Perspectives on Data, Information and Knowledge
Intelligent Aerospace Content Strategies

The Anatomy of Knowledge

Dr John Dee's Pantacle

It is not uncommon for discussions of content management (CM) to drift over into discussions of knowledge management (KM). And no, these are not only discussions in which I happen to be participating. In fact, it is interesting to note when these discussions typically do happen - whether I am present or not. Rather oddly, they tend to happen when discussing the goals and benefits of content management with senior business executives. Many of the usual garlands that we hang around the neck of CM, often bespeckled with promises of dollars saved here and staff positions reduced there, don't seem to excite the kind of response we are looking for. Rather than feverish uptake, our arguments frequently are met with skepticism and waning interest. It is at this dark moment we venture a word that we know cannot be linked to any of these sorts of hard calculations. That word is "knowledge".

How, we ask, does your organization manage what it knows? Where does the most valuable knowledge reside? If, as we suspect, it lives amid the communications and collaborations of your best people, then how can you manage this fleeting asset? How will your organization deal with the fact that many of your best people are about to retire? How then do you, and we wince a little knowing that we are trotting out a contentious buzzword, manage knowledge? Having crossed the line already, we decide to go all the way and ask "what is your knowledge management strategy?" And suddenly, rather than being shown the door we have the executive's undivided attention.

Having traversed this rather odd path many times, including very recently, I am regularly compelled to return to some of my earlier inquiries into KM so as to reaffirm for myself that there is indeed a way to talk about KM as a practice that has some defensible foundation and that has some reason for being other than attracting the often fickle attention of management.

A few years ago, I prepared a whitepaper on this subject - precisely because I needed to confirm for myself that there was a sensible way to talk about knowledge management and that there was indeed a concrete way to connect knowledge management to my ongoing work in content management. The result was a whitepaper called "The Anatomy of Knowledge" (See my Whitepapers Old & New or flip through it below).

This paper sets out what, I would still argue, are well-grounded (philosophically speaking) definitions for several key concepts including knowledge, information and data. It also establishes the ways in which knowledge management can be understood to be a viable practice and how that practice relates to other organizational activities. One of these organizational relationships is with technology and specifically with the cluster of technologies that we typically see deployed to manage information, content and collaboration.

Picking up on the subject of my last post (Perspectives on Data, Information and Knowledge), this paper puts forward a variation on the data - information - knowledge pyramid that I call the Knowledge Dynamic. This model stresses the differences between the artifacts of communication (data, information and knowledge) and the domain of decisions, actions and experience. It also provides what I believe is a productive framework for studying the interaction between knowledge and performance - an interaction that seems to deserve more disciplined treatment than is usually seen.

Knowledge Dynamic

In various posts I have returned to this topic from different angles. Specifically, I have been exploring how this understanding of knowledge, information and data can inform and enlighten our understanding of content and what it means to manage content. There seems to be heightened urgency around these explorations as the concept of intelligent content gains increasing traction and more and more institutions are applying open content standards to the materials on which, in a very real sense, their business turn. The post entitled The Truth about Content can serve as a gateway onto some of these discussions.

I encourage people who are immersed in the business of content, and in the technology field of managing and processing content, to peruse some of these materials and to provide feedback - whether supportive or contradictory. For those of us who, by design or accident, discover ourselves to be content practitioners, these discussions can help us all to be more clear about what it is we do and why it is important that we do it.

The Full White Paper (PDF): The Anatomy of Knowledge (JGollner 2006)


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