Monday, October 15, 2007

Can't Do KM Until You Get IM Right - Truth or Misconception

I've often seen an interesting perspective from a few information professionals in conversations about knowledge and information management. They sometimes categorize information management as the "hard stuff" and knowledge management as the "soft stuff." I've seen a few of them assert that you can't do the "soft stuff", often pointing at their heads, until you get the "hard stuff" right, pointing to or holding a piece of paper. (The implication there perhaps is that our heads are soft ? )

At first blush, that premise seems to make sense. In many respects good information is very important to creating and sharing knowledge; we are what we read (or don't), information about people's location, experiences and competencies can help us decide with whom to initiate a conversation.

There are couple of alternate perspective that are worth considering.

First, if you subscribe to the metaphor of the knowledge "iceberg," (where knowledge that is codifiable, or codified (information) is the tip of the iceberg above water, and the knowledge that is below the waterline is much larger, and is only accessible during exchanges between individuals), then does it really make sense to think of a linear progression from IM to KM? If, for example, you attribute 20% to what is above the water and 80% to what is below, then you have to ask if devoting 100% of your resources for %20 of your value/potential is a good decision?

And secondly, if you consider "IM" to include developing principle based policies, developing information standards /guidelines / practices, capacity building across a diverse community, generating awareness and encourage compliance & use, you probably know that none of these are possible without working collaboratively with colleagues and stakeholders across multiple perspectives and disciplines. This requires negotiating and agreeing on common objectives and outcomes, the process for achieving them, sharing information and knowledge through the collaborative process to enable effective/efficient teamwork, and sharing in the risks / rewards.

To me, that sounds a lot like knowledge management, which is as much or more about "how" people work, than what they do. So it would seem that you can't do much of IM without using KM approaches to accomplish IM objectives.

So, should you start and finish IM, working on the "hard stuff," before you do the "soft" KM stuff? I'm not so sure.

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