IN MY LAST BLOG ENTRY I described being at the BarCamp5 Spillover event held at the BCS London meeting rooms. On 9th October it will be my turn (with colleagues) to run an event in the same location: the MetaKnowledge Mash-up 2.0 gathering [But see NOTE below], organised by KIDMM and ISKO-UK and with the focus Making and Organising Knowledge in Communities.

(A word of explanation: KIDMM is a discussion community around issues of Knowledge, Information, Data and Metadata Management — its roots are in the British Computer Society — and ISKO-UK is the UK chapter of the International Society for Knowledge Organization. I co-ordinate the activities of KIDMM on a voluntary basis.)

Plastic poker chips being used to ‘rate’ the importance of topics generated on cards by group members, in a discussion about computers and climate change.

Plastic poker chips being used to ‘rate’ the importance of topics generated on cards by group members, in a discussion about computers and climate change.

The instructions for BarCamp said ‘Come with something you want to talk about,’ and I brought along with me a concern about the best way to conduct small group exercises on the afternoon of the 9th. People there will be seated in groups of up to eight around tables, an arrangement which affords a surface for a card-sorting exercise.

In the BarCamp discussion which I led, I explained how cardsorting works and how it can be used to understand how people group ‘things’, be they ideas, features of a product, whatever. In information architecture and product design enterprises, letting a representative group of users sort cards can help clarify what people expect of or hope from a product or service. There’s a variant called ‘divide the dollar’ which I read about through Uzanto’s Mindcanvas site, which offers these ‘Game-like Elicitation Methods’ (GEMs) on-line. In this, each participant is given a number of coins or chips and asked to distribute them across a set of topic cards to indicate in quite a subtle way the degree of value attached by that person to each.

What has this to do with a KIDMM/ISKO conference? Well, in considering ‘making and organising knowledge in communities’ we will be hearing case-studies from a number of organisations who are using electronic tools to enable long-term and long-distance discussion and collaboration within their communities, with the aim of accumulating and organising knowledge. Tools like email lists, bulletin boards, blogs, wikis, social networking sites, and online media repositories for documents, audio files or video — in addition of course to face to face gatherings and designed-for-print publications. Which of these approaches seem to hold out most advantages, and how might they be combined? The workshop session is when we can deliberate on this, and a cardsort is my proposed mechanism for this.

Hopefully, all participants will appreciate the opportunity this exercise will afford to sift through the approaches we’ve heard of through the day, and brainstorm a few more. And for the KIDMM community, this foray into ‘requirements elicitation’ has another benefit — with the assistance of a final-year software engineering student, Susan Payne of De Montfort University, we are embarking on our own venture into online community. In the next eight months, Susan will be writing a custom web application based on a CMS (content management system), designed to match the needs of knowledge communities such as KIDMM.

If you’re interested in learning more about cardsorting and other user requirement elicitation strategies, I have written up a five-page account of my BarCamp5 session — how I presented the topic and how people responded to it — which is available for download as a PDF file. [But see NOTE below]

Also available for download is my preconference paper: a literature and concept review on knowledge management, communities of practice and approaches to the evaluation of online community toolkits. [But see NOTE below]

NOTE: The domain kidmm.org has been kidnapped! Following KIDMM-hosted links will currently take to a Web site about baby clothes and things. Apologies while this gets sorted out. It is partly due to the incompetence of my ISP, Adept (should be Inept?) Hosting, who are also currently ignoring calls for support. [11 Oct 2008]

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MAKING AND ORGANISING KNOWLEDGE IN COMMUNITIES is the title of the conference which will be held in London on 9th October 2008; a joint endeavour of KIDMM (Knowledge, Information, Data and Metadata Management) and ISKO-UK (the UK chapter of the International Society for Knowledge Organization). The conference Web site is here.

KIDMM is a project with which I am very closely associated. It is probably best described as a ‘discussion community’, which primarily manifests as an email discussion list hosted on the JISCmail UK academic system, and this currently has 76 members. KIDMM arose initially from the recognition of a group of people, all active in different Specialist Groups of the British Computer Society, that knowledge, data and information — a whole lot of stuff which masses of computing power are now devoted to creating, storing and serving up access to — together formed a topic of interest across our Specialist Group boundaries. The organisation of KIDMM has remained informal, and membership of the community has now extended outside the BCS. The way things have evolved, there’s also a significant overlap of membership with ISKO-UK.

KIDMM ran a conference last year, the ‘MetaKnowledge Mash-up’, which was a great success. This year’s conference is in the same mould, but as the title suggests, has a focus on how knowledge can be elicited from members of a community of practice or community of interest, gatherd, organised, and turned into something useful. This is a hot topic in knowledge management, in industry and the public sector, and for professional and learned societies like the BCS.

The K word is a tricky one. As John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid remarked in their book The Social Life of Information,

We consider knowledge and learning… with some trepidation. On the one hand, epistemology, the theory of knowledge, has formed the centerpiece of heavyweight philosophical arguments for millenia. On the other, knowledge management has many aspects of another lightweight fad. That enemy of lightweights, The Economist, has pronounced it no more than a buzzword. We may, then, be trying to lift a gun too heavy to handle to aim at a target too insubstantial to matter.

This is an issue that I’ve spent quite some time thinking and reading about over the summer, since the decision to go ahead with this conference topic. So, one of my two substantive contributions to the event has been to write a literature and concept review which I hope will deploy some of the concepts we can usefully use in our discussions on the day. You are most welcome to download it (PDF).

As for my other contribution, that trial still stands before me. It’s relatively easy to organise a conference as an array of speakers (and I mean no disrespect to our speakers, we have a good line-up!) But we are keen to spend at least an hour in a set of parallel round-table discussion workshops, sharing ideas about how to maximise participation and knowledge sharing, using the new techniques that the Internet affords in addition to traditional tools such as meetings and publications. With less than two weeks to go, I must now turn my mind to how best to organise that session!