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Sunday, May 09, 2004

View of Florence from San Miniato (Thomas Cole,

The Importance of Knowledge Claim Evaluation

In my last post, I pointed to the problem of the absence of work on Knowledge Claim Evaluation in Knowledge management, offered some thoughts by way of explaining why this was the case, and ended with a statement about what was required for the job ahead. My account asserted the importance of Knowledge Claim Evaluation (KCE), but did little to explain why I thought it should be such a central concern of KM.

In my first post, "All Life is Problem Solving", I wrote about the importance of error elimination knowledge making and problem solving and said the following. The last of the three steps in making knowledge is error elimination or "matching". This step is the gateway to knowledge. But it is, as Popper pointed out, fundamentally negative in character. It is about eliminating mistakes and not about supporting any of one's tentative solutions. In animals lacking consciousness, mistakes are eliminated, when the animal receives negative reinforcement from the environment for selecting the wrong solution. That is, the animal in question can only learn by experiencing the negative consequences of its mistaken expectation and ensuing decision. Often the wrong choice means that the animal making the choice is eliminated along with its mistake. Animals with consciousness and especially sharing language have a great advantage over other animals. We can eliminate errors and learn by testing our solutions through the surrogate processes of criticism, controlled testing, and comparative analysis, before we take a decision. We, unlike other animals, can manage our knowledge making so that "our worst ideas die in our stead", and our best ones inform our decisions and actions. But to do so, we must use our gift of language and be diligent in criticism, testing, and evaluation of our tentative solutions. In other words, we must attempt to eliminate our errors through KCE.

In my second post on "Organizational Problem Solving", I noted that KCE is at the very center of knowledge processing and knowledge production. Think about it. Without it, what is the difference between information and knowledge? How do we know that we are integrating knowledge rather than just information? Or that the “knowledge” we’re using in operational business processes is of high quality? Absent a social process in organizations, be it formal or informal, through which competing claims can be held to tests of veracity or verisimilitude, how can we possibly make judgments about truth versus falsity? Knowledge Claim Evaluation, then, is what gives us the ability to know knowledge when we see it, and therefore to know when we've produced it.

Organizations clearly differ in the quality and success of their Knowledge Claim Evaluation processes and in the quality of knowledge produced by them. KM has many objectives. Enhancing organizational capability to get information from external sources, enhancing creativity and capability to formulate relevant knowledge claims, enhancing the process of sharing knowledge claims that have survived KCE are all very important. But what can Knowledge Managers do that could possibly be more important, than enhancing Knowledge Claim Evaluation the very sub-process that is the gateway to knowledge? I'll leave you to ask that question of yourself, and to wonder, as I do, why so few practitioners in KM talk or write about such enhancements.

For More Information

You’ll find much more information on the views offered in this post, and on training in the New Knowledge Management at three web sites:,, and Many papers on the New Knowledge Management are available for downloading there. Our Excerpt from The Open Enterprise . . . may also be purchased there. Our print books: Mark W. McElroy, The New Knowledge Management, my Enterprise Information Portals and Knowledge Management, and our Key Issues in The New Knowledge Management, are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Elsevier.

11:09:39 PM    comment []

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