On clarity

One of the forgotten aspects of knowledge management relates to clarity.  Wikipedia defines clarity as referring “to one’s ability to clearly visualize an object or concept, as in thought, (and) understanding”.  Without providing clarity, can we have successful knowledge management?

And when I speak of clarity, I am not saying that “we know in advance” or that clarity means that we have “the answer”.  What I am saying is that clarity provides for understanding.  Understanding, whether of the task or expectation, provides people with some sense of direction and confidence that might otherwise lead to confusion.  We will certainly not always know the future and therefore we cannot always be confident that we have prepared in advance.  However, providing clarity, often with explanation, is helpful in overcoming confusion and inertia.

I am looking at a number of issues in my current workplace where some of the knowledge management components would be improved if there was some clarity.  This relates to how the organisation uses explicit knowledge contained within project documentation as well as the ability to use tacit knowledge within thematic networks – networks that may become communities of practice (CoP’s) in the near future. Clarity is about guidance.

There is a lack of clarity about the correct work processes and final destination of project documentation (we don’t have a true electronic and document records management system), let alone what use could be made of them later on outside of reporting requirements.  This example is knowledge management 1.0 – KM as a process and a tool for information capture, analysis and re-use.

If we were to define this problem using the Cynefin framework, we could see that some of the business processes around project documentation are in the simple space and some of the later issues are in the complex space.  The simple space refers to the systematic way in which the project documentation should be originated and the steps to take to put these documents into a repository for retrieval and use.  A “rules and tools” approach could work here.  The complicated space refers to the area in which different needs and opportunities may be serviced by using these project reports for a range of activities if only there was some knowledgeable response to the problem.

Similarly, there is a lack of clarity about how our networks should operate and what the expectations are surrounding the networks.  There are differences in opinion depending on where one sits along the management pole, for example. Hopefully, the recent review may provide an answer – we will see.  A big success factor for what happens next will be in determining a clearer picture as to what the networks can contribute and what role members are to play.  This may take some time and we might need to explore different ideas – “probing the complex space” to use a favoured expression from Cognitive Edge.  But providing clarity will give people confidence and some assurance as to the role they can play within the networks and in the exchange of tacit knowledge within the agency.  Building confidence within CoP’s is a critical requirement for successful networks.

Providing clarity is something that we should not ignore.

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