Weblogs and knowledge management . Don’t forget to KISS

Web logs as KM (Con’t). I’ve been struggling with this whole “what is going to make Web logs use successful” question for a while as the idea is getting more an more interest here. The bottom line, I believe is acceptance by classroom teachers as a useful technology. To me, it all starts from there. I think potential users need to know the technology is easy to use, works as advertised, and enhances the educational experience of their students. Absent widespread adoption, it’s a tough sell to try something new on a district level for “managing our knowledge.” But I think there are enough models out there to at least whet their appetites and pilot some uses. From a KM standpoint, Jim McGee finishes off a nice wrapup of Web logs as KM with this:

Weblogs are interesting in organizational KM settings because weblogs are technologically simple and socially complex, which makes them a much better match to the KM problems that matter. One thing that we need to do next is to work backwards from the answer – weblogs – to the problem – what do organizations need to do effective knowledge management. We need to avoid the mistakes of other KM software vendors and not assume that the connection is self-evident.

As usual, this has me thinking. I’ve just been appointed to “champion” the KM/Internal Communications topic at our annual “Critical Issues” gathering next month. That’s when the administrative team sits down to talk about the solutions to the issues that we feel are most important (and this came in at the top of the list.) As such, I need to develop a problem statement, so Jim’s observations are once again distinctly relevant. What exactly are our needs in KM?

  • We have two dozen committees that never “speak” to one another.
  • We have parents interested in our work that can’t access it.
  • We have teachers who could use materials and ideas and opportunities for collaboration.
  • We have students creating a whole heckuva lot of knowledge that gets lost when the day ends.
  • We have data.
  • We have results.
  • We have a lot more situations like this throughout our organization. [emphasis added]

And right now, it’s so hard to get to any of that “knowledge” that it is resulting in a real lack of communication and growing frustration with that fact. I think here it’s almost a question of communicating knowledge more than managing it (although I realize they are the same thing on some levels.) Web logs allow for inexpensive, easy creation and storage or publication of information (or knowledge) that is accessible, archivable, and searchable. Also, Web logs are flexible in terms of access and security. They are at first (and second) blush a viable solution to what is a growing problem. But only, and this is the big one, only if people use them. What I need to keep in mind is to grow into the solution instead of implementing it. I can see the end result in my brain, but I need the patience to nurture it into fruition. [weblogged News]

A nice list of examples of the kinds of simple things that weblogs enable that matter.

The simplicity of weblogs is the central reason for their success and their promise as a tool for making knowledge work easier. That same simplicity also makes weblogs (and wikis for that matter) a hard sell into organizational settings.

Technology vendors do not make money by demonstrating easy solutions to problems. Managerial wisdom in organizations is about learning to apply the 80/20 rule ruthlessly. Technology developers love to solve the tricky problems and handle the edge cases. Technology vendors have all learned to sell against one another through feature wars. No one wants to invest the time to learn how to use the tools at hand to solve the problems at hand.

knowledge workers have limited capacity to absorb new ideas and practices into their already overfull lives. You can suck up that limited capacity in learning the ins and outs of some fancy new knowledge management tool or you can use that capacity for examining individual and group work practices and adapting them. Weblogs and wikis let you dial in that  balance in a different, and potentially better, place than more complex tools.

Here’s a bit of design wisdom that is particularly important now as we seriously begin to think about how to blend technology and organizational practice to get to better knowledge work:

  In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.
  Antoine de Saint-Exupery