Applying Sense-Making Methodology to Design Knowledge Management Practices

Applying Sense-Making Methodology to Design Knowledge Management Practices

Bonnie Wai-yi Cheuk (Global Head of Knowledge & Information, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), UK) and Brenda Dervin (Ohio State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-954-0.ch013
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Abstract

This chapter introduces readers to Dervin’s Sense-Making Methodology (SMM) and demonstrates how it has been applied to design knowledge management projects for the public sector. The projects described in this chapter were implemented between November 2005 to June 2006 when the main author was the Head of Knowledge Management for the Improvement Service for the Scottish Government, a company limited by guarantee with a budget provided by the Scottish Executive, with the aim to improve the efficiency, quality and accountability of public services in Scotland through learning, sharing knowledge and delivering improvement solutions. Sense-Making Methodology is based on a set of assumptions which challenge some fundamental knowledge management thinking. The SMM assumptions imply the need for alternative procedures to be implemented to promote knowledge sharing. Three primary applications are discussed: (a) conducting user study to understand user needs; (b) designing web-based KM systems; and (c) facilitating dialogue to nurture communities of practice. This chapter aims at stimulating further thinking and debate in adopting theoretically informed approaches to implement knowledge management practices.
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Literature Review: Km Philosophies And The Associated Practices

A review of knowledge management (KM) literature shows a proliferation of publications in the last 10 years. The debate on what ‘knowledge’ is (and how to manage ‘knowledge’) has been intense and often contradictory. The confusion in this new, emergent field is created by a variety of ontological and epistemological assumptions. In this section, we will review KM literature which explicitly addresses philosophical assumptions and have informed KM practices.

In early 1990s, since Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) introduce the concept of ‘tacit’ (i.e. knowledge in a person’s head which has a personal quality and is hard to formalize and communicate) and ‘explicit’ knowledge (i.e. knowledge that is transmittable in formal, systematic language), scholar and practitioners have find ways to turn tacit knowledge into explicit. Knowledge is used interchangeably with ‘information’ and is managed as ‘something which can be written down or codified’ (Sutton, 2001). Knowledge is seen as objects which can be managed independent of the users or the recipients of the knowledge. The value of knowledge can be objectively assigned by experts according to a set of objective criteria.

This understanding of knowledge as objects has profound impact on the design of first generation KM practices which include:

  • 1.

    Making ‘tacit’ knowledge explicit by investing in KM systems or global best practice databases which 'capture' the knowledge of experts. The 'capture' approach continued with an emphasis on capturing, storing, retrieving knowledge in databases, manuals, books and reports, and then sharing it in a hard form (Hildreth and Kimble, 2002).

  • 2.

    Measuring the benefits and bottom-line outcomes of knowledge capturing and transfer activities, assuming that ‘codified’ knowledge will have a linear impact on firms’ operations. (Nonaka and Peltokorpi, 2006, p79; Dervin, 1998, p38)

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