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Wiki as Knoweldge Management

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We all have them in our organizations.  These wonderful islands of preserved knowledge: databases of content that have been donated over time for consumption by the broader corporate population.  Once the dreams and hopes of management types that have dwindled down to exasperation as content has stagnated and catalogs confused.  Content managers were usually “champions” with other full time jobs, and content contributors were usually ourselves, with little or no real reason to contribute.

The problem with those old knowledge management sites was that the content that provides value to everyone in the organization is more dynamic than most content managers and knowledge databases can actually reflect.  Not only that, but true knowledge, the insights that people have over time, can’t adequately be captured in a series of powerpoints.  Usually knowledge is captured in conversations that result in knowledge, but the reflection of these in a KM practice are eventually inadequate documentation.  Realize that I’m talking about 95% of KM practices out there, but there probably are 5% that actually get it right.  Maybe less.

Most knowledge management tools are moving away from traditional database engines into wikis.  Wikis will allow the KM practice to spend less time gathering content and cataloging it, and more time applying change management to the organization – basically where we all want to be – doing less administrative task and more of what really matters.

The wiki does a couple of things – it takes knowledge directly from the the source, and allows multiple sources to have a dialog about it – constantly editing the content until it’s just right.  Then comes the post-editing process:  as the understanding of the problem changes, the content is re-edited to fit the changing current scenarios.  Another hugely beneficial problem is also removed.  Because users will now be able to tag content entries, the problem of cataloging basically disappears.  Users can search using normal “google-esque” search, or by requesting relevant tags.  As more users from different parts of the enterprise apply their tags based on their understanding and context of the content, more users will be able to return relevant search results.

This all just means that at the end of the day, ensuring content is accurate and up to date is going to be self-managed by the organization, as will cataloging properly.  Now, KM practitioners can spend more time on adoption and change management – an area which has always been a problem.  But now, rather than simply requesting content from its sources, they are asking knowledge owners to participate in a knowledge generating exercise.  Participation means 2 things – first, that the KM wiki is always up to date.  Second, that as knowledge owners participate, they are also clarifying and updating their own insights through ongoing discourse with others.  In other words, the KM wiki becomes simply part of the larger collaboration network that I’ve written about often at systematicHR.

Web 2.0 is bringing us many opportunities to optimize how we work and ensure we’re getting the most out of our workforce talent, and while we don’t usually think about KM as part of HR, it’s most certainly going to figure into the talent equation in the future.

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4 responses to “Wiki as Knoweldge Management”

  1. GKwiki.Netwrote an interesting post today on Here’s a quick excerpt We all have them in our organizations.  These wonderful islands of preserved knowledge: databases of content that have been donated over time for consumption by the broader corporate

  2. Wally Bock Avatar

    Great post and dead accurate on the way that “knowledge management” is going. I think we’re clearly moving toward more easy-to-use and less techno solutions.

    I put the quotes in there because it seems to me that this isn’t management in any significant sense, since there’s no possibility of measurement. Instead, it’s knowledge sharing and more.

    The “more” is that wikis facilitate the creation of a culture where sharing knowledge is a value. This makes it more like the discussions by techs over lunch and less like a “program” or an “initiative.”

  3. systematicHR Avatar

    Wally – I think you’re right to put the KM in quotes. You have me thinking where the management is, and I’m wondering if we’re not managing knowledge content, but perhaps instead the creation of collaboration? Indeed, that’s probably not quite a management activity either, but maybe it’s closer…

  4. Wally Bock Avatar

    I don’t think it will ever be management because there’s no possibility of measuring the object of management. Most knowledge is tacit, below the water line. Besides, as Samuel Johnson tells us, “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it.”

    In my experience, the hardest thing to replace or replicate is that latter part of that quote. In most organizations there are people whom everybody calls when they have a problem or need information. We can map the social networks that identify those people, but we don’t have any system for capturing the “where to find the answer” knowledge they have.

    Then there’s the challenge of utility. Another quote, this one from Michael Polanyi: “We only truly know something when we can apply it to get results.” That’s the knowing-doing gap.

    Simple sharing systems like wikis get to that because they allow the source of knowledge to be identified. So if I read a suggestion from you on the wiki and I have trouble making it work, I can call you or email you for help and then enter what I find into the wiki.

    The other big advantage of these simple sharing systems is that the create a community of practice where there are social rewards for sharing information. Strictly technological systems often try to do this with some form of cash reward, substituting market rewards for social rewards. Social rewards are simply more powerful.