Social Interaction, Wikis, and Knowledge Management

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Though we don’t always realize it, knowledge creation and knowledge management can be a very social activity. Sure, it’s not the same as going out and having drinks with your friends, but it still revolves around communication and effective open dialogue to promote efficiency and reduce errors. Rachel’s post on Social Mores of Knowledge Management mentions how corporate entities become individuals, even though those entities are in fact large groups of people. And the people who work inside those corporate “individuals” sometimes have different views, as Kamrynwies mentions. She discusses knowledge hoarding and knowledge hiding in her post about knowledge transfer, two concepts which seem to have motivations based on social relationships (she specifically mentions that of an associate and his or her “boss”).

This idea of knowledge management (or non-management) as social interactions immediately brings to my mind social media. Of course, when we think of “social media” we think of FaceBook, chat rooms, Twitter, MMORPGs, Instagram, and other similar web features. Tay Pei Lyn Grace‘s article, however, is a reminder that not all social media is public. Grace is focused on the use of Wikis as knowledge management tools, and mentions three cases where wikis were implemented for corporate purposes. (I was also surprised to see the idea of a “personal wiki” in her article – sounds like something interesting to try!) Grace states wikis can potentially fulfill the hope for:

a democratic, accessible community of users responsible for its own content, supported by an open model of knowledge creation and communication (p. 64).

But that did not strike a cord with me as much as what she said on the next page:

It is a collaborative space due to its total freedom, ease of use and access, simple and uniform navigational conventions and is also a way to organize and cross-linked knowledge. It is a webpage created using wiki engine allowing a process of bottom up editing, where users can delete, edit and add content. Users may read the contents using a web browser. The expertise is not in the hands of the few, but rather emerges from the combined efforts of many. (p. 65)

The users control the content, adding their expertise and experiences easily, and serves the purpose of collecting, linking, and communicating knowledge. In my head, this moves knowledge management up from simple documentation to something like a knowledge management 2.0. Similar to Web 2.0, this moves knowledge management from a flat document (like a manual) to a dynamic document they can interact with (add, change, or remove content).

One of the key principles of Web 2.0 Moria Levy mentions is that “The service improves automatically the more it is used (by the people)” (p. 122). While wikis may not improve automatically, they definitely improve as users interact with the system and tailor content to suit the needs of the organization. Wikis can only improve if they are used. It is a step towards an improvement of knowledge management tools, making them more interactive and user-friendly.

Not everyone knows how to effectively maintain these wiki databases, however, which brings me to Lam and Chua’s strategy of knowledge outsourcing. Don’t worry – it’s not as large a leap as it seems. Lam and Chua discuss different aspects of knowledge outsourcing, but what struck me the most was the following quote on outsourced knowledge:

Such knowledge tends to be less contextual and proprietary in nature and can be produced without significant prior knowledge about the organisation’s setting or its internal workings. However, such knowledge also tends to be more narrowly focused and specific to a problem area. (p. 40)

They mention strategies such as outsourcing only a portion of the IT team (p. 31) which, in my mind, frees up resources to work on crucial business processes. Going from the idea of a wiki, a corporation could outsource maintenance of the wiki code and technical issues, while internal SMEs (subject matter experts) still manage the content of the pages.

Effective knowledge management has a cornerstone of shared language and shared goals. In the case of a corporate “individual”, the shared goal is to help the company do well. In order to do so, those who work for that corporation must find an effective means of creating, communicating, and sharing knowledge (without hoarding or hiding knowledge). Whether this is through wikis or other means is best determined by each organization, but the idea of an interactive form of knowledge management which can be constantly updated with new information is appealing. If necessary, some knowledge can be outsourced to experts outside the company who have specialized knowledge about systems, system management, or specific areas of knowledge. Bottom line, though, we cannot be completely successful without social interaction – without communication and knowledge from others.

 

Resources:

Grace, T. P. L. (2009). Wikis as a knowledge management tool. Journal of Knowledge Management, 13(4), 64-74. doi:10.1108/13673270910971833

Lam, W., & Chua, A. Y. (2009). Knowledge outsourcing: An alternative strategy for knowledge management. Journal of Knowledge Management, 13(3), 28-43. doi:10.1108/13673270910962851

Levy, M. (2009). Web 2.0 implications on knowledge management. Journal of Knowledge Management, 13(1), 120-134. doi:10.1108/13673270910931215

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11 thoughts on “Social Interaction, Wikis, and Knowledge Management

  1. How you talked about these two quotes: “The expertise is not in the hands of the few, but rather emerges from the combined efforts of many” and “The service improves automatically the more it is used (by the people)” put in my mind things like Yelp and Travel Advisor. This entry is all about the social component of knowledge management and I kept thinking about how the knowledge of an organization, from outsiders, a lot of times comes from what people write about them on the internet. If you want to work for a company but only find reviews where people talk about how bad they are, that changes your perspective. I feel that online reviews and comments have some impact on how an organization manages its knowledge and how the internet does as well.

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  2. Personal wikis aren’t difficult (here’s mine, btw: http://cseanburns.net/wiki/). It would be a good exercise to start one on your own, in fact. I use Dokuwiki because it requires less resources and uses flat files instead of a SQL database, like MediaWiki does (Wikipedia is built on MediaWiki). You can try both — each is great.

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  3. Also, it’s true — collective wikis are not valuable unless they’re used and people contribute to them. Such is the power of Wikipedia. It’s also incredibly difficult to encourage people to use them — to incorporate such tools into their pre-existing work flows. No one knows why some of these things take off (like Wikipedia) and some don’t (like Citizendium).

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