Prescriptive Structure Leads to Empty or Neglected Containers
Useful content doesn't come up by magic. Content also doesn't come up as a result of an imposed structure. Content arrives on platforms because some people feel a strong ownership for it and believe that there's value in sharing it. Over a period of time they use metadata such as tags, ratings and comments to provide a layer of information and commentary to the content. Given a reasonable amount of time, the structure for all the content on the platorm starts to emerge. Tag clouds help create a map for users so they can browse through the content. Search engines start throwing intelligent results for searches. User commentary, ratings and flags provide a layer of quality control over the content, helping all members of the community find the best content for the purpose. This is the phenonmenon of emergent structure that Andrew McAfee has spoken about in his book - Enterprise 2.0. The key however is in understanding that while content is valuable, context is significantly more precious. To know your colleague who wrote that phenomenal blogpost, to be able to see how people used her ideas, to be able to look at the other contributions by this user, etc are a generative side to the knowledge management puzzle. It's a side that opens up possibilities for serendipity which traditional content focussed approaches are unlikely to achieve.
No Structure is a 'One-Size-Fits-All'
The same presentation that I upload to a conferences space could be the one you look for in the technology space. While I like a Twitter style approach to finding interesting content, you may prefer a Digg style model. While one person may choose a communities of practice model to personal learning, another person may just look for a more structured sitemap/ folder approach. Regardless of which approach you choose, you're likely to marginalise a certain group of people. The modern internet has given us so many options that we're almost spoilt for choice and everyone looks at stuff differently. The key is to give people a way to personalise their knowledge intake in a way that suits them. Flexible consumption is the need of the hour.
Personal Knowledge Management and Sense Making is the Key
The modern workplace requires modern skills. While it's all too well to complain about chaos and information overload, a key skill in this age, is the ability to set up filters that help you make sense of everything. As Clay Shirky explains in the above talk, it's not really information overload - it's filter failure. People also need to be comfortable with missing stuff. If things are really important, they'll come to you. Others will repost it, there'll be heavy discussion and the content will rise in popularity. A huge part of the 'information overload complaint' also has to do with the gluttony and greed to be 'on top of everything'. Managing digital knowledge that matters to you, requires deliberate practice. Harold Jarche calls this the practice of personal knowledge management. Knowledge workers need to develop the skills to connect with others, exchange ideas and to contribute effectively to a knowledge collective. This requires inward facing categorising and sorting skills to deal with the flow of information. Organisations need to support knowledge workers through the journey of learning these skills, since it's crucial to their own success. The role of the knowledge management organisation then perhaps shifts to a higher touch, personal productivity consulting role. Over a period of time knowledge managers need to move into community facilitation roles because the traditional responsibilities of uploading documents to repositories will no longer exist. The only structure that's likely to make sense, is self selected structure.
I'm keen to learn how other social media/ business consultants are answering the structured KM question in their organisations. Do you have an experience to share? Please drop in a few lines in the comments section and tell us your story. If you're keen to tell me face to face, I'm at the Learning Solutions Conference all of this week and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Is there a balance I'm missing? Let me know - I'm all ears!