Pendulum swings in KM, and how to avoid them

The problem with Dualism in KM is that it leads to pendulum swings in terms of focus. Here is how to avoid this.

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There can be quite a lot of Dualism in KM – seeing KM in terms of two mutually exclusive opposites which require a choice. Examples might be

  • A strategy of Connecting (connecting people) vs a Strategy of Collecting (collecting content)
  • KM introduction from the Top-down, or Bottom up
  • KM all about People, or KM is all about Technology
  • A focus on Conversation, or a focus on Content
  • Optimisation for for search or optimisation for browse?

Of course this Dualism is wrong, its always a case of “both/and” rather than “either/or”, and the trouble with Dualism is that when you choose one alternative you neglect the other. Over time, you realise you are missing something and switch your attention to the “opposite pole”.

As a result, KM can suffer from pendulum swings.

To give you an example, one company for many years had a KM approach focused almost entirely on Communities of Practice. After a series of project overruns, they  introduced a framework for project KM, which had a fantastic impact on results.

Over the subsequent years this approach became taken for granted – seen as “embedded”. The high level champion left, and was replaced by a lower level champion, who was replaced again by someone even lower, and gradually attention and governance slipped. The framework began to be ignored, new management came in, and said “project KM doesn’t work – lets put our attention on Communities of Practice instead”.

And so the pendulum swang, with a frequency of a decade.

Maybe in 5 more years there will be a series of project overspends, the spotlight will turn again onto project KM, and the pendulum will begin it’s back-stroke.

How do you guard against this? How do you ensure that KM is given an even-handed and consistent treatment?

A clue comes from a comment from John Donahue on one of my blog posts. John says

I’ve been working with US Army KM programs for some time and even with this structure (of strategic teams) there’s a tendency for KM to slip into IT/Portal management. Fortunately this strategic level guidance allows units to self-assess, and “adjust fire” as they’d say. I don’t believe Army KM would have been so successful without this formalized structure to keep the program on track.

The formalised  strategic guidance – KM Governance – stops the KM pendulum swinging towards IT and Portals. And certainly the company I mentioned above doesn’t have the strategic level guidance.

If you want to avoid the pendulum of fashion when it comes to KM, then you need to set up, and maintain, the strategic level governance that can keep it on the straight and narrow.

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