KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

Why do we need KM when everything is on Google?

with 22 comments

This is a blog post I’ve had in draft for well over a year after being irritated at hearing this very question several times in succession – while I might be able to improve it if I ponder over it longer, I thought I might as well publish it now – since otherwise how could anyone find it?

I’ve heard a  few Knowledge Management skeptics saying something along these lines “in the days of Google we easily have access to the latest news, research, opinion and data directly from our desktops, why do we need knowledge management, and knowledge management experts and systems?”

My response is this. No doubt improved internet access and powerful search engines have made it easier to find knowledge. But it’s not as simple as that. Not everything is on Google, and it’s not so straightforward to sift through and understand whatever you can find.

Here’s another way of looking at knowledge management and why it is important: “Knowledge Management – It’s about helping you capture, store, share and use everything that isn’t on Google (yet), and making sense of what you can find there”

So what isn’t on Google? More than you might think. Here are a few examples:

  • Most of the material that is currently on organizational Intranets. In many organizations only a small proportion of their total information is available on their public website, or on other public websites and is thus searchable by Google. I’ve argued before that more of this should be available publicly – but right now it isn’t so you won’t find it.
  • All those documents on shared drives, hard drives, paper records, internal databases etc. examples include trip reports,  work plans, draft reports and studies, datasets etc. More and more of these are being put online but still more are held behind organizational firewalls, or are not online at all, even on an internal system.
  • Premium access electronic journals and databases. Abstracts are usually available online but the detailed papers (let alone the data sets on which they were built) are not. One day more of these will be available for free, but not yet.
  • Information about the expertise, interests and activities of your organization’s staff (or of most people for that matter) – again people are increasingly creating public profiles, but there is usually much more information on private networks, or which is shared in person to person exchanges.
  • Tacit knowledge inside people’s head such as lessons learned and good practices from our experience, or person to person exchange of ideas in online and offline communities that can generate new ideas and improved ways of working.
  • Relationships with people who can help you. Yes you can find experts on the web, but how do you know who is the person who is able to help you, and why would they? this is where networks and communities come in.
  • Synthesis – analysis, rating and context for the vast mass of information that is out there on Google so you know you are using the best quality and most relevant material and don’t need to spend ages looking for it. Of course a lot of synthesis is already available on Google – but often not the one you need – and how do you know if what you are reading is any good in the first place (or as Abraham Lincoln famously said “”The thing about quotes on the internet is that you cannot confirm their validity.”). Even with the trend towards more and more open and published data – we still need expert help to interpret it.
  • Knowing what knowledge is not there that we critically need to do our work – and finding the best way to generate or obtain it.
  • Transforming knowledge into action and learning i.e. knowing how to use the knowledge you are able to obtain and apply it effectively in your work, and then reflect on the experience and internalize what you have learned.

So we can think of knowledge management as dealing with all the things that Google can’t yet do for us such as those listed above. And In the course of our work, I think you’ll find we need to use these resources quite often, but we often don’t yet have the best skills, systems, tools and behaviours in place to make these easily available when you need them. And however good Google gets, this or any other technology is only part of the answer on how to tackle this. There is a lot that needs to be done around organization culture, skills, behaviours, accountabilities and work processes, policies and governance. Technologies (such as Google) are just an enabler. And there is a lot to be done around developing personal capacity and skills for which you can find information online, but which you only experience in the real world.

Written by Ian Thorpe

July 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm

22 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Don’t forget that sometimes Google is wrong just like anyone else:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/nov/15/google-map-dispute-nicaragua

    Much of our department’s data is not on public websites for many reasons which I think you have ranted on before. In the worst case someone might make the wrong decision with the data errors…see above…

    We also have no idea how accurate Google’s data is http://spatiallyadjusted.com/2012/07/20/google-maps-is-more-accurate-because-they-say-it-is/

    Fiona

    July 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm

  2. “Good evening Mr Thorpe, I am the surgeon who will be operating on you tomorrow. Although I have no knowledge whatsoever of the surgery I will be performing, you needn’t worry, because I have Google”

    Nick Milton

    July 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm

  3. Google making us well informed. KM making us knowledgeable. Those are very strikingly different!

    Md Santo

    July 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    • That is a very charitable view of Google. It can also make you appallingly badly informed.

      Michael Keizer

      July 25, 2012 at 2:58 pm

  4. […] Here’s another way of looking at knowledge management and why it is important: “Knowledge Management – It’s about helping you capture, store, share and use everything that isn’t on Google (yet), and making sense of what you can find there”.   Though knowledge management is more for organizations and, in this case, the field of development, the parallels are easy to see. Take-home message would be that not all the information relevant to your curation is digital. There is information which is private, in print, and, perhaps most importantly, in people's heads.    […]

  5. Nice one Ian!

    chriscollison

    July 24, 2012 at 7:59 pm

  6. […] “Knowledge Management – It’s about helping you capture, store, share and use everything that isn’t on Google (yet), and making sense of what you can find there”  […]

  7. Good stuff. I work on several programs with a small US NGO in rural Kenya, and Google is my link to the outside. I have found some gems (Ian’s blog) and good info on a broad spectrum of topics but I have also spent a lot of time groping around in the dark for more specific content. My KM motto: don’t reinvent the wheel.

    Paul Irwin

    July 25, 2012 at 7:07 am

  8. […] This is a blog post I’ve had in draft for well over a year after being irritated at hearing this very question several times in succession – while I might be able to improve it if I pon…  […]

  9. I allways say : your competition does the same search on Google … so you will not find better answers if you do the same. If you are better than your competition, it is because of the things you do not put on Google.

    nixxe (@nixxe)

    July 25, 2012 at 10:06 am

    • I’d go bit further and say the things that make you better than your competition are those things which can’t be put on Google -things like the skills and experience of your staff, your leadership, your office culture and vision, your contacts and your reputation.

      Ian Thorpe

      July 25, 2012 at 10:28 am

  10. Nice post, Ian!

    I think part of the reason we need KM is precisely that we have many more info and knowledge resources available. Thus the need to manage them.

    If I am given the task to produce a note about a given topic based on a couple of documents, an interview with a colleague, a chat with a friend, and a video in TED, that´s simple. If I have dozens or hundreds of relevant docs, an entire dept (and external professionals), many web sites, blogs and fora, and a few YouTube channels (including TED’s), then it gets more complicated, and I need some methodological approach.

    In other works, we tend to manage abundance, not scarcity.

    Of course, I´d love it if someone created a development version of Wolphram Alpha (the ‘computational knowledge engine’, http://www.wolframalpha.com) that actually worked. It’d save me time to be sure… but I’d still have those pesky, tacit knowledge bits to incorporate somehow.

    Manuel Acevedo

    July 25, 2012 at 10:22 am

  11. Furthermore…. KM is not just aout making knowledge available to those who are looking for it (e.g. from Google). It is also about generating knowledge (the link to shaping the research agenda). It is also about pushing the knowledge to attention of those whose miinds we want to change (the link to advocacy). It is also about analysis, not just compilation….

    Marcus Betts

    July 25, 2012 at 10:29 am

  12. Reblogged this on Sarah Farrukh and commented:
    A fantastic post by Ian Thorpe.

    Sarah F.

    July 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm

  13. Excellent Ian. Very well put.

    Maryam Rashid

    August 2, 2012 at 10:40 am

  14. […] “Knowledge Management – It’s about helping you capture, store, share and use everything that isn’t on Google (yet), and making sense of what you can find there”  […]

  15. […] Beside not everything is on Google, KM is about making sense of information. Different people with the same search result can have different understanding.  Not to mention people get different results by searching the same keyword. Just look for the TED Talk by Eli Pariser on topic "filter bubbles"  […]

  16. […] Why do we need KM when everything is on Google? […]

  17. […] Why do we need KM when everything is on Google? […]

  18. Reblogged this on Weaving Social Fabric and commented:
    Written in 2012, it is still and probably more relevant as people are human and relationships are built on tacit knowledge, rather than what is in the database, often forgotten, or difficult to find. We can and do still learn so much from building our relationships and from the conversations we have. So Google does wonders and much software does, because we can connect and talk to each other, and through this find the information we need.

    Veronique Sikora

    April 7, 2016 at 11:05 am


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: