Knowledge content curation

Knowledge Content Curation is the management of knowledge-related content, which is essential for a good Knowledge Management strategy. Pigro helps companies manage their business records by allowing them to search for the information they need through simple queries, without the use of keywords or tags.

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Knowledge curation
Knowledge management

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Introduction

Although it plays a fundamental role in the productivity of the company and its efficiency, knowledge curation is still a little known field. 

As the name implies, it consists in the management and selection of content related to corporate knowledge. As we’ll see, this content is the backbone of the company: thanks to it, it’s possible for employees to carry out their work, being able to consult the documents needed to complete tasks or to satisfy customer requests.

But what if this documentation is not accessible? What if all the corporate knowledge stored in the content could not be viewed by those who need it? In the worst-case scenario, the business flow would eventually slow down or, even, stop.

A common mistake, however, is to underestimate the importance of the corporate knowledge base, giving employees access to content but not providing them with the proper tools to quickly search for information.

In fact, very often the way in which documentation is catalogued and stored is left to the discretion and good sense of the employee, with no shared company policies. In other cases, even though guidelines are in place, there are still difficulties with searching, often by keywords, which creates the problem of looking for content without knowing what it is called.

For this reason, and others that we’ll see later, it’s important to create a structured knowledge curation strategy that includes 360-degree content management, from the creation phase to the search phase, combined with the use of knowledge management systems. 

The latter can simplify the process and make documentation easily searchable, thus avoiding a lot of wasted employee time, such as reading entire documents consisting of hundreds of pages in order to find the necessary information.


Knowledge Curation

Knowledge management: what is it?

In order to understand knowledge curation, it is necessary to examine the concept of knowledge management, on which it is based.

 

The term “knowledge” refers to the concept of learning something, learning to use it or discovering how it works. It differs from information, which is composed of data, as knowledge is related to understanding, putting together and linking together a series of information.

Knowledge within a company covers all areas and sectors: company policies, technical and product sheets, balance sheets, etc. are all part of the knowledge base, i.e. the company’s document structure.

The management of this documentation is necessary for the correct functioning of the “company machine” and, for this to happen, it must respect certain characteristics:

– Documentation should be digital: unfortunately, many organizations still rely on paper for documents and content. This makes it difficult to consult, as it is not accessible to everyone, physical presence is required at the place where the information is located and, if it is not catalogued accurately, employees will waste hours browsing through disorganized folders;

Archiving policies: once it is clear that the only way to find information quickly is to have it in digital form, it is important to focus on the organization of documents. For content to be truly available to everyone, it must be archived in a uniform way, following guidelines set by the company, which allow you to understand where to find the information you need;

– Have a tool that supports research: the knowledge base is useful only if it is easily searchable. In fact, often the previous two steps are not enough to allow employees to find what they are looking for in a short time; for this reason, the use of software is necessary.

There are various types of tools, including those developed with artificial intelligence, that allow you to find content within documentation without the use of tags and categories, but by asking simple questions to the system, which is then able to extract the answer paragraph directly from company knowledge.

Being able to find the necessary information at a glance minimizes wasted time, allowing employees to focus on more value-added tasks and, consequently, increasing the productivity of entire departments.

Knowledge management is a very broad field, within which there are a number of subcategories that integrate the concept of knowledge management, such as:

knowledge mapping: creation of knowledge maps, i.e. a tool to quickly understand who, within the company, is the most competent person for each activity, so that, in case of need, no time is lost in identifying them. Knowledge mapping could play a secondary role in the case of proper knowledge sharing;

knowledge sharing: this includes developing networks and systems that allow employees to find the information they are looking for within the knowledge base. This saves time and provides timely responses, which are critical to ensuring productivity;

knowledge creation: the creation of corporate knowledge, aimed at structuring the knowledge base and developing new content.


Knowledge curation: what is it?

After talking about the more general concept of knowledge management, we’re ready to delve into an area that is much less well known and in-depth, but just as important: knowledge curation.

When we talk about corporate knowledge management, we always refer to information and the process of reworking it to achieve a specific result.

However, an important, and often underestimated, aspect is precisely the creation and selection of relevant enterprise content. 

Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, authors of the book “The Knowledge-Creating Company”, coined the term “organizational knowledge” precisely to differentiate this aspect of content curation from the more general concept of information management, and gave the following definition: “by organizational knowledge creation we mean the ability of a company as a whole to create new knowledge, disseminate it throughout the organization, and incorporate it into products, services and systems” (Nonaka, Takeuchi, 1995).

It is no longer a mere analysis of existing documentation, but the creation of new content in order to share it for the benefit of the entire business organization.

The history of corporate curatorship

The need to pass on our knowledge and to leave a trace of our passage has always belonged to us. For this reason, we will briefly outline the history of the evolution of knowledge content curation starting from prehistory up to the present day, in order to understand the importance of information curation and how it belongs to the human race since the beginning of civilization.

Prehistory and cave paintings

Often linked to the need to create something that would remain beyond death, an early example of the quest to record information is already present in prehistory. 

Rock drawings are engravings on rock, made with the aid of various sharp instruments, using various techniques, such as staking or scraping. 

The first engravings date back to the appearance of Homo sapiens and were made to narrate everyday life, full of wild animals, men and women, footprints. The objective of the realization of such images was the transmission of knowledge related to survival and the description of dangers.

From drawing to writing

A shift in form but not in substance occurred with the invention of writing in Mesopotamia in 3000 BC. Slowly the use of drawing was abandoned in order to pass to writing, to the use of the word. For centuries, however, writing was the prerogative of the few and we will have to wait for the amanuensis who, anticipating the printing press, will try to spread the sacred books more quickly by creating numerous copies. This will allow the increase of the radius of diffusion of information, which can reach more people even in distant places.

Invention of movable type printing

Invented in Asia by Bi Sheng in 1041 and in Europe by Johannes Gutenberg in the years 1453-55, movable type printing allows making copies of the same book in a short time, making knowledge sharable and spreadable.  

After years of research, Gutenberg manages to find the right technique for its realization: aligning the single characters to form a page, then sprinkled with ink and pressed on paper. Compared to other scholars, his technique differs for the use of characters and not, as before, for the use of a single piece of wood from which to obtain the matrices.

The information that was considered a priority at the time were the sacred texts: the first to be reproduced, in fact, was the Bible.

Advent of computers and the web

Information becomes digital and increases exponentially. Computers begin to be present in all companies and, subsequently, in all homes, increasing the number of people who create content. Along with this, however, come the problems of managing this information, which can no longer be organized as it has been done so far, but require the use of software and artificial intelligence.

The importance of information emerges most prominently in two areas: museum curatorship and knowledge management.

Museums and archives understand the importance of structured and easily accessible documentation before any other sector; this is why the discipline of curation was born, to put further emphasis on the need to develop ad hoc techniques and technologies for information management.

From the 1980s onwards, companies began to understand the importance of knowledge management and knowledge content curation, leading scholars to develop models for information management such as the SECI model, by Nonaka and Takeuchi, which we will see in the next paragraphs.

Knowledge Content Curation

Explicit and tacit knowledge

Talking about information, it is necessary to specifically analyze the two types of knowledge: explicit and tacit form. Based on this, in fact, it is possible to understand the peculiarities and the importance of realizing a knowledge content curation strategy, outlining how to realize it so that it is effective.

Explicit Knowledge

Explicit refers to the kind of knowledge that can be transmitted orally and through writing. It is any theoretical information that can be encoded and, compared to tacit information, be more easily transferred.

By being able to be transmitted through writing, in fact, it is possible to keep track of all knowledge-related information, thus being able to share it with other employees. 

Explicit knowledge is formal knowledge that, because it is written down, allows information to circulate and avoid being the preserve of a few.

Tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge includes all information and notions that cannot be transmitted orally through the use of language. It is knowledge that comes from work experience in the field and is linked to the context and the ability to understand it, together with actions and feelings that can hardly be taught.

Hedlund, scholar and author of numerous books on knowledge management, in “Identifying and assessing tacit knowledge: Understanding the practical intelligence of military leaders” outlines the characteristics of tacit knowledge:

– it is not learned but acquired autonomously;

– it is related to “knowing what to do” and not to “knowing how to do it”: for this reason it is related to practical rather than notional action;

– it is based on personal experience

– there are two types of intelligence: abstract and practical. Tacit knowledge belongs to the latter.

Although this type of knowledge is more difficult to “pass on,” there is still a need for this information not to be tied to the individual employee who holds it. In the event of dismissal or retirement, this knowledge would be irreversibly lost, with obvious repercussions for the firm.

For this reason, there are strategies for sharing tacit knowledge:

transcribe the steps involved in performing tasks: although certain concepts cannot be explained verbally, creating a list of specific steps for each task can help employees to undertake these actions on their own and create their own tacit knowledge;

reflecting together: a moment of reflection on topics not made explicit in any document allows employees to understand the logic behind the action, thus enabling them to experience it;

working alongside: living an experience together is the best way to pass on tacit knowledge, since, by experiencing the event first-hand, it is possible to store all the notions, tacit and explicit, that will then allow the task to be carried out again independently; 

observe: if it is not possible to accompany the experienced professional, a period of observation can be carried out; the experience will be less involving and will require more time, but seeing concretely what a given task involves is fundamental for the employee;

keep a written record of the stories and experiences told by the professionals: while not directly experiencing the event, it is possible to draw a great deal of information and insight from what is being told. For this to be passed on, it is necessary to move from oral to written form.

The SECI model

As mentioned earlier, Nonaka and Takeuchi are among the leading experts in knowledge management and, consequently, tacit and explicit knowledge.

In addition to coining the term “organizational knowledge”, in 1996 they created the SECI model, the result of their studies related to knowledge curation.

The model is structured by making four types of combinations of tacit and explicit knowledge, focusing on how information is organized within companies:

– S (Socialization) – tacit tacit: Tacit knowledge is that which is linked to experiences and actions and is difficult to pass on in oral and written form. Socialization is linked to the sharing of this knowledge through mainly four modes: shared experience, imitation, observation and communication. The need to communicate tacit information is met with “tacit” dissemination tools, thus linked more to experience than to notions;

– E (Externalization) – tacit explicit: “externalization” occurs with the passage of knowledge from tacit to explicit. It is the most complex passage because the two types of knowledge are diametrically opposed and in order to transform information related to experience into written form, it is necessary to elaborate specific and structured strategies. An example is the description of concepts, trying to elaborate steps for each task or abstract notion, with the aim of giving it a form as concrete as possible. Some scholars have doubts about the feasibility of this point because tacit knowledge is by definition impossible to encode;

– C (Combination) – explicit explicit: while externalization is the most difficult step, combination is the simplest and most straightforward. The new knowledge is created directly from the explicit knowledge, therefore codified, such as other documents or procedures. 

– I (Internalization) – explicit tacit: when explicit sources are learned and metabolized, they are reflected in actions, consequently modifying tacit knowledge, thus returning to the principle of socialization. This step is not the conclusion of the path, but the last step before starting again: the model devised by Nonaka and Takeuchi, in fact, is not a rigid structure but a spiral that creates continuity between all combinations.

The “organizational knowledge” resources

As we have seen previously, Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, in their book “The Knowledge-Creating Company”, created the term “organizational knowledge” to separate the two macro-areas that make up the concept of knowledge management: the aspect of content creation from the more generic information management.

Knowledge curation, in fact, often tends not to be considered within strategies and many companies do not contemplate the need to create new documentation, in addition to organizing existing documentation.

The “organizational knowledge” resources described by Nonaka and Takeuchi are of various types:

– individual resources: these are each employee’s personal skills, mainly tacit knowledge, or those related to action, rather than to theoretical notions;

– group resources: knowledge spread within a specific group of people but not shared with the rest of the company;

– structural resources: process-related knowledge that may be widespread and known to all, or only to certain sectors or even a few employees;

– organizational resources: related to the structure of knowledge and how it is organized and shared. In fact, all of the previous resources are spread throughout the company according to formal and informal patterns. Organizational resources are needed to manage these knowledge flows and shifts, for them to be structured, and to verify that knowledge is never held by a single individual, thus risking being lost should the employee leave the firm.

Knowledge management tools are an integral part of organizational resources, helping the circulation of information by making documents easily traceable within the company’s knowledge base.

– extra-organizational resources: resources present outside the organization that could be incorporated into it to improve it.

Knowledge curation and content curation: the difference

After having analyzed specifically what is meant by knowledge curation, it is necessary to dwell on another term that is often associated with it: content curation.

It can happen to think that, being often associated, they can be synonymous and represent the same concept.

But this is not the case. Let’s see the main differences:

– the difference is the curator: although it is present in both, the figure of the curator in content curation can be undertaken by everyone, while in knowledge curation a professional is required; 

– aggregation and content curation is about wanting to stay up to date on any news, with more general and wide-ranging content, while knowledge curation aims to select more relevant and specific content. For this reason, if we wanted to compare it to data analysis, we could say that content curation works with unstructured data, while knowledge curation tries to shape them, processing information to create knowledge.

– content curation works more on quantity, while knowledge curation works more on quality; 

– an important role is played by the intent with which the content is created: according to it and its specificity we talk about knowledge or content curation.


Knowledge manager

Knowledge curation professionals

Knowledge curation is an important and very complex subject. For this reason, it is necessary to use specific professionals to draw up an effective strategy. Let’s see which are the professionals in this field and their peculiarities.

Knowledge manager

The knowledge manager is the one who collects, organizes, and administers information, giving a general structure to the knowledge base and disseminating policies for the proper creation and storage of new documentation. 

Key tasks of the knowledge manager include:

– determine organizational policies related to corporate knowledge: it is important to define the guidelines that employees are required to follow in order to properly organize information;

– establish the knowledge management strategy: determine what strategy follow, outlining the key aspects and the objectives to realize for a good corporate knowledge management;

– define the best knowledge management system tools in support to strategy;

– create new content into the knowledge base;

– propose innovative projects to improve information research into the documentation;

– conduct periodic monitoring with employees to understand if the strategy is working and make timely changes if needed;

Often the main problem faced by the knowledge manager is the difficulty in finding information within the knowledge. A well-structured knowledge base, in fact, isn’t always enough to allow the employees to find what they need. This requires the use of knowledge management software to speed up the search for information, along with the creation of content to fill gaps in the documentation.

Knowledge management consultant

Figure very similar to the knowledge manager but, instead of being internal to the company, it is an external service, which determines the guidelines to be followed and then passes the execution to the company. Typically, a contact person within the company is defined to act as an intermediary between the consultant who defines the strategy and the employees who will have to implement it.

Having an external consultant for corporate knowledge is recommended for small to medium-sized companies where it is sufficient to set up an initial strategy that requires periodic or sporadic updates. In cases where there is a large amount of documentation, the knowledge management consultant may not be sufficient, preferring an internal resource that knows more about the functioning and structure of the company, working directly within it.

Chief knowledge curator

While the knowledge manager and the knowledge consultant are, in majority, linked to the documentation management, a more specific figure into the documentation creation is the Chief Knowledge Curator.

It is a true curator of knowledge and manages all aspects of it, from creating to organizing existing documentation, including devising the strategy and achieving it.

The knowledge curation manager is responsible for seeking, curating and sharing knowledge, providing employees with all the tools necessary to make information accessible and to disseminate it as widely as possible throughout the company.

A company that does not have a good knowledge sharing system in fact risks suffering daily slowdowns: each employee in fact will be forced to stop his work process whenever he needs information that he cannot find in a timely manner.

Furthermore, Help Desk and Customer Service departments, which are required to provide fast and comprehensive responses to customers, risk being inefficient if business content relating to all aspects of their work is not created and if it is not easily searchable. 

The Chief Knowledge Curator makes sure this doesn’t happen by managing the knowledge base and implementing an efficient knowledge management strategy.


Conclusion

Documentation is the historical foundation on which the company is built: it consists of all the procedures, practices, policies, and any kind of information necessary for the operation of the “company machine”.

For this reason, it is essential to invest in staff and tools to organize existing documentation, making the information within it easily traceable. New documentation needs to be added constantly: every company is constantly evolving, and this change must also be detectable within the knowledge base, with the creation of new content and the updating of obsolete content. Furthermore, only by structuring the information can you discover any gaps in the knowledge base, thus being able to fill them before this represents a problem for the employee’s work and the company’s productivity.

A good knowledge curation strategy, combined with the use of corporate knowledge management tools, saves time by always having all information available, organized and structured to increase the productivity of all staff.

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