Updated: 7/7/06; 4:09:32 PM.
Connectivity: Spike Hall's RU Weblog
News, clips, comments on knowledge, knowledge-making, education, weblogging, philosophy, systems and ecology.

 Monday, December 16, 2002

Re: my vision of a world of successful knowledge-making in bounded knowledge-making communities Peter Merholz (Peterme) shares notes concerning an experience-based preference for effective knowledge management architecture which allows and enables the flexible use of simple collaboration tools in the various subsystems. This, it has been found, will be more the answer than the purchase and cookie-cutter use of a monolithic (and expensive) hardware/software technology.

2, 4, 6, 8, Let's All Collaborate.

Anyone who has worked with others knows that the best collaborative tools are the simplest.
---John Parkinson, from Cap Gemini Ernst and Young, said that after helping spend $1 billion in collaborative software, and developing instruments to study its impact, there was only one tool that had a noticeably positive effect on collaborative productivity: e-mail.

What [sigma] that means is that all the knowledge management, web conferencing, content management, [etc.] simply provides no real return on investment

This made me consider which collaborative digital tools seem to work? What gets people to coordinate, to work together to a common goal? And my answer: dumb simple ones. Email. Instant messaging. Simple bulletin boards like bugzilla. Voice telephone calls. Weblogs---

---with little explicit coordination, people use a suite of simple tools to get things done. One of the things that this discussion made abundantly clear is that the solution to enable collaboration is not really a technical one (much beyond the simple tools). It's a management one.

One of the panelists put it best when he said that in supporting collaboration, what matters most is a "governance architecture." In other words, a system for using the simple tools. With a little bit of training and management, companies could see a huge return on the use of simple collaboration tools, far more than trying to buy some type of monolithic solution that requires everyone to work in exactly the same way, and in a way that runs contrary to how they operate now.

Now, all that goodness said about decentralization, it's important to acknowledge that you ought not go overboard. Which the recognition of the need for governance architecture suggests. As does the important role of some kind of knowledge sharing and management within a company. As a Web guy, one thing I've been exposed to is decentralization in the form of intranets, and let me tell you: it's not really a good thing. Different departments create their own intranets, utterly ignoring what else is out there, using their own terminology, navigation schemes, search tools, etc.


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Spike Hall is an Emeritus Professor of Education and Special Education at Drake University. He teaches most of his classes online. He writes in Des Moines, Iowa.


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