Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Bringing Knowledge, Relationships, and Experts Together

By Dennis D. McDonald

Remember near the end of the first MATRIX movie, our heroes were fighting it out on the roof of an office building. They needed a helicopter – fast:

  • Tank: Operator.
  • Trinity: Tank, I need a pilot program for a V-212 helicopter. Hurry…. Let’s go.

Trinity, already a member of a tightly knit community, knew the right person to call, got a download of her program, and the rest is history.

Are we there yet? No, but we are seeing a revolution in how people use information technology to organize information to answer questions and solve problems. And a lot of this has to do with “knowing the right people to call.”

Consider the ease with which specialized groups can form, evolve, and metastasize via “social networking” technologies. At one level, this is little more than the technological enablement of that the old saying, “birds of a feather flock together.” Except now, this “flocking together” happens rapidly, continuously, and worldwide. Many of us who use social networking technologies can probably cite numerous instances where we have developed strong relationships – with people we’ve never met face to face.

What I’m looking for goes beyond developing highly specialized relationships. When I have a question or a problem, I want to be able to immediately figure out who is willing, qualified, and able to help me solve it. Since problems and questions come in every shape and size, some sublime, and some ridiculous, I want my Instant Knowledge system to help me distinguish and locate an appropriate trusted source – an expert

And I want that to happen instantly – or at least as quickly as possible. Just as today I can use Google and other search engines to locate information on just about any topic, I also want a system that enables me to locate information I can trust, and the basis for that trust, I think, will be based on a combination of third party validation (i.e., people who know things policing a body of knowledge) together with trusted relationships (i.e., people I know and trust).

And just as today I can use a variety of publicly available services to register and publicize my own bookmarking, tagging, and ranking behavior, I want to be able to navigate such systems in real time to locate answers to current questions; I want to be able to use them not just to browse related information but to help answer specific questions and solve specific problems.

If I’m looking for a new recipe for salmon on the grill, that’s one thing. If I’m looking for a brain surgeon, that’s another. (If you’ve ever have to search for a good brain surgeon you will appreciate the challenge!)

I’m not saying that a single system might be able to solve all needs for handling all questions or problems. But I do see that advances in how social networking and knowledge representation will move us along the way to improved decision-making could have a powerful influence on the evolution of institutions and professions.

If the possibility of “instant knowledge” exists, or “just in time knowledge management,” what implications does that hold for the educational process? Does that mean you can afford to learn less if expertise is only a keyboard away? Why memorize facts when Google is out there? Why learn long division if a cheap hand calculator will do the trick? Why continually scan increasingly lengthy and numerous data feeds if you can pick up the phone (or send an email to) a trusted expert – part of your network – to get a knowledgeable and trusted response to your question? Will this type of a system threaten existing traditional professional gatekeeping and certification processes?

Copyright (c) 2006 by Dennis D. McDonald

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