Sunday, July 04, 2004

Learning by Teaching
Last week I gave a guest lecture on Nottingham Law School's Diploma in Know How Management. I was curious to see how KM looked from the legal perspective, and it was great to meet such enthusiastic students.

I got a strong sense that they considered KM in industry to be well ahead of the legal world, and I'm not sure that's true. The conservatism of leadership, the ingrained practices, the unwillingness to share -- well, that could be anywhere.

The main speaker of the day was Richard Susskind who is regarded as a guru in legal IT-KM circles.

He commented that information structures in law tend to be taxonomy-driven and that they'd be much more useful if structured around how people use them for a given task. i.e. the opposite of the industry tendency to drive everything through process. I can see how this may have arisen - underlying much of his talk was a plea to be more 'systematised' in law i.e. to do the kind of automation that industry sprang from. To do this you need to be process-centric. Yet the application of legal knowledge is immensely flexible - the kind of flexibility that many in industry could learn from. And for that a more taxonomic structure probably suits. There's no great dichotomy really - basically, everyone needs both. With paper its impractical to file things in 2 very different ways, but with IT its not an issue. Well, it shouldn't be an issue except that few are taught to think this way and even when I talk to people about intranets, they still talk as if it were an either\or choice about where a file 'lives'.

Richard also bemoaned the short-termism of legal partners and contrasted with stock-market listed companies that plan for distant horizons. Yet I'd see it as the other way round - listed companies can go into frenzies on a quarterly basis for fear of a share-price dip.
I had a discussion with one participant about stakeholders. I was claiming that change in a small organisation was much easier as there were fewer leaders to influence. She pointed out that in a law firm you may have to speak to 50 partners to get them all to agree before you could move forward. My conclusion is KM is tough for all of us!

1 comment:

Ann Hemming said...

hello Sam as one of the students on the course, I am writing up my thoughts on your talk at the moment. Interesting to hear your thoughts from industry and quite encouraging. I do take your point that short-termism is alive and well and causing problems for Km workers wherever. The debate on taxonomies v process driven work will continue and is a very hot topic amongst Legal Km profesionals and IT vendors at the moment and I agree with you to present concept- taxonomy development as diametrically opposed to process driven working is a mistake the two need to co-exist and develop. We have a real problem getting IT vendors to agree though and I think i this is one example of the IT industry providing products which force us to make a choice between one approach and the other when in reality we need to present both options to our workers