Once you have decided to share your knowledge or managed that your professionals share theirs, the question arises how to deliver that knowledge. The possibilities are extensive: books, whitepapers, presentations, workshops, weblogs (blogs), you name it. The right medium depends on the content and the audience. But as long as the method does the job (communicating knowledge to its intended audience), it doesn’t really matter that much.
Last week I wrote about step one in knowledge management: sharing knowledge. Today I’m exploring the subject of filing knowledge. Where do you put it? Actually, it’s more important how you organize your information (when knowledge has been written down, we speak of information) than where you store it. As long as the information is stored on such a place where not only the intended audience, but ideally also the central ‘knowledge browser’ (an interface that acts like a gateway to all information sources considered to be ‘knowledge’) can reach it, it doesn’t matter a great deal.
Most people are used to organize documents in traditional folder structures. It’s a heritage from MS-DOS, Windows and all other operating systems. They are so natural to us, that we don’t think of better alternatives to file our documents. However, the problem with classic folder trees is that it provides only one way to locate a document. One’s personal preference (or frame of reference) sets the logic everyone else has to follow to retrieve documents; one may prefer a topical, the other a chronological structure. That’s why it is so easy to find your own documents and so hard to find someone else’s.
A solution for this problem is using metadata. Metadata is a set of properties of an object type (say: a document) to identify and describe a specific object. For example: any document has the following metadata: title, author, creation date and file type, but may contain additional descriptive metadata such as topic, department or target group.
The advantage of using metadata to organize your information is that you don’t have to worry how to come up with a simple structure that works for everyone. The only downside to metadata is that it takes a little more work to save a document. But if you are serious about creating a quality knowledge base, you will see the ROI of using metadata.
“OK, but what about search?”, you’d say. “Why metadata? If I can’t find it in the tree structure, I just use the search box.” Yes, ‘search’ is an easy way to locate documents quickly. But don’t rely on every search function blindly; it’s not always the ‘silver bullet’. I have seen plenty on-site search engines that don’t get you any nearer to your desired information. How come? Implementing a good search takes effort, just like implementing a website. I think findable information is a result of combining metadata, browse and search. I’m working on a knowledge management concept where I put this thinking into action. Check back later for the result.