Knowledge technologies in context
Knowledge technologies in context

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5 Conclusion

Knowledge technologies, as software systems, embody formal models of how the world works: for example, networks between people, what their roles are, how information should flow, rules about interdependences between variables, and how to index and categorise information. If well designed, such models relieve people of mundane activities, allowing them to focus on what they do best: communication, negotiation, creative problem solving: that is, the construction of new shared meaning. At their best, knowledge technologies can detect patterns in information which are too complex for humans to detect, or which they do not have time to detect, and can deliver this information to the right people, at the right time, in the right form for interpretation.

Revisiting the core themes introduced at the start of this unit, there are philosophical representational reasons why these models can never fully mirror the complexity of the living, social worlds that humans construct for themselves in organisations. Representation is always selective. Mapping is always a question of how to distort the world in order to serve a particular perspective. The codification process distances the knower from what they know tacitly, enabling them to symbolically represent and manipulate ideas as objects, which can then be embedded into programs and computational models. This process, however, necessarily changes the nature of the knowledge through abstraction and decontextualisation. It is critical, therefore, that the users who, after all, create the meaning and significance from the data and information, are fully involved in evaluating the design of knowledge management technologies from the start, to ensure that the formalisation process of software design does not destroy the very ecology it seeks to nurture.

The core concepts of representation, interpretation, situated use in context and communities of practice draw attention to the ways in which such tools are subsequently integrated into the cognitive, social and organisational flow of work. We can never fully predict the use of a design because we can never fully predict how artefacts will be interpreted and appropriated into working life. New technologies trigger changes in the ecology of work, which adapts to try to incorporate the technologies into work practice. In the worst case, no ecological niche can be found and the system is rejected or worked around. In the best case, the ecosystem functions more effectively as a result of mediating new activities technologically.

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