“Knowledge is the economy. What used to be the means has today become the end. Knowledge is a river, not a reservoir. A process, not a product. It’s the pipes that matter, because learning is in the network.” – George Siemens in Knowing Knowledge (2006)
Harnessing the proliferation of knowledge systems and the rapid pace of technological change is a key problem for 21st century organizations. When knowledge is more of a deluge than a trickle, old command-control methods of creating, controlling, and distributing knowledge encased in a container view do little to crack how we can tame this flood. How do you scaffold continual improvement in learning and knowledge production to maximize depth, dissemination and impact? A new approach is needed to apply multiple lenses to a specific organizational context.
What the organization wants to enable, improve and accelerate:
- Give decision makers instant, ubiquitous and predictive access to all the knowledge in its universe – and connect it to everywhere.
- Rapidly curate, collate and circulate most-current content as a publication (print on demand, ebooks, etc.) when it is thick knowledge, and for everything else as a set of web pages (micro-site or blog), or individual, granular bits of content suitable for embed anywhere.
- Accelerate co-construction of new, most-current knowledge using peer review to deliver high-quality case studies, strategies, implementation plans, etc.
How do you crack this? Here are some of the steps:
- Benchmark existing knowledge production workflows and identify bottlenecks, using multiple lenses and mixed methods.
- In the short term, fix publishing bottlenecks by improving existing systems (software) and performance support (people).
- In the longer view, adopt a total quality management (TQM) approach to build ‘scaffolding’ and ‘pipes’ that maximize production, capture, flow, and impact of high-quality, most-current knowledge production, with everything replicated in a centralized, unstructured repository.
Multiple lenses are needed as no single way of seeing can unravel the complexity of knowledge flows:
- The lens of complexity: Systems thinking recognizes that we do not need a full understanding of the constituent objects in order to benchmark, analyze, or make decisions to improve processes, outcomes, and quality.
- The lens of learning: Learning theory provides the framework to map knowledge flows beyond production to dissemination to impact. The co-construction of knowledge provides a ‘deeper’, less fleeting perspective than conventional social media approaches. More pragmatically, a number of tools from learning and development and education research can be used to benchmark.
- The lens of talent: Staff lose precious time and experience frustration due to duplication of effort, repetitive tasks, and anxiety due to the risk of errors. They may feel overwhelmed by the complexity and intricacies of multiple systems, as well as by the requirement to learn and adapt to each one. Informal learning communities can bring together in the workflow to identify potential, develop competencies, and drive performance. Hiring, on boarding and handover can be used to identify gaps and improve fitness for purpose.
- The lens of culture: Determinants of quality through print-centric publishing processes are grounded in a rich cultural legacy, for example. Other specialists (IT, comms, etc.) also have their own, overlapping universes. Correct analysis of these and how they interact is indispensable.
- The lens of total quality management (TQM): This lens includes quality development, business process improvement (BPI), and risk management. It can help both in the initial diagnosis (process maps) and in designing systems and procedures for continual improvement.
- The lens of IT: Information technology management includes both agile methods as well as traditional requirements-and-specifications. Although such approaches on their own are unlikely to achieve the desired outcomes, their familiarity may facilitate acceptance and usage of the other lenses.
The remaining pieces of the puzzle involve standards, mixed methods, and deliverables.
Photo: Lenses rainbow (csaveanu/flickr).