Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Socialisation, the key to knowledge sharing

It could be argued that stating "socialisation is the key to knowledge sharing" is so implicit that it should not even be talked about it. But let's talk about it, and especially from a technical perspective.

Knowledge sharing is all about transferring knowledge from one person to another, or about the second person knowing that another person has some knowledge which they might eventually need. This has been the basis of various Knowledge Management models and concepts including the SECI model (Nonaka, 1994), Communities of Practice (Wegner) etc. The key element in these models and techniques, and others similar to them, is that knowledge is shared socially, i.e. between people.

IT systems have been implemented to provide solutions into helping Knowledge Management (KM). This is not surprising at all as IT fits in most aspects of our lives nowadays. Undoubtedly, IT has increased work efficiency in a direct or indirect way for every job that exists nowadays. However, in terms of IT applications for KM, IT has yielded a mix of results in terms of success.

As written in a paper I co-authored, socialisation seems to be have been disregarded when implementing IT-based Knowledge Management Systems (i.e. IT solutions to help a knowledge management initiative). Taking the technical perspective, for example, this seeks to implement IT as a solution to knowledge management problems. On the other hand, the socio-technical perspective, argues that people are important to be considered as part of the knowledge management system (KMS). With the argument that knowledge can only exist within humans, it seems natural that humans need to be mostly involved within a system (hence aligning mostly with the socio-technical perspective).

However, it seems that IT-based solutions have always put an extra layer of interface between the humans in the system, possibly not really simplifying the knowledge sharing process. Although this seems to be inevitable in order to facilitate knowledge indexing, and its reuse, these systems seem to lack into providing any extra benefits. Research suggest that humans are very selfish, and they only do something, if the returns of participation are higher than the costs. For example, the effort of sharing a piece of knowledge to a repository is perceived as cost of time, plus a knowledge cost too. Therefore an employee would expect something in return in order to actively participate. If not many people actively participate (by sharing) then the returns (new knowledge from others) from the system are very low, and the knowledge within the system risks to become stale and outdated very quickly.

Am I suggesting a KMS without IT? No, this would definitely be a step backwards, especially for repositories and their management. The key word is socialisation. How can IT help in socialisation, and in turn, help in KM? The answer might lie in social networking technology.

As Granovetter (1973) points out, social networks are great for sharing and acquiring new knowledge. Especially connecting with 'weak ties', i.e. people who have a very different network to ours, has the advantage of bringing new knowledge into our network. The more the sources, and the more diverse they are, the bigger the knowledge potential. A network that spans wider, will hold more interesting information and knowledge. The phrase of "it is not what you know, but who you know" is almost entrenched in how most of the world works.

From a technical perspective, the potential to socialise, connect and follow people (their actions, their work, and ultimately their knowledge) is nowadays further simplified through the aggregate use of Web 2.0 technologies, under the guise of public social networks (such as facebook, twitter, linkedin etc.) Knowledge sharing is clearly happening through these networks (link here).

In the past year, I have been involved in putting all the above into practice for a KM initiative within a company that was willing to participate in the study. The results, yet to be published, are astounding, albeit not much of a surprise. Connecting people together, helps span geographical boundaries, and allows ad-hoc knowledge seekers to be able to easily connecting with knowledge owners. Morevore they allow knowledge to find the right recipients (through follows).

Socialisation is the key to sharing knowledge, whether enabled by a process, events, or IT. KM should seek to connect people together and enable to share knowledge in more efficient ways.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

ECKM 2012 - KM research is still very much alive

Having just arrived from ECKM 2012, my first conference ever I fee inspired to see how lively the knowledge management community is.

I must also admit that I was surprised to see that so many new discoveries and additions to the fiels have been published. And all are very interested from the field of social knowledge management growing (thankfully as my PhD is based on it!) to Emotional Knowledge Management!

I must say that I came back to a (wonderfully sunny) London insipired about my research and thinking on how to incorporate and make use of the research published and incorporate it (or the results) into my research. So many paper to the mean time if you want to read my paper - head over to my website: and grab your copy...oh hey my thesis "Gnosis Kratos" is there and up for grabs too !!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Change Management, Managerial Support and defending Knowledge Bases for Knowledge Management

Having recently written up my dissertation, which has emerged from an exercise within a service-providing SME in London, one of the biggest emergence to Knowledge Management was its tight integration with Change Management. Since knowledge resides in people, and through KM new process are devised and implemented to achieve a better situation for the company, and its stakeholders, people need to be managed too.

Almost all people, no matter how optimistic and willing for a change, need to be convinced on a deep personal level on WHY they should adopt to the new processes and ways. The first thing they will ask of the new system is 'what is in it for me', followed possibly by a 'why should I go out of my way to adopt to these changes'. During initial interviews almost all interviewees requested change, wanted change and were willing to accept the change in order to achieve a better unison between their colleagues. Staggeringly, although user-involvement in the design of the new system was always catered for, in order to minimise resistance, users were still skeptical about the new procedures and KM-support (IT) systems introduced - even though these changes where not drastic.

Initial resistance was truncated and possibly 'eradicated' through managerial support. The higher the push, from higher in the hierarchy the higher the usage and contribution to the KMS adoption was observed, especially in the knowledge base aspect of the system. Upon further investigation for reasons on the initial resistance it emerged that users did not:
(a) See a (main) reason why they should refer to an internal knowledge base when they could 'Google' for answers.
(b) See a reason why they should "give-up their knowledge" and thus lose the bargaining power they have over the organisation; both for employment and also for salary purposes.

In today's culture, where almost any information is at anyone's fingertips within a few clicks away, it almost stands to reason that search engines would contain most of the answers needed. This however does not seem to be the case especially in highly bespoke and technical environments. Coming from a technical background myself I often, very often as a matter of fact, refer to Google when I encounter a new issue (given that there is/was no knowledge base available). This sometimes leads to an answer right away, or most of the times lead to a long time in siphoning out possibilities of 'maybe right' answers. The latter is majorly due to the highly customised environments and bespoke applications I, and the company the research project was done at, tend to find ourselves working in; on a daily basis.

From an efficiency point of view - using a search engine every time leads to more time spent on research and verification of what is found. In the long run this inevitably leads to duplicate work by the same or even multiple employees. Thus the need of a knowledge repository in order to be able to capture and share the best practices for certain cases.

More over, in cases where knowledge is specific to the product of the company this implies that no answers will be available through search engines. If the answer would be out in the public: How is the company protecting it's intellectual capital against competitors then !? Thus the argument and case for a knowledge base as a means of transferring knowledge thus:

  • capturing the companies knowledge,
  • increasing the companies knowledge, 
  • reducing duplicate work,
  • increasing knowledge availability,
  • increasing workers capability for working,
  • reducing time to competency.

However behind all this are always the PEOPLE and their willingness to share their knowledge and reuse others' knowledge. This goes to support how KMS are not about the IT behind it, but are about the company culture and thus the people are the major part of a KMS. Change management should be an integral part of KM especially when introducing changes and new systems (and procedure) to support the KM initiative.

Feedback is much appreciated. Go on, write it below:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gnosis = Knowledge

What is Knowledge?

The term Knowledge has no one agreed-upon meaning and it is still very much open to debate. One of the main 'issues' is the thin line of what constitutes something as being identified to be 'knowledge' vis-à-vis to being just 'information'.

These terms are so widely used in an interchangeable manner in a multitude of situations that, to me, relates to the fact that what constitutes as simple information to one entity, may constitute something more to another entity which in turn is able to act upon it, thus constituting of knowledge. I believe the separation is related to the 'value' and willingness to act upon this information which makes it that something more = Knowledge.

But where does it all come from and how do we get knowledge?
Again, this is very open to debate, and for academic sake, let it be open to debate as this is healthy to bring in new ideas, and question some beliefs (or pre-conceived knowledge).

I tend to see a connection with what is called tacit knowledge (i.e. the intrinsic know-how on which we base our actions on) and a persons':
  • Background, <- Race, Culture, Environment, Beliefs
  • Experiences. <- Things that a person goes through and shape his vision of the world
The Nature vs. Nurture debate is quite an interesting one in terms of knowledge management (KM), even though it might argued that it brings little value to the management side of discussions, on the other hand it might also arguably bring something unexpected. I have as of yet not encountered any article which relates this debate to KM but yet again, I am still in my beginnings of exploring the very interesting KM subject.
The 'Tabula Rasa' epistemological theory says that individuals are born all equal, without any built-in mental content, which is shaped later on through knowledge and experiences/perception. This theory supports the 'nurture' side of the debate and would mean that all are born equal and its 'life', by what we go through, which shapes who we are and what we believe. On the other hand, the Nature argument suggests a theory that we are what we are due to our nature where each individual is coined through innate 'hereditary' qualities.

Studying in a more in-depth manner of these arguments, from a KM perspective, could point out new traits of how to manage employees coming from different backgrounds in a more individualistic approach rather than in a more generalised approach as often companies tend to do.

Relating it to KM:
Humans all want to be the same, and yet we are all different by background-definition (sex/culture/experiences etc.). It's a natural thing that we want to belong to a group, or community of practice (COP) but yet be seen as individuals. Thus, even though we belong to the same COP (or company) we all have our individual thoughts and manners and it is this that brings our value to the COP. If we were all the same, then we would all bring the same value. However in reality this is not the case.

I believe that management officially tends to be very generalised where one size is seen to fit all. I believe that this is not the case in reality where micro-management is being done on an individual basis. Thus it is of my belief that KM needs to be also micro-managed differently to a each person, but yet fitting with the main KM strategy, especially in ways to help motivate the extraction and sharing of knowledge.

This is the basis of of a study I am proposing to pursue, which one way or another will lead to some new conclusions, which I wish would open more debate. Personally I definitely need to dive in to do more research on the above mentioned topics.

Comments and links are much appreciated.

Ryan Zammit -