Thursday, 25 September 2008

On your marks?

My next post to this blog will be about the first couple of chapters of Learning to Fly (the opus by Mrs Beckham of the same name still available for 1p from Amazon I note).

If anyone has decided to join in then you will be very welcome to comment on the post. I have made this as easy as possible so you do not need to register, use your own name (thinks - I can have a debate on my own if needs be) and I have left moderation off so there will be no delay between you typing your nugget of insight and it appearing for all.

Questioning attitudes are very welcome!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Nonsense of KM - thoughts and jottings

Apologies for the delayed nature of this post. I started it over a week ago and then various things intervened. Onwards...

When I advertised my plan to read some KM materials (hopefully) in the company of colleagues I received a range of responses. One of these reminded me about my own scepticism regarding the topic. The other pointed me to a paper by Prof Tom Wilson (2002) The nonsense of knowledge management Information Research, 8(1), 2002, paper no. 144.

I had the pleasure of studying at Sheffield where Prof Wilson was for a long time the Head of Department and was pleased to be reminded of a paper of which I had vague recollections.

The paper takes a number of tacks to dismiss KM.

Firstly it examines questions around definitions - particularly that of knowledge. For Wilson lack of clarity around the definition of 'knowledge' has seen the term used interchangeably adn erroneously in place of 'information'. He also identifies an issue in the explanation by Nonaka (see posts past) of the concept of Tacit knowledge being potentially capturable and hence made explicit. Tacit knowledge for Wilson is in line with the original definition by Polanyi - something inexpressible and indwelling where by we acheive comprehension.

He next examines a range of papers found in Web of Science (1981-2002) located by a simple search for "Knowledge Management" in the title. Many of the papers located are clearly identifiable as being related to data or information management and to expert systems. Often the papers were part of theme issues and appeared to have knowledge substituted for information. It would be interesting to see how a similar study would fair with more recent literature? Perhaps there would be fewer papers with KM less in fashion or the papers located would be of a higher quality and not just rehashed papers from other topics. Wilson does identify a weakness in his search in that it only includes established titles - he does how ever examine some of the then more recent KM specific titles. These did not appear to always be of a high standard and it would be good to have a look at these again now to see how many continue to be published and in what form.

An attempt is then made to examine what the major consulting firms are saying about KM - on the theory that they are likely to be selling this. Wilson concurs with the views presented by some of the independents working in the field including Sveiby who he quotes as saying "I don't believe knowledge can be managed. KM is a poor term, but we are stuck with it". Moving onto the big corporates he tends to find them either selling IM systems in KM clothing, or not defining terms or moving on to other things.

Wilson then turns to the syllabi of major business colleges to see how they are approaching the topic. He finds little evidence of anything substantive or distinct from Information Management.

A discussion follows around the extent to which KM is just "Search and replace" marketing for old IM software. There is also a much clearer explanation than I gave of the tacit knowledge definition question.

In the concluding discussion Prof Wilson points to an interesting example close to home. "I've been told that the NeLH uses the term 'Knowledge' because in the NHS information=data". I have certainly encountered this issue.

So what to make of it? Certainly it is a convincing paper. It would be interesting to see how the literature developed over the intervening years and indeed how KM may have developed. Given the issue around 'information' in the NHS we might well make a case for trying to turn the K term to our advantage. If KM is marketing puff then why not make it a useful marketing puff for ourselves? I certainly look forward to going on to read Learning to Fly to see whether there is something more than the nonsense identified by Prof Wilson.

PS Interestingly I note that Blogger has kept the date I started the post rather than acknowledging the date I published it - bug or feature? In this case it shows up over a week of delay!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

A reading list elsewhere

One of the blogs I read regularly is Tame The Web - a world of enthusiasm and good ideas. The blogger Michael Stephens is a big advocate of all things 2.0. You can borrow a copy of the Library Technology Reports issue he wrote "Web 2.0 & Libraries: Best Practices for Social Software" from WHP (though it is currently being read by one of my team).

latest post is a reading list for a course he runs in his role as a
library school professor.

One of my favorite things to do is read current technology-related or cultural books and apply the concepts to how libraries might adapt or tap into the trends. This semester we’ll try it as a group.

Very much chimed with what I hope we can do here. More than a few things on the list I would like to read though only one I have "Good to great".

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Nonaka and Takeuchi - urm?

I mentioned in a previous post that I had already read Nonaka and Takeuchi "The knowledge creating company" . In fact I have read it twice. I gave it a go not long after I started in the NHS and I reread it earlier this year. You can access a chunk of it via Google Books.

I would have to say that I am yet to get to grips with it. To give you an idea try this summary / review by a software programmer. I am fairly sure I won't come up with a better one. The key is that "Knowledge creation is the process of making tacit knowledge explicit". This book did much to popularise the concepts of tacit and explicit knowledge.

I think I get a bit lost in all the theory in the book - garbage can models, sensemaking, Schumpeter, Hayek and so on. I tend to follow the arguments at the time I read them and then they drop away from me.

There are some great stories in the book - particularly about generating new ideas. One thing that I liked was the concept of redundancy. The idea is that you have more information than you immediately need - something most librarians are invariably involved in supplying.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

First Set Text - Learning to Fly

The text I want to consider first is the book Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell.

It has a good reputation, is by a UK author and was recommended by my director. As of this post there are copies held at three other LHL services (NWP, KI and WHP) all be it not all of them being the 2004 revised edition I am using. Using "What's in London's Libraries" there are a few copies available for loan via the Public Library route. Failing that it is in print and available from £13.99 new ( or less for a used copy.

There are some 14 chapters and a number of appendices. For the purposes of this exercise it is my intention to read and reflect on a couple of chapters a week.

To give anyone who fancies joining in a chance to get hold of a copy / allow me to clear a few things first I plan to start in October (to be more precise week beginning 6th October).

Please note if anyone wants to read Learning to Fly by Victoria Beckham instead please feel free to update me with any key conclusions for health librarians.

What is the plan?

I need to get to grips with Knowledge Management (KM).

While KM is hardly a new buzz term it seems to be one that is now impacting in the NHS. If nothing else it is cropping up frequently at meetings I attend (not just those populated by librarians). I have the K word in my job title and KM in my job description. I also need to prepare a strategy for my service and feel that KM should potentially be part if not at the heart of it.

I have a basic idea about KM concepts (tacit and explicit knowledge and so on) and have read a few texts - for example - Nonaka & Takeuchi "The Knowledge Creating Company" (available via WHP if you feel like having your mind blown).

I plan to use this blog to reflect on my reading (hopefully with colleagues) and see what might be brought into practice.

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Hello world!

Welcome to an experiment.