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Oct 28, 2003: Behavioral and Structural Modification

CMS Watch points to "The Missing Link," an excellent column by Thomas R. Davies in Governing.com. Just as in the private sector, government agencies are flummoxed by the silo problem:

"...apparently, government leaders would rather tackle the challenges of failing schools, rising health care costs and finding money for homeland security before taking on the information-sharing bugaboo. Can it really be more difficult to get everyone to disseminate data among themselves than to eliminate billion-dollar budget deficits?"

(Clearly, government agencies need the services of a good enterprise information architect or two. Or sixteen.)

Davies goes on to reference Donald Marchand's work on "information orientation" (IO). To paraphrase Davies, IO-savvy organizations can:

  1. manage IT applications and infrastructure;
  2. manage information over its life-cycle; and
  3. instill and promote behaviors and values for the effective use of information.

This last point is perhaps the most important of the three, and is yet the least understood. Summarizing a study by Marchand, Davies notes that:

"...the exchange of information--between individuals on a team and across functional and organizational boundaries--is one of the critical information values that senior executives need to instill in their organizations. Values and behaviors such as information sharing are, the book suggests, just as important to increasing organizational performance as is having the latest and greatest technology."

IO appears to be a measure of, among other things, how well an organization's employees value and engage in information sharing across organizational "silos". Of course, information architects come at this problem from a different direction: we try to develop structures that enable access to that information across silos, whereas IO seems to fit the knowledge management (KM) approach of capturing information despite its origin within separate information structures.

Sorry. Where the heck am I going with this?

I'm not a KM expert, and this concept of IO is new to me (one of Marchand's books now sits in my ever-mushrooming "to-read" pile). But I'm wondering: are these two approaches--IA and KM--are at odds with each other? Or is there some appropriate mix of behavioral modification that a senior manager might implement (the KM approach), and structural modification that information architects might bring about? Seems like a combined approach would have the best chance of increasing the flow, access, capture, and management of information across silos.

Any of you out there involved in enterprise projects that combine IA and KM? Are these two fields colliding or uniting? Do they even know about each other? Is it time for a KM/IA Summit?

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Comment: Deb Seys (Oct 30, 2003)

Well, I think IA or information management is a subset of the activities that are included under the KM umbrella. I've been involved in KM projects that identified solutions to problems that were IA solutions. For example, we investigated a large computer support call center with a goal of improving 'knowledge sharing' amongst the support engineers. There were a myriad of problems, including a simple cultural resistance to knowledge sharing and a mixed message to management of what kinds of behavior would be rewarded. In addition, one of the problems was that they felt they had codified knowledge in the form of some content that had been entered into their call tracking database, but they couldn't find it again when they needed it.

What they needed to do was a content inventory, a user search behavior study, possibly a taxonomy for categorizing the stuff better, and better navigation choices in the tool they were using.

Doesn't this sound like IA to you?

Comment: Deb Seys (Oct 30, 2003)

Whoops, meant to say "...a mixed message *from* management..."

Do we need to have a KM/IA summit? I don't know. We could certainly have a better understanding of where IA fits in a larger scheme of improving knowledge sharing and increasing knowledge assets within a company - it's maybe not just about finding things.

Comment: Lou (Oct 30, 2003)

OK, a related question: can you have KM without IA? Deb, it sounds like the end of your first posting was heading in this direction.

I wonder if it's even worth to try to capture organizational knowledge if you can't manage and provide access to what's already available in digital format...

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