Mining for knowledge in a social word

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Last week I published a post titled Mining for Knowledge where I discussed some of the research that I’ve been doing in my doctorate program.

One of the favorite lines from the article, and one that resonated with a few others as well. The line was:

…converting tacit (i.e., internal) knowledge to explicit (i.e., external) knowledge is one of the most difficult things to do.

I’ve been thinking about this (and reading A LOT of articles, papers and books on the subject) and have come to the conclusion that trying to force someone to convert tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge is a wasted effort.

Why?

Can I truly convert 100% of my knowledge into the written form?  Will the context of my knowledge be converted?  Perhaps a good portion of my knowledge can be converted, but can my experiences, thoughts and believes that shaped that knowledge be converted?  Can I ‘write down’ the knowledge that I have and truly make it meaningful to others?  I don’t think (feel free to disagree here).

Does that mean that an organization should stop trying to gather an individual’s internal knowledge to add to overall organizational knowledge-base?  Nope…. definitely not.

Rather than forcing a conversion from tacit to explicit (which is darn near impossible), are there ways to manage the internal knowledge of people?  Managing that knowledge is a much easier process that converting that knowledge.

Knowledge is best internalized when wrapped in context

Nonaka and Takeuchi, the godfathers of Knowledge Management, argue in their book The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation (affiliate link) that tacit knowledge can be converted into explicit knowledge only through externalization and describes this process as being one of dialogue, discussion and reflection.

Basically, they’re saying that in order to share internal knowledge, you’ve got to start a dialogue with others.  That’s why activities like storytelling, mentoring and other forms of social interaction can play a huge role in knowledge managment…they help to start and maintain dialogue and discussion on various topics.  These activities help to provide context around knowledge, which helps a person internalize that knowledge and make it their own.

In my previous article I talked about ‘mining for knowledge’. I talked about using web 2.0 platforms to capture knowledge and to share knowledge. All good stuff (and still interesting to me) but I’m looking at other methods to make these platforms more social.  Make dialog and discussion a more active portion of these tools.

If we can find ways to create dialogue and discussion within the enterprise, knowledge sharing would happen much more naturally.    This is why I like the idea of Enterprise 2.0.  While some people hate E2.0, I think there’s some real value there. Of course, E2.0 won’t solve world hunger and probably will never truly win over its detractors, there are many aspects to the idea that make sense.

What would it mean for an organization’s knowledge managements capabilities if a system could be implemented that found indexed the many disparate repositories of structured and unstructured data sources found throughout the enterprise and then provided that information in a socially aware platform that could wrap context around the indexed knowledge as well as provide a mechanism for dialogue, discussion and reflection?   You’d have a platform that could capture and share explicit and tacit knowledge.

Anyone know of any companies with products in this space?  I know SocialText is out there but I don’t think they have a platform as robust as the one above. SharePoint also has some aspects to this but not everything.

Mining for Knowledge

Mining for KnowledgeIn my doctoral research, I’ve been researching ways to improve knowledge capture and sharing methods, specifically within project teams but the ideas can be dissemenated around the organization.

One of the biggest issues I’ve found while working as a consultant is the amount of knowledge that I walk away with after a project is complete.  Sure, I try to share this knowledge in every way possible but converting tacit (i.e., internal) knowledge to explicit (i.e., external) knowledge is one of the most difficult things to do.

Let’s assume though, that some portion of the knowledge that I hold in my head is converted into some form of writing at various periods throughout a consulting project.  Where does that explicit knowledge live?  In an email?  In some document stored on a server?  In a knowledge repository somewhere?

In the past, this problem has been attacked using centralized knowledge repository platforms.  These systems require users to log in and ‘enter’ their knowledge into the system.  Many of these platforms have been well built and some have been successfully used in organizations, but the success stories are far outweighed by the stories of KM repositories sitting idle and unused.

So…how can we get that tidbit of knowledge from my brain into some form of knowledge repository without me logging in and ‘entering’ it into the system?

Web 2.0 as knowledge repository

The use of Web 2.0 tools (blogs, IM, wikis, etc) has become ubiquitous..  If incorporated into a project environment, these tools might allow an easy and efficient method for capturing and sharing knowledge throughout project teams and project organizations.

The key to retrieving knowledge from tools is to make the user experience as seamless as possible. For example, an employee creates a blog on an organization’s intranet and then uses this blog to write different topics, some that pertain to her project and some that don’t.

Perhaps this employee is participating in two projects within the organization and she writes about topics that might be of interest to a portion of the organization and project team members.  While she writes about interesting topics and at times, writes about her experiences on the projects that she’s worked on, perhaps her blog posts aren’t widely read.  This employee has attempted to convert a portion of her tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge but few people on the project team or within the organization find this knowledge because its tucked away in the intranet site (which is rarely used anyway).

In the above scenario, knowledge was converted from tacit to explicit but few people are able to absorb this knowledge and make it their own (i.e., perform the conversion from explicit to tacit knowledge).  What would happen if this knowledge were indexed, searched and shared with the rest of the project team in something akin to a project knowledge ‘journal’?

Since Web 2.0 platforms are ubiqutious, why can’t we use these tools as our knowledge repository?  Employees and project team members are already using them…so can we find a way to ‘mine’ these platforms for knowledge?

Could a system be built that ‘mines’ these web 2.0 platforms along with other unstructured data (documents, email, etc) to ‘build’ a knowledge repository available to the entire organization?

Mining for Knowledge

I’m currently looking at ways to use text mining methods and techniques to mine for knowledge. Text mining looks to be a good approach to solving this problem because it allows for knowledge to be gathered without additional work by project team members.

There are other approaches that could be used for gathering knowledge from project team members, but all require additional work to input information.  For example, a project team using a manual approach could ask team members to regularly update their blog and to ‘tag’ their posts with a special project tag or keyword so that a non-intelligent aggregation system (RSS, etc) could simply pull these tagged posts into a central repository.  While this is a good approach, it relies on the end-user to tag their content correctly, accurately and in a timely manner.  Tagging, and other categorization and taxonomic approaches, require the user to do something to allow their knowledge contribution to be categorized, indexed and found by aggregation systems and other users.

Using text-mining methods against pre-existing tools and platforms takes away the human fallibility issues found in current knowledge management repository platforms or by requiring a user to ‘tag’ a piece of content correctly as described above.

Using text-mining and other data mining approaches, I’m looking at ways to build semi-autonomous systems to index and organize both structured data and unstructured data pulled from blogs, email, IM, social networks, documents, spreadsheets and any other location / data sources. This system could aggregate knowledge found via text mining and social network analysis and build a project knowledge ‘repository’ that will contain all knowledge for any specific project. This repository will be searchable and will contain both manually curated content (e.g., content uploaded by project team members) and automatically curated / generated content based on text-mining and indexing techniques.

There are some major privacy issues here of course. How can you mine a users email and find the relevant knowledge without truly invading their privacy?  Not sure you can but I’m looking at it.

Trust & Mined Knowledge

One key element of this new inter-connected world that we live in is trust.   How can I trust that the information I read on a web page is worthwhile, honest and accurate?   If I want to know something about organizational behavior do I read go read a Wikipedia article on the subject or do I go look through the Harvard Business School’s Organizational Behavior faculty pages and find publications written by the faculty there?

Which of these two sources of knowledge would you trust to be more accurate?

The same can be said of knowledge captured and shared within an organization. How do you know that the white paper on your new API is true?  Is it because it was released? Is it because of the author(s) of the paper?   What if you had a knowledge-base generated by an autonomous agent using text-mining techniques…how would you know to trust the information contained in it?  Who wrote the content?  Were did it come from?

This is where trust comes into play. If you could ‘see’ the qualifications of the author or authors of the knowledge base articles would you trust the content more?  If I knew that the worlds leading authority on organizational behavior wrote the Wikipedia article on the subject, I’d tend to trust that article more.

This is another aspect of my research…building trust into the mined knowledge using social network analysis (SNA) methods & techniques.  Using SNA techniques, can the background, profiles, connections and knowledge of the users within an organization be automatically (or semi-automatically) generated to provide some form for initial trust metric to show that mined knowledge can be trusted?

I don’t know if it can…but I’m looking into it 🙂

Next Steps?

So what are the next steps for me and this research?

I’m working on a research paper now that I hope will outline the research in more detail.

Lots of questions still exist and there is quite a bit of research left to do.  I do believe I’m headed in the right direction as evidenced by an HBR video & Blog tilted How Knowledge Management Is Moving Away From the Repository as Goal which discusses a similar topic.

Look for more on this topic from me in the coming months.

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