Four ideas for PKM

In my last blog, we saw that Personal Knowledge Management relies on certain simple tools and techniques that anyone can acquire.  They are intended to help you enjoy the global market place of ideas, without information overload, falling into the arms of ‘fake news’ or any of the other traps that face todays knowledge workers.

These suggestions have been sourced from a chapter by L Prusak and J Cranefield, in Personal Knowledge Management: Individual, Organizational and Social Perspectives, edited by Pauleen and Gorman, published by Routledge, 2016.

First let’s look why we should be motivated to take good care of our knowledge. We are what we know to a large extent.  Our knowledge forms our ideas, our decisions and our view of the world. We want to be confident that our perspective is not stale or out-dated.  With our knowledge a large part of what makes us unique, we need to keep it current and relevant, to give us that sought-after edge in our performance. To use a fashionable phrase, we need to ‘take control’ of our own knowledge. This can be done by investing appropriate time and money, as knowledge is the foundation upon which we base our way of thinking, our problem solving and our interpretation of events. The quality of our knowledge and information matters!  Here are the four suggestions.

Select wisely. The first suggestion is that we need to be critical of orthodoxy. We can look at ‘best practice’ carefully and only accept it where it suits our specific environment, selecting and adapting where appropriate. When you are using external knowledge, apply critical analysis and make sure you have selected the best available, rather than the most ubiquitous or popular.

Validate your sources. With so much information available, you need to be sure you are getting information from a reliable source. Most knowledge workers will have some idea of how to check sources, and there are guides to this on the internet itself. But it takes time. It is worth investigating alternatives, such as the possibilities of finding suitable ‘recommenders’ based on Artificial Intelligence. However, no matter how sophisticated these are, they are still only based on algorithms, so it is best to find a moderator such as a broker, who needs to be someone you have good reason to trust. his allows you to access the best of the automated and the personal. Brokers can also ‘match make’ to pass on contacts that may be relevant to you. But do make sure your broker has street cred.

Networking. Another useful suggestion is to build a trusted network. This, of course, will involve give and take. In particular, it is advisable to follow up weak ties, that is those contacts that are not your closest colleagues and friends. Weak ties can provide access new and challenging sources, to help you avoid over-reliance on your regular strong network, which can lead you into one-track thinking. As we are all regularly reminded, the plethora of information media may result in people too easily only hearing reinforcement of their own stock answers. Diversity is best for reaching a true variety of perspectives and for building up your access to complementary skills

Get out more. In order to have opportunities to access new and powerful tacit knowledge we have to get out into the world. Nothing beats real emotions and real face-to-face contacts. You cannot always stay in the filtered virtual world, as there it is easy to miss subtleties and nuance. There is magic in the chance encounters of serendipity, and we all need to build social capital via real life socialisation. Testing your knowledge by new experiences is always advisable. A change of environment can shake up rigid thinking and is one of the best ways to free up your creativity.

Conclusion: Investing in knowledge is like taking good food and exercising regularly. You are what you know. If we invest wisely we will escape the obvious and find ways to access the exceptional!

 

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Does KM work for you?

As a knowledge management (KM) enthusiast, I was curious to come across this recently published collection of essays on Personal KM.  Personal Knowledge Management: Individual, Organizational and Social Perspectives, edited by Pauleen and Gorman and published by Routledge in 2016.

It moves KM away from a major focus on organisations and investigates how it could be life changing for individuals. It persuasively puts the case for helping people to benefit from understanding KM but also contends that an emphasis on individual benefit would improve the way we do KM in organisations too. If we had this emphasis woven into all our work, it would offer an exciting challenge to traditional KM! (Are we old enough to have traditions?)

Ideas on the centrality of knowledge for organisational success go back to Penrose and her ideas of the theory of the firm, (Penrose, 1995),  and also of course, the very influential management theorist, Peter Drucker, who was the first to talk about knowledge workers,  (Drucker, 1968).  Knowledge Management grew out of this macro focus on strengthening organisations.  Now would seem an appropriate time to shift the focus to strengthening individuals in our very globalised, yet atomised world.

You can’t thrive in an environment characterised by computer facilitated information overload, promotional bombardment and now ‘alternative facts’ without acquiring skills to handle information. Knowledge management goes a step further and looks at how all this fecundity of information combines with our own personal skills and understanding.  This is the area of tacit knowledge – the stuff we know that makes important things happen. Tacit knowledge is vital when jobs are precarious and everyone needs a portfolio of skills to allow adaptation to this ever more complex work environment.

PKM involves a range of relatively simple and inexpensive techniques and tools that anyone can use.  It focuses on how we acquire the knowledge we need, create new knowledge and how we share our understanding with our personal networks.  The emphasis is on collaboration with colleagues, without having to rely on the technical or financial resources of an employer.  Helpful attitudes for managing these evolving understandings, skills and abilities are an enthusiasm for learning and a willingness to explore suitable software, so that we build our abilities in communication, collaboration, creativity, lifelong learning and social networking, keeping our knowledge up-to-date and accessible.

Is there a potential conflict between Personal KM and Organisational KM?  This book insists that the opposite should be the case. Working with PKM will bring greater effectiveness to organisational KM programmes. KM is well established in many organisations but there is a danger that it can easily be characterised as a negative force for individuals. Are we to give up our personal power for the benefit of an organisation that increasingly owes us little in return, with no commitment to long term job tenures? Does the mantra about sharing benefiting the giver and the taker hold true or is it equally plausible that we are cajoled, manipulated or bullied to give away our knowledge power, and then be made redundant in the next inevitable restructure?

This book takes a positive line, that knowledge is all about individuals and so organisational KM must work to build peoples’ personal KM. The best organisations will already encourage personal learning and allow time for reflection and growth. Knowledge managers are trying to help all employers recognise the power of this KM good practice so that it benefits both the organisation and the individuals involved.

Does KM Work?

A journal article in from the Journal of Knowledge Management caught my eye, so here is my personal review.  It had an inspiring theme: to take a systematic look at KM studies to see what conclusions could be drawn about their success in delivering organisational benefit. The article in question is: Review of Empirical Research on Knowledge Management Practices and Firm Performance, by Henri Inkinen.  It was published in the Journal of KM Vol 20, Issue 2 (2016), pp230 – 57 by Emerald Group Publishing.

 This article describes research that the author believes is the first to provide a systematic literature review of studies that look at the results of Knowledge Management on firm performance. This is clearly a valuable approach to addressing how we can understand the mass of research given to this subject.  If there are general results to be drawn out, this must strengthen our understanding of what KM can or cannot achieve.

The article reaches two main conclusions.

On the one hand, the author is forthright in explaining that too many other factors influence financial performance figures so the contribution of KM is not susceptible to quantification. However, he suggests that the results do indicate that KM practices are useful in supporting innovation.

Secondly, he suggests that the review demonstrates the need to pay attention to specific KM leadership attributes and organisational arrangements that can contribute to achieving improved organisational performance through KM.

The idea of taking a broad and methodical look at the literature on KM appears to have great potential and these are interesting though modest outcomes.  However, there are some concerns about his methodology.  The study uses Heisig’s four categories of KM practices as its framework, (Heisig 2009).  This allows him to sort out the different types of KM involved in his collection of studies. These are KM practices based on:

  • Human oriented factors, culture, people and leadership
  • Organisation oriented factors ie processes and structures
  • Tech oriented factors eg infrastructure and applications
  • Management processes oriented factors eg strategy goals and measurement

The problem with this approach is that some of these categories would appear to be overlapping, given the cross disciplinary focus of KM. And once sifted for relevance and then placed into the categories, his sample sizes become rather small.  From an initial group of 2221 possible inclusions, the final sets are much lower. The article outcomes are based on samples of 23, 12, 8 and 5 studies for each of the four categories.  Of course, very disparate studies cannot be compared appropriately, but equally the small numbers in each category makes it more difficult to confidently generalise the results.

In conclusion, the author does says that knowledge based organizational and managerial practices are influential factors for firm performance outcomes. It can be assumed therefore, that this study endorses the knowledge-based theory of the firm, which argues that successful firms will use and develop their current knowledge.  This is a result with which all KM specialists will no doubt agree!  It may be that this study is a useful pointer to how we can begin to pull together the many research projects written up in journals such as this in order to gain more confidence in the contribution of KM to organisational performance.

Network Analysis

Here is my personal view of the July NetIKX seminar all about Network Analysis.

The speakers were Drew Mackie and David Wilcox.  I was not sure if the topic would be relevant for my work but was ready to be surprised.  And I was!  By looking at both individual applications as well as organisational ones, it was clear that the ideas we were discussing could be adapted to many different situations.  The speakers posed a particularly thought-provoking question at the start.  Are we getting better at sharing knowledge now we have so many platforms to enable communication?

We began by looking at how you can illustrate networks. There can be intentional or unintentional, or emergent, networks.  They are not hierarchies or mind maps, the other diagrammatic form of relationships that we are all familiar with. Mapping social networks, using an appropriate software, can bring insights into the complexity of the relationships within.

The speakers gave a very intense but insightful talk, so to do justice to it, you may want to refer to the audio tape or look at the speakers’ own slides.  There are available for all members, on our main website.  NetIKX is sorry we can’t share all our resources with everyone, but we have to respect the creators’ copyright.
Network analysis is now used by many organisations. It is used in the health service and social services for investigating relationships between protective and care agencies.  It can be used for commerce where small businesses cooperate together.  For the military and police, it is seen as a way to fight back at networks that threaten our security.  Wherever there are complex relationships and there is value in understanding the communication flows between different elements, network analysis will throw light on what is going on.  Kumu, the software used in their demo, could show two way or one way nodes, used coloured nodes to pick out particular identified groups and gave links different characteristics to illustrate importance or other specific features. Looking at the use of network maps was made more enjoyable by the use of cartoons for key people. Using all these features meant that we were reminded that having many connections does not necessarily mean you are well-connected!
Things got interactive when we were asked to play a game. Faced with an imaginary network, each table group was invited to ‘adopt’ a node!  Then we were allowed to make moves to help our node gain influence within the network.  This was challenging as while trying to work out what would help our own node become better connected, we were also competing against the other groups. A gut reaction was to increase the links to our node, but it could be equally effective to reduce other links to downgrade rival nodes.  This led to some very ‘mock-Machiavellian’ scheming!  For my table, it was all in vain however. Our node did not shoot to the top of the board.  Instead we discovered two other groups were working to promote the same node of their choice and so of course this node had reached the top spot.  How like real life!

Looking at the use of network analysis over time was fascinating. Taking the example of an older citizen, we could see a social network changing as their environment altered or as their health changed. This brought home one real life value of this approach.  We are all old sometime, or expect to be, and are aware that loneliness can be a problem. Using network analysis, we became more aware of how an older person could build in resilience through their social networks.

The session finished with a table discussion of the question raised at the start.  Could this help us in our work or in our own lives?  Can we share better as we use ever more platforms that deliver faster, easier communication channels?  There is no simple answer, but we had an enjoyable conversation and the outcome was a strong feeling that this was a session that provided valuable ‘take-aways’.  The afternoon ended, as always with further networking over refreshments.

For information on attending our seminars or becoming a member of NetIKX, please go to our main website (Netikx.org.uk) or contact our membership officer via mailto:info@netikx.org.uk. If you would like to join our e-mail list and receive details of future meetings, contact us at mailinglist@netikx.org.uk

 

Resources for this seminar.

Three ideas to follow up:

  1. Go take a look at KUMU. https://kumu.io

This website is simple to join and free, so you can go and look at their network diagrams.  One that is fun and most people will know about it is the fundraiser for ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was called the ‘Ice Bucket’ challenge and was taken up by lots of celebrities, raising over $100m.  Another network map to view is ‘Hawaii Quality of Life’.  You can also set up your own network (or a dummy if you just want to experiment) and get support from their helpline.

  1. If you want something less active, the speakers recommend a book by Duncan Watts, called Six Degrees: the Science of a Connected Age.

 

  1. Or go onto KUMU and chat with other users of the software, including our speakers. They will be delighted to share ideas with you.

SharePoint Seminar

If your Organisation uses SharePoint, or is thinking of doing so, the May NetIKX seminar was just what the doctor ordered!

The first speaker was Nathanial Suda and his talk followed a tight format: first he discussed MicroSoft’s Sharepoint road map, then he looked at probable future trends and finally gave some examples of SharePoint in action. All of this was accompanied by a rather fine set of slides, which can be seen on the members part of the NetIKX website. He explained that he himself not only works as an implementer for SharePoint, but is also a senior technology partner with MicroSoft, and so has a role providing feedback so that they can learn from user experience.

He asked the audience to identify which of us are currently using Sharepoint and what they were using. There was a variety of users of different versions, and also many people who were not in organisations that use SharePoint and just wanted to learn more about it. He certainly helped us understand the different versions available and how they interrelate. The trend has been towards Cloud rather than on-line versions, but he explained that the hybrid model which gave users a choice would still be available for a while. Although Cloud was gaining ground with users, there were no plans to shut down other versions yet. He believed that integrating the different options within the various versions was currently the appropriate strategy.

He identified what new offerings were currently available. One of his examples was ‘Delve’, a system that identified who each user worked with regularly so it could customise views to match this. No longer would a worker be hobbled by the organisational organogram. Collaboration would be supported on a much more practical basis, through the growth of ‘machine learning’ potential.   MicroSoft’s vision was that the most recent version of Sharepoint would form a foundation, on which many more functions could be built. The exciting prospect of more integrated systems and innovative new applications was the hope for the future.

Nathanial then drew on his wide experience to discuss individual cases that he had worked with, so we could see the different ways that this one software could be used. We could see that different organisations could use this one software in many very different way for different purposes. It was a valuable talk that gave us a clear idea of the vision and road map that the powerful minds at MicroSoft are working towards.

In contrast the second speaker, Cerys Hearsey had her feet firmly on the ground, looking directly at the practical problems of implementing and managing the potential of a SharePoint system. She told us she had helped with the implementation of Sharepoint in over 70 organisations, and as she was a delightfully lively speaker, her expansive knowledge meant she could give us a glimpse into the difficulties as well as the successes of organising and setting up organisational wide collaboration systems. Hearing her gave comfort to those of us who have struggled with SharePoint. It is not necessarily simple!

Nevertheless, she had a clear and optimistic message. The system can provide amazing potential to users. Scenarios, personas and other methods can be used to answer fundamental questions such as: What is the user trying to achieve? What organisational capacity has to be developed? What will make the business different, so that real benefits can be established and measured. The software in use would only be as good as the care and skill with which it is introduced.

She provided interesting analysis on collaboration, talking in particular about the tie up of Yammer and SharePoint. Do you need real time collaboration, asynchronous sharing, or anytime collaboration as learning is stored and made accessible? It is essential to be clear about the precise benefits required, how the system can deliver them and the user behaviour required to harvest these benefits. She asked the audience for their own example, so that we could think about the relevance of human intervention is sharing learning or whether automation could be appropriate. We also looked at security issues and the impact on implementations.

One interesting message was that ‘failed’ SharePoint implementations were likely to be based on failures in the way the organisation worked, with weaknesses in structures, culture and behaviour stymying the wishful thinking of the planners. SharePoint is not the superhero to make organisational weaknesses vanish.  But with the right questions asked, it can be a highly effective system for the organisation that is clear what it wants to achieve and the organisational changes that are required to support that.

Our Seminar sessions picked up on some of the issues raised.  This is the highlight of the meeting for some of our members as it is wonderful to share with others doing similar work to you. or to learn from people pressing forward ahead of you. And make new contacts and friends. At the end of the meeting everyone gave feedback and the response was enthusiastic. There was one request to NetIKX for the future. Can we provide reading suggestions to complement the sessions? We will certainly try – watch this space…

If you work with SharePoint or your organisation is thinking of moving this way, don’t plough ahead all alone. There is so much useful experience out there. A tape of these talks, and the set of slides are available on our website for NetIKX members. (Unfortunately, we cannot make this available to all as there are copyright issues).   But as a member, for only £60 you can access this material and a large store of information from other past events. Oh, and as a bonus, members can attend all the other meetings we hold for the coming year. Hope to see you at a NetIKX meeting soon!

 

Off- or Out-Source Services

Offshoring or Outsourcing your Information function – either, neither or both? Whatever your situation, the issues raised by this question are complex and fascinating.

Globalisation and the impact of the internet has changed so many aspects of our working lives. In this seminar on 19 November 2015, NetIKX members and guests looked at one important change that is now possible – relocating your information services team to far off places, or even outsourcing your information altogether to another organisation.

We had two lead speakers – Chrissy Street, now Head of Central Information Resources at Clifford Chance and Karen Tulett, who is currently a Director at Morgan Stanley. In two speeches that revealed their long and impressive experience as information service leaders, they opened our eyes to the wide range of possibilities that is now available, and the pros and cons of different approaches.

The complexity of the situation was shown by the evolutionary path taken by the companies as they look to get more research outputs for their money. At times, using employees with lower labour costs in different locations of the same company proved good economic sense, but at other times, they used the strategy of getting a separate provider to take on their information service needs. Our speakers had experience of managing both types of change and Karen had even worked on the other side as a manager in an outsource providing company.

Outsourcing and offshoring were not simple alternatives to keeping work in the home office. Changes were made in an evolutionary way. By using a ‘mix and match’ approach, they widened the range of options to suit their circumstances.  There were serious economies to be made from the best choices.

Much of the work was focused in India, where a well-educated workforce is available to reduce costs. However, the companies continued to also have a team in the UK. Motivating staff was not a serious issue as in many ways it could be positive for all concerned. Local UK staff continued to work on the higher value, more challenging work. Offshoring workers enjoyed the opportunities offered by the routine work, as can be seen by the fact that there were examples of people staying in post for over 9 years.

Further advantages were outlined. Karen’s unit offers services almost 24/7 through a combination of onshore and offshore staff. Morgan Stanley has set up quick turnaround research unit this year, and we all recognise that change will keep on happening!

There was practical advice for organisations taking these routes. Standards have to be maintained by careful controls. Language can be an issue where the workers are second language English speakers. One important recommendation is to have a very robust quality control process. They recommended using a checklist to assess suitability of a work task for offshoring and also to ensure no copyright compliance issues arise.

At the end of the speeches, seminar groups discussed some of the key issues raised. We talked about the problems of setting standards for outsourcing or offshoring and the use of SLAs (service level agreements) and KPIs (key performance indicators) were considered – looking at their advantages and disadvantages. The group considered that these could be straightjackets but some form was of long distance control was necessary. The conversations spilled over to the networking session which followed.

Considering the changes facing information services, we move on to the next meeting to consider social knowledge management – how we keep ourselves employable while technology cuts a swathe through traditional ways of delivering services.

The meeting finished with a bubbly celebration for all attendees. It was a joyful end to the NetIKX’s three year programme.

Knowledge Communities

What do KM and IM professionals require in terms of communities and networks? We work in such a wide range of situations – some with huge departments in large organisations, while others may work alone.  There are associations that cover some of what we do – like CILIP, the Chartered Institution of Library and Information Professionals, but where you move into knowledge and wider information management, we cannot directly identify an organisation that covers our particular field.  This then, was the interesting starting point for the last NetIKX meeting, Connecting Knowledge Communities, held on September 23rd 2015.

As you would expect for professionals whose work includes promoting sharing and communities of practice (COPs), we do have plenty of professional groups and between them, we can call on support for most of our needs. This meeting identified what is out there, invited some key people to talk about their communities, and enabled participants to engage in discussion around the issues.

One way of classifying what is available is as follows:

  1. We had two speakers from the more intellectual and academic end of the spectrum. Henley Business School and Knowledge and Information Network (KIN) gave polished presentations that demonstrated their value in providing research, expertise and potential for career advancement. These are two important focus groups for knowledge professionals but there are many other options for gaining qualifications, for example, at a range of UK universities. There are also offshoot training programmes from recruitment agencies who work in this specialism, for example TFPL.
  1. Social networks for professional development and social support were represented by NetIKX itself and ISKO UK. There are several other groups like this, particularly for those based in or near London. LIKE was not represented at the meeting, but their formula is similar but with stronger emphasis on social togetherness over a meal and drink. Gurteen knowledge cafés and the Gurteen website provides a focus for discussion and sharing good practice, as do several other websites such as KNOKO and Steve Dale’s personal website.  A less social network, but one where discussions flourish, is KIDDM, the virtual group that brings together people working in the field, happy to communicate and support each other across the internet.
  1. There are also much more focused networks for specific jobs or interest groups. This was represented at our meeting by the Information and Records Management Society (IRMS), but others that fill similar spaces include CILIP itself, Special Library Association (SLA), British Computer Society (BCS) and several others.

Among these many groups, with their offshoot discussion boards, LinkedIn groups and Twitter feeds, there must be something for everyone – but how well does this plenty meet our career and business requirements?

We looked at three questions.

  1. What do we need personally?

Clearly there is no professional body that only caters for Knowledge Managers and specialists but the variety of communities and networks available mean that we should all be able to find some elements that we need, and indeed many people are members of several groups in a network of networks! There is face to face support, advice, expertise and career development assistance available, albeit not in one ‘easy to identify’ professional body.

2. What are the needs of our organisations?

If you need case studies and advice on good practice to inform how we do what we do, many of these groups offer good practice guides, including examples of appropriate audits, forms and ‘how to’ documents to ensure we can deliver without constantly reinventing wheels. There is also a wealth of information on undertaking the difficult task of persuading our companies to recognise what they need and making the necessary business cases to sell it to reluctant Finance Heads. No knowledge professional is left all alone with just ‘Knowledge Management for Dummies’ to get them through!

And finally, do these communities and networks deliver effectively?

We discussed whether there is more scope for us to get our plentiful supply of support groups to work more closely together and to respond more efficiently to deliver the best for us all. Could we do more to strengthen and rationalise what we offer, in a way that produces better organised and more accessible value to the profession? At the end of the meeting, we promised to keep the debate alive. If we continue to explore the options, we can help to bring better support to new staff, staff away from the metropolis and indeed all of us, so that we get even more from our available communities and networks.

Until then, NetIKX will continue to supply a useful support group of like-minded professionals in a safe space where we meet up to share experiences, as well listening to excellent speakers such as the ones on hand at this meeting. As usual we completed the meeting with drinks and chat.