the happy families (Photo: 1st art gallery)

Finding the happy families (Photo: 1st art gallery)

Let’s consider that all of them are part of a vast family – the ‘engagement’ family. Oh, let’s be clear, engagement can happen in many other ways but for the  sake of simplicity, let’s focus on these four and say that all of these family members have in common the desire – or necessity – to engage people with one another, to socialise, for a reason or another. And let’s try to unpack this complex family tree, to discover the happy families of engagement.

The engagement family is big, it contains different branches and various members in each of these. The main branches are roughly the Communication (Comms), Knowledge management (KM) and Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E).

Communicating

Communi-cating

The comms branch is large and old. Among the many siblings, the most prominent ones are perhaps Public Relations and Marketing. They used to be the only ones around in that branch, for a time that seems endless. All members of this branch like to talk about messages, though their horizon has been expanding to other concepts and approaches, of late.

  • Public relations has always made the point that it’s all about how you come across to other folks and enjoys very much the sheen and the idea of looking smart. But some accuse him of being quite superficial and a little too self-centred.
  • His old sibling marketing has adopted a more subtle approach. Marketing loves to drag people in a friendly conversation, make them feel at ease and get them to do things that perhaps they didn’t want in the first place. Marketing impresses everyone in the family by its results, but he has also upset quite some people in the past. He doesn’t always care for all that, as he thinks he can always find new friends, or victims.
  • Another of their sibling has been around for a while too: Advocacy is very vocal and always comes up with a serious message. Some of his family members would like him to adopt a less aggressive approach. Advocacy’s not silly though, so he’s been observing how his brother marketing operates and he’s getting increasingly subtle, but his image is very much attached to that of an ‘angry and hungry revolutionary loudmouth’.
  • Their sister communication is just as chatty but she is a bit behind the scene. Communication doesn’t care about promoting her family, selling its treasures or claiming a message, she just wants people to engage with one another, in and out of the family. She is everywhere. In a way she might be the mother of this branch.
  • Their youngest sister, internal communication, has been increasingly present over the past few years and she really cares for what happens among all members of her family. She wants people to know about each other and to work together better. She has been getting closer and closer to the second main branch of the engagement family tree: knowledge management, but she differs from that branch in focusing on the internal side of things only.
Knowledge management

Knowledge management

The Knowledge management branch also comprises many different members and in some way is very heterogeneous. This branch doesn’t care so much for messages as for (strategic) information and conversations. For them it’s all about how you can use information and communication to improve your approach.

  • The old uncle is information management. He has been around for a while and he still is a pillar of the family. He collects and organises all kinds of documents, publications, reports and puts them neatly on shelves and online in ways that help people find information. His brothers and sisters mock up his focus on information. Without people engaging with it, information does little.
  • His younger sister knowledge sharing was long overshadowed in the KM branch but she’s been sticking her head out a lot more, taking credit for the more human face of the KM branch. She wants people to share, share and share, engage and engage. She’s very close to her cousin Communication from the Comms branch, but what she really wants is to get people to get their knowledge out and about, to mingle with one another. She has close ties with her colourful cousins facilitation, storytelling and a few more.
  • They have another brother called ‘organisational learning’, who was very active for a while. He wanted everyone to follow him and his principles but he has lost a lot of visibility and momentum over the years when many people found out that the way he showed was not so straightforward as he claimed;
  • The little brother PKM (personal knowledge management) was not taken seriously for a long time but he is really a whiz kid and has given a lot of people confidence that perhaps his branch of the family is better off betting on him, at least partly. He says that everyone of us can do much to improve the way we keep our expertise sharp and connect with akin spirits. To persuade his peeps, PKM often calls upon on his friends from social media and social networks (though these fellas are in demand by most family members mentioned above).
  • A very smart cousin of the KM branch, innovation, is marching up to the limelight. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and keeps changing, never settling with one facet of her identity. Her beauty, class and obvious commonsense strike everyone when they see her, but she disappears quickly if she’s not entertained. In fact, many in the KM family would like to get her on their side but she’s alluding. Perhaps if many family members got together they would manage to keep her at their side.
Monitoring

Monitoring

The M&E branch has always been the odd group out. They are collectors and reporters. Through their history they have mostly focused on indicators, reportspromises made, results and lessons learnt. Other family members consider this branch to be little fun and very procedural, even though of late they have bended their approach – but not everyone around seems to have realised that.

  • Planning is not the oldest but perhaps the most responsible one of this branch. He tries to coordinate his family in a concerted manner. But he is also quite idealistic and sometimes he tends to ignore his siblings and stick to his own ideas, for better (or usually for worse). Still, he should be praised for his efforts to give some direction and he does so very well when he brings people to work with him;
  • Reporting, the formal oldest brother, is perhaps the least likely to change soon. He takes his job very seriously and indeed he talks to all kinds of important people. He really expects everyone to work with him, as requested by those important contacts of his. He doesn’t always realise that pretty much everyone consider him rather stuffy and old-fashioned, but he knows – and they sometimes forget – that he does matter a lot as a connector between this whole funky family and the wider world.
  • Data collection is the next sister who tends to wander everywhere; she lacks the sense of prioritisation, which is why planning really has to keep an eye on her. She’s very good at collecting indeed a lot of stuff but she doesn’t always help her siblings make sense of it. Everyone in the family agrees she has an important role to play but they don’t quite know how.
  • Therefore her other sister reflection is always behind to absorb what data collection brought forward and make sense of it. She is supposedly very astute but occasionally she does her job too quickly and misses crucial lessons or patterns. Or perhaps she’s overwhelmed by what data collection brought to her and she settles for comfort. But she usually has great ideas.
  • They have a young sister called process documentation. She’s a bit obscure to her own kin but she seems to have built a nice rapport with the other branches of the wider family and seems more agile than her own brothers and sisters. She goes around and observes what’s going on, picking up the bizarre and unexpected, the details of how people do things and how it helps for their wider work.
Learning is patient

Learning is patient

The wise godmother (1) of them all is learning. Learning generously brings her good advices to all her family, for them to improve over time. She wants her Comms branch offspring to engage in ways that benefit everyone; she encourages their KM siblings to nurture more genuine and deeper conversations that lead to some more profound insights and more effective activities; she invites the sidetracked M&E branch to find their place, not be obtuse and use their sharp wits to bring common benefits and help understand what is going well or not and why. More than anything, she encourages all her godchildren to get along with one another because she sees a lot of potential for them to join hands and play together.

Learning could do it all on her own but she prefers to socialise, she loves socialising in fact, and that’s how she keeps on top of the game, and keeps bringing the light over to other parts of the family. It’s not an easy game for her to bring all her flock to play together. There’s a lot of strong egos in there, but she is patient and versatile, and she knows that eventually people will come to seek her wisdom…

Do you recognise your work in those happy families? Who am I missing and where in the tree should they fit?

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