Saturday 20 November 2010

The forms of institutional knowledge

Looking now at the knowledge within the institution, lets see how the 4 forms of knowledge I have discussed map.

Institutions produce knowledge in various content-forms: strategies, validation documents, personnel files, student records, etc. Such content-forms of knowledge have implicit within them some sort of 'purpose-form' - "we have a strategy because..." - some codification of institutional values. But these purposes are rarely deeply authentic - there are usually layers of thinking that need to be unpicked, where the fundamental value is "you've just got to do it". Sometimes certain content-forms have tool-forms as well: for example, the student record system, or systems for validation document production.

However, the person-form of institutional knowledge is more complex. The person who wrote the strategy ought to be the best person to explain it (indeed, most others probably will not understand it!). The person-form can deepen the purpose-form by showing the extent to which they believe in the document. Often however, even the people writing the strategies don't believe in them, so sometimes the reverse is true: the person-form of the knowledge reveals deep problems with its authenticity (the purpose-form).

Fewer problems arise where there is a tool-form of the knowledge: where systems and procedures are in place which work, and are understood to work. I think procedures and workflows in this instance also count as tool-forms of knowledge: they are instrumental. But again, the tool-form can contradict the person-form or the purpose-form.

Where such mis-wirings occur, it might appear that the institution doesn't really 'know' something when it professes (through content-forms) it does: it becomes very difficult to coordinate a language game. It's like trying to play chess with pieces from Buckeroo!

Can an analysis of the problem be a step towards a solution? Are these distinctions meaningful?

1 comment:

David K said...

This is very insightful. Strategy documents are nearly always written to have been written. The form is everything.