In every organization, those working with knowledge services generally fall into one of two groups. Some are designated as the organization’s “knowledge strategist” and have an appropriate job description to go with the title. Others are simply management and/or leadership employees with knowledge strategy responsibility, whether formally recognized or just “built-in” to what they do. In either case, for those attempting to deal with the novel coronavirus COVID-19, it is becoming clear knowledge services, with its structural focus on knowledge-sharing, is critical to whatever success we’re going to have with managing and eliminating the pandemic.
And it’s a tough job. Not that we need to be reminded about what’s confronting us, but there are those who are very skilled at capturing what we’re up against. Just last week I saw a clearly stated description of what our global society is experiencing. I can’t remember who said it, but I was shocked at reading that we’re now forced to live “a general glut of horrible news, horrible numbers, and pestilential vibes.”
Not a very attractive way to think about our daily life, but it is, in fact, the way things are. And now, with various models being developed to help us figure out what to expect, we’re looking at a disruption timeframe of anywhere between three weeks to three months, and maybe even longer if the virus swells up again when summer is over.
So what is it, we’re being asked, that brings knowledge services into the picture. The quickest response is to say that, with knowledge services, we strive to think about how the information, knowledge, and learning we have can be used as well as they can be used. That means when we’re asked (by our families and friends, the other people we know, the people we work with, our managers and leaders in the organizations we’re affiliated with, and the many, many civil servants who come to us and ask about knowledge services), we are now positioned to think about how to use the information, knowledge, and learning we have as well as they can be used. And as we talk about how we all can work together to do our work as well as we can, the special group not included in that long list in the last sentence are the true heroes and heroines of the COVID-19 disease, the most important people we must work with, the thousands and thousands of healthcare workers, physicians, nurses, and everyone else who is doing all they can to keep the disease from spreading further.
With knowledge services, we can help them and all the others listed here to codify the steps they can take to ensure that what they know, how they share what they know, and how they can use what they know to come together and apply the intellectual capital they’ve built, to use it as well as it can be used. With knowledge services – which we generally describe as “an approach” to how what we know can be made to work for us – we build in the framework so that knowledge-sharing success and what we’re trying to do are assured.
At the same time, we understand that specific theoretical, functional, and operational principles have become established for both management and leadership, the two management methodologies that connect directly with knowledge services. There is a theory for knowledge services, with functional (strategic) and operational (specific) guidelines that knowledge strategists use to determine that, as knowledge is developed and codified so it can be ultimately used, the critical “piece” of all that we’re working with is sharing, finding ways to enable others to benefit from what we’ve developed and learned (a long-standing principle in military planning, in the many “lessons learned” activities that have been basic since World War II, and probably from long before, although probably described differently in earlier times).
So the basic tenets of knowledge services are established, and I don’t mind – at this point in my career – describing how knowledge services (originally thought of as a management methodology) has turned out to be a knowledge-sharing strategy that can be applied in any environment. Indeed, most of the knowledge strategists I know recognize (and often speak about) how knowledge services is organization-, profession-, or industry-agnostic. Knowledge services is put to use in any situation in which a group of people comes together – no matter how large or how small the group might be – to achieve an agreed-upon goal or objective.
So how do we apply knowledge services – even if we do not use the specific term to characterize what we’re doing and simply employ the principles – to the current harrowing societal situation? How do we ensure that COVID–19 is thought about from a perspective that enables society to move forward and eventually beyond the horrors that the virus is inflicting on us?
There is a positive example, by far the best solution in my opinion I’ve heard for dealing with the current crisis. And it clarifies, as no other example I can think of, how knowledge services works.
New York’s Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, along with many other state and local leaders, is seeking to figure out how to deal with the pandemic (and in New York State COVID-19 is currently at its worst, with – as of this writing – nearly 115,000 confirmed cases, including more than 63,000 in New York City. The state has seen more than 3,500 deaths. These leaders are trying to find ways to ensure that their states can meet the needs of their victims. Gov. Cuomo, not surprisingly to any New Yorkers, recommends a solution that turns out to be both innovative and practical. And, as it happens, since the worst-case situation is in New York State and New York is being hit hardest first, New York is enabled to take on a sharing leadership role unlike that available to any other governing authority or even, it would be expected, any corporate entity. New York can plan to do its part for its own citizens and its medical workers and then go on – in what Gov. Cuomo calls a “national rolling deployment of resources” – to share equipment, staff, and knowledge (those “lessons learned,” as noted above, sharing what they’ve learned and what they know). Then, as the crisis eases in those areas, those states that have received help from New York can share it with other states, as Gov. Cuomo described in his daily briefing on March 24:
While the number of new cases continues to increase unabated, we are exercising all options as aggressively as we can including ramping up testing, isolating those who are infected, closing down nonessential businesses and building hospital surge capacity. The State cannot do this alone, and the blunt truth is we need more ventilators and healthcare equipment fast. We need the federal government to help build this critical equipment. I’m not asking the federal government to help New York just to help New York — I’m asking for everyone. New York is the first — if we learn how to blunt the impact here and bend the curve here, we can help other states that are next. Let’s learn how to act as one nation.
On April 3, Gov. Cuomo published a specific description, clarifying what he was recommending, just to make sure we all understood:
We are facing a hard and urgent truth in New York State right now. We need more ventilators, supplies and healthcare staff to get us through the “apex” of this pandemic. And we can’t get the supplies we need alone. No state can. That’s why I am calling for a national rolling deployment of resources to the areas of greatest need at the time it’s needed.
States will reach their individual apex at different times. New York will be first. So we need to deploy resources from around the country to New York right now. Once we are past the worst of our apex, we will move resources to the next place in need and repeat this process as this virus rolls across the country. Mutual aid will save lives.
New Yorkers will go wherever they need to go, to be of help. New Yorkers will go to the next place that needs them, and when the situation in that location has improved, they will move on to another, clearly willing to go wherever they are needed, for as long as they are needed.
To me, that is knowledge services/knowledge-sharing at its highest level. When we succeed with this, we’ll have the coronavirus COVID-19 on the run. We will also, not coincidentally, have learned how to apply knowledge services in our new, changed society, for society won’t be then as it has been in the past. We will need our own lessons learned and the governor’s framework for rolling deployment in this crisis might be just what we need for the future.