IDBS Blog | 30th October 2013

People and Informatics (Part 2)

Why knowledge management is all about people that know stuff

In this second blog exploring how people are at the core of everything IDBS does, I want to consider the concept of ‘knowledge management’. Do we all share the same understanding? In theory, knowledge management is a range of strategies and practices used to identify, create, represent, distribute and adopt insights and experiences. In reality, I believe data is universal and information is data with context whereas knowledge is about what lies in people’s heads. How on earth can that be captured?

For me, knowledge management revolves around personal interpretation – that inspired process of synthesizing available information and combining it with a talented individual’s inherent expertise, judgement and experience. Every organization wants effective knowledge management processes but I challenge whether this is ever possible in its truest sense. It is vital that data is captured with high context at source, alongside its ontology and provenance. However, knowledge happens in the moment – we only really know what we know when we know it. Think about that for a few seconds.

Rather than believing we can silo and store all information centrally and that somehow this will automatically drive innovation, let’s instead consider knowledge management as ‘knowledge just in time’. Information is the lifeblood of research and development (R&D) organizations but it constantly shape-shifts and evolves. The difficulties of collecting and storing vast amounts of data have, in large part, been solved. Today’s challenges now revolve around how to generate high quality information and interpret it in the face of information overload. The critical issues are therefore maintaining the flow of information while enabling people to connect with each other and share their knowledge.

Achieving this enterprise-wide collaboration means making high quality data ‘trusted’ across a data ecosystem through its provenance and context, so that information can be willingly shared – readily, securely and quickly. This information then becomes more easily consumed across the organization, best practice is promoted, expertise is shared and precious time is saved which can then be spent innovating. The altruistic producer in turn becomes the consumer, and a virtuous circle is created which benefits the entire organization. Finally, capturing ‘social’ interactions between researchers in response to this information gives the closest possible access to the real knowledge held in the heads of the brightest and best people.

Our ultimate vision is an organization knitted together using trusted information and which harnesses and stores, with context, the knowledge of staff who are responding to it and sharing it. This is true knowledge management – an approach designed to create the time and space for better science.

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