Knowledge Databases LO1946

Richard Karash (
Wed, 5 Jul 1995 22:55:09 -0400 (EDT)

Carol Anne Ogdin wrote in LO1888:

>We use a four-level scale:
> Data "7"
> Information "Number of days in a week = 7"
> Knowledge "We have 7 days to complete this task"
> Wisdom Knowing whether you CAN or not

A three level model was suggested to me by Kathleen Murphy of Andersen
Consulting and has stuck with me. I find it quite helpful in thinking
about the "stuff" that would be contained in knowledge databases or
groupware systems to support learning:

1. Information/Data
Data of all kinds. Numbers. Narratives. "Joe Smith called on Sally Buyer
of Company X on Tuesday July 5th." Carol Anne's example of a database of
all contacts with an account would fit in this level.

(What's important in these kind of systems? Valid data goes in here, thru
a process that's as automatic as possible. Consistency is important if
people are to be able to browse or analyze and see trends and patterns.
Indexing and categorization is terribly important or we'll all get lost in
the data.)

2. Emerging Learning
The discussions and conversations, like the ones we have here on
learning-org. These discussions can be the process of discovering how to
turn tacit into explicit knowledge. They can be sharing and distributing
explicit knowledge. And, I think when holders of tacit knowledge converse,
they can add to their tacit knowledge, even if they don't make it

(What's important in support these conversations of emerging learning? We
know a lot about this as process facilitators; the systems should reflect
this. The discussions are important, perhaps more important that the
conclusions, or the Actions Items taken for followup. Systems to support
this? Most people participating here do so through email which has the
outstanding advantage of *reach*. But, computer conferencing systems
support these conversations much better. I see great promise in the Web.)

(Categorization is important, or we'll be lost. But, as we learned in the
recent exchange about this list, people feel that too much a priori
categorization would be stiffling. I think that rich search engines and
indexes can be especially helpful here. What's important is that, when
people start browsing for something, they get a high return on their time

3. Codified Knowledge
Knowledge made explicit (in Nonaka's terms, "transmittable in formal,
systematic language." Rules, procedures, process documentation, how to
manuals, training programs, etc. Material in this level learning-support
systems is in some sense "official" and is blessed, perhaps by peer
review or otherwise. This, I believe, was the original concept in the
Notes-based Collaboration/Sharing systems launched with so much energy by
the giant professional services firms (PW, AA and others).

(Indexing is important again.)

(Reading Nonaka, who's been a big recent influence on me, there's a lot
to say about what happens when someone actually tries to use knowledge in
such a system. Nonaka, in my reading, seems to say that the user of the
explicit knowledge needs to turn it into personal tacit knowledge,
knowledge in the body to supplement what's in the head and in words, and
has to do so by practice *and through conversation with other people*.
Thinking about how I learned flying, I'm especially respectful of the
amount of conversation needed for what might seem like a technical,
rational, mechanical skill. There's a role for conversation, perhaps
supported by electronic systems, where the fledgling learner, trying to
apply the great explicit knowledge she's just read, has a chance to talk
with peers or with the masters. So, to me, the conversation support
systems are important in supporting the use of codified knowledge.)

Comments? I'm doing a speech about this at Groupware 95 in August and
would welcome your input.

--- end of speech ---

Disclaimer: Much of this flowed from the initial suggestion by Ms. Murphy
and from reading Nonaka, but I've added and interpreted; messed-up logic
is more likely mine than theirs.

Ref: Nonaka, Ikujiro and Hirotaka Takeuchi, _The Knowledge Creating
Company_, New York, Oxford University Press 1995.

         Richard Karash ("Rick") |  <>
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