Opportunities for serendipity

Excellent stuff from Andrew McAfee:

I think serendipity is part of what underlies Metcalfe’s Law and a big part of the explanation for Eric Raymond’s insight that ‘given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.’ Knowledge workers and their organizations should be doing everything possible to increase opportunities for serendipity. This means searching broadly for information, narrating work so that others can become aware of it, asking questions to the biggest possible audience without presupposing who might have the answers, and generally contributing to and drawing from the biggest possible digital commons. This is what Enterprise 2.0 should be all about.

Online Info call for speakers


My good friend Steve Dale is in charge of the Online Information conference this year, which should mean it’ll be an absolute belter.

The call for speakers has just been announced and you can propose a topic for a session here. I’ve republished Steve’s email below:

There is a growing recognition but not yet a consensus about integrating social media into an organisation’s workflows and business processes. There is a desire to develop more effective knowledge sharing and a culture of collaboration amongst staff, but little recognition of what this means in terms of organisational change.

Today’s organisations must be able to rapidly adapt to an increasingly volatile and economically challenging environment to remain successful, yet achieving an agile organisation that can deliver high quality products and services is no easy task and one which requires the right blend of people, processes, and technology.

The common goal that all these organisations are trying to achieve is culture: an information and knowledge sharing culture that enables the entire organisation to rapidly respond and adapt to socio-economic changes.
For most organisations, several challenges remain in developing an effective knowledge sharing and collaborative culture:

  • Geographic and cultural differences
  • Silos of information
  • Difficulty in easily publishing information across teams and departments
  • Information security
  • Workforce skills

Many of these challenges are a result of legacy information systems that aren’t built for today’s knowledge worker, yet there are still abundant opportunities for Information Professionals to prove value and demonstrate worth. Why not share your experiences at Online Information 2010?Is the semantic web part of the answer?

Will the social web foster more effective knowledge sharing across the modern workplace?

Is the collaborative revolution the opportunity for a surge in information productivity – or is it just a distraction?

We want to hear from organisations that have transformed themselves to be more agile and flexible by exploiting open or linked data and conversation streams. We are looking for exciting, innovative applications as well as lessons learned from the application of Web 2.0 tools and techniques. We want to showcase organisations that are using semantic web techniques to create new and exciting resources.

Do you have a story to tell?

  • Maybe you’ve been involved in creating a new application for Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo!, Google or the iPhone?
  • Have you made the move to the semantic web to deal with the digital explosion and the need for greater “intelligence” in your information?
  • Perhaps you’ve found ways to exploit new online tools to transform the way your organisation does its business?
  • Have you changed your management processes to cope with this “always connected world”?
  • Have you identified the education and training needs that will enable your staff to become more effective knowledge workers?

Then why not share it with others?The Online world is waiting to learn from the pioneers who have made it work. This is your chance to be seen as one of the leaders – with your story reaching a global audience from over 40 countries.

I look forward to receiving your proposal.

Stephen Dale
Online Information Conference 2010

Celebrating connections

Thanks to Michael Norton for sharing this in the Communities of Practice – a really interesting read about social networking and knowledge management. I suspect that the KM term probably brings people out in hives these days, but in times of significant change – especially when staff turnover is high, as it is during a time of financial pressure – it’s vital that as much knowledge is kept within organisations as possible.

My view is that the big push around knowledge management a few years ago failed because it was considered a distinct activity – for it to work, it needs to slot seamlessly into people’s workflows so they don’t notice that they are doing it. Social tools help with this, especially when people are using similar platforms in their home lives.

If you can’t see the document below, you can download the PDF.

Writing on Wall

Thanks as well to the Henley Knowledge Management Forum for publishing this openly.

We are all networked learners

More great stuff from David Wilcox musing on the experience of social reporting in Portugal. Whilst there, he was lucky enough to come across Etienne Wenger, a highly regarded thinker in the field of knowledge management and learning, who I first came across due to his promotion of communities of practice.

My conclusion, inspired by Etienne Wenger – above – is that social reporters can aspire to be “social artists” who help create social learning spaces where people can work together on social issues. It’s something anyone can do, with the right attitude and some skills, but I think social reporters should definitely make it a key part of their work.

It would appear that Etienne’s thinking is taking him away from clearly defined communities into a more informal arrangement of learning through sharing as part of wider networks: the ‘social learning spaces’.

This is fascinating stuff, and as I am currently putting together a programme of workshops to help civil servants understand what they need to do to engage with the social web, I wonder how these social learning spaces might be implemented as a part of that.

Here we are seeing different elements of the way the social web can be used – reporting at events, sharing knowledge across networks, collaborative learning, online storytelling, engagement activity between government citizens – merging together into one, like a big Venn diagram.

I think this makes all of us who use the social web on a regular basis networked learners. Every tweet, every Flickr photo, every online video, every shared link, every blog post adds to the sum of what we can know, and we have this knowledge served up, directly to us hundreds of times a day. We probably aren’t even aware that it is happening, but by a process of ambient osmosis, it is.

Of course, what is required with any of this is the willingness to collaborate and share, and the awareness of that fact that we all need to benefit from this networked learning. The technology is just an enabler. But who wouldn’t want to be involved with an initiative that has so much to offer?

Wikipedia a bad example for enterprise wikis?

Helen Nicol writes an interesting post about how to get wikis taken up within organisations. Using Wikipedia as an example, she writes, is a bad idea, because it sets unrealistic expectations of the amount of content likely to be generated, and will also likely scare people away.

Unfortunately, many companies begin their wiki experiments by trying to create the definitive knowledge asset on, say, knowledge management. This is a big ask for people who’ve never had their own contributions edited by someone they don’t know. It turns people off, and prevents them from recognising the potential in wikis. They need to start with a simple and non-threatening activity like a progress report or lessons learned review. Even a shared agenda would help as I said in this post some time ago. Starting small will really help people gain confidence enough to start working on bigger projects like knowledge assets.

This taps into a real problem for those wishing to encourage the adoption of these tools within their organisations. Saying wikis are like Wikipedia (which they can be, but…) is a bit like describing blogs as online diaries (which they can be, but…).

As I often say, the best thing is just to start using something, with a freely available tool, whether a blog or a wiki or whatever and then use that to demonstrate what you mean to the unbelievers. Much easier than making people think they have to start recording the sum of all human knowledge, or start publishing their innermost thoughts on the web!

The human intranet

Andy Gibson, one of the chaps behind School of Everything, Mind Apples and his own consultancy business Sociability, made a couple of cracking presentations last Monday at the NCVO Information Management event.

Sadly I didn’t get to see either as I was busy playing a game of my own, but Andy has generously shared his slides from the day using Slideshare:

The Human Intranet

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: km sociability)

Next Gen KM

Knowledge management is something that really interests me, and it’s something that I think governmental organisations at all levels in the UK need to start seriously addressing. Of course, being a social media fanboy too means that I like to see where web technology can help with this stuff: to make it easier, more effective or just more fun.

So, I thought it might be useful to run through a few of the more popular KM tools and techniques and see where web 2.0 can improve things. I have linked to Nancy White‘s great resource on KM tools for each one for background material.

1. Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice are groups of people with common interests or goals, who come together to share best practice, information and experience – fundamentally, knowledge. They can exist on and offline, but when brought online you need to be careful that your provide the right interfaces for people to be able to connect with one another in an organic fashion – in other words to replicate real life interactions as accurately as possible online.

Why would you want to do this? Well, while I would agree that face to face meetings are always the best ways of building trust and getting things off the ground, they do have their weaknesses. For a start, there is a limit on the number of people that can attend at any one time, and geographical issues means there is always someone that will miss out. By providing an online alternative, these people can still engage with the community. Another consideration is the fact that not a lot goes on between meetings generally, and the online community provides the glue that sticks people together in between these get togethers.

For example, mailing lists cannot be used to create a community of practice – the conversation is too one-dimensional and there is no way of discvoering people with common experiences or problems. Web forums are better, but they are still organised in a top-down fashion, with people completing limited profiles and having limited means of sharing information: the threaded conversation.

Social networks, however, provide the right level of interaction, with personal profiles with wider scope and a range of different discussion and collaboration means. The great example of this, of course, is the IDeA’s Communities of Practice platform which provides a social network backed up with blogs, wikis, forums and document libraries to enable knowledge to be shared in whatever way the user feels is appropriate.

2. Knowledge Cafes

Knowledge Cafes are informal discussions, usually in small groups on a common theme, with plenty of coffee on tap. It’s an opportunity to explore ideas as part of the group, a mixture of brainstorming and discussion. Some structure tends to make knowledge cafes more effective, and one way is to have a facilitator not to lead, but rather shape the discussion to draw the best out of all the participants. At the end it’s usually nice to have a rap-up, where each group feds back their thoughts on the topic, and for them to be captured, perhaps onto paper or a word processed document.

One of the best things abut knowledge cafes is the fact that the small group allow everyone o have their say, but with everything being drawn together at the end, and this intimacy is difficult to replicate online. An additional difficulty is in whether you choose to make the online Knowledge Cafe synchronous or not – does each group need to be online at the same time, or can they log in and add to the discussion when they want, maybe during the course of a week?

One way of running a (for want of a better term) synchronous online knowledge cafe would be to make use of instant messaging technology. For example, Meebo is a browser based instant messaging platform which allows anyone to log in using their preferred IM protocol, whether it be MSN, AIM, Jabber, Yahoo! or Google. Further to that, Meebo allows you to create rooms where several people can participate in a discussion. It could work really well, with a Meebo room for each sub-group within the cafe. Another option is to use Campfire from 37 Signals. However, to have more than one room, and more than four people involved in a conversation, they you will need to pay for an upgrade to the standard service.

If you prefer to run an online knowledge cafe that people can dip in and out of, and don’t all have to be online at the same time, then the obvious solution is a forum, where the threaded conversations can accurately represent a conversation online. However, forums (which you can probably start to tell I am not awfully keen on…) can’t really mirror the organic nature of human conversation. The linear representation of the discussion means that tangents can’t easily be developed – and often that is where the real value lies. Wikis aren’t much use either, because while they are really easy to use and to get content online to share, they aren’t so hot at replicating structured conversations. Perhaps the best way of doing this therefore is to use a mind mapping service like Bubbl.us, which allows mind maps to be edited by members of a group, who are invited via email. This way, thoughts can be added, with responses added as nodes coming off the originating ones. Tangents can be followed up, while still keeping the whole conversation trackable and in one place.

3. Peer Assists

A peer assist is a pretty simple idea: someone has a problem, and they ask their friends to help out. In reality, it’s a bit different from a simple chat, as someone leads the discussion and helps to keep things on track, to ensure the conversation achieves, as much as is possible, the objectives of the session which are clearly defined at the outset. The objectives of a peer assist are going to be more specific than the more general discussion of a knowledge cafe, for example, and it is important to regularly check that the ideas being offered are suitable for the problem being discussed.

One of the key elements of running a successful peer assist is that you have people involved with the knowledge and experience to make useful contributions. Finding such people can be a difficult task, and social networks provide a great way of discovering people based on their interests, whether through the subject they write about on their blogs, or what they list on their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles as stuff they are good at. The chances are that you will already be ‘friends’ with these people and so they are entering the exercise as an already trusted source.

In terms of actually running the peer assist using the web, I think this is where the wiki really comes into its own. You can put the original problem at the top of a wiki page and invited contributions from those taking part to appear underneath. Those that the orginator thinks are potential solutions can be developed further, those that are unsuitable can be archived to elsewhere on the wiki. In terms of a good wiki system to use, my favourite is WikiSpaces, which allows for the easy integration of a range of content types and is really simple to get started with.

Another option might be to write the problem up as a blog post, with suggestions coming in through the comments, though this might end up being a little linear.

4. After Action Review

An after action review is a simple enough idea: a team takes a look at a recently completed piece of work, and collaboratively works on what went well, and what not so well. Key questions are: what could be done better next time; and what can we do better elsewhere as a result of good stuff done in this project. They don’t have to be held at the end of a project though, and can be used at various stages so that continuous improvement is possible.

In the real world, an after action review would be run with everyone around a table, so that all the necessary views and experiences can be aired. This can be replicated like the knowledge cafe with instant messaging, forums or online mind mapping. If you are really stuck then even email will do it.

However, a more interesting method might be to combine collaborative authoring with discussion, using a system like WriteWith. This allows you to jointly edit some text, in a Google Docs or Zoho stylee, but also has a threaded discussion running alongside it. So the facilitator of the review could post a document detailing some of the aims of the project, with actual performance results and outcomes. These could then be discussed alongside the text, which can then be updated and turned into the after action review report. What’s great about WriteWith is that it will then let you export to PDF, Word or OpenOffice format – or even send the text straight to a blog!

5. Knowledge Market Place

A knowledge market place, or fair, is an opportunity to learn what it is that folk know, and what they would like to know. The ideal end result would be a big grid with a list of people with their skills and their needs on, with some contact details so that folk can easily get in touch with those they can help. Face to face methods of running a knowledge market place can include getting people to team up and ‘interview’ each other, writing down the wants and offers on post-its, which can then be stuck on the wall for viewing later as well as being typed up.

An online version of this would suit any kind of site which allows details profiles, so people with certain skills can be tracked down easily. Another way would be to have a wiki page, laid out as a grid which people can add to as they see fit. It might be possible for a blog to be created, with a post per person. These could be completed by the person concerned themselves or (more fun) someone they have just been speaking to. Tags could be added to outline the wants and needs, so that groups of people with similar interests could be identified with one click.

Any more? 

There’s five from me, then. Anyone got any more ways that web 2.0 can be used to develop KM in new and interesting ways?