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Sustainable Knowledge Management


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Notes towards a theory of sustainable knowledge management. Presented to the SI KM forum on August 18th, 2009

Published in: Business, Education

Sustainable Knowledge Management

  1. 1. Notes Towards a Theory of Sustainable Knowledge Management Andrew Gent August 2009 Copyright 2009 by Andrew Gent
  2. 2. About This Presentation The concepts presented here are the culmination of twenty-five years of learning and practice (not all in the field of KM). I began working on a theory of sustainable knowledge management over two years ago, when I became concerned that our efforts are particularly susceptible to the foibles and fluctuations of business strategy and budget planning. The ideas and opinions presented here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any current or past employers. 2
  3. 3. Agenda • Defining Sustainable Knowledge Management • Principles of Sustainability • Sustainability in Practice • Final Thoughts 3
  4. 4. Defining Sustainable Knowledge Management 4
  5. 5. Sustainability “Sustainable architecture is foremost about reimagining the relationship between human beings and living systems... How do we build now that there are six billion of us, now that our supply of natural capital – water, wood, energy, land – must be far more effectively used? How do we make zero-emission houses? How do we design structures that can be reincorporated into earth harmlessly and endlessly? How do we metabolize energy and water so that the sky and land improve rather than erode?” – Paul Hawken, Sustainable Architecture, 2000 5
  6. 6. Rethinking Knowledge Management • We need a similar reimagining of KM practices. • But rather than thinking in terms of ecological footprint*, we need to think of how to reduce our impact in terms of human resources. * Green computing is an admirable goal involving a set of ecologically sound IT practices. But green computing is not specific to KM. It applies equally to all uses of computers 6
  7. 7. Defining Sustainable KM Sustainable Knowledge Management is the design of KM initiatives with a smaller "footprint" in terms of: • Cost • Dedicated headcount • Learning curve • Unique time away from people's "real" work 7
  8. 8. Business Context • We are all familiar with the issues: − Too few resources − Budget cuts − Lack of attention or active participation − Lack of support (“If we could only get someone from upper management as a sponsor, we could...”) • What if, rather than fighting these limitations, we accept them as reality and work to reduce KM's reliance on these diminishing resources? 8
  9. 9. Current Issues • KM has a reputation for large, expensive programs. • Even small KM initiatives require a significant initial "push" in terms of cost, headcount, and executive attention. • There is no believable way to justify most KM programs (e.g. ROI) • Without direct bottom-line impact, KM is a constant target for budget cuts, fire drills, and downsizing. 9
  10. 10. Principles of Sustainable KM 10
  11. 11. Principles of Sustainable KM • Do not make KM extra work. Embed it in existing business processes. • Avoid "Change Management". Let change manage itself. • Design for humans, not data. • Pay attention to the people, not the policies. • Eliminate the opposition. 11
  12. 12. Sustainability in Practice • Embedded KM • Design to Zero • (Re)Use What Exists • Do It Yourself KM 12
  13. 13. Embedded KM • Embed KM practices in existing business processes − Look for milestones and knowledge “hotspots” • Benefits: − Rapid adoption − Tied to business metrics • Dangers: − Trying to “improve” (i.e. change) processes to make KM work better. − Focusing on knowledge capture rather than how knowledge is be used. 13
  14. 14. Design to Zero • Traditional Business Planning − Budget plans for initial “push”, but assumes ongoing maintenance. − Danger: if budget is cut, the program stops. • Design to Zero − Plan to reach zero expense some delta after launch: • Transfer expenses to other departments BUDGET (H/W to IT, management to teams) • Develop “self-managed” processes (e.g. wikis, bar camps) Traditional • Embed in existing activities Design to Zero (annual conferences, etc.) 14
  15. 15. (Re)Use What Exists • Look for untapped knowledge in: − Business systems (project data, people, work history) − Repositories (samples, best practices, lessons learned) − Events (Project reviews, sales gatherings, team training) • Cross-pollinate − Invite others to events, open up systems. − Often information is most useful to people who aren't invited or don't know a resource exists. 15
  16. 16. Do-It-Yourself KM • When no KM practice exists, how do businesses solve the KM problem? − Bottom-up: Grassroots KM (wikis, forums, social networks) − Top down: KM services rather than programs (quick setup, one day events, self-help guides) − Guide to DIY KM • Dangers: − Reinventing the wheel − Document-centric solutions − Local solutions, global blindness 16
  17. 17. Final Thoughts • Next Steps • What About the Web 2.0 Revolution? 17
  18. 18. Next Steps • Not just another KM paradigm. • Sustainability is applicable to all existing KM approaches (knowledge harvesting, communities of practice, storytelling, etc.) • This is a work in progress. Having identified potential solutions, how do we help others move forward? − Commitment to Sustainability? (cf. the Designers Accord) − Do-It-Yourself Guide to KM? − Sustainable Consulting? 18
  19. 19. Final Thoughts • What about Enterprise 2.0? − Doesn't the Web 2.0 revolution solve this problem? − No. What is “free” on the internet is not free inside the firewall. (Including servers, freedom of expression, and room to fail.) − Same issues as DIY KM 19
  20. 20. Questions? For More Information: http:// 2009/03/ notes-towards- theory-of-sustainable.html Contact Info: Email: Blog: Website: Twitter: 20