Uncertainty

Our Knowledge Management team just met with another Knowledge Management team. We didn’t have much of an agenda except to discuss the projects we’re working on.

The first item that came up was the problem of network access. We discovered in new employee trainings that employees that deploy overseas may be one of three different networks. Where do we tell them to collaborate? What’s the go to space?

There are lots and lots of options for answers. A given network. An interagency network. A contractor-developed web space. We try to tell them about all the options without overwhelming them.

We are in a transitional state in the USG right now. Interagency planning being done without the benefit of a reliable interagency network. Why fight it. That is the reality and we all have to navigate it together. A GSA speaker at the KM.gov conference last year estimated it will take 20 years to move to the cloud, taking into account the lifecycle of existing systems. Will the cloud happen eventually? Do we really have an option? I meet the uncertainty of how to handle information sharing with the certainty that things will change. Things have changed already. Just think of how much work we do online, in email, outside of the documents we fret over managing. Until we have a dedicated USG intranet, we are going to have to learn to navigate different information spaces and have the critical thinking to know when and how one applies to us.

So, what KM advice did I share with the other team? Forget the document naming standards. We don’t need to evaluate and categorize every piece of content we have in unless we are dealing with legacy documents. Moving forward, we can work and discuss transparently online and let the search engine do the evaluation for us. Participate. Let the seeker seek through search. It is the future query we want to be able to address through the work we are doing today. Who knows what that query will be?

As for managing meta data, I think back on the days when a webpage had keyword tags that the search engines took as honest. But the search engine is smarter than we are because it had to be. We get meta data wrong (in the case of porn sites, intentionally wrong) all the time. Search engines decided it doesn’t matter what we say we are saying. It matters what we say. Web publishing tools provide basic meta data (author, date, etc) as well as more meta data than we could ever hope to dream up in our planning exercises (links, comments, responses). And search engines understand and help us navigate that information in ways we can’t predict or script. We haven’t fully realized the power of the web we have knitted yet. We only have a vague vision of the potential of a semantic web. Meanwhile, we can keep knitting.

What is my KM strategy? Work on providing training (particularly in how to conduct quality searches) and provide reassurance. Helping people feel safe and confident in navigating and using web content and publishing tools. The era of change as far as information sharing in government will be ongoing. Today, perhaps, it’s Sharepoint. Tomorrow, perhaps, a Google cloud. I know the frustration of KM practitioner who feels like they are stuck in the movie Groundhog Day. I see past that frustration. Because I know whatever the final tool or solution, participation is what really matters. Empowering and enabling consensus building will help us through this transition more than enforcing a false sense of control. Transparency. Collaboration. Participation.

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