Knowledge Fair at FAO

The UN based Rome agencies (FAO, IFAD, WFP) and the CGIAR organised a knowledge fair from January 21-22. This was the first of it's kind and could be considered an adventure.

IFAD-WFP-FAO-CGIAR Share Fare 2009

Goal was to get people out of their offces and tho share and discuss what they are doing. This has been a success with different degree in the different organizations, but also with regard to my organization FAO, there has been substantial participation at the ShareFair
People from the NGO or the accademic area will not see the big importance of this event at the first glance. They are working in areas, in which "knowledge sharing" is much more usual with different expressions. This is not the case for big burocratic Organizations, in which everyone has the tendency to work on his/her small little island.

Some random remarks

Twitter: I still cannot see the utility of this. Check out the stream at What is the meaning of this? Disconnected sentences, no explanations, bad grammar, no syntax. Is this only a pretest for not thinking and writing seriously? This seems to me the worst things of the Internet brought to a method. Don't do anything substantious, just speak! Twitter for me could have a sense if I really have to follow what someone is doing (but I normally have NOT to!), or using it to announce events to which I want direct attention (what I actually do, when I post a new blog, the headline is automatically sent to Twitter.

Knowledge: what a confusion! A common statement of the Share Fair was. "Knowledge Management" is not possible, only "Knowledge Sharing". This is result of a thinking which defines knowledge as restricted to human beings and their interactions. This is correct only if one thinks about applying knowledge in practice. Knowledge is produced by humans, yes! But then it is deposited in books and nowadays in multiple other media. I would not enter an airplane, if I would depend only on the knowledge of the pilot and the copilot! A lot of knowledge is in the construction of the plane, is in the board and other computers, comes from agents, which are measuring and interpreting data. The pilot has the knowledge to combine all these streams from different knowledge repositories.
Everyone is free to call the sentence "Overgrazing will produce desertification" "information" (or what?), when it is in a book or a video, but knowledge when it is
transmitted by a human being, but that is not very helpful, neither useful and potentially also dangerous.
For me knowledge is "what we know" or "on what we agree to accept", this can be contained in different media and the human brain is only one of these media. Other medias may only contain knowledge (like books) or also process them (like computers). The human brain among all these media has strong sides and week sides. The strong side is it's enormous capacity of intuition and inference, his weak side is to have a tendency to possess, see and consider mostly only a very small part of the existing knowledge in a certain area. Therefore, human beings often exchange more opinions. An opinion may be the first stage of later confirmed and accepted knowledge, but it might also simply be a biased view on reality.
It is "inverse Alzheimer" if we think that we can manage life and work with only the Knowledge that is in our heads.
My friend TV Prabhakar once gave me a definition, that I liked much more: Knowledge is in media, encoded in their specific systems, as soon as this knowledge is transferred it becomes information. So: "Overgrazing leads to desertification" is knowledge, but as soons as it is displayed on a screen or said by a human beeing, it becomes information. And this information is manageable :-). You can organize and manage, "brown back meetings", "databases", "newsfeeds" to manage these information streams, which transport knowledge from one container to the other and to the place, where it is needed.
Although if "knowledge is not manageable" we all still to try it - at least to engineer. When I was teaching Chemistry at High School I tried to create the knowledge about orbitals in the heads of my students by organizing various information streams into their ara of reach. The EU poors 10 million Euro into the NeOn project to get big ontologies managed, for what, to "infere knowledge".
Let us try not to become too human centric. :-))))

Knowledge Sharing or Human Resource Management? I have a strong feeling that in the entire discussion on Knowledge Sharing there is a basic flaw just from the beginning, which is the prejudice: people like knowledge sharing or that they have a genuine interest in it. This is documented by the "sharefair" slogan "Knowledge Shairing is Power". This might be, under very specific circumstances, but it might be also not! Monopolizing knowledge might give you power! If not circumstances are created in which knowledge sharing gives you an individual advantage, you can organize as many "world cafes", "fish bowls", blogs, forums and whatever you like. Nothing will improve. In big companies, the top management has an genuine interest to foster "knowledge sharing". For them it is negative, if the brilliant newcomer is blocked by some old fashioned middle management; they want to get new and winning ideas to the top as fast as possible. Many other people do not have an interest in this, because it is dangerous for their position. You can make a friendly face, laugh and play: it is not a game, in which everyone will win.
This means: the core of any "Knowledge Sharing" Activity is management and specifically Human Resource Management. Without changes here it is only an interesting circus for people who have invented a new activity to make a living out of this.

No more Powerpoints: I heard this often at the Fair, and it is twitted 2 times from the last closing ceremony. I would like to change this: "No more boring powerpoints please". A presentation by itself is not better or worse than a "Fish bowl", two different goals. The presentation has to deliver a stream of information from one person to an audience. The "fish bowl" has to discuss a problem or issue of which the entire "bowl" group is already aware and knowledgeable. If you do only presentations, you will not get enough interaction. If you do only "bowls", you easily might loose substance.


World Views: