Content and Conversation – equal and complementary focus areas for KM

I  blogged recently about Connect and Collect – the two parallel approaches to transfer of knowledge. Now let’s look in more depth about the two modes by which knowledge is carried – Content and Conversation. 

During the Connect approach we facilitate the transfer of knowledge through Conversations, whether these are online conversations or face to face meetings.

During the Collect approach we facilitate the transfer of knowledge through captured and codified Content in the form of documents, files, text, pictures and video.

    We also know that Conversations are a far richer medium than Content, potentially 14 times richer, though Content can reach far more people, and has a longer life-span than a conversation.

    Any comprehensive Knowledge Management framework needs to enable, promote, facilitate and otherwise support both Conversation and Content.

    Focusing on conversation and focusing on content are not alternative strategies, they are complementary and interlinked. Neither approach is sufficient on its own (although the content-only focus seems very common), and each relies on the other.

    Managing conversation without content leaves no trace, other than in the minds of the people involved. That in itself is useful, and we know that most of the processes of Knowledge Management, such as Retrospect, After Action Review, Peer Assist and so on are valuable individual learning experiences. But managing conversation without content is not a valuable organisational learning experience. Unless new knowledge becomes embedded in process, or guidance, or recommendations, it is never truly “learned”, and without this we find knowledge becomes relearned many times, with errors being repeated, wheels reinvented and so on.

    Managing content without conversation leads KM towards the already established fields of Content Management and Information Management, and you could (as the author of the famous “Nonsense of Knowledge Management” did) challenge what KM adds over and above these other disciplines. A focus on content without conversation results in a focus on publishing; on creation of reports and files, blogs, wikis, as a proxy for the transfer of knowledge; on Push rather than Pull. But unless people can question and interrogate knowledge in order to internalise it, learning can be very ineffective, and this approach always seems to deteriorate into technology, search, and the perennially soon-to-be-delivered benefits of AI.

    There is a saying in social media circles that “Conversation is King, Content is just something to talk about“. Like any other dualism-based statement, this is wrong. Knowledge Management, as a field, is far more “both/and” than it is “either/or”.

    Content and Conversation are the King and Queen of Knowledge Management – they rule together.

    • Content is something to talk about
    • Conversation is where Content is born and where it is Tested.

    As a Knowledge Manager, please focus equally on both, and please do not assume that all Conversation needs to be by written means. Face to Face is still the preferred transfer mechanism for high-context knowledge, and “getting people together to talk about what they know” is an amazingly effective tool within your Knowledge Management Framework.

    Make sure you promote and support Conversation and Content as equal partners in your KM Framework. 

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    Shared by: Nick Milton

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