Friday, March 3

Blogs as knowledge management

Blogs are knowledge objects that can make bottom-up (i.e. useful) knowledge management a reality. As you may be aware, I've become a champion of using Web 2.0 technology to upgrade corporate learning and performance. In his Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization (JOHO}, David Weinberger describes the role of blogs inside corporations:
I continue to believe that for many companies the best path to blogging is by using them internally as a knowledge management tool. The dream of KM has been that people will write down what they know. KM regimes, however, have assumed they would have to discipline people into doing that. Blogs entice people to write down what they know and to share it widely. A project blog or a department blog not only surfaces and shares knowledge, it also makes it searchable and archives it. And once a company gets used to internal blogs, it's only natural (if anything about a corporation can be said to be natural) to open up some blogs to trusted customers and partners, bringing them into the intellectual bloodstream of the organization. And then why not open some blogs more widely? Thus companies inch their way into the blogosphere.
Doesn't this make more sense than paying consultants to install some humongous KM system that nobody uses? Shouldn't we be capturing the know-how of front-line workers who actually know how? Why aren't more organizations getting on board with this?

jay

24 comments:

Jim Belshaw said...

Jay, thank you for posting this and for the inclusion of the links. They throw up some interesting material.

I, too, think that Blogs can play a useful role as an internal knowledge management tool (this links to the web 2.0 concept). They can also be effective in improving communication and creating a sense of community.

Why aren't they used more? My personal view is that there are not enough good, simple, case studies.

For two years I was CEO of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand College) of Ophthalmologists. The College is responsible, among other things, for the training of future eye care specialists in Australia and New Zealand. While we did use some on-line stuff (maintenance of surgical log books, for example), communication was a constant problem among trainees and Fellows spread across Australia and New Zealand.

Last year I tried to get a blogging expert on one side, a couple of the colleges on the other, interested in internal blogs as a communication and training tool.

I failed even though I knew the scene and could use practical examples. When I looked at the reasons for this failure, I concluded that the core problem was that blogging itself, let alone its use for management and training purposes, was simply too poorly understood.

Peter Isackson said...

Could it have something to do with a gap between those who seem comfortable with their ability to express themselves in writing and those who have doubts? We need also to take into account the role of style and its relation to public image. Much more than for conversational speech, expressing oneself in a blog means taking a risk with one's social personality and its perception by others. This is of course a very different kind of risk than the ones Weinberger mentions, which of course are very real, but in some ways this one may represent a more formidable obstacle.

One thing I've always been aware of is the wide-ranging inequality of people - whatever their educational level - with regard to the written word. Having few inhibitions myself, I nevertheless fully understand those who are terrified or simply intimidated by the idea of competing with others who have developed a natural sense of written expression, irrespective of their mastery of style. This makes it very difficult to democratize blogs, especially here in Europe where there are more tacit social factors that prevent people from committing their ideas to writing.

Jane said...

Peter, you mention "taking a risk with one's social personality and its perception by others" and continue to infer that the authorial tone of a blog may in fact lead to the exclusion of other potential writers. I would agree absolutely with this assertion but would add that participation may, in the first instance, be invisible as the reader gains a degree of comfort with the type of discourse through 'lurking'.

The nature of blogging supports the short posting or brief comment, allowing the persistent lurker to put a foot on the first rung of the conversational ladder.

Motivation provides the strongest influence and the introduction of such technology to an existing (or developing) community of practice (common goals, varying degrees of legitimate peripheral participation)provides, perhaps the highest potential for collaborative knowledge management and discourse.

Jim Belshaw said...

Peter/Jane, interesting difference in perspective. My focus lay in getting organisations to adopt blogs in the first place. Of course, once they have done so, then people have to use them for the blog to have value.

This use cannot be taken for granted. Last year we trialed a wiki in my own group with absolutely zero response. Too much effort for people.

Peter, your point about the impact of social and cultural differences is an interesting one. While I agree with Jane that lurking can build familiarity, responses may well vary between groups.

A year or so back I ran some middle management training for for Aristocrat, the poker machine people. It was a diverse group, at least six different nationalities. I found very considerable variation in responses depending on the ethnic background. Whic leads me to wonder how this might play out in a blogging context.

Dave Ferguson said...

There's also the learning curve, which I continue to think affects adults at work, and especially adults over the median age (whatever it might be in a given workplace).

Not that age is the deciding factor, but it tends to correlate with an individual's experience. I have siblings who don't own a cell phone; I can remember mainframe-guru coworkers who refused to grant the possibility that a PC-based email system with a user-friendly interface could produce results superior to the mainframe mail system.

If you travel a lot, you're surprised to learn how few Americans have passports. If you have your own blog, then you probably know lots of bloggers.

When it comes to technology, my bias is that non-users move more easily from the specific to the general. So if your colleagues see "something you use" (rather than "a blog") that facilitates communication among a product team, or "a site" (rather than "a wiki") that helps a support group better serve customers, they'll begin to wonder if they might apply these things to problems or opportunities they face.

Most people don't want a 3/8th inch variable-speed reversing drill. They want easily-made holes. If you make them easily with your tool, they're likely to ask about it, and that's the time to consider mentioning the no-clutch feature.

Mike B said...

I can see some value of a corporate Blog in improving communication. A CEO at one of my former employers sent out a weekly email message about the company and the issues/news events of the past week. It did help me feel connected, but at times it felt too much like a sales pitch.

I am not sure that I agree with the concept of using a Blog for knowledge management. Knowledge changes over time, but a blog is usually static. I will read a current Blog, but if that information is not important to me today, I will ignore it. I doubt that I would search through the archive to try to dig up information.

Jane said...

Dave,you mention adults at work - and their learning curve whilst Jim talks of the difficulties of getting organisations to adopt blogging as an activity.

I am hugely interested in Etienne Wenger's heuristic of Communities of Practice www.ewenger.com and the way in which virtual CoPs can support worker conducive learning (or learning conducive working)www.davidboud.com - particularly as we develop qualifications within HE to support lifelong learning.

Have either of you any interest in these areas and/or experience in developing blogs within this context?

Jim Belshaw said...

This is an interesting discussion. Jane, I have to go into meetings but will come back to the topic tonight Australian ESDT.

Jim Belshaw said...

Colleagues, this (too long) post picks up a number of issues.

Dave, the age thing is very interesting and deserves its own debtae outside the constraints of this topic. Looking at the demographic data, our capacity to retrain older workers is (in my view) going to be one of the critical elements in future economic performance in western countries.

Your points about learning curves and about the move from specific to the general are both very important. My experience with the acceptance of new tecnhology has been that, in the absence of coercion, people will not adopt unless it is both easy and useful.

Mike B, your comments pick up a blogging weakness. Unless you have a moderator who summarises as debate continues, things become lost.

Where blogs can be very useful is their capacity to link knowledge islands.

Jane, I would not pretend to have specific expertise in the area you raise. I only heard the term community of practice for the first time two months ago!

The idea that CoPs can support learning is obviously sensible. If you take a university seminar group or a group of specialist medical trainees, for example, part of the aim is to create a CoP.

The real issue (I think) in your context is the extent to which blogs and other other line systems can support learning by creating a CoP.

Now here I think the idea of a virtual CoP is as misleading as the idea of a virtual organisation. A CoP either exists or it does not. To me, the only issues are how effective, how to create.

I do have ideas here based on my own experience and would be happy to debate these in terms of your needs and knowledge. But given the limitation of the blogging form, perhaps the best way if you (or others) are interested is to contact me direct - jim.belshaw@ndarala.com.

Jane said...

Jim:

You comment, 'I think the idea of a virtual CoP is as misleading as the idea of a virtual organisation. A CoP either exists or it does not. To me, the only issues are how effective, how to create.' is a fair one though I would ask for consideration of the stages of development fo a CoP rather than the apparently black and white stance indicated.

I should, indeed, have referred to the virtual mediation that can provide the necessary interactive glue to link actors with a CoP where there is little or no co-location.

I remain interested in the use of blogging to this end and am working to support lecturers in Physiotheraphy at our college in their interprofessional interactions (prized by the NHS contractors) with lecturers at our partner university and health professionals. A new venture - we will see what transpires... Any constructive advice welcomed.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Jane

Forgive me if I sounded critical. I did not mean too. It’s just that this issue – the virtual organization – has been a key topic of debate within my own group. I run a distributed network of independent management related professional practices and professionals. Each member is completely independent. My job is the creation of a framework that will facilitate cooperation. This is a bit like herding cattle in a paddock without fences.

When we began in 1996 we thought of ourselves as a virtual organization. This concept was then all the rage. Our thinking was that all we had to do was create the right framework and let a thousand flows bloom. What we found instead was that we had to work at it all the time, that the core problems in creating the Group were no different from those involved with building any organization, just harder because we depended upon voluntary participation among a varied distributed professional cohort whose primary means of contact was via email. So we had to put aside our original thinking, the virtual organization, and focus instead on the Group as an exercise in organizational design.

Turning now to your substantive issue.

I have no doubts that blogs are a potentially useful tool in the context you have defined. Here I prepared quite a long case study based on my knowledge of specialist medical colleges. Because of length (and to a degree relevance) I decided not to post it because I was not sure of the protocols. I can do so if you like either on your own blog or this one.

In the meantime, and to keep things, short.

The starting point is to define what you want to achieve from the blog or blogs.

Step two is to look at the blog from the viewpoint of the user. Why should they participate given their limited time?

Step three is to look at your other communication mechanisms. What are you already doing? How will the blog fit in?

Step four is to look at the structure of the blog. I am still feeling my way here because what you can do depends upon the program you are using. How do you structure the blog so that it is easy for your visitors to use, to find past material?

Step five is to look at the management of the blog. Who is going to manage, how much time can you contribute?

In all this, try to think creatively. For example, I think that one can use blogging for short term purposes, creating one to meet an immediate need. Blogs can also be used effectively for irregularly active groups. Just tell people via email when a topic comes up

Jane said...

Jim

You have made some really good suggestions here and I forwarded my Health Team the link to your posting. It was good to see your posting on the Praxis1 blog too.

Your fenceless cattle herding experience probably sound familiar to those managing educationalists - often likened to herding cats!

I am indeed interested in your case study. Would you be able to post a link to it?

Bryan Menell said...

All good thoughts! I hate to pile on with another "the problem with blogs" post, but here goes...

DIGGING. I'll read the first post or two of a blog, but I'm not going to dig through months of postings to find what I'm looking for unless I'm really motivated. Categories and tag clouds actually help in this area a lot.

SEARCH. Even if I could search for "attention economy" in all the blogs I would still have thousands of blog entries to read. And which one is best and really answers the questions I have about the topic? For general knowledge, Wikipedia is great, but for internal company knowledge -- not so much.

It would be nice to have the "wisdom of crowds" create a little learning object for me on "attention economy" with links to the best blog postings about it.

Jim Belshaw said...

Jane, I am glad that the naterial was of use.

one thing that might be of interest to you is the way that you can use the definition of comptencies to shift/delineate the boundaries between professional groups.

Our web site includes some work on the definition of ophthalmic comptenecies. Thw work began when I was CEO of RANZC and is, I think, still pioneering. I acn put you in touch with people if it is in fact of interest. The link is http://www.ndarala.com/index.cfm?id=930.

On the case study, I will do a little bit more work on it and then post it to the Ndarala Group site as a special feature. letting you know when I have done so.

Bryan, we are talking from the same sheet. Now, and I speak as someone who is in some ways just coming to grips with blogging as a management tool, how should a blog be structured so as to maximise its value?

Peter Isackson said...

One of what I would call the "cultural" problems with blogs is that, although manifestly public, the implicit model of a blog is the personal diary. This apparent contradiction may help to explain some of the frustration we feel with certain blogs.

When considering how the blog can usefully and naturally fulfil an organizational role, I expect that we will have to let the concept (and the blogging tools) evolve towards something that is more team-oriented and less linear in structure. The reliability of information offered by individuals qua individuals will always be suspect and the principle of growth by simple accretion (creating amorphous “heaps” of information mixed with opinion) may not be the best way of clarifying or even exploring important issues. If blogs were truly redesigned for team rather than individual expression, the teams could find, define and redefine objectives and then measure their performance against those objectives. They might thereby achieve the kind of focus that will make it easier for those consulting the blog to understand.

Blogs are currently purely vertical structures. Perhaps they need to become horizontal as well and to move away from the model of private individual expression “shared” with the public. This would be a cultural shift that would have an impact on how we contribute to blogs.

Jane said...

Peter, you say:
'Blogs are currently purely vertical structures. Perhaps they need to become horizontal as well and to move away from the model of private individual expression “shared” with the public. This would be a cultural shift that would have an impact on how we contribute to blogs.'

This is an interesting concept and I think you are right. I can see that variation from the vertical would enable a team/community to better locate themes and topics.

Would you see the use of multiple blogs within a lens facilitating the horizontalness (is there such a term?) - or do you have some other thoughts?

Peter Isackson said...

Jane,
I very nearly ended my previous message by adding that I had no model in mind. I don't consider myself an expert in blogs and even less in blog technology. I suppose that those who are more implicated than myself in these things will have some ideas about what kind of architecture this would imply. And I expect that some of those ideas will be implementable.

Your suggestion of parallel blogs is interesting. I think mixing media may be part of the solution, since text tends to be very cumulative but voice tags, brief remarks, summaries or guiding comments might be part of future collective blogs.

I also like your idea of the lens. Is it a pure metaphor or is there a technical idea behind it?

Since we're brainstorming, why not imagine a "thought trend indicator" of some kind, perhaps modeled on mind-mapping?

Jim Belshaw said...

Jane, Peter, thoughtful comments that generated some new thoughts. Will post on these once I have mulled them over.

In the meantime, I have now posted the case study I promised on the potential role of blogs in specialists medical colleges. See http://ndarala.com/index.cfm?id=1127.

Jane said...

Wow - and now we need some collaborative work space.

We've been looking at (and experimenting with)Sharepoint to support both staff and student interaction.

Whilst we didnt do anything as radical as collaborative mind-mapping (though I see how this could work), we produced a document to support an institutional validation (supporting change of university partnership) mapped against the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in England (QAA) Codes of Practice (10 codes each with multiple precepts)linked to 115 documents.

This was achieved in 6 weeks; a feat impossible if not for the collaborative workspace.

It is not the activity that I am intending to laud here (though we're very proud of it) but the technology. We could easily set up a mindmap on the portal and encourage participants to check the document out, work on it and then check in with version control enabled and a linked discussion board.

Oh dear, Peter - what have you started?

As for the lens, I shall be trying to set one up later this week ...watch this space (or visit my blog)!

Jane said...

Jim, you are a star!

I have accessed the case study to which you refer and skim-read it. I will await the light of day (for its well past my kipping time here)and then pay another visit for a more discerning read.

I can see my Health team being very interested in the content and much of the analysis will fuel academic discussion within my own learning community.

Again, thanks!

Anonymous said...

We have been using blogs for the past 2 years in our department at our company, and I must say it has turned out to be the best KM tool ever to be implemented. It has all the elements that are needed to produce a comprehensive catalog of knowledge. I disagree with the notion that they are not good enough. We have to seek the enabling aspects of the technology and properly implement it. Our departmental blog was setup in a manner that users when shooting of important procedural emails would include the blogging email address which facilitated automatic blogging. Furthur all KM tools are far to complicated for users to use and work. We have found that going to the blog is easier when it come to searching for a solution for a problem.

Arjun Thomas said...

Well put, couldn't agree most.... I've done quite a bit of work with Blogs and KM in the corporate sphere. It hasn't caught on as much as i would like, but we're getting there..

cheers,
Arjun Thomas

Easyrules said...

It's giving basic information what knowledge management system actually do? what is basic concept behind it? and it is really very good

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