The more you get networked, the better

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
11 December, 2018
Editorial: 263
Fecha de publicación original: 17 abril, 2001

Take your mules to the market, it’s much harder to sell them if they’re hidden away

The debate on knowledge management that goes hand in hand with the growth and density of the Information Society (or Knowledge Society – but that’s another bone of contention) is still largely bound to premises from the Industrial Society. The idea that information and knowledge, the two basic commodities of the so-called New Economy, can be found within four walls, whether these be the walls of companies, education centres, institutions, or organisations in general, etc., corresponds to the logic of the manufacturing era. The birth of the networked society radically changes this concept. The reason for this, amongst many others, is that the centres from which information is emitted have become delocalised and the information is thus dispersed among “turbulent” groups of users, complicating the business of discriminating its importance and quality enormously. Given this new framework, online knowledge management (O-KM) appears to be a specific and markedly different process to knowledge management as we have understood it so far in an essentially business context.

Inside the walls of a factory, theoretically anyway, one exercises a certain control over the basic elements of production: raw materials, human resources, information processes, communication flows, the organisation of work, packaging of goods and services, etc. This contrasts sharply with what happens to a product when it gets onto the market where, as a result of competition, it faces a chaotic, uncontrollable situation. To reduce the impact this has, it is necessary to incorporate more of one’s own knowledge into the production process so as to control market activity as much as possible. This is a very brief, and consequently inadequate, summary of the idea of knowledge management within the discipline of “management”, developed mainly from the 60s onwards and fundamentally in the US.

These days, open architecture networks, such as the Internet, allow, in principle, for the constant and chaotic multiplication of information and knowledge sources (both within and without an organisation). Any user can participate, interact and contribute to the growth of information and knowledge accumulated on the Net. More and more organisations (and we take this to mean individuals, informal collectives with common interests, businesses, institutions, cities, professions, health, education or governmental systems, etc.) are discovering that a substantial part of the information they consider strategic is not to be found within their four walls, nor confined to their own members. The networks crisscross over the borders of “own knowledge” areas and hybridise it. A strange sign of the times is that sometimes users expressing themselves on the networks know more about the marketing needs of a particular product than the people in charge of this department in the company itself. Knowledge is to be found all over the place: within the people operating on the network. The question is how to capture and use it to the benefit of those concerned.

Although, metaphorically speaking, we could say that the confines of the factory belonging to the industrial society (or any other kind of organisation for that matter, from business to education), are being substituted by networks, whose production depends to a large extent on their degree of intelligence. In other words, one is only worth as much as the networks one operates in multiplied by the number of participants and the networks it interconnects. And as we tried to explain in previous editorials (see editorials published since 13/03/01), the construction of these networks requires the specific design of virtual spaces and the incorporation of a series of activities that allow the objectives of network members to be fulfilled. One of these is moderation (see the editorial “Learning in Moderation”) .

The other is online knowledge management. If, as we said, the idea that the key factors in the development of intelligent networks are a sense of “pertaining” to them based on the information they generate being “pertinent”, then Online-KMs are the professionals who will prop up both concepts by interacting with the people involved in the network. In the case of en.medi@, the technology designed by to “manufacture” intelligent networks, the Online-KM is responsible for what we call the contribution areas. These virtual spaces grow as user activity online increases. The Online-KM responds to user needs, always based on pre-established objectives, and combs the Internet for documents, research, experiences, teaching material, etc., which will broaden the threshold of the network’s collective intelligence. In addition they contribute write ups or reviews on new work (such as books, CD-ROMs, video games, cinema or theatre etc.), events and conferences or provide “practical cases” that help to raise the users’ critical faculties.

At the same time, their activity enlarges on that of other experts, who are co-opted in a consulting capacity as assessors or advisers to orientate the work of the network globally. Thus, either informally (as is the case of the en.medi@ in, or more specifically in a company, institution or range of activities (such as baraz@ in’s Masters in Digital Communication) the functioning of the network is not restricted by physical factors –the particular environment of an organisation– but by the knowledge and information required to reach established objectives, either organising online work, deciding the direction a project will take or being involved in the decision-making process. The Online-KM is responsible for contributions, wherever they might come from, depending on those objectives. In other words, keeping the network in touch with other “pertinent” networks.

In fact, this new profession specialises in negotiating with the raw material of the Information Society: the ideas expressed on these networks. And this is not the same task as that assigned to what used to be included within the conceptual framework of “management” despite the fact that it was tagged with “of knowledge”. Online-KM looks as though it is going to become a crucial and indispensable activity in the networked world. The Online KM’s skills include much of what is now included in professions like communicators, teachers, group leaders, documentalists, lecturers, social scientists or consultants. And, at the same time, include many others that are beginning to take shape as specific networks appear, both corporate or personal, and whose very diverse cultures need harmonising.

As is so often the case, professions arise before they are formally recognised. It is strange that the lack of “computer technicians”, a euphemism for computer or telecommunications engineers, always rings alarm bells, when in fact the fundamental task of the Information Society will be digital literacy requiring “online knowledge managers” capable of structuring, together with users, the processes for creating intelligent networks where very valuable information and knowledge can circulate. Networks which will, undoubtedly, constitute the productive units of the New Economy. We will be dedicating some time to the job description and training of these managers in editorials to come over the next few weeks.

Translation: Bridget King