Maintenance Strategies: Gaining User Involvement
by Duane Degler
follows is a summary of ideas and approaches presented at Knowledge
Management 2001, London, England, 3rd April 2001.
the recent years, Knowledge Management has been gaining significant
momentum within organisations. Much
of the emphasis, particularly on the part of the suppliers who are
wrestling with the evolving technology, has been on the acquisition
and storage of information, and how it can be retrieved more flexibly.
think about this: if I see an article or item of information that I
think is interesting, I am likely to copy it for other people.
A physical article might trigger my making and circulating 10
copies, of which three get read, three get thrown out, and four get
put in a pile “to look at later.”
Valuable, yes. Insightful, yes. Available?
No. Taking up
storage space and making other things harder to find?
is even worse—it is so easy to forward items to people in my address
book, that hundreds of copies of the information can proliferate.
I looked this morning—over 600 items in my inbox, and
that’s with a recent cleaning.
If I spend only 6 seconds evaluating each one to keep or
delete, that is still one hour of my time that I am unlikely to spend
cleaning my inbox. And it
still is not effective shared information.
If someone else wants the information that I hold there, I can
search for it, but everyone’s time is affected.
It is easier and faster to have a conversation and rely on my
memory of the information, than to have both the information and the
conversation—the combination of the two being a richer sharing of
have seen shared network drives filled with documents and
presentations, many gigabytes worth, stretching back over many years.
It is easier today to store and access that material.
It needs to become easier to review or remove that material
when it is no longer appropriate to the organisational mission.
can organisations work to ensure that shared knowledge remains
relevant over time? One
key way is to involve the person using the information.
In this paper I explore:
Needs to be Maintained?
the purposes of exploring the subject of maintenance, I will focus on
explicit, formal knowledge that is able to be accessed by more than
one person, and thus has value to an organisation generally rather
than just a single individual. The maintenance of dialog and conversational threads, though
very important as a part of knowledge sharing, is a more complex
subject for another day.
is often only apparent through the actions of individuals, and the
outcomes they achieve—you demonstrate that you “know” something
by the actions that you take. Shared knowledge is communicating something that helped one
person achieve a quality outcome, so other people can achieve the
in this context, is making sure that the information that is shared
and used continues to encourage successful outcomes.
To promote user involvement in maintenance, there has to be a
shared belief in the value of the knowledge, and thus the value of
keeping it relevant and accurate.
If it isn’t seen to be valuable, people won’t waste their
time on it.
Involvement in Maintenance
should actively get involved in:
the initial approaches to Knowledge Management, to ensure that the
approaches agreed meet the real needs of the working environment.
feedback on the quality and relevance of information at the points
where they come into contact with that information.
the same way that software is tested for usability, so should the
approach to handling information be tested.
Comparing information usability with traditional usability
testing for software applications and interfaces shows a number of
similarities and differences:
Using use cases and
scenarios to ensure that the interaction/task flow in an
application matches real-world needs, and that the
application’s use is easily understood by people of varying
abilities and experience levels.
use cases and scenarios to help the users articulate how well
the information supports the tasks that align with it, also
expanding on the understanding of real-world conditions such as
information volatility, relevance to task, interruption,
pressure to respond, that may affect ability to give feedback.
evaluation of design approaches based on standard criteria, to
identify where an application may not meet the needs or the
users, or introduce error/risk.
standards for information mapping/representation, mechanisms for
soliciting maintenance feedback and testing the validity of how
that feedback is responded to by the organisation and by content
testing the design of an interface or application using
high-fidelity representations of what is actually intended to be
testing formats, representations and the methods by which the
user finds, uses and provides feedback on knowledge.
the actual environment of use and functional requirement to
confirm finally that the finished developed product meets
relevant and useful than some of the other items above because
of the dynamic nature of content. It is still very important to
engage the user in both migration of existing content, and
“launch” of new facilities, to promote understanding and
with the above activities to support the design of the information and
the knowledge-sharing applications, it is also important to assign
responsibilities for information/knowledge ownership for both creation
and maintenance—this may require very different skills and
temperaments, and so may not be assigned to the same person.
to refine the quantity and quality of metadata captured.
This is a critical task—if it isn’t done correctly, it will
create a huge maintenance burden.
The “information about information” has to support the
maintenance task. For
example, metadata should include anticipated life of an information
element, review dates, the authors, owner, further subject experts,
and any relevant date where the information was revised or feedback
received. Metadata should
also carry things that can hook it into applications that provide
relevant information embedded in the screen.
simplest and most common way of asking the users to participate in the
maintenance of knowledge is to put simple feedback mechanisms on the
page where information is displayed.
There are a number of ways this can appear—general guidelines
consistent when asking for feedback—don’t ask for feedback on
only some pages, because users want to give feedback on things
that are important to them at the time.
it simple—ask for the least amount of information that gives
meaning to the feedback, so as not to overburden users.
for the unexpected—leave open space for users to type comments
for structured input—check boxes, drop-downs and other
constrained input makes sure you get feedback that you need,
increased the consistency of feedback (allowing measurement), and
is faster for the user to complete (so it feels less of an
the request for feedback out of the way of the information, so as
not to diminish the usability of the information itself (for
example, a sidebar next to a column of information will be visible
but can be ignored when concentrating on the information).
Make sure that the mechanisms
for capturing feedback at the point of use do not conflict with the
task or the environment. For
example, I had a conversation with one help desk application developer
whose product included a “rating” section on each page of
information. As much as I
applaud the recognition that this feedback could help the quality of
the knowledge base, the idea ran aground on two points:
The users—help desk staff—are
focused on talking to the customer and resolving complex problems, not
on providing feedback by submitting a form.
The staff who are willing to submit that form may not be
representative of the whole user base.
The task of customer problem-solving
may involve many different pieces of information, and the insight or
resolution may not relate directly to a single item of information on
the screen. So rating the
usefulness of one item of information independent of the process and
the synthesis of knowledge may produce a biased and inaccurate
The answer may lie in a more
Closer integration with application
usage tracking, where you use the application to help you interpret
the value of use.
Ongoing analysis, interviews,
questionnaires, etc to get feedback from the individuals during slow
periods—this also encourages thoughtful reflection on the value of
certain types of knowledge.
Using subject matter experts to
clarify the feedback, and follow up if necessary.
Decide how much feedback you
need. If you don’t
intend to use it, don’t capture it!
Users who are motivated to provide information are easily
de-motivated if they feel they are being ignored or the contribution
is not valued. The best
ways to make sure people feel their contribution is valued are:
Use the information you receive, and
make sure that the improvements are visible, or signposted.
Communicate what you have learned,
and where you have learned it.
Incentivizing people to
involve themselves in “knowledge quality” is a good thing.
Incentives are those things that motivate people to become
involved and commit their attention to something.
This doesn’t necessarily mean bottles of champagne or big
bonuses—research has shown that this is not always as effective as
people think. The biggest
incentive for involvement in knowledge maintenance is often the
improvement in the available, useful knowledge itself.
Stealth Knowledge Management – Learning from
A useful concept I and some
colleagues began developing a few years ago is “Stealth Knowledge
computers are used to carry out job tasks and make decisions, there is
a growing record of the way decisions are made – embodied in the way
the applications are used. The rules of decision-making are not artificially defined in
advance, but based on actual performance—whether that performance is
carrying out a task or seeking knowledge from a knowledge base.
The rules are as dynamic as the experienced people who perform
the tasks day-in and day-out. The capturing of this experience (“knowledge from
actions”) can be valuable to less experienced people performing the
same tasks, and can also help content owners understand the value of
the information in their care.
The key factors of Stealth
Knowledge Management are:
The data is a representation of the
business knowledge of experienced users.
The knowledge is dynamic: it changes
as the business context and application use change.
Decision-making patterns define rules
that can be modified or weighted based on the qualitative outcomes of
the tasks which generated the patterns.
The knowledge can be made available
immediately when a decision is to be made, presented as
recommendations for action.
For example, for one client
the challenge was to receive requests for information from the public,
and route these requests to the most suitable departments for
providing the reply. The
knowledge of how to interpret a request and identify the department(s)
most likely to hold relevant information was rooted in the experience
of one person who had been doing it for over ten years. When
that person was away, routing virtually stopped.
This is a classic problem in knowledge management, that could
not be solved by informing or training a second person—the job
circumstances were too dynamic. However,
by tracking the nature of the decisions made when categorizing and
routing, a dynamic picture of those decisions could be created.
The rules could change as the types of information being
requested by the public changed.
The routing challenge and part of the solution are illustrated
Beginning to map the actual flow of
requests over time.
Tracking the dynamic nature of requests,
which affects the rules to be applied.
dialog designed to help users make decisions in their work.
helps users manage presentation of knowledge.
stealth knowledge management, the hidden business rules (tacit
knowledge) become overt (explicit knowledge), while not becoming so
rigid that they lose their meaning.
The user remains in control of the use of knowledge, and
becomes an active contributor without being distracted from the task
or having to make an extra effort to participate.
knowledge management contributes to an ecological model for
maintenance, where information is self-sustaining and begins to have a
life of its own. The
model is appearing primarily within communities of practice and online
group interaction, where there are no formal rules for knowledge
management, but the group’s contribution to the knowledge base and
use of the information identifies the value—and again, this is done
dynamically. This also
allows the group or the information to die naturally when it no longer
mentioned above, active maintenance that involves users in the process
requires the combination of:
both of those elements, the burden for maintenance is probably going
to fall back to a select few, whose job will be much harder.
When users become actively involved, you begin to learn the
real value that knowledge has to the people who use it.
Copyright, Reuse and
The content of this article may be referenced with the
appropriate citation information included (see below). I would appreciate your notifying me if you intend to use these concepts or
images, as I am curious to know where they prove valuable. The entirety of the article must
not be reproduced without written communication with Duane Degler at
To cite the material, please include the following
information. I recommend the format:
Degler, Duane (2001). Knowledge
Maintenance Strategies: Gaining User Involvement. Knowledge Management 2001, London, England. Online: www.ipgems.com/present/knowmaint.htm.
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