Use the right language

How many times have you heard the expression: “You need to talk/write in the language of your audience”? If you want to be able to communicate with people , you need to know “the language” they are using. I am not talking about different languages – English/German/Spanish for example. I am talking about the need to communicate with the right words and expressions of your audience, of your target group, or of your clients.

Gerry McGovern speaks of the need to speak the right language in his recent blog post: Organization language versus customer language. He gives a good example of how governments (in this case the European Union) substitute organisational language for customer language. You have to ask yourself why this would be the case. Is it to obfuscate and confuse? Or is it simply that the people writing this material are trying to impress their superiors? Or is it a lack of awareness?

If it is the latter, then communicators need to better understand the people they wish to communicate with.  Using the right language will enable true understanding of the message and facilitate meaningful two-way communication.

Website and intranet content managers are one group of people that must use the appropriate language to meet the needs of their target audience. This often proves difficult when content management is decentralised within an organisation to individuals who have no knowledge of good content management practices.

In knowledge management, we need to ensure we use the right language too. Sometimes knowledge management terms are used without an appreciation that the people we are communicating with do not understand these words. One reason for this is that we sometimes assume that our KM language is the norm when in fact it is only the norm within our KM profession. Another reason is that some people who are not knowledge managers appropriate the terms to give themselves professional validity. And another reason, common to all types of content creators, is the idea that we are communicating (usually in written form) for our own egos and not focusing on the needs of the people we wish to actually communicate with. In other words, we need to be careful in how we communicate.

We can learn from the field of marketing communications how to improve our ability to better understand our audience, target group, or clients. The message here is to actually spend some time with our audience or target group, or at least do some research about them. We can also learn from each other in knowledge management – what have been some effective and not-so-effective ways we have tried to communicate knowledge management? If we can improve our own communication, then we can advance the broader understanding of knowledge management and advocate more effectively within our own organisations.

Knowledge management, codification and tacit knowledge

The latest issue of Information Research has a great article by Chris Kimble, entitled Knowledge management, codification and tacit knowledge.

The paper takes an interesting approach; looking at knowledge from the perspective of economists. The idea is to provide a “view of knowledge that allows it to be considered as a stock that is accumulated through interaction with an information flux”.

Kimble looks at two key interpretations of tacit knowledge – from Polanyi and Nonaka. This discussion is very useful. Kimble summarises the key points from both theories in relation to knowledge management and shows the distinction between the two. Purists have argued that Polanyi’s view of tacit knowledge means that tacit knowledge can never become explicit. Nonaka takes a more practical approach, claiming tacit knowledge can be made explicit under some circumstances or approximations. Nonaka was interested specifically in “knowledge conversion”.

Kimble then discusses an interesting approach to the tacit/explicit knowledge issue – a topography of knowledge transaction activities. The typography comes from the following cited work: Cowan, R., David, P.A. & Foray, D. (2000). The explicit economics of knowledge codification and tacitness. Industrial and Corporate Change, 9(2), 211-253.

What is interesting here is that the focus is on where the knowledge transactions take place rather than the form in which the knowledge is contained. Kimble goes on to say: “While Cowan et al. may have little to say about the benefits of codification, their topography does provide a structure to examine its costs. Perhaps the most obvious cost associated with codification is that of creating the codebook.”

Kimble concludes his paper looking at the duality of information and what it means: “By focusing exclusively on codified knowledge, the advocates of codification may lose sight of the intimate linkages between tacit and explicit knowledge.”

Kimble’s paper is well worth a read for stimulating thought about tacit and explicit knowledge; a significant point of discussion in knowledge management over many, many years.

KM Australia 2013

I will be attending the KM Australia Congress 2013 this year. It’s on 23-25 July at Crystal Palace, Luna Park, Sydney. The venue is close to Milsons Point station which allows good public transportation to the event.

I will be going to the conference sessions on the first two days.

Here is a list of the confirmed participants:
University of Oxford
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
US Army
Halliburton
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Institute of Knowledge and Innovation (IKI-SEA)
Strategic Knowledge Solutions
Working KnowledgeCSP
Glentworth
Genea
Hunter Water
Department of Primary Industry (VIC)
Ezypay
Cancer Council Australia
NSW Treasury
Ernst & Young

I hope to see a good crowd there to participate in a potentially very interesting conference.

Happy New Year 2013

Happy New Year.

I hope that 2013 will be a good year in getting back to some regular blog posting. Last year was very disappointing for a number of reasons so 2013 should be better (I hope). I plan on continuing with posts about knowledge management, communication, and marketing.

That being the case, this first post for 2013 is just to get myself back into the metaphorical saddle. Sitting comfortably now, I sense that the blogging trail will be much more productive this year.

Giddy up!

The great debate – tacit knowledge and collaborative technologies

I have been looking at the program for the upcoming KM Australia Congress in Sydney on 24-25 July with a strong degree of longing.  At this stage, my employer doesn’t look like sending me to this conference so I am very disappointed in not being able to attend.

However, I was particularly taken with the proposed debate on Day 2 – making tacit knowledge explicit with collaborative technologies. There are two debaters on both sides. I personally know one from each side – James Dellow (on the yes team) and Shawn Callahan (on the no team). The debate is worthy of some pre-congress discussion because it is a key knowledge management problem – can tacit knowledge ever become explicit?

I always remember Dave Snowden saying that we always know more than what we can write, we know even more than that when we speak, but we know even more than all of that inside our own heads – tacit knowledge. It is an interesting point to make in the context of how we might look at the tacit knowledge-explicit knowledge conundrum within knowledge management.

Is it therefore impossible to directly transfer tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge because tacit knowledge is full of personal experiences, nuances, and particular contexts than cannot be replicated or converted into a codified (explicit) format?

I recognise that the earliest expositions on tacit knowledge pretty much said that you cannot make tacit knowledge explicit. And I can certainly sympathise with the position (I am assuming) to be taken by Shawn in the upcoming debate since Shawn is the man behind Anecdote, a company that is in the business of storytelling and narrative. The focus here is on the speaking and personally shared experiences which cannot be communicated with the same contextual references and meaning if it was to me made explicit, say, by writing it up in a Minute for capture in an electronic database.

On the other hand, certainly within the realm of knowledge management, there has been much to say about tacit and explicit knowledge. In my readings over the years, I am inclined to think that in the field of knowledge management there is a belief in tacit knowledge – explicit knowledge transfer in what Nonaka first espoused as the knowledge management spiral. I can see James Dellow (from Headshift) making the point that collaborative technologies facilitate tacit-explicit knowledge transfer.

In my opinion, it may be true that a person’s complete tacit knowledge is unable to be codified and captured in an explicit form. I can see the purist belief in this. However, I do happen to believe that one can make some tacit knowledge explicit.

Collaborative tools such as wikis and blogs, and even listservs and email groups, can assist in having some tacit knowledge becoming explicit knowledge. We can see how this might happen when a person with particular knowledge and experiences shares them by writing it down (thereby becoming codified and explicit) for others to read and discuss. The codified knowledge is distributed and shared via collaborative tools to enhance reach and scale. A conversation may ensue using these collaborative tools, which may even foster face-to-face communication as well. The point is that now we have knowledge and experiences surfacing for other people to benefit from and/or participate in. What becomes explicit may only be a fraction of the tacit knowledge this person posesses, but this fraction may indeed be a gold mine of value to someone else.

This was certainly my experience when I established and facilitated communities of practices at Rabobank in Sydney. The communities of practice surfaced tacit knowledge (became explicit) from a host of knowledgeable and experienced people that could have remained underutilised without a mechanism to bring this knowledge to light.

I think it is more important to recognise the degree to which tacit knowledge can become explicit and thereby move the debate into the issue of quantity and quality of that knowledge, and how that knowledge can be communicated and re-articulated to generate thinking, discussion and new knowledge.

Unfortunately, while I am not likely to be able to attend KM Australia, I will be there in spirit hoping that the discussion enables some solid thinking about how we might try to use tacit knowledge more effectively and with greater scale.

I wish the debaters all the best for an interesting and intellectually challenging discussion.

KM Australia 2012

KM Australia is on again this year. KM Australia 2012 will be held in Sydney at Luna Park (Milson’s Point) on 24-25 July.

Featured presentions are scheduled from the following organisations:

  • McDermott Consulting (United States of America)
  •  LEGO Group (Denmark)
  • Toyota (United States of America)
  • Federal Transit Administration (United States of America)
  • Federal Aviation Administration (United States of America)
  • Department of Defence (Australia) Rio Tinto (Australia)
  • Queensland Treasury (Australia)
  • Genea (Australia)
  • Woods Bagot (Australia)
  • The Paige Group (Australia) Anecdote (Australia)
  • KPMG (Australia)
  • Telstra (Australia)

Should be a great event.

Information Architecture for the digital-physical world

Day 2 of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference is over and I am still finishing the second part of yesterdays blog post! Oh well, there are a few distractions in Austin after the conference that get in the way of sitting in a hotel typing away on a computer.

I want to follow on from yesterdays blog post with the seven points Andrea concluded his presentation with. For want of a better word, he used “manifesto” to box the following seven points:

1. Information architecture becomes an ecosystem – all of the information artifacts no longer stand alone. They are all part of the single user experience and need to be acknowledged as such.

2. Users become intermediaries – users produce and re-mediate content. [In content management circles this idea has been around a while]. Andrea cited the example of Rosenfeld Media with its range of user experiences.

3. static becomes dynamic – information and content acquisition really never gets finished. There is always something more. Content is always changing and being reconstituted in different ways. The example of a dynamic information example is Wikipedia.

4. dynamic becomes hybrid – boundaries are separating media; there are thinner channels and genre. The example given in the presentation was the Hitachi 2400 windshield that could display a bevvy of information on the screen as you drove along! For example, the logo for a company might pop up to alert you to the fact that a XYZ fast food joint was coming up. I am sure there are probably more worthwhile pieces of information that could be presented but I’ll need to see if digital placement of information on the windscreen is the way to go.

5.horizontal prevails over vertical – intermediaries push for more informal structures and meaning; push for spontaneity and ephemeral meaning. Tagging was the example given.

6. products become experiences – from single object to a wider experience. Experience spans multiple steps for the user experience. [I think that recognition of the customer experience has been around a while among companies and marketeers (love that US expression) for a while as they attempt to differentiate their products - objects - from competitors.]

7. experiences become cross channel experiences – no longer tied to the one artifact and experiences span across channels. The great example used was for selling teddy bears! Build-a-bear not only allows you to create your own teddy bear (thereby outdoing the boring standard teddy bear and associated fluffy pals), you can also enter a digital world and play with other kids and teddy bears there as well. Your teddy bear has a unique bar code and you can give it a name. You can go to Bearaville and play, as an avatar with your bear who is “alive and playing as well”. Whoa – life couldn’t be so good!

Ultimately, Andrea concludes, the information architecture experience needs to account for a vary range of experiences useing cross channels and taking advantage of the integration between our physical space and our digital space.

Within the library context, we need to be aware that information silos may not hold the answers as they once did. We need to look at what channels of information we can use to help our users/clients/patrons get the outcome they want – to find the information they need.