Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 63 – Knowledge sharing

Welcome to the November edition of the Registrant Resources Edition of Overload. This edition is out slightly later than usual due to the annual rush to produce the Australian Record Retention Manual. As some of you will know and appreciate at over 700 pages long, it can take a fair bit of time to edit and produce. The good news is, that we have received the first of the items back from production and are being posted out. With the manual out of the way (so to speak) it now leaves me time to get on with other things.

This month we look at how we share information, and more importantly knowledge.

In this issue we will look at:
• What is Knowledge Management?
• Tacit vs. Explicit Knowledge
• Data / Information / Knowledge
• Working in a knowledge culture
• Technology and the Information Profession
• Personal and professional development
• A Thought to ponder.

What is Knowledge Management
Standards Australia define the term as being a “multi-disciplined approach to achieving organisational objectives by making the best use of knowledge – it focuses on processes such as acquiring, creating and sharing knowledge and the cultural and technical foundations that support them.  The aim of knowledge management is to align knowledge processes with organisational objectives.”
Standards Australia HB275-2001: Knowledge Management: A framework for succeeding in the knowledge era. 

However, like the word itself, the definition leaves a little to be desired, so looking a little further, I found a definition from TFPL (a specialist recruitment and advisory business based in London – which states that Knowledge Management is “the creation and subsequent management of an environment, which encourages knowledge to be created, shared, learnt, enhanced, organised for the benefit of the organisation and its customers”

Tacit vs. Explicit Knowledge
There are many ways of looking at what knowledge is.  The two most common ways are:

Tacit – this refers to knowledge that resides in a person’s mind and can include culture and ‘ways of doing things’
Explicit – this is often referred to as knowledge that has been recorded onto a variety of formats including electronic and paper, and can include items such as procedures and other documents, images, film and video clips.

Whilst a person’s tacit knowledge – the ‘ways of doing things’ can be captured as ‘procedures’ it does not and cannot capture the information and knowledge a person holds in their mind, especially if that person does not want to share it. As we will discuss later, even if you do want to share information and knowledge there are other barriers to overcome. Those people who do not want to share, see knowledge as power and will do everything they can to make sure that the information they possess will not be passed on to others who might benefit from it.  If this sounds a little “petty” then consider an organisation or a person within an organisation who has taken the credit for someone else’s work, unfortunately in today’s society this is a common occurrence, and the question I have for you is – would you be willing to share information with a colleague who has passed your information off as their own? I would hazard a guess that you wouldn’t, after all you are only human. 

Data/ Information/ Knowledge
At what point does information become knowledge?

If we start at the very beginning of the information capture process, we should look at “Data”. This is the building blocks of information, and is collected as you go about your day-to-day business.  If you imagine that you are a computer and you are in the process of collecting bits and bytes without any thought or processing attached to it, then you will understand what we mean by data. Information on the other hand is data that has been analysed and presented in some way, shape or form. However, the person who has analysed and presented the information will have the “knowledge” of what has been captured and analysed, he cannot transfer “knowledge” to another person, merely the information. It only becomes knowledge again, when the person who has been given the information, applies it to their own situation.

Working in a Knowledge Culture
It appears that most organisations try to manage their information, few it seems are managing the knowledge of an organisation effectively. A knowledge culture needs to be nurtured, it cannot be forced. Therefore a knowledge culture is where:

• People are open to learning and development opportunities. They are willing to explore. They are curious, seeking new information sources so they can build on personal knowledge bases. Which then allows:
• Collaboration and sharing information. They know the information they have found will benefit others and not just themselves. 
• Ideas are given credence by others. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of a knowledge culture is that people are open to suggestions. Which also means that:
• People are also willing to listen to others. They recognise that other people know things that they do not know.

Technology and the Information Profession
In my opinion, technology is not the be all and end all of information sharing. What tends to happen is we use certain pieces of software to collect and analyse data, creating informational resources that are then distributed and stored. As you will now understand, this is not knowledge sharing.

Information that is stored electronically cannot become knowledge until such time as someone finds the information and assimilates it into his/her own body of experience. But the problem lies when you have trouble finding the information in the first place, which is where the importance of technology comes into play.

As library and records management people, we’re lucky. We understand the importance of information, creating the correct metadata so that we (and others) can find it when we need to. But as information professionals, we also have another vital role to play with regards to technology and knowledge sharing. We may not know the answer to a particular question when we are first asked it, but we will know where to look. What databases we need to search, what keywords and phrases are important. We have assimilated the technological into our body of personal knowledge and we can tap into it whenever we need to. But there is another aspect, and that is a much more personal one, we talk to people. If Joe comes to you and asks you to find information on a certain something, we can give him the information he has asked for, but we can do something far more important than give him another set of facts, data and information sources. We can tell him that Fred from the other office was asking about that same thing a few days ago. All of a sudden, we can shortcut Joe’s informational assimilation because he can now go and talk to Fred. And as you know, one of the fastest ways to learn something is by being shown by someone who already has the knowledge that you need. The beauty of knowledge is – that it grows when it is shared. Of course, Joe could decide that he was going to do it all by himself and with a bit of luck, he’d be able to beat Fred and present his information to the board first…. But that of course is up to Joe.

Personal and professional development
When you stop to think about the above, consultants and contractors use their knowledge to further their “new” organisations knowledge base. You are hired because you have already gathered the data, analysed it and applied it to your own situation. In other words you have knowledge that another organisation needs and will pay for. You can significantly shorten the project lead time, because you already know what the pitfalls were and can prevent the new organisation from falling into the same trap. This is not arrogance or ego, but application of knowledge in action. Of course you could deliver the message in an arrogant way, but what would be the point – no-one would listen, and the important messages will be lost.

What has this got to do with personal and professional development? Well – everything actually. If you are not constantly adding to your databanks, creating information from seemingly disparate information sources, and then applying what you have learned, you will never increase your knowledge base.

But it should also be noted that there isn’t enough time to read and absorb everything there is to know. Technology has allowed us to create and store billions of documents on every subject known to man or woman. The trick is understanding what we know is there and finding those important pieces that can make our lives easier. And this is another area where technology can play a very important part in our working lives.

The social interaction sites such as twitter and second life are allowing people to interact online. You can ask questions such as “does anyone know how to make the blah blah system work with the ooji application” and you get responses from people who have been there and done that. This kind of knowledge sharing shortens your data to knowledge cycle quite dramatically. Of course these kinds of online interaction sites cannot replace the value of face-to-face meetings between like minded individuals. What you will notice is people who talk the same language will be on the same page much quicker than those who have yet to pick up the book.

A Thought to Ponder

“Through learning and application of what you learn, you can solve any problem, overcome any obstacle and achieve any goal that you can set for yourself.”
Brian Tracy