Monday, October 27, 2008

Knowledge Management Essentials: Beginnings

I've been asked to speak at the "Knowledge Management in Public Health" conference, Hamilton, Ontario, Nov. 3, 4. Sponsored by the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools, the conference intends to bring together leaders and change agents in knowledge management and public health.
Here's the link to the NCCMT website for information about the conference. Here's the irony. Trained in physics, a practicing engineer, regarded as primarily as a semi-IT person in my organization for collaboration tools and software, I'm speaking in the "culture" stream. How does "culture", knowledge management and I have a good fit? You have to know that I became an engineer so that I could work with people. In 1975, as a farm boy graduating with a physics degree, I went with CUSO to east central Africa, Malawi, to teach high school. I taught lots of geography, mathematics and a bit of science. I also learned lots about third world development, which is mostly rural development and realized that was primarily agricultural development. Yes, roads, schools, hospitals are all important and essential. But economic development was at the core (to provide a tax base to support these other infrastructures) and farmers were the key. Farmers are great for driving an economy. Give them a bit of money and they spend it. I came back to Canada convinced that agricultural development was critical. When a country ignores its agricultural economy, it is on the road to ruin. This includes Canada. So I became an agricultural engineer as the easiest way to leverage my physics degree towards agriculture. As I started to practice agricultural engineering with farmers as clients, I discovered that my exposure to third world development and high school teaching was formative. I was talking to farmers about changing their practices and I was dealing with adult learners, who mostly learn by doing. Change and adult learners. Agricultural land grant universities in the USA and the provincial departments of agriculture in Canada have a rich tradition in developing the theories and practices of adult education, innovation and community development in a practice called "extension". "Extension" and I hit it off. From the viewpoint of practitioners of agricultural extension, knowledge management is just one component of support for adult learning and helping change happen. Successful extension helps with fast learning. The "fast" in fast learning is predicated on acceptance of change. So understanding how people learn fast (the coaching that prepares and supports change by an adult learner) is key to knowledge management. Understanding how you can coach, advocate and influence change in behaviour leads you to the "culture" side of knowledge management. So as an "extension" practitioner, I have spent lots of time thinking about culture and behaviour in knowledge management. What will follow in subsequent blogs is a summary of some of the key points from of my presentation on KM Essentials.

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