Knowledge technologies in context
Knowledge technologies in context

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Knowledge technologies in context

4.4 Technologies and meta-knowledge continued

4.4.1 The map isn't the territory

The expression ‘the map isn't the territory’ draws attention to the difference between complex reality and simplified models of it. Normally, the territory is relatively stable and different maps are produced for different purposes; the territory shapes the maps, not vice versa. However, when the ‘territory’ comprises people who know that they – or their work activities – are being mapped, we find ourselves in a reflexive loop: the people can see how they and their work are being mapped and (if they care) they may well change in response to this: and so the map in turn needs to be updated.

Historians have shown us how political cartography is, and this is equally true when mapping organisational structures and priorities. The introduction of systematic knowledge management (whether or not technology is involved) creates a new economy of knowledge and a knowledge vocabulary. Creating a map of corporate knowledge categories does precisely this. Any group and their work will remain invisible, and thus unresourced, unless they can position themselves within this new economy, using the right language (and the right metadata).

Bowker and Star present an illuminating analysis of the impact of ‘professionalisation’ – systematic classification of skills and courses of action, and management of these via technology – on nursing, a profession in which much of the most valued expertise is a craft skill that is hard to codify:

One of the main problems that… nurses have is that they are trying to situate their activity visibly within an informational world which has both factored them out of the equation and maintained that they should be so factored – since what nurses do can be defined precisely as that which is not measurable, finite, packaged, accountable.

(Bowker and Star, 1999, p. 265)

This illustrates the political dimensions to formal classification. The names and labels used unavoidably emphasise particular perspectives. The map that an organisation creates may therefore trigger unforeseen changes. Of course, there are organisational documents and charts that are ignored by staff. However, Davenport and Prusak (1998) warn that if a knowledge map does not cause some controversy it is a sign that it is not being taken seriously by the very people who should be ‘owning’ it, and this raises questions about how the knowledge management initiative is being implemented.


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