Saturday 26 September 2009

Learning without liberty - the importance of empowerment

Handcuffed , Tokyo
Originally uploaded by mskogly
"Liberty without learning is always in peril; learning without liberty is always in vain".
- John F. Kennedy

This is a great quote! But how does it apply to KM?

I was having a conversation recently on a discussion forum about what Communities of Practice needed in order to succeed, and my "number one need" was Empowerment. There is little point in having communities, unless they are empowered to act on the knowledge they share.

By Empowerment, I am referring to the ability of the community members to take action, based on the knowledge they receive.

Here's one scenario

"Jo has a problem. Jo asks the community for help and advice, and receives some excellent practice. She applies the knowledge she receives, and solves the problem"

Here's another.

"Joe has a problem. Joe asks the community for help and advice, and receives some excellent practice. He presents the solution to his boss. His boss doesn't like it, and suggests another course of action"

In scenario 1, communities deliver value, and thrive and grow.
In scenario 2, communities can actually be counterproductive, in that they create tension between what people know is right, and what they are allowed to do.

These are extreme scenarios, but I hope illustrate what I mean by empowerment.

In a disempowered organisation, people can receive the knowledge they need to act, but lack the freedom to take the action, which leads to frustration and bitterness. Learning without liberty is always in vain.

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