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Digital content RTD perspectives - knowledge management - El.pub Analytic No. 9

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  Introduction | KM development | KM in practice | Implications for RTD - measurement and focus | Implications for RTD - technology | Conclusion | Comment on this issue | Annex: Knowledge management

Implications for RTD - measurement and focus

Aims and goals in KM are currently varied and diffuse and this reflects a lack of clear ideas of how to measure the effectiveness of KM. One of the aims of RTD should be to sharpen the focus within KM. The need to develop measurement methods is imperative, unfortunately there seem to be few projects specifically concerned with this aspect. The differences in the k-value chain in varying types of organisations and contexts should be included in studies of measurement. One method might be to have some groups 'looking over the researchers shoulders' to observe the development of thought within projects developing methods and tools. An OECD meeting report (URL: http://www.oecd.org/pdf/M00021000/M00021167.pdf) touches on some of these issues in the public sector context.

There is a clear need to look at differences between sectors and between organisations. In terms of digital content, clearly a content management system in a theatre or studio (covering for example, sets and costumes) would be quite different in both concept and implementation from one in a software department that was concerned with controlling versions and interface compatibility. They in turn would be different from one in a publishing house controlling resale of IPR, from one in a chemical laboratory controlling experimentation with different substances, from one in a government department handling draft legislation. More importantly, the applications built around the KM system - search methods, presentation, cataloguing - might use similar algorithms or graphic processing, but have different interfaces and semantics.

In public RTD funding programmes, the application focus is expressed in the structure of the programme - e-commerce, education and training, culture, etc. As the emphasis moves to KM some of this will become more difficult to maintain. A good example is the question of learning, usually treated as part of the education and training sector. The difficulty is that the notion of learning is so closely interwoven with the idea of acquiring and using knowledge. This is recognised in a number of publications of which the 2000 OECD study "Knowledge Management in the Learning Society" is perhaps the one that treats the problem in most depth. This is of particular importance in relation to digital content, which is one of the means of transferring 'know that' between people, whilst interactive digital content may be a way of transferring 'know how'. RTD programme descriptions should address the question of how learning, content and KM are inter-related.

At present KM is largely unproven, at least in so far as the efficacy of particular methodologies is concerned. That is to say that the introduction of KM into organisations has clearly been successful in raising productivity in some cases, but that the how and why of the success is poorly understood and not immediately transferable. In other cases the introduction has failed to generate the expected added value. (See The Case Against Knowledge Management for examples: http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0%2C1640%2C36747%2CFF.html).

It would be helpful to create a roadmap and to get priorities from the different industries and organisations that hope to apply KM. A pressing question is whether stakeholders really believe that KM can be applied on a large scale (across the Web, for example) or whether for the present it needs to be built bottom-up. It is worth noting that whilst the Semantic Web is touted as a sort of universal KM solution, in practice the ontologists and related researchers are working bottom-up on small problems and finding plenty of difficulties at that level. (The Protégé discussion list is a good place to see this happening).

It is interesting to note that so far there has been rather patchy attention paid to older established KM methods that are used in the hard sciences. For example in physics, the principal method of KM is the use of mathematical models, yet the KM literature pays little attention to that as a method that could be transferred to other areas. In biology, taxonomy is a major KM methodology, and that is being applied widely now in other areas. In chemistry and construction visual and physical models are used. A review of methodologies outside IT and their transferability would be helpful.

Information literacy, at the organisational level, can be viewed as a process embodied in some types of IT systems (tools), notably content management systems, document management systems, metadata standards, data mining, unified messaging. These tools all form part of the environment in which KM is developing, but are not, in many cases, designed with that development in mind. The requirements imposed on those applications by the evolution to KM need to be acquired and the applications themselves refocused on those requirements. It would be easy to confuse support for them per se with their place in the k-economy which requires a different perspective.

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