posted 31 May 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 9
Jerry Ash | Collaboratively thinking
The evolution of a community of practice.
Just this once, I’m breaking my rule and writing in the first person. You see, I am an ‘old school’ journalist who still believes the writing isn’t about me; it’s about the people, the subjects, the events. But in this case, ‘I’ am part of the story…
In this column you’ll get the inside story about how ‘Next Generation Knowledge Management’ was collaboratively generated by 59 people in what amounts to a self-forming community of practice (CoP) populated by the world’s best and brightest architects of knowledge management (KM) – members of the Association of Knowledgework (AOK). You’ll get the bones of experience and then I’ll follow-up in the July/August issue by putting the flesh of lessons learned on these bones in a special case report about AOK as a community of practice.
Here are the bones:
AOK’s took root in January 2000 when I opened an e-mail discussion on KM primarily for senior executives of professional and trade associations in the
For the first five years my wife and I funded AOK. Even using a patchwork of free and paid-for services, I found maintaining a website and providing unpaid administrative services dipped substantially into my retirement funds. My paid work suffered. CoPs are not free. They are not casual ‘chat rooms.’ They are involved in serious business and need financial and human resources. A year ago, members began paying modest membership dues and the group has the prospect of self-sufficiency as it grows.
One of the early members was Michel Pommier of the World Bank. At the time he was part of Steve Denning’s KM team and Steve had just published his first book, ‘The Springboard: How Story-telling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organisations’, a treatise related in a real way to knowledge work. Michel, Steve and Lesley Shneier (also on Steve’s team) had written a paper asking whether the field of KM had reached a stage where ‘rules’ or maxims appeared. Michel suggested AOK host an e-mail discussion to get feedback. We did and everyone was thrilled.
Immediately I used the high profile of Steve Denning to attract other moderators for what I immediately called the STAR Series Dialogues. I recruited Debra Amidon of Entovation International; Ash Sooknanan, then knowledge manager for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario in
People who took the time to follow the discussions were witnesses to both the agreements and disagreements among KM leaders on the cutting edge. Both the give and take of knowledge sharing and the enormous learning experience were powerful. I know my personal knowledge grew immeasurably over the six years and my own unique views began to take shape as my personal brand of KM materialised. If I am now an expert, it is a blend of the expert advice, thoughts and opinions absorbed from the thought leaders, practitioners and participants in the dialogues. That, also, must be the experience of others in the AOK community.
Millions of words flowed into the STAR Series archives over six years and it troubled me that this treasure chest soon fell dormant. It had produced momentary value to the group, lasting educational value to some of the individuals, but now it wasted away in electronic dust – explicit, but formidable and not creating real value.
I tried to summarise each dialogue and publish it on the website, but I couldn’t keep up. There were volunteers, but the result was spotty. Finally, I committed to writing a book based on the collective – if not collaborative – jewels of the STAR Series Dialogues.
Tacit to Explicit
When finished, I was very pleased. But then the book started gathering dust in my files. Finding a publisher just wasn’t my passion – I’m no salesman. That’s when the Ark Group came to the book’s rescue. Now, as an Ark Group report, it makes the kind of lasting contribution I wanted to the world of knowledge management. The millions of words, thousands of thoughts, theories, practices and debate have been condensed into a few hundred conversational pages and compacted into 2,000 words in this issue. The dust of tacit knowledge has become explicit. Thousands of hours of dialogue has been reduced to a few hours of reading. Most importantly, it is crammed with the best the KM community has to offer.
The work of a worthy community is never done. Certainly not this one. The next generation of KM is today, tomorrow and for years to come. Business leaders will need to follow developments continuously. Volumes two, three and more of the Next Generation of KM will need to be written as dedicated KM pioneers continue daily to search, question, debate, invent, re-invent, experiment, succeed, fail and try again. Isn’t that the life of any community of practice in today’s environment?
My CoP will share its valuable lessons with your CoP in the next issue.
Jerry Ash is founder of AOK and special correspondent to IK. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
To order ‘Next Generation Knowledge Management’, contact Adam Scrimshire at email@example.com