Imagine this. It’s a Saturday. You’ve taken your kids on a field trip to the aquarium. Your children wow at the colours of the rainbow fish swimming by. Signage on the walls asks questions like: “What do sharks really eat near you?”

The ecology of the ocean in a box: an aquarium.

Hold up. What does an aquarium have to do with your world?

The short answer: ecology. To better understand your world of knowledge, or what we call Knowledge Management, we’ll explain how it works, what it entails, and end with a brief history. In this article, we draw significantly from Tom Davenport and Michael E. D. Koenig’s work.

What does knowledge management have to do with ecology?

Ecology, in its broadest sense, is about the relationships between groups: systems, people, social groups and its environment.

The interconnected and entwined relationships among these groups illuminate the relationship between one piece of information and another. In our minds, an exact word can set off neural connections to a myriad of concepts, ideas, and associations.

We think in associative networks, not disparate boxes.

To one person, two ideas can seem disparate. To another, those two ideas are profoundly woven and intertwined. So, like our fellow human-centred designers, firms like IDEO and frog, we create mind maps. We use post-it notes and whiteboards. We write down concepts and connect the dots in our minds and onto paper.

The nature of information is inherently hard to control. For example, Davenport notes that the very reason why information architecture has failed is because it will never be able to capture the reality of human behaviour. Therefore, a human-centred approach to knowledge, information collection and management assumes that “information is complex, ever-expanding, and impossible to control completely” (Davenport 1994).

The reason for its complexity is because information takes on diverse meanings and particularities between and amongst individuals, small groups, entire organisations, and beyond. Again, to one person, two ideas can seem disparate. To another person, the same two ideas can be deeply intertwined. How we make meaning and sense of information is subjective.

Why does understanding ecology matter?

How people understand the knowledge and use information needs to inform how we create systems–systems that store, analyse, and summarise information.

To quote Davenport:

“Information managers must begin by thinking about how people use information, not how people use machines” (Davenport 1994).

If we simply create systems that overlook the very behaviours of information users and providers, we’ll continue creating computer models that don’t translate. We’ll be working for our computers, rather than making them work for us.

To this degree, knowledge management looks more like an aquarium than an excel spreadsheet. Schools of fish can be identified, interspersed with slivers of raw data, swimming over corals of information assets from one region of a global organisation to another.

The historically-rich term Knowledge Management now spans topics, concepts, industries, and communities. From any of the following names:

Enterprise-Wide Information Analysis (coined by IBM)
Data-Driven System Design,
Decision Analysis,
Intellectual Capital,
Enterprise Content Management (ECM),
Supply Chain Management (SCM) and, even,
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)…

Knowledge management is actually a lot less complicated than it seems. We’re trying to make it more accessible here at Weavit — by constructing a more intuitive way of understanding your own knowledge through your networks.

Build your world of personal data with us, accessible only to you and your network.

With the exponential expansion of the definition of Knowledge Management, describing it as ‘hard to control’ is an understatement. The information and knowledge each of us carries are increasingly complex: from what lies in our professional networks to customer and client relationships, right down to our ideas, concepts and interpretations.

So, what exactly is knowledge management?

Knowledge Management is more than the accumulation of knowledge, or your world; Knowledge Management is an approach to it. Regardless of what you know, Knowledge Management integrates the processes of identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing information assets. Most systems have been developed to help us incorporate information, but fewer platforms have been developed to help us manage information and even less have been developed with a human-centred approach.

The question becomes, then, not what do we see in the aquarium, but rather, how organisms are connected within the oceanic ecosystem. How do you see it? Share a thought or two in the comments below!