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Gestión del Conocimiento: Problemas, las promesas, Realidades, y Retos

Gestión del Conocimiento: Problemas, las promesas, Realidades, y Retos

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1094-7167/01/$10.00 ©2001 IEEE
Knowledge Management
Knowledge Management:
Problems, Promises,Realities, andChallenges
Gerhard Fischer and Jonathan Ostwald,
University of Colorado
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana
Innovation is everywhere; the difficulty is learning from it.
 —John Seeley Brown
he first quote reflects the motivation underlying traditional knowledgemanagement (KM),in which the goal is to store information from the past sothat lessons will not be forgotten. This perspective implies that future informationneeds will be the same as past needs. Consequently,this perspective treats knowledge
workers as passive recipients of information.The second quote more closely reflects a
design perspective
of knowledge management. In thisper-spective,knowledge workers constantly create newknowledge as they work. KM’s goal is to enableinnovative practice at an organizational (community)level by supporting collaboration and communica-tion among knowledge workers in the same domainand across domains.This article explores the design perspective’simplications for KM. We examine the major prob-lems our approach must address,the promises itoffers,the realities we have explored in our work,and the continuing challenges. Table 1 summarizesthe article’s key ideas.
 A basic framework
KM is a cyclic process involving three relatedactivities:creation,integration,and dissemination(see Figure 1).In this model,computation supports humanknowledge activities by manipulating information.An information repository stores information thatwas created in the past and is disseminated through-out an organization or group. We can classify KMapproaches according to how they perform thesebasic activities. For example,different approachesmight store different kinds of information,supportdifferent people to create information,or employ dif-ferent mechanisms and strategies to disseminateinformation.In traditional KM approaches,management col-lects and structures an organizational memory’s con-tents as a finished product at design time (before theorganizational memory is deployed) and then dis-seminates the product. Such approaches are top-down in that they assume that management createsthe knowledge and that workers receive it.Our design perspective is an alternative thatrelates working,learning,and knowledge creation.In this framework,workers are reflective practi-tioners,
who struggle to understand and solve ill-defined problems. Learning is intrinsic to problemsolving,because problems are not given but mustbe framed and solved as a unique instance. Thisperspective has two essential aspects. First,work-ers,not managers,create knowledge at use time.Second,knowledge is a side effect of work. Table2 compares the traditional KM perspective withour perspective.
The authors’ knowledge management approach assumes that knowledge is not a commodity but that itis collaboratively designed and  constructed.
KM approaches exist because work isincreasingly information intensive. Tradi-tional KM approaches assume that the criti-cal issue for workers is to find the “answers”in organizational memory that apply to thecurrent problem. A design-based approachassumes that the organizational memory willnot contain all the knowledge required tounderstand and solve such problems. So,workers must create new knowledge.
In the design perspective,an organizationalmemory plays two roles. First,it is a sourceof information to help workers understand theproblems they face. Second,it is a receptaclefor new information and products created dur-ing work. In traditional KM approaches,knowledge engineers carefully craft a knowl-edge base that will periodically be updated.In a design-based approach,organizationalmemory is a continuously evolving informa-tion space that is fed directly by the knowl-edge created during work. So,informationrepositories and organizational memories arenot huge,impenetrable “write-only”stores.They are actively integrated into the work process and social practices of the commu-nity that constructs them.Although the problems workers solve areunique in some aspects,they are also are sim-ilar to those previously solved. The challengefor knowledge integration is to make the con-nections between old and new knowledge sothat the organizational memory improves itsability to inform work. In the traditional KMapproaches,this was the knowledge engi-neer’s job. In a design-based approach,usersdo it at use time.Knowledge integration comprises twotasks:
Conceptual generalization
—relating infor-mation from one context to informationfrom another.
 Representational formalization
—puttinginformation in a form such that computa-tional mechanisms can access and inter-pret it.Both tasks require effort beyond what mostworkers consider their core responsibility.Conceptual generalization requires an under-standing of the domain,while formalizationrequires the ability to map from domain con-cepts into the formalizations the systemrequires. A major concern for our design-based approach is to capture informationfrom the work process without extra effortby the users and then to help them formalize
Table 1. Article overview.
Knowledge creationKnowledge integrationKnowledge dissemination
Key ideaKnowledge is a work product,Workers integrate new knowledge into Workers get information in thenot an existing commodity.repositories at use time.context of work, not in the classroom.Problems
Creating shared understandingPutting communities in chargeAlleviating information overloa
Externalizations create shared Users must be empowered to manage their The limiting resource for knowledge workunderstanding.own information (and environments).is not information but attention.Promises
Social creativityLiving organizational memoryAttention econom
Workers are informed participants Information repositories are evolved by Information is delivered to workers when itin the creation of knowledge, not unself-conscious cultures of design.is relevant to their specific needs.consumers of prepackaged information.Realities
Envisionment and Discovery CollaboratoryDynaSitesDomain-Oriented Design Environment
Boundary objects support communities of Open information spaces are evolved by Design tools and information repositories areinterest to build shared understanding.users with system support for integration.integrated to enable knowledge delivery.
Figure 1. Knowledge management as acyclic process.Table 2. Two perspectives on knowledge management.
Traditional perspectiveOur perspective
CreationSpecialists (for example, knowledge engineers)Everyone (for example, people doing the work), collaborative activityIntegrationAt design time (before system deployment)At use time (an ongoing process)DisseminationLecture, broadcasting, classroom, decontextualizedOn demand, integration of learning and working, relevant to tasks,personalizedLearning paradigmKnowledge transferKnowledge constructionTasksSystem driven (canonical)User or task drivenSocial structuresIndividuals in hierarchical structures, communication Communities of practice, communication primarily peer-to-peerprimarily top-downWork styleStandardizeImproviseInformation spacesClosed, staticOpen, dynamicBreakdownsErrors to be avoidedOpportunities for innovation and learning
the captured information incrementally,rather than at the time of capture.
This activity makes information in theorganizational memory available to workersto help their problem solving. TraditionalKM approaches assume that workers per-form repetitive and predictable tasks,so theydisseminate knowledge through classroomtraining or printed reference documents.These approaches separate learning andworking. They typically use informationtechnology to broadcast information (forexample,email) or to provide searchabledatabases. As we mentioned earlier,theinformation that workers receive or accesscomes from management (or the creator of the training materials) rather than fromcoworkers.In the design perspective,the specificinformation needs of workers are unpre-dictable. The need for information resultsfrom particular situations that arise from aworker’s struggle to understand a problem.The context of problem solving dictates theinformation demand and provides the con-text for learning. On-demand informationintegrates working and learning,because theneed for learning comes from work,and thelearning takes place within the context of thework situation.
Now we look at some of the major bar–riers to implementing a design-orientedapproach.
Creating shared understanding
KM aims to increase the ability of work-ers to perform knowledge-intensive tasks.From the perspective of work as creativedesign,we can restate this purpose simply asunderstanding the problem at hand.
 External representation.
An important aspectof design is the creation of artifacts that exter-nalize knowledge. This is important for threereasons:In so doing,we begin to move from vague,tacit conceptualizations of an idea to amore explicit representation.The artifact provides a means for others tointeract with,react to,negotiate around,and build on the externalized idea.The artifact provides an opportunity to cre-ate a common language of understanding.We have found that using external repre-sentations exposes,and focuses discussionon,relevant aspects of the framing and under-standing of the problem being studied,suchas tacit attitudes,values,and perspectives.
This is because designers engage in a “con-versation with the materials of a situation.
In this conversation,designers interact withan external representation of the problem,and the situation talks back to them,causingbreakdowns in their prior understandings. Todesigners,breakdowns are not mistakes butopportunities to create new understandings.When a breakdown occurs,designers reflecton the breakdown,
learning more about theproblem,its framing,and possible solutions.
Collaborative design.
Increasingly,groupsor communities working together—not indi-viduals—perform design tasks. Complexityin collaborative design arises from the needto synthesize different perspectives of a prob-lem,to manage large amounts of informationrelevant to a design task,and to understandthe design decisions that have determined adesigned artifact’s long-term evolution.Our work focuses on two types of groups,
communities of practice
communitiesof interest 
Communities of practice consist of peo-ple sharing a common practice or domain of interest. CoPs are sustained over time. Theyprovide a means for newcomers to learnabout the practice and for established mem-bers to share knowledge about their work andto collaborate on projects. They need supportfor understanding long-term evolution of artifacts and for understanding problemscaused by rapid change in their domain.CoIs consist of people from different fieldswho come together to work on a particularproject or problem. They typically exist for aproject’s duration. They need support for cre-ating shared understanding among stake-holders from different backgrounds,whobring different perspectives and languages tothe problem.CoPs are typically associated with KM.CoIs are becoming increasingly involved inKM as projects become more interdisciplinaryand as collaborative design brings togetherspecialists from many domains. The challengeis to meaningfully bridge and integrate thesevarious perspectives. Such integration requiressupport for
reflection in action
. For collabo-rative design,where many people work to-gether to understand a problem,designbecomes a conversation in a more literal sense.That is,external representations facilitate aconversation not only with the design situa-tion but also with other designers. In this way,externalizations expose breakdowns due to alack of understanding of the problem,conflictsamong perspectives,or the absence of sharedunderstanding. As we mentioned earlier,suchbreakdowns are opportunities to build new,shared understandings.Collaborative designs result in work prod-ucts
that are enriched by the multiple per-spectives of the participants and the discoursesthat result from the process. This integratesthe individual and the group knowledge inways impossible in settings that rely solely on“divide and conquer”team organization.
Putting communities in charge
The view of workers as reflective practi-tioners within CoPs does not correspond towhat is taught in training or what is containedin information systems supporting the tradi-tional KM view. Traditional information sys-tems are closed systems that store answersto questions that might arise during work,under the assumption that workers are per-forming tasks that have been anticipated anddescribed. This assumption is a barrier toinnovation,because it does not let workersshare their new ideas for their peers to dis-cuss,debate,or build on. Closed systems donot give communities control over their ownknowledge but put a gulf between creationand integration. So,innovations happen out-side systems,and systems contain informa-tion that is chronically out of date and thatreflects an outsider’s view of work.
Capturing information at use time.
Designcommunities have learned that anticipatingall possible uses at design time (that is,when
Knowledge Management
Closed systems do not givecommunities control over theirown knowledge but put a gulf between creation and integration.So, innovations happen outsidesystems.

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