Ron Young, one of the experts involved in developing the Knowledge Management ISO 30401 draft, has posted a blog that sets out the contributors and processes involved in the development of the draft standards, which are published under the auspices of Human Resource Management. Unfortunately, as I will explain, Ron’s post demonstrates that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.
In response, I am bitterly disappointed that so called Knowledge Management experts can so flagrantly constrain the future of the field by ignoring fundamental challenges facing the future of organisations.
Furthermore, the whole ISO Knowledge Management process stinks of jobs for the boys (and girls), who, I argue, are more interested in protecting their consultancy practice than developing standards that anticipate the future of people, organisations and wider society in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (workplace 4.0).
This KM ISO standards process is seemingly dominated by consultants, where the process seems incestuous and focused on protecting legacy services delivered by various historic KM consultancy companies formed in the early days of KM. I say this as Ron Young, as a way to demonstrate the credibility of the ISO process, lists the following expert contributors in his blog: Ron Young (no HR or L&D experience – owns a KM consulting company), Paul Corney (an associate of Ron Young’s KM consultancy company), Nick Milton (KM consultant – with a PhD in Geology, I believe), Judy Payne (PhD in sustainable urban drainage, a member of the Henley KM forum, which just happens to link with Nick and Ron, and Director of Hemdean consulting company) – see also, Patrick Lamb (Singapore) and Arthur Shelley (Australia). Basically, what is being produced are international standards seemingly dominated and designed by legacy KM consultants from Western organisations, where implementation/interpretation will require the help of said legacy KM consultants – so much for international standards.
Moving on, Ron says:
“I consider the balance between KM and HR practitioners to be good.”
If KM is a complex phenomenon, which I challenge anyone to contest, and, if this ISO is to be taken seriously, in terms of anticipating/influencing the future direction of the phenomenon, where are the credible international experts (i.e. active practitioners form across the globe – this, after all, being international standards) from the fields of AI, Machine Learning, complexity, strategy, HR, L&D Talent Management etc. (lists of committee members are one thing – see the further comments at the bottom of this post – but Ron puts forward key experts as those listed above)? Ron states that the list of contributing members can be found on the ISO/TC 260 website – the HRM committee has 31 participating members with 9 standards under review, but it is not clear, beyond the names put forward by Ron, just who has been involved in the development of the draft KM ISO.
On the other hand, Ron does clarify that the ISO can be amended in three-to-five years time; the fact that the ISO might have caused considerable damage to KM functions and organisations by that time seems lost on the committee (e.g. see the 2016 World Economic Forum report on the future of jobs).
Ron also says:
“The KM Standard is not trying to put boundaries around an intangible, complex and human centric subject, as others have reasonably challenged, but it is attempting to give organisations the benefit of a consensus of global expert stakeholders, as a very good, commonly agreed and accepted approach.”
Given the limited variety of KM experts engaged in this process, to say nothing of ignoring Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety (a point perhaps lost on this group of experts – Ashby (1956) proposed the need to look at the whole (AI, robotics, Machine Learning, strategy, complexity etc.), including the wider environment, to understand the cues that require a response from any system designed to regulate it) , I wonder whether it occurred to any of them that they actually set conditions for operational failure:
“If a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled” (Ashby 1956, p. 207).
Ron progresses to state:
“an International Standard on KM will never be the most leading edge thinking and practice, nor should it be, but it aims to develop a global body of knowledge, based on global collaboration, a commonality, and a professional approach, that aims to develop Knowledge Management from what many have seen, so far, as a fragmented discipline to date, to a more holistic, professional discipline and/or practice.”
Ignoring the fact that the committee has obviously run out of ideas for KM, how can anyone possibly claim to take a holistic view when the committee has constrained the view by failing to involve the spectrum of Knowledge Management stakeholders required to develop such a view (again, see Ashby’s Law)?
More than this, if the committee has run out of ideas (after all, an echo chamber will only produce an echo), evidenced by Ron’s assertion that KM will never be the most leading edge thinking or practice (begging the question, why publish this ISO in the first place?), then perhaps the committee should accept their own shortcomings, step down and appoint people who can take the field/phenomenon forward.
Since publication, Ron has posted the following on LinkedIn:
David, I mentioned in my blog some of the KM experts that have contributed to the Draft Standard in an attempt to answer questions about a balance between KM and HR. It is not an exhaustive list, and for that you must refer to the list of ISO TC 260 International Committee members, and to the members of the National Standards Committees which are obtainable through their websites.
To which I have said:
Ron, thank you and I have looked – perhaps you would like to publish a list of committee members who have actively participated (influenced through active discussion and contribution) in the KM ISO process. In doing so, you enhance the credibility of the ISO and allow us outsiders to assess the credibility of what is being put forward.
Also, you have focused on HR, where, as you state in your blog, KM is far more integrated/complex than a single function – I am particularly interested in contributions from experts in the fields of AI, Machine Learning, Strategy, L&D, Robotics, complexity etc.
From Twitter, an interesting view from Chris Collison:
“I have some sympathy with this. The BSI version reads like is started with good intentions as a non-prescriptive, flexible framework to prompt thought – but somehow became hijacked as a consultants’ charter with a fair degree of product placement. I’ve made 40 comments so far……it seems to take a standpoint that KM has to be a managed programme with policies, roles and measures. 130 clients on, my experience is that KM is a set is possible responses to the state of an organisation, applied thoughtfully and contextually……and in conjunction with a much wider range of interventions and functions. Sometimes it’s a stealth operation, sometimes a partnership, sometimes a slipstream, sometimes a viral experiment. The standard needs to reflect this, rather than foreshadow an audit-to-consult process.”