Shelflife …

A rather interesting post by Darcy Lemons over at APQC about the shelflife of knowledge … or, how long should we retain knowledge? Interesting question. This is a question which frequently comes up whenever there is a discussion about a content management system. People usually come up with the question of how old is too old. Especially if you talk to technology firms, this question becomes even more pertinent, because a particular solution which would work with a particular release of a software would, in all probability, not work in a newer release.

My take on this … its not the age, rather, the relevance of knowledge which matters. Again, lets take an example … or rather, lets extend the earlier example. While the solution which worked on an earlier version of the software may not work in the newer version, if you are supporting the older version of the software, this knowledge is important for you. In other words, this knowledge may not be useful for implementation projects, but quite useful for sustenance projects. Hence, its not about the age, but about relevance … or, shall we say usage? Because, in a content management system, for example, relevance can be determined by usage. If people are using some knowledge elements, then they are in all probability still relevant, even if they are dated. Lets take the example Darcy has taken … if tomorrow we decide to do away with cars and trucks, and decide to go back to horse drawn carriages, there are still parts of Delhi where the expertise is alive and kicking. More on that later …

The issue here is, the people who generated the knowledge in the first place, may ot longer be around. How, then, do we attempt to recreate something which, in all probability, has already been created. This is an area where the entire idea of social computing can be quite useful. Lets illustrate this … a lot of people, when writing books about history, or topics about which not much knowledge exists today, refer to papers, documents, plaques, photographs, archaeological remains, etc., of the topic they are writing about. For example, I just completed reading a book titled In the Shadow of the Great Game … by Narendra Singh Sarila (though i have no idea how some folks get the idea that this is a partisan book … its anything but that, but then, thats my opinion … you are free to have your own) … and here, the author has extensively quoted sources, including official archives, personal papers, etc. … Personal diaries, for example, are a description of the then current events … as such, they become a valuable source of information about things that were happening, as well as the opinions of people (stakeholders?) about these. Somewhat similar to blogs?

From this description, we could go on to the possibility that blogs, discussion fora, and other, similar platforms could be a good way of preserving the thoughts of people about contemporary events … whether outside, or within the organization.


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