Monday, 20 June 2016

5 things I learned at KMUK

Wednesday and Thursday last week saw Knoco at the KMUK 2016 conference in London. Here are some reflections from the event.

At KMUK 2016, from left, Laura Brooke, Lutz Lemmer
Ian Rodwell, Steve Perry, Rupert Lescott, me.
Photo by Laura Brooke
These conferences - always very interesting, always very well organised - are an opportunity to take the pulse of KM in the UK. Thank you very much to Ark group, Laura Brooke, Ian Rodwell, Paul Corney and the conference speakers and delegates for a great event.

Here are some of my thoughts on the current state of the art of KM in the UK, based on the presentations and discussions at the conference.

There seemed to be four main themes within the bigger topic of KM: Communities of Practice, Lesson-learning, Knowledge Transfer, and Technology. Communities were prominent in the presentations from Steve Perry (E&Y), Monica Danese-Perrin (Lloyds), and Christine Astaniou (FCA). Lessons were prominent in the presentations from Lutz Lemmer (TFL), and Ian Tinsley and Rupert Lescott (British Army/Knoco). Chris Payne (Olympic Games) and John Hovell (BAE systems) talked in the context of Knowledge transfer from organisation to organisation, and from person to person.  The technology presentations included James Loft talking about Artifical Intelligence, Ben Gardener on Semantic methors, and Nathaniel Suda on SharePoint.

You can see, within these themes, varying approaches to the issues of Content and Conversation - the two subjects of KM. The demonstrated processes - John Hovell's knowledge transfer planning, and the perennial favourite, the Knowledge Cafe - were conversational processes. Many presenters discussed KM frameworks that covered both content and conversation (Chris Payne, Lutz Lemmer, Peter Brown from the English Institute of Sport). Others were firmly down the content end. David Smith from the civil service described the KIM professionals as being certified in content management (library) skills for example, while the technology presentations covered content only (unless you count voice interactions with AI as conversation, which in a way it is, but it certainly isn't dialogue).  One thing that surprised me is that the demonstrated conversational processes were seen by many as something new, which makes me concerned that we may have lost sight of some of the conversational basis of KM. Sharing knowledge through structured conversation is a bedrock of KM, not something new.

The term "communities of practice" was very widely used at the conference, but the nature and scale and method and purpose of the networking within these "communities" was radically different. At one end of the scale you have the E&Y tax community of 13,000 members, interacting remotely through a sophisticated online site, and at the other end of the scale you have the groups of 10 experts in the FCA coming together for face to face meetings on specific topics. I wonder whether we need to be more precise in our descriptions of different types of networks (see here for example) as to lump them all together as "CoPs" is to mask the differences.

The best examples of Knowledge Management presented at the event were related to the areas of clearest  knowledge need, such as the need to "learn before doing" when hosting an Olympic games (which Chris Payne described as the largest and most complex endeavour other than military conflict), or the need to upgrade the transport infrastructure of one of the worlds busiest cities (Lutz Lemmer), or the need to save lives in Afghanistan (Ian Tinsley and Rupert Lescott). In other areas, people are still trying to do KM by stealth, or KM with no budget, or KM by technology, or KM by little incremental changes; all of which are very risky approaches.

The big issues for discussion in the knowledge cafe were the same issues we have been discussing for years - the issues of KM Value, and of Culture Change, for example, have been constant recurring discussions for years. In these two cases in particular I believe we have enough knowledge and experience of KM to give definitive answers, which makes me wonder how we can get those definitive answers out there so that people no longer have to keep struggling with these issues every time there is a conference.

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