Saturday, 27 October 2007

The perils of too much knowledge...

On the perils of knowing too much...

Research Findings 1 – confidence and diversity in communities

I assumed, when I began my research, that having a balance of experts and novices was important to engender the sharing of knowledge and experience. What I found was that more confident community members would share more readily regardless of how long they had worked in their roles.

The apprenticeship model assumes that a “master” can and will teach an “apprentice” what they know. We generally assume that the length of time in a role dictates the level of ability – this may be the case, but the ability and willingness to pass on skills requires a degree of confidence.

In terms of an online community, attempts to ensure that membership includes those with differing levels of seniority alone may not be the best tactic for ensuring skills are past from master to novice – if the “master” is not confident, they may be less likely to share their knowledge. Confidence AND ability are required to ensure skills are passed on within an online community. Face to face sharing may be different, as the level of confidence required to share may well be less in such familiar situations, and many of us have techniques for encouraging participation in even the quietest individuals.

Confident people may share more readily, but that doesn’t mean what they are sharing is good practice. Encouraging the more reticent members of a community to take part is important for diversity of opinion. Those with less confidence may be less willing to share online and may need support to develop confidence and trust prior to sharing online.

Managing the diversity of a community then is more complex that merely having a balance of novices and experts. Just as we see in meetings, training, any group gathering, quieter less confident members have valuable contributions which balance debate and enhance the knowledge being shared. Where there are no face to face opportunities, then techniques such as encouraging individuals to contribute by contacting them personally, by a phone call or an email, recognising their value, may give them the incentive to take part.

Communities will out

A couple of things this week have reminded me just how quickly technology is adopted and begins to shape our lives. One of Russell Brand's Ponderland rants, this one on science and technology, reminded me of the days before mobile phones, when we had to arrange to meet our friends at pre arranged times and places - if they weren't there, we just had to go home! This was only about 10 years ago! According to the CIA World Factbook (cited in Wikipedia), several countries, including the UK, now have more mobile phones than people! The use of mobile phones has grown, not because they are clever, and have many functions, but because we are social animals who like to connect with others.

The internet was adopted in a similar fashion - it was only in the 90's that it really took hold, and companies and porn pushers took hold of it...but it wasn't always porn and the early days, there was a sense of freedom, connectivity, sharing and community, that was then missing from our lives. Web 2.0 has developed to enable us to return to this community centric internet of old. This fantastic video illustrates the point (thanks to
Laurel Papworth for this).

Interestingly, the guy being interviewed refers to people "feeling rooted through another person" in communicating via the internet. A great quote from an article on The Internet Society site,
a brief history of the internet says

The Internet is as much a collection of communities as a collection of technologies, and its success is largely attributable to both satisfying basic community needs as well as utilizing the community in an effective way to push the infrastructure forward.

The notion of community is at the core of how we use technology, and has always been the case. Many technological developments have enabled us to communicate (phone), to visit one another (cars, roads, bridges), they've all been about people getting together in some shape or form. Communities adopt technology for their own ends, they "find a way" to use what's available. What I'm really interested in is the word of mouth promotion of "tools" that lead us to make use of what is available to communicate, share and come together.

Communities will out...the technology with which this happens will change and develop, and communities which will do the changing. We need to think of communities like we do gardens - plants will grow if we do nothing, if we want particular types of plants to grow, we must nurture them. The same goes for communities - they will occur whatever we do, whatever technology is available, but if we want a particular type of community, then we must develop the skills to help them grow and flourish. Different technologies are like different types of soil, fertiliser, different degrees of heat, light, and different amounts of water. Different plants like different things, different communities like different things. We've developed skills in plant cultivation over many many years, it's time to learn how to grow our communities. Wenger, McDermott and Synder understand this - their book "Cultivating Communities of Practice" is a great start...but there's much more digging to be done.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Academia vs Wikipedia...again

I thought I'd share this rather fabulous rant by Thomas on Techyum with you. Thomas is incensed about this article that appeared in New Scientist about Wikipedia, particuarly noting that some professors are less accurate in what they say than Wikipedia, which in my experience, is fair comment.

There has been phenomenal debate around the worth of Wikipedia, and most of the key elements of the debate can be found on Wikipedia itself. Indeed, in one of its own articles, Wikipedia itself notes that

Wikipedia acknowledges that it should not be used as a primary source for serious research.

but its value as an encyclopedia for me is endless. There is no way I could have written a thesis on the use of social media had I not had access to the definitions therein. Current information on the the terminology used in the area of social software use just wasn't available to me in books, and relevant peer reviewed articles were few and far between, in obtuse articles not held by my university.

Barry Leiba reviews research papers, and has kindly cited some examples of where Wikipedia shouldn't be used in research papers. His greatest bugbear appears to be the fact that references cited may have changed by the time the reviewer checks the reference, which is fair comment. This is mitigated however by refering to the precise version. David Gerard's comment on the same post explains how -

Click on the "History" tab and you'll see every version inthe edit history. Whereas the version at may change, the version at (14:46
UTC, 3 October 2007) will not.

Wikipedia are attempting to get around the problem of peer review, with, suprise suprise, a peer review system...based on "trusted" sources. To earn this trusted status, users will have to show some commitment to Wikipedia, by, for instance, making 30 edits in 30 days.

This seems very much a quantity over quality strategy, but I'm sure its more robust than that (!). New software will also be used to give a "trust score" to contributors based on whether their edits are changed or not. This means that any topic in which there is healthy debate and disagreement will therefore be a no go as edits and changes will reduce trust scores.

In terms of academically accepted definitions, maybe the solution is for the Oxford English dictionary say, to produce a free online dictionary which takes contributions from us mere online mortals, to speed up the process of adding new words. As it is, you have to subscribe to even view the Oxford English dictionary, it takes an age for new words to be included, and right now, there's just no real substitue for Wikipedia.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Sharing the knowledge...about cutting down power use

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs - you know you need know they make sense, and if you weren't convinced, check out the latest Commoncraft video.

Reuse, recycle, reduce, reflect, reinvent, reconsider, and really think about the impact you make on the world...please?

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Pandering to ego - scam email for professionals

Just received this email and thought I should warn others that it is very probably a cunning way of getting details for a mailing list or to get you to buy the book because you're in it and it shows you've reached the pinnacle of professional excellence. Others have blogged that they've received this, so this is just a possibly cynical warning...they want everything but your sexual history to be alarm bells rang loud and clear.

Dear Helen Nicol:

On behalf of International WHO'S WHO of Professionals, I am pleased to inform you that you have been nominated as a candidate for inclusion in the 2007-2008 Edition. We congratulate you! Nomination into WHO'S WHO is an honor in itself. WHO'S WHO has over 20,000 members in 154 countries worldwide. It is the most elite professional network in the world. Our members assist each other daily with business and career opportunities. It is in times like these that such a network is most valuable and we are seeing members help other members expand their businesses, find new positions, even relocate to another country.

If selected into WHO'S WHO, you will also be listed in the 2007-2008 Edition of International WHO'S WHO of Professionals. This is the definitive work on the world's leaders in commerce, economics, policy, and trade.

We do require additional information to complete the selection process and we ask that you provide your biographical data by accessing the form on our website at:

Our editorial deadline is quickly approaching. I urge you to act today. If you delay, I cannot guarantee the committee will have ample time to review your submission.


Wayne Uehara
2020 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., PMB #504
Washington, D.C. 20006
P.S. There is no cost or obligation to be listed in the International WHO'S WHO of Professionals. To ensure your biographical data is received in time, please complete this online form by November 15, 2007. Upon review, our Membership Selection Committee will be in touch with you.

Members of our Board of Advisors include: Wallid Abdo, CEO, Eurobrokers-Greece; Michael Gondive, CEO, Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank-Kenya; Fehmi Sami, Senior VP, Citibank, N.A.-Great Britain; Yusuf Alami, COO, Abdu Dhabi Investment Company-UAE; Mikhail Zaitsev, Finance Director, Volvo Car-Russia; DR. Jung Kook Paeng, CIO, Hyundai Motor Company, Korea; John Sai Chi Mak, Managing Director, Bulova Watch International, Ltd.-Hong Kong; and Aldo Castelli, President, Shell Brasil, Ltda.-Brazil

Note: If you wish to unsubscribe from WHO’S WHO of Professionals please click on the link below:

You have received this message because you are registered to receive messages from Informa, One Research Drive, PO Box 5195, Westborough, MA 01581.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Networked knowledge and Connectivism

I came across an interesting post from Susie Vesper this morning. Having listened to George Siemen's presentation on Connectivism and Web 2.0 in Education, she considers what Siemen's says about our tendency to subscribe only to those sites which reflect our own positions. Although her online research reflects this, she finds that many of her colleagues do NOT share her fascination with technology for education.

This resonanted with me - I know how she feels. I am constantly debating the utility of trusting in networks as a strategy for creating and utilising knowledge with colleagues whose standpoint is that knowledge is created THEN disseminated. The notion that knowledge is continually created, refreshed, developed, through social interaction, action and evaluation, appears alien.

My greatest difficulty is not getting frustated - how can they not see this is the case! (I know, we're all different...). My second greatest difficulty is creating a lucid, valid argument which will enable us to reach a position from which we can move forward and make use of the knowledge we all have.

What I need is a way to articulate my argument in a persuasive manner using language which they can relate to, an analogy that demonstrates the evolving nature of networked knowledge, something more concrete? Resources I've found useful to date have been from David Skyrme, who believes
"...information and communications technology is a powerful enabler of prosperity and well-being at all levels - individuals, organisations and society as a whole."

A sentiment I agree with wholeheartedly. After all, without new technologies, we'd all still be banging rocks together.

His Knowledge Networking insight has a practical focus, and I'm reading his book Knowledge Networking: Creating the Collaborative Enterprise. The book has its own update website, which keeps the content bang up to date.

Hopefully, I'll get some tips on explaining and selling the principles of Connectivism to colleagues so we can really take advantage of the huge amount of knowledge there is walking around in my organisation.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Government use of social media - reporting what we already knew...

A friend at the very useful National Library for Health recently sent me the Government Review of Social Media Use, which reflects my research findings into the use of social media and which is, in reality, a fine description of the problem of electing individuals who crave power to represent us.

The Social Media Review was commissioned in March 2007 by the Permanent Secretary for Government Communication, to provide information on the current and planned use of social media in government. Its aims were to

  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of government communication activity in this area
  • identify examples of good practice within the wider communication network
  • identify barriers and opportunities
  • make recommendations on how government communicators can build their capability to
    engage more effectively with the public using social media
  • identify communication structures, processes and resources that may need to be
    enhanced or refocused to facilitate better working

A couple of things caught my attention when reading it...

It mentions the command and control culture prevents them civil servants from

"having access to the tools and networks they have come to expect in their private lives."

This I found in my own research, that my organisation was wary of losing control of its communications with "the masses", leading to negative media attention and public uproar. This is very clearly demonstrated in the review, where it states

"...the use of some social media – particularly blogs and social networking sites – could open up individuals, departments, the Civil Service and Ministers to extreme scrutiny, criticism and negative media comment."

Again, the media impacts negatively on the culture of the public sector, leading to the opposite of what is required, a culture of open and transparent debate and communication.

It amused me that this report stated that public servants are warey of social media due to the fact that it "puts communication into the hands of the many" and for every gain to the reputation of a department, there is the danger that policy differences be exposed or misinterpreted and "circulated widely". Funny...I always thought the government was based on on electing representatives of the "many" to voice their opinion? I thought that that was what representative meant? Is that wrong?

Maybe this is a chance to develop policy WITH the electorate? The reality of it all seems the wrong way around to me...but then I am only one of the "many".

The report also notes the lack of understanding of the skills and resources required to manage online communities, blogs etc, another misconception about online communities and social takes some very refined skills to make it work effectively.

Jeremy Gould. a civil servant running websites for a UK government department notes also, that government colleagues are blind to the value that could be gained from joining in with existing debate, and bemoans the fact that they are just

"... desperate to have a shiny blog/wiki/forum (delete as appropriate), not interested in examining interaction online with existing communities or partnering. They just WANT A BLOG, NOW!"

This to me is a complete failing to maximise on a potential collaboration between the people and the people elected to represent them and a misunderstanding of the true nature of social media. David Milliband may have a popular blog, have been interviewed on Second Life, and wax lyrical about the potential of Web 2.0, but his colleagues it seems, are still living in the dark ages (but we all knew that now didn't we).

Monday, 8 October 2007

It's NOT fluffy - misconceptions about knowledge management

If one more person says "you do the fluffy stuff" when talking about the human element of knowledge management I'm going to scream...

Why is it, that anything to do with people is termed "fluffy". It makes it sound all kittens, pink and soft. It's not. People are interesting, complex, and above all, very very difficult to fathom. They are multifacted self directed objects, with their own thoughts, motivations, likes, dislikes, habits and beliefs. How on earth can dealing with or understanding them be "fluffy".

Knowledge managers who do not think codification and storage of knowledge is the way to go are not the only people who have this ridiculous label. Anyone working in training and development, social work, psychology, will all have been told they "do that fluffy stuff".

In terms of knowledge management, when we talk about communities, and networks, we are talking about the way people really learn. Numerous studies have demonstrated that we learn most of what we know about how to do our jobs by talking to one another, by communicating our experiences with others. However, this is seen as "fluffy" - because it isn't quantifiable? Because we can't see the knowledge being shared? It doesn't mean it's not happening...and that we may be able to harness/cultivate it for positive gain.

There are still people who believe that collecting "knowledge" is the way to go in knowledge mangement, that a database full of documents, a spreadsheet of comments, is what is needed. I would argue that this is not knowledge, but information. Information devoid of context, knowledge reduced in complexity, is of little use in comparison with a conversation or story giving depth and clarity. As Jay Cross so succinctly put it in his book Informal Learning,
"You can no more capture true knowledge in a repository that you can trap lightening in a box". (p64)
So what is so "fluffy" about people sharing knowledge without storing it in a repository...maybe "fluffy" is a euphemism for "I don't understand what you are talking about so I'll give it a name which makes it seem easy and harmless".

Then again, if "fluffy" really means complex, difficult to understand, but vital if we're going to share knowledge effectively, then I'm happy.

Rant over...