Justification by Faith or Works?

The learning ripples from the actKM conference are still spreading, on the actKM forum as well as in the blogosphere.

Matt Moore has published a very nice, pragmatic white paper based on his actKM conference session, giving guidance on how to justify your KM efforts to your various stakeholders. It forms a very nice procedural companion to the white paper I wrote some time back on “How to use KPIs in Knowledge Management”.

The assumption in Matt’s white paper is that you’ve been doing KM for some time and have some activity and output measures to show. Matt’s principal advice is to be aware of the political dimensions of decision making and support in your organisation – that your different stakeholders have different agendas, different things matter to different stakeholders.

It’s not just a mechanical numbers game. In fact, he says, numbers such as activity and downloads metrics “are vital to you but there’s a problem with them: No one else cares. And your task here is to make people care. So these numbers by themselves will not be enough.” So you need examples of impact to give context, understanding, and force to your numbers.

In a follow-up post on the actKM listserve, Brad Hinton makes the excellent point that numbers can mean different things in different contexts, which is why qualitative input is so important alongside the numbers to help interpret them correctly. He puts it so well that I’m quoting him in full (he kindly agreed):

“When I had to supply metrics for the CoP’s I managed at a former workplace, I reported on activity (akin to hit rates) broken down in sub-categories like questions/answers/news/market opinion, etc. Because I often followed up on exchanges to hear from the person that received the greatest benefit, I often used their quotes in my report. And I would usually feature a “case study” of an exchange where the end result was positive (generated a new deal, saved time, helped my client, found a colleague with the info I needed, etc.).

“There were a couple of CoP’s that had relatively little action – low “hit rates”. But the value was often particularly high – for example, our CoP on the grains industry had low hit rates for a number of rational organisational and industry reasons but a monthly review of soil moisture, rainfall and crop conditions during a season were highly valued, particularly by lurkers in our credit department! By identifying the value (in this case risk mitigation on credits), low hit rates weren’t seen to be as “disappointing” to management as first thought.

“At inductions, I always used a couple of really successful “case studies” to showcase CoP’s as a way of learning on the job and making personal networks within the organisation.

“My conclusion is that “value” has to be regularly communicated and made visible using (where applicable) quantitative AND qualitative metrics.”

And in a sign of a really good conference, one of the participants, Kerrie Anne Christian has blogged about how insights from the conference helped her address a sudden extinction threat to a number of CoPs in her company, and reminded her how important it is to keep the “elevator pitch” messages flowing to key stakeholders, so that they are aware of the value being created.

For me these two messages – helping our stakeholders see the value in terms that are meaningful to them, and looking beyond the blind numbers – are paramount to sustainability in KM. This is not about achieving salvation, where faith alone (depending on your tradition) can get us where we need to be. This is business in the mortal world. We have to justify what we are doing in terms of works, real impact on the business. And just playing the numbers game, as Matt hints, is effectively relying on blind faith. Nobody really knows what the numbers mean until we have concrete examples to show us what they mean.

2 Comments so far

Keith De La Rue

Patrick -

As promised - see “Clancy of the Knowledge Flow, now in full technicolor video:


- Keith

Posted on November 05, 2008 at 06:35 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe


Posted on November 10, 2008 at 11:51 AM | Comment permalink

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