Tuesday, 6 July 2010


Finally, my notes from KMUK 2010 conference - presentations available at

Lee Bryant: "Innovation can't work until we understand the problem to be solved" - there's a role for KM in helping the business understand the problem at hand but also a warning not to engage in KM for KM sake.

Lee was a little bit harsh on IT departments, citing dysfunctional relationships with IT as a barrier to KM (mixed reaction from the audience on this as so dependent on the personalities and culture). Other barriers include:

  • Extent of organisational responsibility - how much authority or influence do you really have to make change happen?
  • Too much focus on repositories and not enough attention to the information flows
  • Too much focus on structure vs emergence - e.g. Imposing a taxonomy vs nurturing a wiki
  • Assumptions about sharing for the "common good" - not always a clear argument - need to understand motivations and incentives
  • Too much focus on process rather than the people
  • Intranets haven't kept pace with the internet and are clunky - difficult to find what you need

KM has potential as a network-centric role to overcome silo working.

Lee talked about the emerging field of "social business":

  • Adhocracy - simplifying organisational forms - cf Clay Shirky
  • Collapsing distance - intimacy and scale at the same time
  • Social web - "ambient intimacy" (Stefana Broadebent)
  • Network productivity - about collaboration, typically not supported by HR policies

Lee suggested 4 areas of focus: connections, content, collaboration, culture

A key question is how can we help our customers make sense of the huge amount of content out there - a need for a filtering, sense making role. Our role should develop as knowledge networkers - find and open up data to improve performance, drive service improvement etc.

David Gurteen talked about the need to develop a "participatory culture" - this echoes a little of what Lee Bryant said that KM should focus on the people not the processes.

Gurteen was especially keen to encourage conversation within organisations as a way of connecting people and used a series of quotes to demonstrate this - a couple of my favourites here:

Bonnie Cheuk and Samantha Bouzan presented on a project to use KM techniques, to drive an initiative to capture and share staff ideas, with the aim of "co-creating" the overall business strategy. The project was essentially an 8 month strategy development process consisting of:

  • Knowledge management - Web 2.0 tools to complement face to face working
  • Internal comms
  • HR and staff engagement

3100 out of 3300 staff actively participated - 94% involvement rate

From a KM perspective:

  • Redefined what is understood as "knowledge" - includes insights, opinions, ideas as well as facts
  • Demonstrated value of KM with a purpose
  • Web 2.0 tools can help connect staff and different sites
  • Set expectations with regards to decision-making - involvement does not equal final decision
  • The interdisciplinary approach meant a broader perspective

Web 2.0 tools proved useful as can see emerging ideas quickly, and can encourage reflection - also open and transparent but can exclude some people. Whilst the project increased knowledge flow, the key was to put that knowledge to action - this involved visualising and summarising the input for leaders to inform decision-making as well as demonstrating to staff how their input was shaping strategy

Marc Gooch gave a very open and honest presentation on the ideas which have and haven't worked in his organisation (Royal Sun Alliance).

Interestingly, they found that online communities didn't work and this was a theme throughout the conference (communities of practice cannot be designed and typically will only work when they come from within the community). Royal Sun Alliance found that individuals didn't have enough incentive to participate.
deas that didn't work:

Ideas that seem to be working include a series of technical forums: these are face to face meetings, around case scenarios to stimulate discussion - these have proven successful as it's an opportunity for technical staff and head office to engage. A development programme has been designed to develop a cohort of champions who deeply understand the business and network together - networking events are held to link different skills and knowledge.

Hank Malik talked about linking KM to the talent management cycle - top down support was needed to get this up and running and the support from HR has been at times variable. A community charter is agreed with community leads before a community is set up and resourced - knowledge cafes/lunch'n'learns are held every month. Interestingly, Malik has done quite a bit of work on KM to support induction of new staff. The cycle (and there does seem to be quite a lot of activities so I wonder how well each is resourced) is shown in his slides (link at top of this post).

Dave Snowden gave a great presentation, challenging us all to be more strategic. He gave quite a stark warning that if we don't get more strategic, we risk our services and our jobs. Some of what he said echoed what Lee Bryant had opened with - we focus too much on systems and not enough on the way people work. Dave challenged us to think of new ways of doing things - we can't do more with less unless we change our ways of working.

His point was that we can't know in advance all the knowledge we will need so the most effective and pragmatic approach is to develop networks to enable access to knowledge when needed, as opposed to trying to capture it all in some kind of system. The price of networking is to share so you need to work at these relationships and be willing to share what you have and what you think. Dave advocated "messy coherence" over too much structure - structure goes out of date very quickly, for example, keeping taxonomies up to date can be a full time job.

Dave also covered the 7 principles of KM:
  • Knowledge can only be volunteered it can’t be conscripted
  • We only know what we know when we need to know it, we are pattern based intelligences not information processors
  • In the context of real need few people will refuse to share their knowledge
  • Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success
  • The way we know is not the way we say we know
  • We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down
  • Everything is fragmented, humans seek messy coherence
  • There are limits to the semantic web
Dave introduced the concept of a "crew" (like the navy) as an alternative to communities of practice - the key is to bring people together but to train them in their individual roles and expectations of other roles - this enables working across silos, building on naturally occuring roles. He argued this is a more dynamic way of sharing knowledge - gather the people and give them the tools to share as opposed to defining the structure for them.

There was some discussion around terminology with some delegates mentioning that the phrase "KM" is in itself a barrier as it is fairly meaningless - Dave recommended "sense making" instead . He referred to Gary Kline (Sources of Power) who uses the model: See Attend Act. The common definition of "Right info to right people at right time" isn't enough - we have to ensure people pay attention to and act on information.

Dave talked about some of the work he's currently involved in, particularly in relation to risk maangement. He argued that best practice doesn't capture anomalies and it's important to discover anomalies to identify threats and opportunities effectively.

He closed with the argument that KM needs to be more scientific and focus on real practical outcomes, addressing real-world intractable problems.

Ben Gardner talked about using OneNote to encourage cross-silo working and knowledge sharing. OneNote is used to create collaborative notebooks. Key lessons included: don't overengineer tools or environments (echoing the structure vs messy coherence argument from Dave Snowden); need to consider issues around trust; clarity of user experience; and the need for a clear purpose for the notebooks. OneNote is now used to run and capture meetings. Research has shown the project has saved around 45 minutes per week per person but it is hard to show that that time has gone towards new work. A charter is agreed with participants to agree how sharing will work and to build trust. The collaborative notebooks don't replace the lab books - the purpose of the collaborative notebooks is to capture knowledge to support decision making in individual projects. There have been issues around synchronising to Sharepoint - versioning has been a problem so there may be a need to consider checkin/checkout.

All in all, a very good conference and found it really helpful to discuss ideas - particularly alternatives to communities of practice. The key lesson is to adapt to the needs of the organisation and put in just enough structure to enable collaboration and evidence-based decision making.