The Information Lifecycle

It has been a while now that I talked about my experience of putting incentives for KM initiatives in place. These thoughts are very valid for global activities, though we are starting in our company to look at a second approach: implement knowledge sharing in people’s daily activities without imposing additional work. With the right setup people will be self-motivated to engage in knowledge management.

The base for this approach is to look at the ‘Information Lifecycle’, how is information created from first drafts to published final documents. I would like to suggest four high-level steps for the discussion here: from a person to a team, to a community to the entire “public” (e.g. all employees in a company).

In order to illustrate the steps above let me describe what I mean with an example of project information. Typically a project starts with the work of individuals; they write down drafts of project descriptions, collect relevant information, etc. These information is then shared with the project team and in a common effort is further developed. When the team is ready to share their results to stakeholders, it starts to share the fruits of the project to a larger community; this for example could be test users, industry experts, and project clients. Once the deliverables are finished they will be published to everybody in the company our even to the general public. This example is rather generic and I hope you agree that it could apply to must work activities.

Let me share my thoughts on these four steps and how they relate to knowledge management.

  1. Personal Information: individuals are always at the root of information creation and we all have our ways to manage our documents, bookmarks, contacts, emails, etc. Related to this is Personal KM which is a hot topic; Patti Anklam puts it in the right words (Update: quoting Dave Pollard):

  2. KM shifts from ‘content & collection’ to ‘context & connection’; in this sense, all KM needs to think about personal KM at the center.
  3. Team Information: either we talk about project or functional teams, in both cases collaboration is very intense. Especially globally spread teams have the challenge of how to exchange their thoughts, findings, and how to co-develop their deliverables in real-time.
  4. Community Information: we could think about community of practice for this step but I would prefer to take it broader and put the community in the light of corporate social networking initiatives. Here we communicate with people that share similar interests and might be experts in the same field. This audience is excellent to provide feedback and input to our daily work.
  1. Public Information: in this context, the challenges are a bit different; only few project results need to be published to everybody, and most deliverables are not necessarily exposed to the public. Though project results might be eminently important to other project teams which work on similar topics; they can learn from best practice and avoid to repeat mistakes. Plus, experts outside the regular community might provide valuable feedback which can be used for future projects.

    Based on these thoughts, I think that looking at knowledge sharing activities from the perspective of the information lifecycle can provide a new spin to KM in total. The knowledge workers don’t need a motivation from outside but rather contribute through their daily work.

    To make this work, a few elements should be considered:

    • ideally, one tool allows to manage information through all four steps; modern collaboration and social networking tools might achieve this; if not one tool, at least links to the next step should be obvious and simple
    • the company culture should encourage sharing and collaboration between functional units and country boarders; this can be supported by defining the expected behaviour and manifest this in procedures or directives