Discussion of the role of External Information in KM

Cynthia Lesky of Threshold Information led an interesting discussion at the KM Chicago meeting this evening.  The core question was "Is there a role for external information in knowledge management?"

This question is highly relevant for Cynthia, as she runs a company that provides external information to their clients.  She wants to know how her services relate to the knowledge management efforts within the companies they serve (or in companies that use external information).  As a primer, Threshold does what I think of as a traditional librarian research activity: clients need to know something, and the researcher hunts down authoritative information in the field, summarize and provides a report to the clients.  Cynthia led us through a surprising array of terms for this kind of information, depending on the people who use the term: secondary research, literature search, research, open source information, prior art, etc.  Generally external information is information not generated by the company and published in some fashion.

The discussion once Cynthia was done with her formal comments was interesting.  One big question revolved around why people seek this information to begin with: are they looking to answer a specific question or solve a specific problem?  Are they looking to expand their baseline understanding in a field for possible future work?  Does the answer to these questions matter in relation to how the information is provided back to the client?

Another aspect to the conversation was the idea of information literacy.  Do people know the value of the information they are getting?  Can they evaluate the quality of content retrieves from naive web searches?  Are they using this information to inform their formal requests for information from their research services people?  Do people understand the level of analysis they can do alone vs. the analysis that a paid professional can provide?  Is the find-it-yourself information "good enough" to answer most of their questions?

One of the points of discussion was the importance of information in decision making.  Cynthia quoted Peter Drucker as saying a high percentage (90%) of the information required to make a decision is located outside the organization but that managers don't look there.  I couldn't find this quote, but I found a few other interesting Drucker-isms:

This one appears to be closest:

Outside information is needed because misinformation or wrong data may be inadvertently supplied by an organization's own people in their rush to meet expectations. [source]

And this one drives the point a different way.  We need good organizational strategies around how and where we use information.  But these strategies also need to be personal to be most effective.

Drucker (1995) ... states that most managers still need to learn how to use data and take responsibility for information. He highlights that few managers know how to ask 'What information do I need to do my job ? When do I need it? In what form ? and from whom should I be getting it ?' Still fewer ask 'What new tasks should I abandon ? Which tasks should I do differently ?' Practically no one asks 'What information do I owe? To Whom? When? In What form?'
[source]

1 Comment(s)

Good summary, Jack. It was an interesting discussion indeed. Specially the topics where we identified that companies nowadays have to rely on outside information because it is not feasible to collect all information upfront (unless you are google :-)). The half-time of knowledge is shrinking (the time it is valid and/or until it is replaced with new knowledge about something). More powerful tools like google, kartoo, etc. are enabling effective ad-hoc knowledge inquiries. Wikipedia is one good example where a lot of people are referring to a free source of knowledge, but are experiencing that it shouldn't be the only source (see recent articles on editing of competitors editing their competitions wikipedia pages).

For free information, it may be necessary to do 'comparison shopping'. Look at multiple sources and identify the common truth. If one is required to get to the highest level of reliable information, one may need to pay for services that use higher level reliable sources.

There is so much more to discuss on this topic.

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