Monday 15 November 2010


In Remembrance
Originally uploaded by Parksy1964
Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday, the day when we remember those who died or were wounded in the first world war, and in all other conflicts that followed. In the UK we wear red poppies, as a symbol of the poppy fields of France, where so many died.

In our little village church, the sermon yesterday was on Remembrance, and in one or two places it came very close to being a sermon on Knowledge Management. For why do we remember, if not to learn?

In the sermon, the vicar talked about how learning involves reflection on the past, not merely remembrance of the past, and then involves validation of what we reflect, so that we can sift opinion from reality. These observations are familiar to us who work in the KM field. It's not enough just to remember - we all have seen examples of people saying "I remember we made that mistake several times in the past". Remembering is not enough - we need reflection as well; we need to ask "why did that happen?" "what were the root causes behind that event?"

And then we need to validate that reflection. I remember John Henderson of Boston University saying that "all knowledge management systems have a validation step" and I think he is correct, because it is through validation that we convert opinion into knowledge.

And then, of course, we need to make changes. Learning involves change. If we do not make changes, we repeat the past. As Peter Cook (the comedian) used to say "I have learned from my mistakes, and now I am sure I can repeat them exactly". And we will repeat our mistakes exactly, if we do not make changes.

So how does this apply to Remembrance Sunday?

If we are to draw positives from Remembrance of the conflicts of the past, then we need to make Remembrance a part of learning. We need to move beyond Remembering old grievances, and even beyond honouring the memory of the fallen - in order to make Remembrance the first step in Learning.

It would be really heartening to think that this sort of Remembrance-driven learning happens in the governments of the world. It would be fantastic to think that politicians and civil servants analyse the conflicts which we find ourselves involved in, and reflect on what happened, and validate those reflections, and then make changes to avoid these ever happening again. I believe that steps towards this learning are being made in many countries, despite the cultural handicaps that affect learning in the government sector, such as the need to learn across multiple agencies or departments, the scrutiny of the press that makes open reflection a real risk, the huge issues of validating multiple opinions, and the massive issues of confidentiality and information security. I hope these steps continue, for here is an area where effective learning, and effective knowledge management, can make a difference not only to the security of nations, but maybe one to to the ending of war itself.

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