Looking back over the KM scene after nearly 10 years what have we delivered?
In my book, enabling connections, helping people to find people, finding competencies and expertise has been the key benefit. Yellowpages come in many shades and sizes - from auto-text miners sifting through e-mails and IMs for matching keywords to advanced neural networks matching patterns from training examples or social affordances such as informal virtual conversations to surface needs and abilities. Yellowpages when applied with empathy and nurtured in a climate of trust have delivered the highest and quickest return of all KM activities.
Never as well received as 'best practices', learning histories, AAR (after action reviews) and formal reflection sessions where implications can be openly examined where alternatives are considered and where feedback is evaluated, have proved to be a key KM take-away
Learning by refinement and by comparison (benchmarking) is often touted as the main leverage of KM. Far too often the repositories have fallen short of expectations, quality leaves much to be desired and participation is very unequal. Perhaps the largest failing of best practices has been inadequate specification of context and ability to maintain momentum.
Getting help from colleagues that have 'been and done' it before seems self-evident, but this activity is the one that is least practiced. Mostly it is a cultural thing - a reluctance (or impossibility) to work across functional silos. Organizations that commit the peer assists also have a good record of promoting mentoring and have a feel for the value of transferring tacit knowledge
Communities of Practice - CoPs
The last to arrive, CoPs seem to have legs. Informal continuous learning is a core competency at both individual and group levels. We pay far too much attention to boundaries, governance, charters and sponsorship and still have a ways to go nurturing the environment for healthy CoPs - rewarding learning, providing time for mentoring, supporting experimentation and encouraging learning from failure.
What lies ahead for KM?
Firms that develop a lingua franca, really share meaning, will be the first to take advantage of emergent technologies such as semantic web, autonomous agents and enabling the virtual agile organization.
Gathering validated solutions to repetitive problems and involving the community in the formulation and testing is a proven way to capture expertise. Firms that identify, name, use and apply patterns will leap-frog ahead. They will have the foundation to avoid costly errors, see new opportunities, build on past winners and spot gaps.
I'm waiting to see what new knowledge practices emerge from WIFY, VoIP, SMS, Blogging and P2P file sharing.
Please let me know if you see any!