“[…] community spaces are not only overhyped, but also if done incorrectly, a deterrent to knowledge sharing. This is a spin-off from Andrew Mcafee’s concept of walled gardens. Let me explain this through a scenario:
- Company Foo establishes a knowledge sharing platform that allows every group of people to create their own space, with a separate set of access privileges.
- The platform doesn’t have a way to search across different spaces, because every space is almost like a site in itself.
- Soon, different groups of people (communities) set up ‘community spaces’ and restrict access only to members of the community. Sales has their own space. Technology has a separate space. Marketing has their own space. Support and Evolution has their own space. The story goes on.
- One fine day a new salesman trying to put together a proposal needs information about:
- Company Foo’s previous work in the space;
- case studies of successful deployments in the domain;
- Company Foo’s track record and capability supporting this kind of work;
- and the various technology platforms they have expertise in
- Given that each community has it’s own space (walled garden), the new salesman doesn’t have a way to search across all communities for the information he needs.
- Over a painstaking few days, the new salesman eventually finds all the information he needs by signing in to every individual community space and searching separately on each space. He has to wait a couple of days before he gets approval to join a couple of community spaces, and that delays his proposal.
We could go on with this story but I guess you can see how tough things can be when every community builds their own isolated knowledge sharing space. Community knowledge can never become organisational knowledge this way, and over a period of time, the system becomes extremely difficult to manage. This is the classic nature of walled gardens in the enterprise.
Tear down the walls first
Organisational knowledge sharing can do without walled gardens. What we need instead is one place for all communities to share knowledge and the structure to emerge from user generated tags and metadata. This is where a certain bit of knowledge housekeeping comes in. I believe that leadership and knowledge management teams need to strongly discourage internal groups and communities from creating inaccessible islands of knowledge. There needs to be a strong incentive to contribute knowledge to one platform, that is powered by search.
Yes, there’ll always be the need to have team wikis and collaboration spaces. This is where it becomes important to clearly define the scope of team collaboration and organisational knowledge and create some clear (but porous) boundaries between the two. Which is to say for example, that it’s absolutely OK for a team to set up their own wiki or workspace and do so with minimal friction, but when some team knowledge becomes organisational wisdom the team has the incentive to contribute to the organisational knowledge base. The challenge for knowledge managers is to make this contribution as easy as possible so that people don’t have to make the same effort twice and the structure doesn’t come in the way of knowledge sharing.
My beliefs about post-modern Knowledge Management
In my current world view, I have a few beliefs:
- Enterprise knowledge needs to be public (to all employees) by default and private only if there’s a very, very good reason for it.
- Knowledge sharing needs to move from being part of closed channels to open platforms.
- People should have a choice to collaborate privately, but have the support to easily make their private knowledge public.
- Discussions and conversations should get organised using tags and metadata as against separate mailing lists and groups. People should have the option to subscribe using email, but this shouldn’t be the default.
- Knowledge managers need to define, maintain and protect the structure of ‘no initial structure’. The structure should emerge over time using tags, ratings and user input. This however needs continuous involvement with all communities and is by no means easy.
- Content stewardship is key — things don’t happen on their own. Knowledge managers need to keep their eye out for quality content on private channels/ spaces. They need to have the agility and presence of mind to move this to being organisational knowledge with a strong incentive for the authors. This is essential to the process of long lasting change.”
On the topic of keeping track of quality content (Which collateral works, which doesn’t? What is being downloaded, rated or commented on the most? Which author should be rewarded for successful content? Which area only has content that is older than two years? Etc…) I recommend the following further reading on content intelligence.
On the topic of email subscriptions I would remind not to forget offering an RSS feed, which for some people is preferred over email subscriptions, especially in case there are a lot of updates.
On the topic of letting users tag their content and having a good search engine, I would like to add the importance of aligning the information architecture in an enterprise, which could mean that in addition to free tags everything also needs to be tagged with the names of applicable offerings, services and solutions from the enterprise’s portfolio.