Friday 30 June 2017

A good way to use in-house blogs

Blogs have not lived up to their promise in KM terms. Maybe we are just using them in the wrong way?

In our 2017 global KM survey, blogs got a bad rating. Although blogs are a reasonably popular technology choice (number 10 in popularity out of 19 technologies) they rank the worst for value delivery.

Why is this?

I think its partly because we tend to use blogs within organisations in the wrong way.  We use them in our companies in the same way that people use them on the web, which is the way I am using this blog now; we use them as personal vehicles for musing and for opinions, rather than ways to build, record and discuss knowledge.

See for the example the typical approach of the "Director's blog" - one of the more common uses for blogging and one of the least useful in KM terms, because

  • A director blogging is a bit like a director standing up behind the lectern and making a speech. It's heirarchical - it's "me preaching to all of you". 
  • They are generally one-way, with little or no comments. They are not collaborative, and its not an example you want to set as part of your KM program. 
  • Very rarely is does the blog contain knowledge (by which I mean concrete "how to" advice and details which will help the reader do their job better). 
  • If you are a director, you care about style and it becomes a publication, and not the start of an informal conversation that invites others to take part. 
  • It becomes "something extra to read" - just noise in the system 
So how can blogs add value? Firstly you want them t replace something else rather than adding one more communication channel, and then you want to make them about work.

The project blog can replace other channels of project reporting, can allow collaborative entries from the project leader and core team, can provide a central channel for a potentially dispersed team, and can host discussions on project topics through the comments feature. It automatically notifies the people who need to be notified, without the need for email. People interested in the project may subscribe, and the blog creates a narrative record. And then when you get  to the end of the project and it is time for collecting the lessons, you will find many of them already documented in the project blog. 

A great example is the Polymath project - an international collaborative project among mathematicians to solve a particularly tricky problem. The team used blogs to discuss interesting ideas and ways forward with the problem, and validated content was moved to a wiki as the team converged on a solution. It was interesting that it was not always the most experienced or most academic mathematicians that helped make progress - sometimes it was the amateurs and the school maths teachers that helped with breakthroughs. 

The Polymath project used two types of blog
  • Blogs hosted by mathematicians, where particular aspects of the problem were addressed in the blog comments
  • An administrative blog, which summarised progress, and hosted administrative discussion.
  • The wiki provided write-ups of the work done on the blogs. Comments on the blogs were the working process, the wiki was the summary of the outcome.
There are also some administrative conventions and ground rules, such as the following
  • No working independantly on the problem without discussing progress on the blog
  • Any blog post is not allowed more than 100 comments. This convention forced the leaders to summarise, and then restart, progress
  • Comments were divided into numbered comments (comments which make a direct contribution to the solution of the problem, and which were numbered for reference by other comments), and other comments, mostly about the process or administration of discussion ("metacomments").

That's how blogging became a working tool for the project - directly relevant to the work they were doing, a collaboration platform, and a record of the project over time.

That's a far better use for a blog than capturing senior managers' musings.

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