As I reflected on Weinberger’s concept that knowledge lives in the network rather than in books or people’s heads, it eventually made sense to me. There is so much knowledge in existence today that there is no way it can all live inside one person’s head. We are living in the era where we don’t need to memorize a bunch of data or facts. We can look them up, as needed. Of course that may make many in academic circles cringe. But I don’t mean that we don’t need to continue learning and even memorizing some material. As I reflect back at the knowledge that was available back in the 80’s, when I graduated from high school, for example, information was not readily available. If I was curious about a movie that I had seen, reviews for a movie I was considering seeing, or an actor from that movie that I wanted to look up, there was not an easy way to do this. Now, with the advent of the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com), I can have that information within seconds. Earlier this year when my mom was diagnosed with small-cell lymphoma, if it had happened many years ago I would either have to learn all I could from the doctors and nurses or spend many hours in a library researching exactly what this was and its prognosis. Nowadays within an hour I am able to easily read many articles on the topic and learn a great deal about this type of cancer, assuming I sift correctly through what is fact and what is not.
As Nancy Dixon (2009) discussed, knowledge management takes this a step further and is concerned with how to make use of collective knowledge within an organization. Translating that into my life, I see how organizations have progressed from having small amounts of information years ago, to having a lot of disparate information, to making use of this collective knowledge in some way. I don’t believe many (or any?) organizations have perfected this use of information yet, but we are making strides towards that.
In the Air Force we used to have many, loosely organized, “knowledge management” portals called Community of Practice websites (AFMC, 2006). Many organizations and even subsections of organizations had their own sites and were free to hang any information that the personnel saw fit. More and more organizations were using this method, so a lot of information was out there, but it was very difficult to remember where to go to get it. Over time this network grew to over 19,000 Communities of Practice. In 2010 all users received an internal memo saying that funding for these Community of Practice sites had been terminated and they would be shut down effective May 14th, 2011. Because of this, an alternative was needed. Microsoft Sharepoint quickly became the alternative because it was already bought and paid for by the military. At Offutt AFB the leadership systematically organized the Sharepoint sites so they followed a logical hierarchy and structure, whereas the former Communities of Practice were haphazard and did not follow much of a structure. If people can find and access the Offutt Sharepoint site, for example, they can navigate down to any subordinate organization’s Sharepoint site.
Unfortunately the use of the Community of Practice sites and the Sharepoint sites have not necessarily solved the organization of information in a logical way. Many of the sites have turned into repositories of outdated and irrelevant information. Often the original administrators of the site have left the organization and nobody took over the duties. In other cases, there is too much information on the site and the administrator was not or is not skilled in any kind of website design to make the information flow very intuitive. Additionally, it is hard to know where exactly to go for certain information, which often renders the sites useless. We still have a long way to effectively use knowledge management in many organizations, including the military.