Thursday 16 February 2012

Who signs off on Knowledge?

signing off I have an old video of Professor John Henderson, where he says "every Knowledge Management system I have seen, addresses the issue of Validation".

Validation means a process by which it can be said that "this is good quality knowledge. It's not opinion, or conjecture; it is justified and valid".

If Validation is important, and I believe it is important, then who validates? Who "signs off" on Knowledge?

The more we see Knowledge as being community property rather than the property of .any one individual, the more tricky this issue becomes. Here are some thoughts about how it may be addressed.

Firstly, there is the issue of the important of the knowledge itself. The more important it is, the more of a life-end-death issue it is, the more validation becomes a single person job. This is partly for purposes of accountability. Single-point accountability, in business and government, is the cornerstone of good governance and ultimately, good performance. Without single point accountability for processes, organisations have no means of ensuring that what have been determined as the goals for the organisation are likely to be met. So let's imagine knowledge of Nuclear Power Plant construction. If you want good performance in Nuclear Power Plant construction, then validation of the knowledge requires single point accountability. One person must sign off, generally using a Community of Practice or a smaller Community of Experts as an advisory board.

If the knowledge is of lesser importance, then the Community of Experts can take a collective accountability, and validate the knowledge themselves. If single-point accountability is not so important, then let the group decide.

But can we have a system of validation by the Community of Practice? Indeed we can - we could give the users of the knowledge some sort of "voting rights" on the knowledge, so they can vote on what is useful, and what is valid. You would end up with a CoP validation process. This may be possible when the Community Members are experienced enough to be able to validate. Take a community of amateur bakers, validating the best recipe for Victoria Sponge. A community voting process to define the best recipe would be very effective.  In other cases, the CoP members may be largely inexperienced, and lack the capability to make effective validation judgments. A poll of tabloid newspaper readers regarding the validity of newspaper horoscopes might not give an answer that was consistent with scientific study, for example.

So when you are addressing the validation issue, ask yourself who knows enough to validate, and whether there needs to be single point accountability.


Anonymous said...

Who signs off on Knowledge?
History, confirmation by re-learning the same things, independent entities coming to the same conclusion.
Those three alone work for families, companies, nation states and inter-continental feudes.

Nick Milton said...

History, confirmation by re-learning the same things, independent entities all provide evidence, but there needs to be a decision made that the evidence is enough to be able to sat "yes, this is valid knowledge, we will use if with confidence to drive what we do as a family, company, nation state". That's what I mean by sign-off. Evidence cannot sign itself off.

This is particularly important if the evidence is not conclusive (it seldom is), or when the impact of the decision is very high (such as designing and siting a nuclear power station, or baling out a faltering economy).

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