Knowledge and Information LO30627

Date: 10/02/03

Replying to LO30564 --

"Mark W. McElroy" <> wrote (and I am quoting


> Since I cannot resist the urge every time I see it to refute the
>"knowledge is the capacity for effective action" argument, I will do so
>here again...


Thanks to Mark, we can critical watch our 'love affair' with our thoughts!
The notion of 'effective action' captures the client-orientation of much
contemporary knowledge endeavours (such as sponsored research, applied
research, etc.). However, as Mark indicates, likening knowledge with
action (albeit 'effective action') may be preposterous. Here, I would like
to suggest that, although knowledge can *produce* (or co-produce)
effective action (i.e., effective within a specified context), knowledge
itself may be a particular *product* of a particular type of 'very
effective action' (i.e., 'very effective' within a specified context). [I
can almost see the frown on your face, dear reader!]

Suppose you are working on a research (or research-like!) project. You are
trying to find out how to get a particular community to adopt more
effective eating habits (now they are eating all kinds of unhygienic and
non-nutritious items, not cleaning their utensils, not washing their hands
properly, etc.). Suppose you are the type of researcher who 'knows' how to
do research (e.g., you have read books on research methods, attended
research training, etc.). So you will, perhaps, do a study of the natural
environment of the community and study their economic and cultural lives,
and come up with a 'better menu' and a 'better eating practice' for them
to adopt. When you communicate this 'result' to the community, they laugh
it away (i.e., the part they understand), and get on with their lives.
Have you been effective as a researcher? Of course, you did not produce
any better eating habit, i.e., you did not produce any effective action
for your target audience. [May be, you produced an effective report for
your sponsor, i.e., effective because you got your money without any
hassle!] But, in the first place, did you take sufficiently 'effective
action' as a researcher?


> "Knowledge consists of encoded structures representing descriptive and
>argumentative assertions that help the systems that created them to live
>and adapt, and which also have survived their tests and evaluations for


This 'survival' Mark talks about is the crux, I think, although different
types of 'survival challenges' seem to arise in knowledge enterprises.
Primarily, two kinds of survival challenges can be recognised, at least!
Challenges that arise from nature (that which we take as nature, i.e.,
that which moves on its own without our request) constitute one basic type
of challenge. Mark is already hinting at it.

Another set of challenges seem to arise from us!!! (What do you say,
Mark?) A slight elaboration of this type of challenge: Suppose we have a
'well-tested and well-evaluated' knowledge that our eating practices
broadly determine our health status. Now, the effectiveness of this also
depends on us. For example, we may develop a new type of activity (called
state-funded health service) that ultimately amounts to a situation in
which poor eating practices do not any more result in poor health status.


> Sadly, this 'truth dimension' to the subject of knowledge is
>conspicuously missing from too many contemporary definitions of the term,
>including the "capacity for effective action' school. It's as if we
>either don't care about truth and falsity, or that we somehow always
>assume that what's in our heads is true.


The truth dimension that Mark talks about is, I think, the same as his
point about 'testing', 'evaluating', etc. Thus it links up to the question
of 'survival' of knowledge. One way to study survival is to study death --
death of knowledge. Knowledges do die and disappear.

"death of knowledge" 261 Google hits
"disappearance of knowledge" 140 Google hits

If you, dear reader, have the time to look some of these up, please do so
and tell us what they are about.


> Is all of the above just useless pontification, of no practical value to
>managers in the real world? Not at all. These ideas translate into a
>style of Knowledge Management strategy and practice that is profoundly
>important to performance in business, but which is as different from
>other styles of KM as democracy is from communism. And yet we tend to
>gloss over them. I will pursue this claim further only if asked to do
>so, for I have already gone on far too long here.

If we need to compare two 'knowledge management strategies', can we prefer
one over the other? Mark suggests that we can (like some among us may
prefer communism). But, the problem with preferences is that they change
in most unsuspecting ways!

I submit that the pathways of knowledge management (or the pathways of
knowledge processes) keep branching so much ('tree of knowledge'),
especially now-a-days, that we are deep in a jungle, in a Web. We need a
knowledge explorer (or knowledge navigator), do we?




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