Friday, 27 July 2012

Knowledge representation with

I rather dislike the term 'knowledge capture' as it implies a one-way street; knowledge disappearing into some dusty trap, never to be seen again.
The KIN Knowledge Retention and Transfer special interest group has looked at many techniques for representing knowledge and expertise.
Mindmapping and interactive Q&As can use attractive and intuitive visual techniques to make knowledge accessible and attractive. I've discovered a new variant on the mindmapping technique that is worth looking at. Have a go at the free 'concept mapping' web tool 

See this video for an explanation of concept mapping (and incidentally the relationship between information and knowledge)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Ethnographic Interview

Cover of "The Ethnographic Interview"

I recently paid nearly £50 for a second-hand paperback book, written by an academic over 30 years ago. You may ask what possessed me?

The book is 'The Ethnographic Interview' by James P. Spradley, published in 1979.

For those facilitating knowledge retention or transfer  in organisations, the techniques that Spradley describes are ideal for eliciting valuable knowledge in an interview situation. They are grounded in extensive research and are still absolutely relevant and pragmatic. Despite being written by an academic, the text is very accessible, full of examples and clearly relevant for the practitioner. 
For knowledge retention and transfer, the imperative is how is the knowledge that is elicited is put to use, who needs it and how it is accessed (format and channel). This means making the knowledge transfer process an integral part of the discovery stage - this is quite different to pure ethnographic study, where the analysis happens much later. Another major difference in producing explicit knowledge for the purpose knowledge transfer is that the outputs (knowledge assets) are for the benefit of knowledge recipients not the facilitator (or ethnographer). 

I highly recommend the book, but for those pushed for time, or unwilling to invest £50 for a paperback, I have written a synopsis and extracted the most relevant tips and techniques. KIN members can see the synopsis on KIN Memberspace in the Knowledge Retention and Transfer SIG library.

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Thursday, 12 July 2012

A chance encounter in the space of ideas

In 1854, Louis Pasteur was quoted as saying "in the field of observation, chance only favours the prepared mind"

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with Mel Woods of SerenA, the multi-disciplinary project that aims to 'deliver novel technologies, methods and evaluation techniques for supporting serendipitous interactions'. SerenA's scope is primarily how serendipity can be engineered in the service of research. Mel and her colleagues worked on the hypothesis that serendipity can be optimised and have developed a model to do so. Whilst engineered serendipity appears to be an oxymoron, the model seems effective and SerenA have held several workshops to develop this idea further. 

We had a wide-ranging discussion about the role that serendipity plays in the making of connections and innovation in large organisations, for example locating expertise and problem-solving. In November we hope to take this forward with a full-day event with SerenA where KIN members can get involved in serendipity in digital and physical spaces.

SerenA has collected many stories about serendipitous encounters and presented these as beautiful graphical and audio stories. The example below is one of several available on the brilliantly named SerendipiTV 

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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Valuing the Invaluable

A rocky stream in the U.S. state of Hawaii.

There are just three letters that differentiate 'economist' from 'ecologist'.
A fascinating debate has been sparked by the UK Government's announcement that the natural environment is to be given a cash value through the NEA UK National Ecosystem Assessment .  The intention is to help assess the true environmental cost of a farmer ploughing up a wood or the value to the NHS of living close to green spaces and clean air. The hope is that by placing a £ $ € value, natural resources will be better appreciated and stewarded. Skeptics fear however that you simply cannot put a price on an intangible such as a pleasant view or fresh air.  The BBC has reported extensively over the last month on 'putting a price on nature'.

What's this to do with organisational learning? Well I've often thought that an organisation can be viewed as an ecosystem. It has tangible assets such as premises and stock and intangible assets such as know-how and expertise (social capital). The former are easy to value, the latter more tricky. Perhaps there is a lesson for us in whether valuing intangible natural assets such as a bluebell wood vista, makes us appreciate it more and want to invest in its upkeep as an 'asset'.

Depending on how successful the NEA programme is, perhaps we can use this as an analogy to value communities of practice and other organisational learning processes and tools. When shareholders insist that these 'intellectual assets' are managed as well as capital assets, we will have made a real breakthrough.

Whether a gurgling brook or a knowledge retention process, it will be interesting to see how valuation pans out and whether there are unintended consequences.

Photo credit: Wikipedia
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