Saturday, May 21, 2011

Intelligence, communication, and decision-making

I attended a talk by Dr. Lisa Porter on Friday. Dr. Porter is the director of IARPA, the intelligence community's equivalent to DARPA. She talked about "The Scientific Challenges of the Intelligence Community," and pointed out that for the intelligence community (and for agencies like NASA as well), data collection isn't the main problem. The analysis of increasingly voluminous mountains of data is the real challenge. How much of the solution might come from automation remains unclear.

She talked about a number of projects IARPA has been working on to try to address some of these challenges, but throughout the talk, I was bothered by something and I couldn't put my finger on it. The focus seemed to be on delivering the best possible analysis to the country's senior leadership. It sounded as if the question of how senior leadership is going to interpret the findings is beyond the scope of IARPA.

The day before, I had been reading a lot about the Challenger Accident as I was drafting a Teaching Note for a Challenger case study we are using in workshops. I was reading through a number of academic papers highlighting the communication aspects highlighted in the case study. As an intelligence analyst or an engineer, you would certain hope (perhaps even expect) that your findings will be interpreted as you intended them to be interpreted. As with any communication, however, the expectation that the intent of the message will be perfectly transmitted is misplaced.

Here is what was bothering me: The accuracy of the findings being presented does not necessarily correlate with good decision-making. On the other hand, incomplete or inaccurate findings can't do much to support good decision-making. I'm also not sure what "good decision-making" means.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Videos as Knowledge Products

Update: See a similar post: Video Video on Danegeld.

I've been bookmarking videos on knowledge management.  People in knowledge management often argue that any face-to-face meeting needs to be recorded so that those who didn't attend might be able to benefit from the meeting as well.  I'm skeptical.  Face-to-face meetings are meant to be interactive.  If you're in the room, you have the ability to interact and the option to stay quiet.  If you're watching the video 12 months later on YouTube or some other service, there is a temptation to multitask (I'm writing this blog post while listening to a video recording of a 45 minute talk on personal knowledge management that is meandering and not getting to the point).  In a face-to-face setting, I am very tolerant of meandering presentations.  If I am watching a video and it's not getting to the point fast enough, I will start multitasking and then almost immediately stop listening.

There is a place for video products, but when we videotape a live lecture and make it available online, what percentage of the benefits of the live lecture do we lose?  I'm not even talking of the networking benefits involved in personally attending the event face-to-face and talking to speakers and participants.

Here is a collection of links to videos on Knowledge Management themes. (click on the pearl)

 Knowledge Management (videos) 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Technology Adoption: The Importance of the Second Trial

I seem to follow a pattern with most web 2.0 tools. There's an initiation phase where I try out the tool and I use it for a short amount of time. In that initiation phase, I figure out how it works, but I'm only scratching the surface of what the tool can do and I'm already noticing some of the drawbacks.

Then my attention span drops off and I barely visit that tool for months at a time. My suspicion is that this is where most people give up on a tool and decide it's not for them. I've done that recently with Quora.

At some point, I come across something on the web that reminds me that I have an account on that tool and I revisit it. Very often, the tool has evolved and added new functionalities between my first and second trials. I'm usually happy with improvements and likely to pick it up again. The second trial tends to be more focused on getting something specific out of it... a more focused project. It doesn't imply that I'm going to use the tool on an ongoing basis, just that I've thought about what the tool can be useful for and when I might need it, not necessarily on a daily basis. This pattern was realized with Pearltrees. I played with it more than a year ago, found it somewhat interesting but limited in the way it structures links between pearls (much less flexible than a mindmap for example, yet much easier to create than a mindmap consisting only of URLs).

One of the drawbacks of Pearltrees is that a Pearl has to be a URL. As far as I can tell, you can't add a "concept" pearl without a link. It's not meant to build concept maps or mind maps. If I'm organizing links, after the first ten links, I'm automatically starting to think about how to group them around key concepts. Pearltrees doesn't allow you to do that easily. To address that challenge, I've used links to Wikipedia as a way of organizing around key concepts in the pearl map below.

SOCIAL BOOKMARKING & Related Concepts in Barbara Fillip (bfillip)

 SOCIAL BOOKMARKING & Related Concepts
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Saturday, May 07, 2011

KMers navigating between fast flow and slow space

April 26 KMers Twitter Chat I participated in, facilitated by Ewen, @ "KM for me...and You?"

Knowledge Areas for KM Professionals

This visual has nothing to do with a rigorous analysis of what a KM curriculum would need to address but it has a lot to do with areas/fields/topics I've encountered while DOING knowledge management. I've highlighted Personal Knowledge Management in bold because it ended up in the middle of my arrangement of bubbles somehow and it is often neglected and ignored by KM programs. I've used a loose coloring scheme to differentiate things that were strictly KM (ugly green) from IT-related items (light purple), from individual-focused items (red line) and organization-level focus.

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Knowledge Management Education & the Job Market for KM Professionals

Kent State University and George Washington University have been collaborating around an initiative to strengthen KM education (mostly at the Masters and Ph.D. level) with what I understood to be a long term goal of strengthening the KM profession as a whole by turning KM into a "discipline" with a standardized set of core qualifications, etc... essentially trying to balance or counter the emergence of competing commercial outfits delivering KM certifications and in the process making a few claims about the strength of their training.

I don't have sufficient first hand knowledge of the entrails of all this to pass judgement on any of it. From a personal perspective, as a knowledge management professional, I've had to ask myself whether I needed to get a KM certificate of some kind and after looking into it, I've decided that it did not make sense. For one thing, I've been disappointed with classroom learning (even in workshop format) settings and I seem to do better with ongoing social learning opportunities using a wide variety of sources and methods online. Another aspect of this is that I know enough about knowledge management to be skeptical about the ability of any training out there to really help me with ongoing KM challenges I face in the workplace and to give me something I can't find on my own with a little of diligence on the web. I could see myself taking one "class" a year on a specific topic, but the certificate approach isn't appealing to me.

The initiative driven by Kent State University (KM Education Forum Community Wiki) includes a series of webinars (completed) and a two-day onsite event at George Washington University (completed this past week, May 5-6). I listened in on some of the webinars and attended the onsite event in D.C. The back and forth between the academics and practitioners was interesting. Not surprisingly, there's a significant gap between the concerns of the academics ("we need to create a true discipline with a rigorous curriculum") and the concerns of the practitioners ("can you please send us people who know what they're talking about and can DO knowledge management"). Part of the problem is that there isn't a standard explanation of what "doing knowledge management" really is because 1) KM is highly contextual; and 2) KM draws from a wide range of other disciplines.

In parenthesis, I'm not convinced KM is a discipline or needs to be a discipline from an academic perspective. I see it as a cross-disciplinary field. I'm not sure the marketplace is asking for KM professionals coming out of schools with a KM degree. I think the marketplace would be satisfied with KM professionals who have had cross-disciplinary training, whether their degree comes from the school of computer science, human resources, business, library sciences, etc..

At times it seems as if there are a few individuals ("strong personalities" I should say) who are positioning themselves to be able to say "I created KM as a discipline." A small dose of humility might do some good to the field of KM as a whole (see a related short post by Nick Milton: "It's Wrong to be Right").  Within organizations, without a dose of humility and the ability to collaborate with other departments, KM can't go very far. The same probably applies to KM in academia. I find the attempt to establish KM as an independent discipline to go against the nature of KM. KM is not going to get more recognition in organizations when it becomes an academic discipline.  KM will get the recognition it deserves where and when it is able to demonstrate value to the bottom line and/or organizational goals of the organization.

That being said, I do find a great deal of value in some of the work being done in the context of the initiative to define roles and responsibilities as well as competencies required for KM professionals. Again, as a KM professional (in a contractor position), I have to think in terms of career path. I consider myself a KM generalist. Where do I go from here? What competencies do I need to acquire to get to the higher levels of the KM career hierarchy? What KM specialist competencies would have the most value if I wanted to become a specialist? What would I really be good at and what would be too much of a stretch? What existing skills and competencies should I build upon? If I'm currently somewhere between KM specialist and KM team leader (leader without a team, but below CKO), what are my options both within my existing organizational setting and within other organizations.

Which brings me to the next set of issues: the marketplace. In trying to identify specific competencies and skills that I had/didn't have that were in demand in the marketplace, I've collected job advertisements for the past few months. I've focused on positions that had the words "knowledge management" in them, but also paid attention to jobs with titles and descriptions involving "organizational learning" and "chief learning officer." A few observations:
  1. A significant proportion of the jobs labelled as "Knowledge Management" are 99% IT. Some of them are webmasters jobs under a KM label. I suppose that may happen when web content management falls under the responsibility of a KM office.
  2. Some organizations with a significant number of KM jobs have well defined KM job descriptions and qualification requirements with a good degree of consistency across the board. You can tell from the job descriptions that they have a strong KM program (the World Bank comes to mind).
  3. Federal Government KM jobs are often described in Federalese and alphabet soup. Even when they're open to the general public, you'd need a translator and insider to explain the terminology and have a chance in competing with people already on the inside. If you don't already know the systems the agency has in place, I don't know how you can expect to get through the first level of screening because you can't target your responses properly if you don't understand what their language.
  4. A lot of KM jobs are very specific about the systems and tools you need to know to apply. They don't ask for specialists in communities of practice, they ask for Sharepoint or system XYZ specialists. As an applicant, that tells you something about where the organization is in terms of KM maturity. They've already made a lot of decisions in terms of approaches and systems.  As a KM generalist, I know how to use a dozen different systems but would I call myself a Sharepoint specialist? Probably not.  Give me a couple of months and I can probably become a Sharepoint specialist.  I don't think being a specialist in a specific tool or system would be a smart career move.
This is a personal blog and these are personal opinions.  Obviously, this isn't meant as a summary of the KM Education Forum webinars and onsite event.  See links below for the official information.

Related Links (not advertizing or recommending any particular academic or commercial training)

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