Earlier on today Dennis McDonald, one of the folks that I have been following up on for some time now as he always has got something interesting to say, pointed me to an interesting weblog post he created on one topic that over the course of the years I have always found fascinating, to say the least. The weblog post is titled Bringing Knowledge, Relationships, and Experts Together and you can find it over here. The post itself is worth while a read if you are interested in expertise location, one of the areas within Knowledge Management that might not have been exploited as much what you may have expected all along. However, that may all be about to change. But more on that later on in this post. However, for now I just want to touch base on a couple of highlights that I feel would be worth while mentioning from the article itself. Thus here we go:
“What I’m looking for goes beyond developing highly specialized relationships. When I have a question or a problem, I want to be able to immediately figure out who is willing, qualified, and able to help me solve it. Since problems and questions come in every shape and size, some sublime, and some ridiculous, I want my Instant Knowledge system to help me distinguish and locate an appropriate trusted source – an expert.”
Indeed, this is perhaps one of the main premises from every single expertise locator application available out there: find those trusted experts who would be able to provide you with an answer, or answers, in the shortest time possible. However, as you may have been able to experience yourself finding those experts is not an easy task. In fact, it has become one of the most difficult tasks to solve for every single knowledge worker. And why is that you may be wondering? Well, I am not really sure as I don’t think I would have the answer for it, but certainly I feel that is due most of it because of the fact that in the traditional KM systems there has always been too much focus on the explicit knowledge exchange as opposed to the tacit knowledge exchange. Yes, indeed, too much focus on the information and knowledge to be shared than in the people themselves, in helping them to connect with one another through the usage of communities amongst other types of groups.
And this is perhaps where things may be starting to change, if they haven’t done it already. Indeed, with all these emerging technologies related to social networking and social software we are actually starting to see how that focus is shifting and how experts are starting to make their way through the KM system and become those experts people have been looking for all along. So the focus is no longer in the knowledge available but also on the people behind that same knowledge. And I think that is also where the focus will shift: expertise location through social networking might be the way towards allowing knowledge workers have access not only to the information and knowledge but also to the people behind that knowledge.
“[…] I also want a system that enables me to locate information I can trust, and the basis for that trust, I think, will be based on a combination of third party validation (i.e., people who know things policing a body of knowledge) together with trusted relationships (i.e., people I know and trust).”
Yes, certainly, this is something that I have talked about several times in the past. As part of the emerging social networking tools we are actually seeing how along with them there is this increasing need to start trusting more knowledge workers than perhaps knowledge itself. This is something that most KM systems have failed to provide in the past and why I think that social networking has got a great opportunity to make it as an integral part of a successful KM strategy in such a way that through it knowledge workers would have the opportunity to help build further on their trust levels by being able to connect with others and as a result of those connections to actually be able to have access to more relevant knowledge to meet up their needs. We all know that it is easier to go and ask a question to an expert than to actually go and look for it ourselves. Whether we like it or not we are social beings and as such there would always a natural tendency for us to try to connect with others and as a result get access to their knowledge as opposed to go out there and look for the information elsewhere. But first we would need to make a connection.
“[..] what implications does that hold for the educational process? Does that mean you can afford to learn less if expertise is only a keyboard away? Why memorize facts when Google is out there? Why learn long division if a cheap hand calculator will do the trick? Why continually scan increasingly lengthy and numerous data feeds if you can pick up the phone (or send an email to) a trusted expert – part of your network – to get a knowledgeable and trusted response to your question? Will this type of a system threaten existing traditional professional gatekeeping and certification processes?”
Lots of different questions in here and all of them perhaps capable to providing multiple answers in this area of expertise location. However, I think that we would be able to answer most of them, or, at least, address most of them, with something that one of my colleagues told me about some time ago: we need to start thinking that people are portals and as such we would probably need to start building systems that go around people, and with people come the different communities they belong to as well, as opposed to just information portals where there is no such connection between the knowledge and the people behind it. Take, for instance, the example behind social networking tools currently available like Ziki, Peoplefeeds or Suprglu. There you have it, your people portals available to everyone where you can access to knowledge workers, their knowledge and the different knowledge resources they use to help spread information and knowledge. And on top of it all a place where people can help build up and nurture their own social networks.
In short, I feel that expertise location will continue to evolve in KM and become as fascinating as ever. But there would be something crucial that we would need to be very aware of: expertise location without a focus on the people and the communities themselves is probably not going anywhere. It hasn’t gone anywhere thus far and it will probably remain like that till we all start realising that when locating experts you first need to reach out to them and not the knowledge they may have. That is something that will be happening later naturally. It always has.