Thursday, June 27, 2013

Making sense of the complexity of knowledge work in organizations #i3rgu

The keynote for the 3rd day at the i3 #i3rgu conference in Aberdeen, Scotland is from Jane McKenzie (Henley Business School), talking about Connections and Contradictions – Making sense of the complexity of knowledge work in organizations. She distinguished between information and knowledge, seeing knowledge as being socially constructed, and integrated into the meaning/ understanding you have of the world: this can lead to dissonance when people have different understandings.
This perspective sees the stage of absorbtion/ sense making by the person as being the most important aspect of information. McKenzie presented Choo's model of information seeking behaviour, which has perception of an information gap (anomolous state of knowledge) at its start. She also talked about notable examples of industries or governments not keeping in touch with the market and new developments and suffering "temporary incompetence", not seeking and managing information and knowledge effectively in times of disruption and change. Disruptions can also come from within the organisation as well e.g. because of new business-critical systems, mergers, reorganisation.

McKenzie identified that we have to reflect on our ontology and epistemology (what do we see as knowledge, and what is our view of the world)? She and her colleagues use a complexity lens to look at these problems. Looking at conflicts and differences is seen as valuable: capabilities, purpose, values, behaviours and the wider environment. You can look at these elements at the individual, team and organisational level, to look for differences and also paradoxes "contradictory yet interrelated elements that exist simultaneously and persist over time".
One issue is developing leaders (not just at the top of the organisation, since organisations are continuing to flatten) who are able to identify and negotiate this complexity. They needed to be able to identify "what matters" and interact with/inspire staff. In this context "leadership is a knowledge and learning enabling role". McKenzie referred to Choo again here; his perspective on organisational learning. If you are interested in this you can follow the link (above) to Choo's website as he puts a lot of information it (Choo is still a core author for our information mangement students at Sheffield!).
Back to the talk - McKenzie highlighted the "knowing - doing" gap on Choo's model - how do you get your ideas into action. She alluded here to the problem of organisational, as opposed to individual, learning. McKenzie highlighted behaviours etc. that different studies have shown to help in the process of being a leader in a time of paradox and contradiction (which I wasn't quick enough to write down). Engaging actively with the paradoxical, acknowledging ambiguity, paying attention to potential personal bias, looking outside the immediate context of the decision: these were all factors that were seen as needing attention if leaders were to be able to make sense of situations. She mentioned creating space to ponder the problem and its complexity (which I think connected with the research about creativity I blogged about on day 1).
The (apologies!) rather fuzzy slide I present at the top of the post summarised key aspects of her perspective. I will not try to explain it, but certainly a key element that was emphasised was supporting learning and change in individuals and the community. The iteration of the diagram that she presented after the one above included "Co-creating a learning culture", "Transcultural competence" and "embedding a performance challenge culture" (with workers aware of how they are developing).
I have found a document that appears to summarise some of this at
(The rabbits are nothing to do with the talk: I photographed them just now in the university grounds)

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