Tuesday, 1 December 2020

The rate of change of knowledge

 Knowledge changes, and knowledge of some topics changes faster than others. This has massive implications for knowledge management.

Image from wikimedia commons

Knowledge is not static. It changes and develops over time. It has a half-life, and that half-life seems to be shrinking as the world speeds up. 

Old knowledge becomes obsolete - it turns into General Ignorance, and needs to be replaced by new knowledge. Knowledge evolves. It has to be overwritten.

Therefore if we are thinking of storing knowledge somewhere, we need to store it in a place that allows it to evolve. Storing knowledge in documents is not a great idea, unless you can easily overwrite those documents. I don't mean just saving a new version, I mean removing the old versions as well. Otherwise a search may bring up old versions as well as new, and the reader has to do a sorting job to find out which version is relevant. There should only be one version of knowledge - the current version, which is constantly under development. 

This is particularly true with knowledge that is evolving rapidly, and which has a very short half-life. Here it is much better to store knowledge in a wiki, which can be constantly updated and overwritten. 

For knowledge with a short half-life - 
  • Focus on rapid learning
  • Connect people into communities of learners
  • Use tools like blogs and wikis to document the learning
  • Write lessons learned into the wiki or the blogs
  • Expect the wiki to change weekly or monthly
  • Be prepared to overwrite old knowledge as new knowledge becomes available
For knowledge with a long half-life, which is pretty well established - 
  • Focus on providing access to the established knowledge resource
  • Connect people into communities of users
  • Use documents, manuals, standards, work instructions and reference sites to store the knowledge
  • Write lessons into a lesson management system
  • Expect the knowledge base to change slowly
  • Apply a good management of change process before overwriting old knowledge.
For knowledge with a moderate half-life, we need a blend of the two approaches above;
  • Focus both on development and provision of the knowledge
  • Connect people into communities of practice which both learn and apply the knowledge, and who can both develop and provide it
  • Use a wiki, but link to standards and established practices where needed
  • Write lessons into a lesson management system, and ensure this rapidly moves new lessons into the body of knowledge 
  • Expect the knowledge base to keep changing

Depending on the rate of change of the knowledge, you may need to use one of the three approaches above. 

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