I haven’t talked much about my day job, so I thought I might change that up. I work at a local university and although my title is IT Coordinator, my daily work is more analogous to a knowledge manager. So today I’m going to share some of what I do in my job, and some of the challenges in knowledge management as a field.
What do you do in knowledge management?
You can have a knowledge manager in a variety of industries, in everything from IT (my field) to fast food or retail. It’s a newer discipline that started in the nineties (according to Wikipedia).
As part of the department Knowledge Management, I’m most concerned with collecting and sharing knowledge about IT. Our goal is to empower technicians and customers with the information they need to solve their technology problems. We do this primarily through the cultivation of our external and internal knowledge bases.
The external KB is visible to customers as well as employees, and mostly includes how-to articles. You can visit it to learn more about a service offering, or to get support for specific issues. For example: How do I install Office 2016 on my Windows computer? How do I manage a listserv?
The internal knowledge base is for IT employees-only, and includes procedural documents as well as articles on how to solve tech problems.
Challenges in knowledge management
So what kind of challenges does a person face in knowledge management? Some of it you might expect, but other stuff is juicy, and without clear answers.
Here are some of the things we’ve dealt with:
- Writing for a wide audience.
- Translating work from something a technician will understand to something a customer will understand.
- Editing colleagues’ work.
- Creating an in-house style guide.
- Determining what tools the KM team needs (like access to the AP Stylebook online) and procuring them.
- On-going training in editing and writing.
When I came to KM, it was a great department, but I’m not convinced it was agile or up to date with modern KM trends. It also wasn’t quite the well-oiled, writing/editing powerhouse that I know it can be.
Writing for the web
KM writes mostly for the web.
Writing successfully for the web requires a writer to come to the page with a different mindset than the one they use for print.
For example, it’s important to use short paragraphs and simple sentences. Partly, this is because you’re writing for a wide audience. But it’s also due to visuals and attention span. So, one of our challenges has been to change the way we write.
I’ve come across some pretty neat tools for this, though. There’s even a government website called Plainlanguage.gov that includes useful recommendations about communicating so that “your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.”
I can’t say that I’ve personally mastered writing for the web, but working in KM has definitely given me the opportunity to grow in this area.
There’s also a WordPress plugin called Yoast that I’ve found personally helpful to this end. It’s a big plugin, but includes something called “readability,” which evaluates your writing style and makes suggestions.
Yoast uses the Flesch score to measure the readability of your writing. I’d never heard of such a thing before using Yoast, and was interested to learn that my normal writing style is a bit overdeveloped. I think it’s helped me write in simpler (and more active) language.
Varying how we deliver content
The internet has grown beyond all-text information delivery, and so should we. To that end, we’ve made efforts to experiment with GIFs, video tutorials, and infographics.
Web accessibility wasn’t always a concern at my work, but it is now. There’s been a large effort to make our online content accessible for as many people as possible. It’s a slow change, but it’s definitely happening.
Growing Toward the Future
Change doesn’t happen over night (especially in big bureaucratic institutions). But incremental change can net large results in the long run. I like to think we’re moving toward a more modern KM, and I’m excited to be part of that future.