Help! What's the Next Big Thing in Knowledge Management?

What’s the next big thing in local government knowledge management? I could do with some help on this topic because tomorrow I’m running a workshop at the big annual KM event run by the Ark Group – KIMPS09 – and I’m not a specialist in the topic.

The invite to contribute came in months back – courtesy I believe of a recommendation from my friend Steve Dale, who really is an expert in KM, and developing the Knowledge Hub for local authorities that I’ve written about here.

My first reaction was to say no, I don’t have the expertise. Then I thought – how can I do this in a socialreporter-ish way? With agreement from the helpful people at Ark I came up with a three-stage process: first, look at what the experts are saying; then take some key points to the first day of the conference and check out with participants; finally run my session as a workshop with revised points as conversation starters at the tables. Relax, let the crowd do the work.

To give it some focus, I’ve taken this possible situation as a starting point: a friend has just been given responsibility for knowledgement management in their local authority department – and they are panicking. They are OK with data and project reporting systems – but apparently the boss has heard social media is the next big thing. What could you tell them?

I’m just off to the conference, with the following points to check out with anyone I can find to chat with at coffee. Then I run the workshop tomorrow. What do you think? Is this a useful guide to the Next Big Thing? In summary … Conversations and Stories. More simply – Talk to Each Other.

1 Create conditions for collaboration
You can manage information – but you can’t manage the most useful knowledge. What you can do is help people to share what they know. That requires leadership to develop a culture of trust where collaboration is encouraged.

2 Encourage conversations

The best way to help people share knowledge is to give them plenty of chances to talk to each other. The richest conversations usually happen face-to-face, after which people are more likely to open up and contribute online.

3 Add new roles
Online knowledge sharing among a diverse group of people requires appropriate tools – but more than anything it needs appropriate people to help. They may be variously called community manager, technology steward, digital mentor, social reporter … and it’s unlikely one support person can do it all.

4 Listen carefully, connect widely
Use light-weight social media tools like social bookmarking, Twitter, Netvibes, Ning communities to scan what’s going on outside. Build relationships with useful people, follow and share with them.  Then the network is your new library.

5 Talk failure, tell stories about success
If you really want to understand what works in any situation, help people talk about what failed, and  to tell stories of success in their own words. Case studies from consultants won’t connect nearly as well.

6 Open up, cross boundaries
Communities of Practice behind a login are excellent for sharing knowledge among specialists. If you also want to understand what service users need you have to engage with the wider community out in the open.

7 Mix and blend your media
Work both on and offline. Run semi-structured events like knowledge cafes and unconferences. Shoot some video, blog and tweet the event … then use digital assets to spark new conversations online. Cultivate a knowledge ecology where learning can flourish.

8 Dive in, try it, change it
You can’t learn to swim outside the pool … or learn to fly watching the instructor. Find time to explore. Many of the tools you need are free, so you can experiment and build on what works, or drop anything that doesn’t. Invest in people rather than technology.

9 Decentralise, foster resilience
Encourage teams and groups to take responsibility for their own research and learning, then share with others. That way you should have a more resilient system less dependent on central services.

10 Three Ps before T
It’s easy to get caught up in the how and wow of new tools. Think Purpose, People, Process – and only then Tools.

I did check out these points with three experts in the field – thanks David, Steve, Ed. Full acknowledgement if it all works out. I’ll report back.


  • September 29, 2009 - 9:44 am | Permalink

    This works for me. It fits with a pattern of things that I have read of late on service design and, in particular, the role of emergent stories. There are also element of Cluetrain and the 95 Thesis. There’s a very close alliance with Hugh Graham’s approach to design:
    Understand the context
    Conduct research
    Create personas
    Define scenarios
    Build prototypes
    Iterate rapidly
    Increase fidelity
    Fail early and often

    So I’d say – yes this works.

  • September 29, 2009 - 9:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the rerassurance Paul – and if you liked these you might also like the propositions in Social by Social

  • September 29, 2009 - 1:20 pm | Permalink

    “Talk failure, tell stories about success”.

    How come we value how well candidates at job interviews tell us what their weaknesses are, and yet fail to encourage people to talk about failure once they’re in their jobs?

    An addition to the mixing and blending would be around mixing the hard data and softer conversations. We need to make sense of what works and what matters, so that we get under the skin of the “truth”.

  • September 30, 2009 - 8:05 am | Permalink

    Hi DAvid

    for me, the next big thing in KM in local government (in fact the public sector as a whole) is Making It Happen. You have all the tools – you don’t have the culture yet.

    It comes down to making this part of your way of working, which requires governance, which requires full active support from senior levels. Not just encouragement, not just helping people, but actually setting the expectation and assigning accountability.

  • September 30, 2009 - 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Nick – the report backs from the workshop really confirm your points.

  • October 12, 2009 - 9:17 am | Permalink

    I have to agree with Nick on the “what” but I suspect that the “where and how” will be a little more challenging. Finally we appear to be understanding the real scope of the ‘E’ in government, national, local or hyperlocal though I don’t believe we have fully pulled it all together yet. Some people still don’t see the elephant in the room: We are also beginning to understand the barriers. The enablers are coming together but we have yet to fully understand how they will work as a whole and how the necessary cultural changes will be instigated and embedded. It does, however, make for interesting times.

  • Comments are closed.