Tuesday 5 September 2017

Can you deliver Knowledge Management with no technology?

There are a few cases - very few - where you can build a Knowledge Management progam without the help of technology.

  Low-tech Twitter
We often talk about a Knowledge Management Framework as a mix of Roles and Accountabilities, Processes, Technologies, and Governance - the four legs on the Knowledge Management table.

But can you get along with any of these missing?

Can you do Knowledge Management with no technology, for example?

The purpose of KM technology is to allow people to talk when they can't get into the same room at the same time, and to allow knowledge to be stored and developed beyond the constraints of human memory.

So it would be possible to have a technology-free application of KM for:

  • a small group, who were all co-located and could talk at any time;
  • meeting frequently to discuss knowledge, and keeping that knowledge tacit and undocumented;
  • debriefing quickly while memories are fresh, ensuring knowledge did not need to be stored for a long time;
  • dealing with rapidly-changing knowledge which would be out of date by the time it is documented;
  • or knowledge they need to internalise quickly, which they do through conversation rather than reading;
  • which they will re-use quickly, before they forget the details. 
This is rather like Action Learning, and you could argue either that Action Learning is a technology-free application of Knowledge Management where the knowledge remains only in tacit form, or that Knowledge Management is a technology-enabled extension of Action Learning using technology to spread the learning process through space and time across multiple teams and locations.

I know of one example like this - where a project was in the middle of intensive negotiations with a hot government, and conducted Knowledge management through a series of After Action reviews in the team "war room" with everyone present. The knowledge could then be internalised and taken into the next negotiation without the need for documentation. However even then, the team used the war-room whiteboard as a form of technology to build up a map of the negotiation process and the negotiating stances of the governmental departments.

So it is possible for a small team to use something like Action Learning as a technology-free form of KM. However as soon as the conversation needs to reach beyond the immediate team, or where knowledge has to be stored for more than a few days, technology needs to play its part.  "Play it's part" is the key point - technology is one of the four enablers of KM, and cannot deliver KM on its own. What it can do is extend the reach of learning discussions, and provide a place where the content of those discussions can be stored and developed over time. 

While there are a few cases where no technology is needed for KM, in the vast majority of cases Technology is one of the four main enablers, forms one of the four legs on your KM table, and will require one quarter of your focus during KM implementation.

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