Horses and not giraffes…

One of the many issues that we discussed at Cambridge during the IKM Emergent meetings was the name of IKM Working Group 3, currently ‘Management of knowledge’. The two options we considered were either changing the name or setting it, more firmly, in the context which we are using it. With this background, I just had an interesting phone call with Ewen Leborgne who pointed out that the origin of the term ‘management’ is actually from the Latin for riding horses… As a horse lover, I was therefore challenged to trying to compare my experience with riding with that of doing knowledge management.

One of the first similarities is the struggle involved in trying to get better at it, and often not succeeding. Another is the fact that horses let you see the world from a new perspective: you can sense their sensitivity to the wind, understand the body language of other horses, and develop your own fear of plastic bags or loud, unexpected noises. In this sense, KM also helps me to look at the institutions with which we work in new ways and from new perspectives…

The metaphor does breakdown, however, as I can tell you from my own bitter experience, when your horse goes lame, or gallops off with you in a direction of its own choosing… I don’t expect that runaway knowledge management for development will enter the vocabulary in our field.

4 Responses

  1. More on ‘maneggiare’ and the management of knowledge in this article from ‘Cognitive Edge’:
    I’m still not convinced that managing knowledge makes sense.
    To me knowledge is information in use, i.e. used by people to make connections and be turned into matter to take decisions. How can we pretend we can manage peoples’ very own cognitive processes?


  2. No, but runaway knowledge in managing development might work!

  3. hi Ewen – the way i see it, knowledge is not something individuals ‘own’, but rather something they generate through interaction. I.e. it’s not people’s (inidvidual) cognitive processes you’re managing, but rather KM should be aimed at strengthening social practices (communities) which in turn allow people to generate the knowledge they need for their organizational practices. This in a nutshell is the practice-based perspective on knowledge versus the cognitive perspective and views knowledge as generated through practice and through social interaction.

    In that perspective knowledge management is not about literally managing knowledge but rather about fostering organizational processes which allow people to build connections to generate knowledge. This is what Wenger originally meant with communities of practice, before they took on a life of their own…!

  4. Thank you for your message Julie. You don’t have to convince me about any of this – and you can read this in the message you are now replying to.

    What I am referring to here is that 95% organisations are choosing a ‘knowledge management’ take that aims at codifying some kind of stock-able matter (knowledge, experience or whatever they call it) and managing it to have a database of lessons learnt that helps make informed decisions. Nice ambitions (better informed decision-making), totally wrong approach!

    In fact I am precisely taking your view but believe me the definition you are giving of knowledge management – which I endorse – is far from being the standard one…

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