[Editor’s Note: We welcome Guest Contributor Johel Brown-Grant, Ph. D. Johel is Knowledge Management Analyst, Office of Inspector General United States Postal Service, Washington, DC. His Twitter contact is @KMbyDrGrant and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. We are extremely pleased to share Johel’s “review” of the conference with clients and colleagues. — GStC]
KMWorld, one of the country’s leading knowledge management organizations, recently (Nov. 2-5) celebrated its Knowledge Management and Enterprise Solution conference in Washington, DC. At this year’s conference, the 10th since its inception in 2006, the theme was Agile Knowledge Sharing and Innovation. Within that framework, the conference offered attendees three closely integrated programs: Enterprise Search and Discovery, SharePoint Symposium, and Taxonomy Bootcamp, along with several workshops and sessions on content, document management, and knowledge management. With the event now concluded, I’m happy to offer some reflections on the conference’s contributions, successes and challenges, and, most important, its overall impact on the KM community.
From its opening, the most salient aspect of the KMWorld 2015 conference was the wide variety of topics and subjects dealing with processes (such as knowledge discovery and knowledge transfer), people (as in stakeholders and champions), and tools (as in mobile platforms and search systems). Though there was a diversity of topics, they were all carefully organized in thematic tracks based in the overall conference theme. The experience was further enriched because the sessions were held in several contiguous meeting rooms located in a relatively small area of the JW Marriot Hotel. The close proximity of the meeting rooms allowed easy navigation between conference sessions and created an intimate setting that favored the free flow and exchange of ideas.
The conference had a decidedly practitioner slant; yet still, there was an interesting balance between theory and practice. Attendees had several opportunities to hear presentations focusing on theories related to machine learning, human cognition, cognitive computing and other subjects. On the other hand, topics such as implementation of knowledge strategies, getting stakeholder buy-in and practical ideas for innovation satisfied the needs of practitioner-focused audiences.
Particularly positive were the various keynotes offered during the conference; not only did they cover a range of topics and experiences, but the speakers themselves reflected a wide spectrum of companies and industries. Another gratifying aspect of the keynotes was the variation in presentation approaches: there were traditional single speakers, single topics tackled by multiple speakers, and keynotes delivered in the form of panel discussions. This allowed attendees to engage keynote topics and speakers in more creative ways, and gave them a much richer perspective of trends in the field. The multiple daily keynotes were a very interesting alternative to the regular smaller sessions, because they offered a chance to listen to a greater number of people exchanging ideas and debating subjects. Even though the exchanges between attendees and keynote speakers were, at times, logistically complicated, given the size of the rooms where the keynotes occurred, they were still strong and interactive. And attendance for most of the keynotes was nearly at capacity, with some sessions being standing room only. Ultimately, the keynotes were great because many of them dealt with actual KM problems and issues facing many professionals.
The conference did, however, offer some interesting challenges. Even though there was a strong industry presence at the event, the representation from higher education was meager. Not only were there a very small number of academic presenters, there was a total absence of academic sponsors. With a growing number of graduate programs focusing on knowledge management and knowledge services, it was a disappointment not to see any representation of these academic programs at the conference. In this context, the impression given is that higher education is not playing a significant role in advancing the field. Another challenge for the conference was the total absence of topics or discussions related to health care. This was a big surprise, since healthcare is a field that shows significant promise and potential for KM and knowledge services, given the great leaps in the areas of information and records management. It was disappointing not to have KM health care practitioners among the speakers and panelists; the conference would have had more depth and richness had these perspectives been included.
I discovered other potential challenges for the conference in informal conversations and through anecdotal observations. Speaking with several attendees I noticed a general sense of satisfaction with the overall conference; however, there seemed to be an undercurrent desire for more sessions to help individuals fill gaps in their knowledge of the main tenets and practices in the field. Some of the individuals I spoke with felt that the sessions dealt with too many abstract concepts, but offered very little in terms of basic, practical ideas and resources to address real KM problems in their organizations. Many of these individuals attended the conference because they lacked formal training or experience in the field and were looking for ways to strengthen their background knowledge.
The highlight of the event, however, was the knowledge café which took place on the final day of the conference in the Grand Ballroom. Seventeen facilitators hosted small groups to discuss and debate specific KM topics; attendees later switched tables to discuss new subjects with other individuals. The event was successful because it created intimate spaces where experts and novices and practitioners and theoreticians could engage with each other directly and learn from each others’ experiences and backgrounds. More conferences should offer opportunities and spaces for these types of engagements. Simply put, they are the best ways to participate in the kind of informal learning that facilitate the transfer of tacit knowledge.
KMWorld 2015 successfully offered attendees a chance to explore, debate and discuss a wide variety of topics; it enabled spaces for formal and informal exchange and analysis; and it presented a clear view of the emerging trends in the field of knowledge management.