On purpose and language

I want to emphasise the importance of defining and understanding purpose, as I touched upon in my blog post from yesterday. Defining and understanding purpose is critical for information architecture, communication strategies, knowledge management and communities of practice.

One of the difficulties in looking at purpose – the reason why – is from whose perspective one looks. And here, purpose is what will identify that perspective.

When designing a communication strategy, for example, you need to know your audience. Your audience is who you define to be the people you want to communicate the message to, or interact with. No good trying to communicate to vegetarians that a T-bone steak is a hearty meal! Define your target or market segment.

Sometimes the target market selects itself. When I established communities of practice at Rabobank Australia I recognised the target market very quickly from establishing a good understanding of the business and the people who worked in the business. I could see that there was enormous potential to leverage the intellectual capital of the organisation throughout its disaggregated office network and three internal organisational pillars. But now what?

In establishing communities of practice I needed to define the purpose in terms of my target market. What do they need and what would they get out of a community of practice? From the perspective of the target group (and with whom I actively communicated and participated with), it was clear that there was a need, there was a culture of support and helpfulness, and there was a strong interest in particular subject knowledge corresponding to business and client needs. The purpose was therefore to connect knowledge and knowledge needs within specific business domains through the use of communities of practice.

At the same time, I had to make sure I was using the language of my target market when discussing their knowledge and information practices and needs. The term “communities of practice” was not going to work. Instead, I used a metaphor that was easily understood and represented the social and conversational context that was at the heart of my communities.

By defining purpose and using a language the target groups could understand, the establishment and early adoption of communities of practice by a critical mass of participants meant that we were on track from the start for a successful knowledge management initiative.

Purpose should be at the heart of our knowledge management and information architecture conversations, as it should be in most things.


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