Tuesday, 20 November 2007

How can we chart the wisdom of the crowds?

We (Allison, Colin and Anoush) have been thinking about what we mean by ‘the wisdom of the crowds’. The phrase can be interpreted in two ways:

Type (a) - the wisdom of the crowds as a snapshot of popular preferences, behaviours or actions. For example, recommender systems point to related items purchased by consumers, though these are not necessarily the highest quality articles. The charts offer a view of popular preferences in music, which are unlikely to be the most advanced musical compositions or technically competent performances.

Type (b) - the wisdom of the crowds as collective knowledge from all people. This collective knowledge will range from relatively uninformed thoughts to valuable, world-changing ideas. The ‘uninformed thoughts’ should not be discarded as useless, since they may spark ideas that result in the generation of ‘world-changing ideas’.

A distinguishing feature of these two types of ‘wisdom of the crowds’ is the way each type is captured.

Type (a) wisdom is behaviour that has been ‘captured’ in a way that the ‘givers’ are unaware of. It is therefore an aggregation of unconscious actions or preferences. This type of wisdom does not require behaviour change on the part of individuals.

Type (b) wisdom requires individuals to consciously donate to a collective store of knowledge. The success of type (b) requires behaviour change – individuals have to consciously share their knowledge.

This conscious sharing is a key aspect of the ‘Ask, Learn, Share’ approach to culture change in knowledge sharing adopted by Shell International to help the organisation retain existing knowledge and develop new knowledge more rapidly. This approach was presented by Betty Collis in her keynote at the launch of our Caledonian Academy at Glasgow Caledonian University in October 2007 and is described by Donna Hendrix in KM Review (Vol 10, Issue 3, Aug 2007).

Ask, Learn, Share neatly maps onto the three actions we outlined in an earlier blogpost:

The ‘ask’ component involves encouraging people to search for information to help them identify problems they need to solve and help them frame the sorts of questions they should ask. This component maps to our notion of ‘consuming’ knowledge resources.

Individuals seek to answer these questions, using the information they have sources along with their own knowledge, during the ‘learn’ component. This component often requires connecting with others – experts and peers. It aligns with our notion of ‘connecting’.

At the final stage, staff are encouraged to ‘share’ any new knowledge, which fits with our ‘contribute’ component

If we view the ‘collective’ as a resource (ie collective knowledge) then ask, learn, share or consume, contribute, connect are actions that can be performed on this resource.

What’s different about the model we propose is ‘charting’. Charting is a process that binds together the resource and actions. Wisdom of the crowds type (a) occurs without any conscious action on the part of the contributor. However wisdom of the crowds type (b) requires some sort of (implicit or explicit) charting.

What do we mean by ‘charting’? And how does it fit with ‘consume’, ‘connect’, ‘contribute’ or ‘ask’, ‘learn’, ‘share’. We discussed this with Betty Collis when she visited us in October 2007. We had started describing this notion in an earlier blogpost ; here are a few further thoughts towards a framework.

Charting takes place at different levels. At each level it requires self-assessment of the learner’s current competencies mapped against where he or she would like to be.

At a strategic level the learner has to make a conscious plan– ‘charting’ is like professional development planning (PDP) where learners set targets. In a work related situation a supervisor and.or a mentor or a guidance team could discuss with an employee (the learner) how they might plan addressing a challenging learning task that involves an authentic work-related activity (ie carrying out a real task at work). The learner/employee has to note where they are now and what do they have to do. This could involve a processes whereby the learner and the supervisor firstly diagnose the problem that will form the basis of the task and agree on the outcome. Some questions that could help guide this process are:

- what is the problem?
- how can it be solved?
- what resources are needed?
- who must be involved?
- what the learner knows/can do to solve the problem?
- what the learners must know/be able to do to solve the problem? If there is a gap between the latter two
- what is the cause (knoweldge, skill, motivation, environment)?

At an implementation level the learner could consciously plan but could use ‘unconscious’ wisdom from others- To help them find out how they can move from where they are to where they want to be a learner/employee may have to ask another learner/employee who has carried out this task. In many companies, this decision would be based upon a competency framework (HR). However a peer coach could point them in the direction they need to go. Alternatively we could use systems to capture the routes previous learners/employees have taken – or their patterns of behaviour. Some, if not all, of his behaviour could have been captured automatically by a system (ie it is type (a) wisdom). The learner/employee could use this information to make a plan tailored to his or her individual needs. The likelihood is that he or she ends up with a montage of loosely related tasks and goals that require constant revisiting.

There may be more than two levels - perhaps also a sort of 'micro level' - but the learner will constantly revisit each to readjust their goals in terms of consuming, contributing, and connecting – with lower levels requiring more frequent revisiting.

In summary charting could be conceptualised as a process involving planning three different types of actions (consume, contribute) on a resource (collective knowledge – which resides in libraries, stores, databases, blogs, wikis, people’s heads, etc). Individuals use technology tools to carry out the actions. The tool depends on the nature of the action and the type of resource. To illustrate this point - the choice of tool depends on whether an individual connects with another individual a group or a network (ie the type of ‘people resource’) as well as the type of digital resource (ie whether a document, sound file, photo, etc)

If we use this sort of framework what might charting look like?

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