actKM Conference 2009 – Mapping KM

I’ve not done a lot of presentations recently. I’ve preferred to do something a little more “interactive”. So when the call for papers came out for actKM 2009, the last thing I wanted to do was a paper. Instead I was interested in exploring the edges of knowledge management. I wasn’t really sure how to do that but I had something in the back of my mind from the Mindell’s process work. This can involve exploring psychological “edges” using physical movement and other techniques. So I dipped my toe in the water and sent out a question to the actKM email list concerning disciplinary boundaries. The response I got back wasn’t particularly helpful and this indicated that I couldn’t do anything too confronting.

Then the thought struck me. Get the participants to draw maps. So that’s what I did. Six tables, six maps. In each case I asked them to map out knowledge management as an imaginary nation and then identify who else this nation might interact with (through trade, war or something else).

Some comments:

  • “Finance” crops up as an ambiguous/hostile power is a couple of maps – and as the “Resource Shark” in another.
  • Some of the maps are a little idealistic – how things should be rather than how they are.
  • One of the maps positions KM’s neighbours as process-based – e.g. six sigma, BPM, Lean, TQM.
  • One group had the occasional KM guru on the map – but up a mountain separate from practitioners.
  • Technology is often mentioned but rarely given centre-stage.
  • One group started identifying KM’s neighbours (e.g. Project Management, Organisational Development) without any prompting but others took a more KM-centric perspective.

What do you see?

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19 Responses to actKM Conference 2009 – Mapping KM

  1. John Hovell says:

    Brilliant as always, Matt! I would love to see this done at APQC and other (KM) conferences as well…

  2. Interesting activity and results, Matt.

    I think I missed your request in ackKM about disciplinary boundaries. Without having witnessed those interchanges or the workshop, it seems as if the requests were quite different (or could have been interpreted as quite different). To me, the question of disciplinary boundaries is a question that reaches into academic and research realms. It’s an interesting question. KM can be considered interdisciplinary or even transdisciplinary. Steve Barth was quite eloquent about this many years ago, but I can’t find that quote. We see some KM approaches that are rooted in hard science thinking and measures and others that are more ethnographic in their approaches. We’re seeing more visual work from the edges of the arts. And so on.

    In the graphics, your question seems to be rooted in a combination of metaphor and practice. For me, that would elicit a different type of thinking and exploration (not better or worse; just different). It is interesting to note that disciplines are almost absent, and sometimes appear to be marginalized (as in the social sciences bubble linked from a distance by a thin cord.)

  3. innotecture says:

    Hi John – Thanks for the feedback. It’s a relatively easy exercise to do so if anyone wants to volunteer to do it on my behalf…

  4. innotecture says:

    Alice – I think your final sentence is a perceptive one. Most of the participants were practitioners rather than academics. There are big barriers between academics & practitioners that I think need to be tackled – so what do we do about that?

  5. Brad says:


    Another interesting way of communicating KM and what it means to people. Your observation from one of the maps reflecting KM in an “ideal state” is of interest. I think many KM professionals regard “the ideal state” as the norm for KM work. As a result, some very good KM work being done by people may disappoint because it falls short of that perceived “ideal”.

  6. I absolutely agree, Matt. And wish I had quick answers to the scholar-practitioner divide (but that is rather like quick answers for an organization’s knowledge-related issues).

    I’m thinking about this a lot, and find myself wanting to do some more research to tease out some of the symptoms and issues before proposing solutions. I was doing some free writing this morning for a potential book and found myself writing about the very different natures of the systems, metrics and cultures behind the Academy and practitioner work (recognizing there are some exceptions).

    My view today is that bandaids won’t do much good; some very large boats need to be rocked (and I believe that is starting to happen with open access movements for scholarly work being one indicator).

  7. Matt –

    Another bit of fun I missed by not being there!


    – Keith.

  8. David Williams says:

    Thanks Matt
    I particularity thought that the actkm3 map was a masterpiece of intellectual brilliance.

  9. Interesting Matt… the maps actually made me wonder if boundaries and territory are the wrong sorts of metaphor for KM, there’s something quite bacterial about several of the maps.

  10. sam says:

    “What do you see?”

    I see that the overlap of cartographers and KM practitioners is nil.

  11. innotecture says:

    Alice – sounds very interesting – anything that you can email me?

  12. innotecture says:

    Patrick – bacterial? another take on “culture” perhaps? Parasites or symbiotes?

  13. innotecture says:

    Sam – which are you?

  14. amacgillivray says:

    Matt: want to let you know that one of your [approved] comments and one of mine are not showing on my blog. I have been trying to troubleshoot. Enjoying your thoughts and not stalling on them!

  15. I really love some of the maps, especially #2, #3, and #6 (which looks like an animal when rotated 90Β° clockwise!). They feel like I could actually use them — or the concept — to explain/position KM. Probably easier than some elaborate models & theories… About the barriers between academics & practitioners: these seem to be well recognized/understood by the participants, as the guru sits high up on the mountain! πŸ˜‰

    To a certain degree, I guess the maps are influenced by the suggested metaphor. I would be interesting to repeat the same exercise with different metaphors: KM as an engine, KM as a biotope, etc.

    The idealism of some of the maps reminds me of an exercise I did myself, some 10 years ago now, as newly appointed knowledge manager: I asked my team, in small groups, to draw their KM dream. It was understood that the results were just that, dreams, but they were actually very helpful in defining the vision and identifying the paths we were willing to travel.

    It would also be interesting to use this same approach for mapping some of the KM neighborhoods — such as social media, enterprise/gov’t 2.0, etc. — was it only to see if and were KM would appear on these other maps…


  16. innotecture says:

    Christian> “I would be interesting to repeat the same exercise with different metaphors: KM as an engine, KM as a biotope, etc.” – Yes absolutely!!!

    “I asked my team, in small groups, to draw their KM dream.”

    Well, there’s a whole literature devoted to the interpretation of dreams.

    And, yes, it would be interesting to see the maps drawn by social media, gov 2.0, etc…

  17. On social media, you may already know about this, but still delightful

  18. Kaye Vivian says:

    Hi Matt,
    I’m late to the party on this one, but just wanted to post a note anyway and let you know I loved this idea of making maps of KM, and think it’s very insightful of you. The maps were interesting, too. Makes me want to make one of my own before reading them all too closely! πŸ™‚ I had to laugh at Sam’s comment about the overlap of cartographers and KM practitioners.

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