As it always does, the Special Libraries Association 2014 annual conference provided plenty of opportunities for discussion among and reflection on the part of attendees. Many sessions covered knowledge management in various ways, illustrating aspects of my personal version of an “ultrabrief history of time for info pros”:
- Collegially, we have discussed for decades the attributes of data, information, and knowledge. Simplistically and intuitively, we always understood that data comes into being when we notice, record, store, and otherwise deal with observations and measurements (though of course we could ask “does an item of data exist if no one records it?” just as we ask about the sound of the tree falling unheard in the forest). We took for granted that information arises when multiple data items are assembled for a purpose (as we do when looking at temperature values in the context of wind and rain). We instinctively sensed that data and information can be acted upon in an overall framework of knowledge made up of myriad information elements (the new homes being built will have specific effects on the so-far observed demand for goods and services in the area). We integrated past ‘experience-knowledge’ into the judgments or decisions we made (on Friday afternoons it typically gets quite crowded, so perhaps Tuesday morning is a better time to shop?) and applied it to our information work.
- When KM came along as a discipline, we created a larger canvas for those concepts and painted onto it our activities to harness all the elements adding up to knowledge. However we labeled those elements, we felt we were uniquely qualified to organize and retrieve them when and where they were needed. We could assemble, fetch, and promulgate recorded knowledge so that others could do with it what they needed or wished to do.
- Since then, we have moved on to collaborating with our clients, partnering in their projects so as to understand their challenges and diagnose tools and solutions to support their objectives. Our understanding of the subject matter at hand for constituents has given us additional scope for innovation when we apply our specialized expertise as business equals.
Our challenge today – a view reinforced by the many conversations at this and many other conferences – is to push beyond perceived limitations. We understand data and information and the tools with which to achieve discovery, harvesting, and management. Now, can we step up to influencing positively and constructively the way our clients apply items of knowledge? (You will excuse me for ignoring here the evidence that human beings sometimes act in ways out of line with what experience and learning would suggest. Psychologists are dealing with that contradiction.)
Knowledge – or wisdom, as some might think of it – is the ability with which we are blessed to absorb in order to apply in action the insights we take in from others or gather up by observing the world. Knowledge or wisdom is the universe of reference points in which we weigh options, forecast potential outcomes, and otherwise place our confidence in the future. Knowledge influences how we choose to play the game, you could say.
I see it as our role to enrich and enhance that universe of reference points for others. Not just by filling it with data in warehouses or with information in documents and lists … but rather by providing a dynamic and responsive environment in which the best inputs, in context we supply, can be applied to decision making by our clients and business partners. Isn’t that a very honorable loading of the dice?