Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why Knowledge Management and Learning need collaborative environments

When I think of Knowledge management, I see it occurring on three levels within an organisation:

  1. Organisationally:
    this is knowledge that is critical to all staff throughout the organisation.This need is typically met by standard corporate intranet content, such as policies and procedures.
  2. In the team or business unit:
    this is information that is shared within a team, and is not of general interest to others within the organisation.
  3. Personally:
    this is knowledge, skills and expertise needed by an individual staff person. In technical terms, this is often facilitated by the use of social media, while skills are often gained through training, coaching or mentoring.
It is at the middle (team) level that collaborative environments can be of greatest benefit
when capturing and sharing knowledge. Many organisations are considering their options when it comes to this software but many have also supported the creation of team-level collaborative spaces using a range of technologies. (e.g. sharepoint, yammer etc)

These have proven to be most effective within communities of practice, and formalised teams and project groups. With collaborative technology evolving to be more effective, these tools are slowly becoming a key part of work practices. The challenge, however, is to ensure that collaborative environments to not promote a culture of knowledge hoarding. The danger is that teams or individuals will collect and store all their information within their own boundaries, in a format that is of little or no value to other staff in their organisation.

Again, this highlights the complimentary key to collaboration.... sharing. If you study and look at the early adopters of collaborative tools, where lots of work spaces were created, there was a large proliferation of individual areas, and few overall knowledge gathering or indexing tools working in tandem which meant that the knowledge could not be found. Thankfully, organisations are becoming more cognisant of the value of conversation and collaboration and are letting natural folksonomies occur to ensure knowledge remains contextual and available but also remains as a sense making tool for all.

Today's Knowledge management approaches must still be used to identify and distil the
key information within an organisation but it is the collaborative spaces that are providing more benefit for organisations as a whole. The ongoing development of collaborative spaces then need to be supported by appropriate policies and guidelines for users of the collaborative spaces.

Beyond these information and knowledge gathering activities, the collaborative spaces themselves should be placed within the context of the intranet as a whole, and classified according to a "living" taxonomy. From a learning perspective, it is clear that collaborative tools will grow in use within organisations, and the challenge for the learning community is to ensure that they promote effective knowledge sharing within an organisation, not create a hundred ‘silos’ of walled-off learning "classes" that produce value only for those who are participating.

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