Yesterday, while discussing a project with a friend and colleague, I made the statement "KM starts at home." I didn't mean that literally, but figuratively.
In other words, don't go designing new knowledge management programs without first seeing what people are already doing. The fact is, we all practice KM to a certain extent without any outward influence. We talk to friends, we call people we know, we join groups, follow blogs, read magazines, etc.
There is always an existing knowledge ecosystem within any environment. And the informal ecosystem is often larger and more diverse than the official one. It is important to understand that ecology before introducing new elements for several reasons:
- If the existing ecosystem is successful, you don't want to accidentally break it.
- Even if it is not tremendously efficient, people are using it and so if you introduce a competing system you will have a serious uphill battle for adoption.
- If it is not effective, it is a good first target for your initial KM efforts.
This is particularly true for collaboration and communities of practice. If people within the company have established informal communities either locally or outside the company, they may be a good target for pilot communities since they already know the benefits and have a defined group. But it needs to be done with their cooperation to avoid bad blood. On the other hand, if they are running efficiently, you might simply want to "ordain" them as a CoP and move on to less effective parts of the organization.
One of the most overlooked aspects of the knowledge ecosystem in many companies is the outside connections employees establish. This is even more true in the era of social computing, blogs and wikis, etc. There is tremendous potential for bringing in new ideas through these interpersonal, inter-company networks. You don't want to damage these connections where they are effective, but they are often not sufficient by themselves to fully leverage this knowledge to the company's advantage. (This may seem like a terribly selfish corporate point of view. But the fact is an employee who follows lots of blogs but never shares this information internally is often doing neither themselves nor the company much good.)
Identifying these networks and helping connect like-minded individuals internally is often more effective and far less expensive (in terms of time and energy) than trying to stimulate a CoP from scratch.