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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Poverty of Communitarianism: Act-KM -- The Road to Incident Two: Part Three

This post continues with my report of the act-km interaction leading to incident two.

Winding Down

In the first post of May 21st, I replied to Stuart Kay's "loud agreement" post saying:

"I think we are mostly in loud agreement, and I think it's true that in many organizations, Management strategy-based KM allows KM to encourage criticism, including criticism of management strategy, because the managers are wise enough to know that such criticism is good for them and the adaptive capacity of their organizations. Having said that, surely you can see that to define KM as an activity that must be aligned with corporate strategy, is to both exclude from the scope of KM, activities that are not aligned with corporate strategy, and also to provide a license to autocratic organizations to use KM in ways that are not consistent with its mission of building organizational adaptive capacity?"

Dave Snowden then responded to my previous comment on his post by thanking me for a "reasoned reply." He went on to explain further what he meant by "linear definition", explaining that it required a sequential relationship between strategy and KM. He also pointed out that Boards sometimes do concern themselves with KM, but that he thinks that the general trend of an increase in Board influence will begin to be reversed as the memory of Enron fades. He also mentioned factors other than too little Board influence that may account for corporate scandals.

Stuart Kay then sent in a reply to my post to him saying that he could see that the outcomes of KM's subordination to management-based strategy I pointed out previously were possible but that my statement was "loaded with assumptions" that "are not universally true." Dave Snowden then responded to Mark's post. He criticized "the extreme response to the use of "naïve" " and expressed his irritation at not being able to engage in conversation on multiple list servs without being subject to postings of this type. He also stated that such postings can destroy participation, but that "openness has its price." He declined to modify his original statement.

The next post was my response to Dave's post to me. I began by agreeing with most of what he said and then continued:

"but I also think that organizational forms can constrain the development and content of ideational structures over time, and I have problems with the notion of "inevitability" here. In any event, I think that a KM function that is Governance-based can help to keep the enterprise "open" and distributed in its problem solving capability, and I will, along with others who are beginning to write in this vein (Mark, Dale Neef, Don Tapscott, Bill Hall, and others), continue to make the case."

Dave then responded to me off-line, sending a note in which we exchanged final thoughts on the role of Governance-based KM from the point of view of dynamics in a complexity framework. We also both agreed that we had moved much closer as a result of our discussion.

The next post was Mark's response to Stuart Kay's question: Mark suggested that openness in knowledge processing would prevent some people from lying, cheating, and stealing, and would expose others. He also suggested that it would enhance innovation, and ended by saying that all of the above was of fiduciary concern, and "that is why KM ought to report to the governance function .  .  ." My next post was a response to Bill Hall's contribution relating our Governance-based approach to KM to complexity and autopoiesis and to Popper's work. I thanked Bill for making the connections, followed with some references to literature and then argued against the view that the Governance-based approach was "naïve", "utopian", or unrealistic. I pointed out that many innovations are initially viewed in these terms, that labels liked these often indicate opposition to the change involved, and that while there are many reasons of convenience that may explain such opposition, these are not reasons for believing that the Governance-based approach is wrong, or unrealistic, or naive. It is just evidence that the Governance-based approach to KM and The New KM, more generally, is a social innovation. In the next post I replied to Stuart's claim that I made universal assumptions saying "I did not think I said they were universally true. All organizations are not autocratic and all KM activities are not inconsistent with strategy. But how do these facts impact the point I was making?"

Jeff Popova-Clark then responded to my earlier post asking: "So are you saying that you are basing your disagreement with AS5037 on the assumption that management will create goals that are inconsistent with the long-term goals (or purposes for existence) of an organisation?" Bala Pillai began the exchanges of May 23 by agreeing with the case I made in my response to Bill Hall for the view that the Governance-based approach is not "utopian". Bala urged that we not simply assume limitations in our choices and possibiities. Bill Hall then answered Raymind Cheung's post by offering simple definitions of "knowledge", "management", and "knowledge management". Anne Day thanked Bill, while saying she did not have time to read every little bit sent to the list.

Stuart Kay then responded to my last note to him by saying that while I didn't claim that my assumptions were universally true my conclusions were based on them and that if my assumptions were not universally valid, then neither is my conclusion. He then said: "To adopt your principle from the other debate about definitions and standards, your conclusion is therefore falsifiable." I answered quickly and asked him which assumptions and conclusions he had in mind. Stuart answered and quoted a passage from our (Mark's and mine) paper on the Governance-based approach and showed that the assertions in the sentence were not universally valid and were "falsifiable". Stuart then quickly sent in another post in which he said:

"I dispute your conclusion that KM <cannot> be management based if that conclusion is based on the foregoing assumptions which I think are falsifiable. I also dispute your conclusion that the governance based approach results in <entirely different priorities> than a management based approach, again if your conclusion is dependent on those assumptions which I think are falsifiable."

Bala Pillai then posted a response to Bill Hall's definitions saying: "KM is the art of fueling the impossible, the possible and the acumen to know when to do which."

David Rymer began activity on May 24th by responding to my critiques of AS 5037. He offered the following criticisms along with frequent appeals to the authority inhering in standards committees and the ISO. "First your "Governance" model as an emerging area of development currently lacks the demonstrated track record or wide spread level of adoption in this country required for incorporation in a standard." Second, "your focus on Governance vs Management seems to have limited application in Government and community organisations which are major constituencies for the committee." Third, in his organization (The Law Council of Australia), the practitioners also manage and are on the Board so the problems we refer to are not applicable. Fourth, he finds the language I use "too linear, managerial, mechanistic and process oriented to adopt in my own day-to-day KM interactions." Fifth, he characterizes the Governance-based approach as one that "sounds like a 90's solution to an 80's problem when we're trying to work out what 2010 will look like!" And sixth, "The vast majority of people who criticise AS 5037 appear never to have read it!"

On May 25th, I offered a detailed response to David Rymer's post. To his first point, I replied that we were not proposing the idea of the Governance-based approach as a standard but pointing out that making alignment with strategy a requirement of the standard is the problem, not failing to endorse or approve of the untried Governance-based approach. I also said that since the standard that had been proposed excluded Governance-based KM as a possibility, it was demonstrably false. I also said that no amount of conventionalism and positive support for such a definition from practitioners and standards committees in Australia, or elsewhere in the world will remove the prima facie difficulty in contending that Governance-based KM is not KM. I then answered his second and third points by saying that the example he gave from his own organization in which practitioners, management, and board membership overlap, doesn't speak to whether our approach is generally relevant or not to those organizations where there is little overlap. I then pointed to many examples in government where Governance-based KM may have been helpful.

I next answered his fourth point concerning my language by pointing out that he was engaging in labeling and asked him to document his charge with quotations. I then described his fifth point as an ad hominem attack, and as a second exercise in labeling. Then I answered the attack anyway by asking some very leading questions about the relevance of the Governance-based approach to contemporary problems. Finally, I answered his last point by saying that it:

"is either another instance of an ad hominem attack, or simply irrelevant to my post. But in case you meant it to be relevant, I point out that it is not a comment on whether my criticism in any way misconstrues AS 5037. If you believe it does, let's see your analysis with appropriate quotations, If you don't think it does, then what's the point of implying that I've not read the AS 5037 definition of KM?"

This last exchange with David Rymer was somewhat conflictful. I hope it is clear however, that it was David who produced three unmoderated efforts at labeling or ad hominems, and that I only answered these, pointing out their logical status and invalidity.

Stuart Kay then offered a response to my reply to David, saying: "I expect I am going to cop flak for this, but I am foolish enough to do it anyway... ", Stuart proceeded to claim that, contrary to my implication in responding to David, the Bush administration engaged in high quality knowledge processing since it did a very effective job of suppressing information that didn't accord with their policy, and exaggerated information that did. I responded to Stuart by listing the Bush administration's shortcomings in knowledge claim formulation, and knowledge claim evaluation, including their failure to be self-critical and to consider alternative points of view about the post-war occupation, and the implications of what the consequences would be if their assumptions and forecasts were wrong. I summarized by saying that I thought their manipulation of the US into war was masterful, but that their calculations about what outcomes they would need to cope with were incompetent. David Paterson also responded to Stuart asking why his comments should "create any flack."

In my next post I'll describe Incident Two.


I'd like to thank Mark McElroy, my continuing close collaborator and sounding board for contributing to this and the other blog posts in this series on communitarianism. His insights have been of tremendous help in accounting for whatever quality these posts may have. And while he does not bear responsibility for my specific views, he has said that he wishes to associate himself with the general critique of communitarianism in KM list serv groups expressed in this series.

In addition to the books and classes referred to in the margins on this page, you’ll find much more information on the theories and models underlying this post 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 are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or

2:16:37 PM    comment []

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