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Connecting vs collecting knowledge

Knowledge management programs may be seen as having both a collecting and a connecting dimension.

A major “how” question for any organization undertaking knowledge sharing is to decide is how to balance the two.

The connecting dimension involves linking people who need to know with those who do know, and so developing new capabilities for nurturing knowledge and acting knowledgeably. Connecting is necessary because knowledge is embodied in people, and in the relationships within and between organizations. Information becomes knowledge as it is interpreted and made concrete in the light of the individual’s understandings of the particular context. For example, help desks and advisory services (small teams of experts to whom one can call to obtain specific know-how or help in solving a problem) can be very effective in the short term in connecting people and getting quick answers to questions, thus accelerating cycle time, and adding value for clients. Such services often tend to prove more immediately productive than the building of knowledge bases, which takes longer. An organizational “directory of expertise” (that is, a “who’s who” indicating who knows what) can enable staff to connect to the right people and know-how more efficiently. However, an organization that focuses entirely on connecting, with little or no attempt at collecting, can be very inefficient. Such organizations will fail to get the leverage of sharing, and may waste time in “reinventing wheels”.

The collecting dimension relates to the capturing and disseminating of know-how through information and communication technologies aimed at codifying, storing and retrieving content, which in principle is continuously updated through computer networks. Through such collections of content, what is learned is made readily accessible to future users. Even where comprehensive collections of materials exist, effective use may still need knowledgeable and skilled interpretation and subsequent alignment with the local context to get effective results, just as reading a newspaper article on brain surgery which does not qualify or enable a reader to conduct brain surgery. Thus the organization that focuses completely on collecting and makes little or no effort to foster people connections tends to end up with a repository of static documents.

Most knowledge management programs, particularly organization-wide programs such as those at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen or the World Bank, aim at an integrated approach to managing knowledge, by combining the benefits of both approaches and achieving a balance between connecting individuals who need to know with those who do know and collecting what is learned as a result of these connections and making that easily accessible to others. For example, if collected documents are linked to their authors and contain other interactive possibilities, they can become dynamic and hence much more useful. The academic viewpoint that connecting and collecting knowledge are sharp alternatives, between which a clear choice must be made, does not appear relevant to most business situations.

Reference: See Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. Boston, London, Butterworth Heinemann, October 2000.

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