I’ve missed blogging for a couple of days, in the main because I want to complete the Emperor series without interruption and that didn’t allow for any shorts in the meantime. As it is, its going to be three more blogs. Today I want summarise the last three and then look at some of the inherent problems involved in creating any central function for knowledge management (especially under that name). Tomorrow I plan to outline a possible alternative, and then on Sunday (probably in the air to Los Angeles so it may not be up until Monday) look at what I will call necessary compromises to fit within the expectations of power. Many thanks to all those who commented as well, I plan a general response once I have completed the series.
So where are we?
In The Emperor’s Chess Board I argued against integration approaches to data which attempt to join up the dots. This was in the context of the idea that previous failures in the case of 9/11, Katrina etc were failures of knowledge management. and the implication that a centralised KM function in government would have prevented them. I extended this argument in Between Empires to introduce the argument for distributed cognition as opposed to top down directives. The Empire Repeats emphasises the danger of assuming that this time we will get it right. I also argued against the danger of allowing hindsight as a substitute for foresight. Speaking truth to power is also important and preventing political filtering of advise doubly so. However the reality is that there will always be someone who, with the benefits of hindsight, we wish we had paid attention to. After the event we can see who got it right, but it does not mean we will in the future unless we radically change the process by which information is presented to decision makers; centralising KM is not only not radical enough it will make it worse. The overall theme here returns to my quote from Lincoln in the opening post: As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
So what is wrong with a central function?
Well, where to start? I decided the best thing was a set of bullets, some of which are connected some of which are not. Oh and a note, if you had not already realised it, all of this has been in the context of current proposals in Washington so its US centric, but most of the points are universal. I am also going to be a bit extreme, deliberately, to make a point.
There is another major objection, and the most important. This is not a problem of knowledge management alone. It is a wider problem of decision support, cognitive bias, weak signal detection, trust between silos and many other things. It requires an inter-disciplinary form of praxis not a centralised function writing papers, making recommendations, keeping minutes and fighting for its funding. This is a big problem, not a problem of a single function, let alone a function whose name is now largely associated with technology alone. Of that, more tomorrow.