Thursday 23 February 2017

Validation in Knowledge Management

Any knowledge management framework needs to address the issue of Knowledge Validation.

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 to say "this is good quality knowledge. It's not opinion, or conjecture; it is justified and valid. It has the stamp of approval. We can trust it".

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

There are multiple approaches to this:

  1. Validation by an individual, where a single person has validation sign-off. You see this in organisatuions where people with technical authority sign off on standard procedures.
  2. Validation by a group of individuals. Think of the aviation industry, where new knowledge gained through indicent investigation is used to update pilot chekclists, but only after sign-off by the manufacturer anthe aviation authorities.
  3. Validation by a community of practice. Here a community of practice collaboratively agrees (perhaps through the use of online discussion and/or a wiki) on the validity of knowledge. 
  4. Validation through experience and use.  Again you might expect a wiki to be self-correcting, as the knowledge is validated through use. However you need to make sure that the knowledge is based on evicence, not opinion, preference, prejudice or hearsay. We hear a lot about "evidence based policy" in Governament, or "evidence based healthcare" in the medical world, and often an individual or group is accountable for reviewing the evidence, which moves us back to option 1 or 2 again.

The more we see Knowledge as being community property rather than the property of any one individual, the more tricky the issue of validation becomes. Here are some thoughts about which approach to choose under carying circumstances.

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 the provenance of a single person or a small group of experts. 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.

Where experience and evicence is widespread and dispersed, then a Community of Practice may act as a better validatory mechanism. You 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 is only 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, who can weigh up the evidence, and whether there needs to be single point accountability.

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