Knowledge Management - tales from the frontlines

Share Knowledge - you know you want to!
 Earlier this week I attended a CILIP in London event called "Knowledge Management from the frontlines" the discussion was faciliated by James Andrews from the British Red Cross. James spoke with great passion about Knowledge Management and some of the tools that the British Red Cross were using to facilitate Knowlegde Sharing.

Before I get into the detail of the discussion I wanted to relate a moment of madness that occured just before the start of the discussion. I was preparing to tweet when someone tapped me on my shoulder and asked me to turn my "phone screen off" because it was reflecting the light. I was momentarily taken aback and didn't say anything to the individual but did turn my screen up to full brightness, yes I am that mature. Shortly after this I tweeted to say I had been asked to turn my phone off, this tweet was met with a flurry of headesk, face palm and other ways of saying what a quaint approach this was to audience participation at an event. At the end of the event I was approached by one of the organisers who apologised and indicated that this had happened before with the same individual. I just hope it doesn't happen again!

Back to the actual event and James started by introducing himself and the organisation he worked for. He didn't have a PowerPoint presentation so did really well under these circumstances to explain some quite difficult concepts. One of the first things James asked the audience was what they thought Knowledge was, cue lots of head scratching and discussion within the audience about Knowledge. Now I don't have a definition of Knowledge and I think if you put a room of Knowledge Managers together they would all say something different. My feeling is that Knowledge is actually a couple of things, Data and Information.

  • Data is a specific fact or figure, without any context. For example, the number 1,000 is a piece of data, as is the name Tom Smith. Without anything else to define them, these two items of data are meaningless.
  • Information is data that's organiseed. So, pieces of information are "Tom Smith is a CEO" and "1,000 widgets." We have more details, so now the data makes more sense to us.
  • Knowledge, then, builds on the information to give us context. Knowledge is "Tom Smith is the CEO of our company's biggest competitor, and his company ships 1,000 widgets every hour."
Just to complicate matters there are also two different types of knowledge, explicit and tacit:
  • Explicit knowledge includes things that you can easily pass on to someone else by teaching it or writing it down. This kind of knowledge can be captured in a staff handbook or workflow.
  • Tacit knowledge is less concrete. It may relate to the best way to approach a certain person for their help or co-operation, or how to fix the photocopier. This type of knowledge is usually acquired by experience.
In this context Knowledge Management describes the process of managing Knowledge, but what does this actually mean for a commercial organisation like the one I work for? At the highest level it means the following:

The leveraging of a firm’s collective wisdom by creating systems and processes to support and facilitate the identification, capture, dissemination and use of the knowledge possessed by the firm

In reality what this will mean is that a number of tools/systems are used to capture and share knowledge. There are two different ways of capturing and managing knowledge: using technology-based systems, or using softer systems. Examples of softer systems are shadowing or mentoring. These systems are better for sharing tacit knowledge. Examples of technology based systems would include a co-authored staff handbook, communites of practice or wikis. It is easy to access this information, but it takes effort to keep it up-to-date. These systems are good for capturing explicit knowledge.

Libarians definitely have a role to play in both capturing, sharing and managing knowledge and I think this was the point of the discussion to demonstrate that the skills we have as Librarians are similar to those of Knowledge Managers. For example Knowledge Managers need to have the following skills/attributes:
  • Communication skills
  • Negotations skills
  • Relationship building skills
  • Technical skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Organisational skills
& many many more! much like Librarians! I thought this was a very interesting dicussion, although I think it would have been useful for James to have had a screen/PowerPoint as there were a numebr of tables/charts we could only look at on paper. I believe this was because of the venue not because James hadn't prepared one.

After the event CILIP in London were kind enough to forward the details of some of the resources James mentioned during his presentation. Of these two videos are the most interesting one of which, on how to organise a Childrens party I've embedded below - enjoy!