Meet Teppo Raisanen, visiting researcher (from Finland) at Stanford. He works in the Persuasive Technology Lab at the Center for Study of Language and Information. As part of his work, he is writing and implementing tools (mashups) on Wikipedia to help users better comprehend what they read. One of the tools he showed me was a double-click word translator. You could double click on any word in Wikipedia and it would translate it into the language you had set. Teppo’s motivation was to enable non-English-as-first-language readers to use Wikipedia, get translation when they need it, while not breaking their “flow” as they are working to comprehend the given material. Teppo was interested in talking to me as he thought there might be a cross-over with his ideas around comprehension and my ideas about how technology features trigger sensemaking about the technology. I was excited about his work as it raised issues of how people come to understand:
  1. Knowledge management tool features and capabilities
  2. How the tool can be used in a given context
  3. The focal knowledge the tool and context were designed to support
As is often discussed in this blog, technologies alone do not have effects. Effects come from the combined/intertwined aspects of the technology, the organization, and related processes. What occurred to me as I talked to Teppo about implementing his tool was the staging: there are actually at least three stages of comprehension needed if we want technology tools for knowledge management to work. The three stages noted above are an excellent starting point as you plan implementation of knowledge tools, collaboration tools, or other workplace technologies. My concern, however, is that it is a rare setting where all three types of comprehension are considered. Yet without attention to all three it is unlikely that great value will result from a knowledge management tool implementation. Not impossible – especially when the need is so great that the users will put in extra effort – but much less likely. Examples would be appreciated of success stories. Have you been involved in a knowledge management tool implementation where time/effort was made to clarify/discover the features of the tools, how those features might intertwine with the given organizational setting, and then how the tool/setting combination helped with comprehending the specific focal knowledge? Speaking of mashups – create your own Dilbert cartoon punchlines