Sunday, January 29, 2017

Research Project: KM in Small Organizations

During my Year of Learning, I plan on conducting some research as an ongoing project.  It will directly feed two of my goals (learning and network building) and it will be a longer term, indirect investment in a third goal (making a living).

At this point, I know I want to look at small organizations and knowledge management.  I started an initial literature review which will hopefully allow me to get closer to a meaningful set of questions.

As of January 2017, here are some thoughts:

  • Most of the literature on how to implement successful knowledge management strategies applies to larger organizations;
  • Small organizations may not perceive as much of a need for knowledge management if they see it as something that only benefits larger, more complex organizations with more significant barriers to internal information and knowledge flows or if they see it as something they can't afford to even consider.  That could happen if they understand knowledge management primarily from an IT perspective or as something necessarily complex and too daunting to tackle.
  • My hypothesis is that small organizations could benefit significantly from embracing knowledge management practices to directly and quickly strengthen themselves and position themselves for greater impact and potential growth (if growth is what they are seeking).
  1. What constitutes a "small" organization?  Are there any relevant thresholds in terms of size and impact of Knowledge Management?
  2. What would be the most appropriate research approach?  Would it be useful to compare very small (5-50) to small (51-200) organizations?  What kind of sample size can I realistically consider for a 12-months project?  (10-20 organizations).  How about just a couple of more in-depth case studies?
  3. What types of small organizations do I want to focus on?  There is some limited literature on KM in SMEs, but I want to focus on a rather unique class of organizations, small non-profit organizations working in the field of international development.  I'm not even sure I want to limit myself to non-profits.  The characteristic I want to focus on is "resource constrained," whether they are technically non-profits or not.  A small start-up for-profit organization trying to bring innovation to the field of international development (if that exists) is probably resource constrained in similar ways as a non-profit.  For the initial research, (probably self-funded), I would focus on organizations in the US.  Of course, it would be even more interesting to extend this to study/work with the partner organizations, those working in various countries under even more resource constrained environments.  
  4. If this is all based on pro bono collaboration, where do I draw the line in terms of research vs. providing advice (i.e., consulting services)?
  5. How do I find the right balance between what I want to study and what they need most? I have an interest in conducting research, but I'm primarily a practitioner, not an academic. I'm most interested in research that will have immediate applicability in terms of providing valuable support to the organizations I work with.   Everything I have done so far in planning has been very "me-oriented" because I have focused on articulating my own goals and interests.  This will change so that it is the real needs of small organizations that are ultimately served.   

Questions 1 through 3 will sort themselves out based on the findings of the initial literature review, some initial contacts, and pragmatism.

Questions 4 and 5 will only be answered by having open conversations with potential partner organizations for this research, making my intent and objectives very clear upfront and putting an agreement in writing regarding the scope of each party's involvement and responsibilities.


PS:  I am reading an old copy of George Orwell's 1984.  We have two copies in the house.  My copy is a French version I read in the year 1984 while a newly minted immigrant to the US, attending the French High School in New York City (which explains why I was still reading it in French).  It has my old (212) telephone number printed on the inside cover.  The second copy is an English edition that one of my daughters read in middle school.  

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