1 Knowledge technologies in context
There are many non-technological dimensions to understanding what it might mean to ‘manage knowledge’. However, technology is a thread weaving throughout, and seems now to be a fixture in knowledge management conferences and publications. ‘Knowledge’ can be managed as an objectified asset is a core idea in knowledge management. This unit will encourage you to question what this means in different contexts. ‘Context’ allows us to considere what value is added by viewing management and the firm through a ‘knowledge lens’, and in this unit you will encounter it again.
You may be wondering exactly what the relationship is between information, knowledge and technology. How do the tacit and explicit dimensions of knowing relate to what can be stored on a hard disk, represented in software, or even reasoned about by a computer system? This unit explores the fascinating interaction between humans and machines in the context of designing computational support for knowledge work.
Digital representations lie at the heart of information and communication technologies (ICT). Computers depend on digital input in order to acquire data about some aspect of the world. This ‘capture process’ can range from automated logging of raw data, to asking people to manually enter and classify information, to classifying information automatically. To enable useful searching and reuse of the resulting repository, the contents must be segmented and indexed so that relevant parts can be retrieved. Whoever or whatever performs this task, one or more classification schemes must be used which reflect a view of what is important and meaningful. The process of developing a classification or structuring scheme will be referred to as formalisation, which, as we shall see, is a critical process for humans, both cognitively and socially.
Human understanding and expertise, in contrast, is always evolving and is embedded in social interaction within communities. Meaning and significance are context-dependent properties and are clothed in multiple modalities, not just those which can be verbalised or codified as text or digits. We solve problems in opportunistic ways, rarely following idealised, predetermined procedures. We interact and communicate by non-verbal as well as verbal means, negotiating social conventions which are rarely articulated. Expert performance draws on knowledge that is hard to express and structure explicitly. Information and knowledge have social and political dimensions which are never recorded, but which are powerful determinants of organisational behaviour.
How can such different partners as computers and humans build a harmonious marriage?