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This is my personal blog which I began in February 2001. I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!

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Ten ways to create a knowledge ecology

A tweet yesterday prompted me to remember sage advice from Dave Snowden which I took to heart in my work with social tools at the BBC. "You can't manage knowledge but you can create a knowledge ecology". I thought it might be useful to others to list the ten most important things I learned about doing this.

1, Have a variety of tools rather than a single system. Not everyone sees the world the same way or has the same needs so mixing up different tools with different strengths allows people to find one that works for them. Avoid single platforms like the plague.

2. Don't have a clear idea where you are headed. The more fixed you are in your aspirations for your ecology the less likely you are to achieve them. Be prepared to go where people's use of the tools takes you and enjoy the ride.

3. Follow the energy. Watch where the energy in the system is and try to copy the factors that generated it. Get others interested in why energy emerges and they will want some of it themselves.

4. Be strategically tactical. You can have an overall strategy of behaving in certain ways depending on how your ecology develops. It is possible to sell this as a strategy to those who need strategies.

5. Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground. Keep doing things, keep talking about what you are doing and why, and have a rough idea of where the high ground is.

6. Build networks of people who care. Don't try to manage your ecology by committee but cultivate communication and trust between those who care that it works and have the commitment to do something about it - whoever they are and whatever their role.

7. Be obsessively interested. Notice everything that happens and consider why. Tell great stories about what you are observing.

8. Use the tools to manage the tools. Blog about what is going on with your corporate blogging, ask questions in your forum about security, tweet when something is changing in your ecology and ask people why it is interesting.

9. Laugh when things go wrong. If you are pushing limits and exploring new territory things will occasionally blow up in your face. Having a sense of humour and enjoyment of the absurd will help you stay sane.

10. Unleash Trojan Mice. Don't do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.


Reader Comments (12)

I note that you're talking about a knowledge ecology rather than a knowledge economy... and that's the crucial point to me.

Until the fundamentally friction-free nature of a knowledge ecology is reconciled with the often directly opposed requirements of knowledge economy where brokerage's the prime driver I can help but think we're tinkering at the edges to a degree.

The business case for every organisation's going to be different in that respect. I'd be interested to hear what your thoughts are on that one...

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnne McCrossan

I was principally talking about inside organisations so the economy issue is less of a block. Having said that John Birt's Producer Choice internal market severely damaged the BBC's ability to learn from itself and was in part what motivated me to do what I did to try to repair the damage.

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

That's fantastic, Euan! Here are a couple of related pieces of potential interest to you:

the gate to the Knowledge Ecology Fair that I initiated and co-hosted in 1998:

stuff from the same year:

my answer to "What Is Knowledge Ecology?"

The Rise of Knowledge Ecology

my article in The Systems Thinker (October 2000) on
Nurturing Systemic Wisdom through Knowledge Ecology

Knowledge Ecology in the Blog of Collective Intelligence

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Por

Great stuff - thanks for the links George

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Trojan Mice?!?! Made my day, that did...

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDwight Towers

Loved it. Close to what I find myself doing at my organization, but the credit goes to the culture. Nothing else will work. :-) A small point would be to create and evolve a mind-map or matrix that gives a bird's eye-view of the ecology.

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNimmy

I love each and every one of these tips and agree with them wholeheartedly, especially laughing when things go wrong (although easier done after you've gone through the head-against-wall bashing and teeth gritting).

Persistence and enthusiasm are crucial. Linda Davies from Mars gave a great presentation at KMUK last week that gives examples of much of your list.

Thanks for sharing!


June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSandra

Funny that they were early clients then .... ;-)

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

on the office wall...thanks

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterridlydidly

Ahh. Beautiful advice Euan - going to throw this at the #RSAde (RSA working group on digital engagement) and see what sticks!

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJemima Gibbons

Interesting and thought provoking post. One thing that got me thinking was you point 'Don't have a clear idea where you are headed.'. I'd say that you do need a clear idea of what you want to achieve or what the purpose of the community is.

The nature of CoP is that they evolve and grow organically but without a clear purpose they lose momentum. Whether that's a topic of discussion or a clear project that the community is there to support, they need to have a clear purpose. The direction of travel isn't so important as long as the end goal is achieved.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte Britton

I would still maintain that there is more chance of the community surviving if it is their sense of direction, which they arrive at through interactions with each other, than if it is your sense of direction. This doesn't mean that they are directionless or that you do nothing to help them find their direction.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

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