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Community Contribution

The Ivory Tower

Keith de la Rue

Describe The Approaches Utilized To Measure / Assess This KM Initiative: 

The knowms travelled around to monitor progress. They used a range of approaches to assess the results. They measured the output from the farms, and assessed which techniques of spreading the new knowledge had been most successful. From time to time, they spoke to individual serfs and asked them detailed questions about what they were learning. As a serf came into a library to read a scroll, he would be asked to provide feedback. Sometimes they would gather a small group of serfs at a market-place, and ask a range of focussed questions. They asked about which had been most helpful – the scrolls in the library, the songs, the notices or the town criers. Where the farms had not done so well, they asked about how many people had read the scrolls, or listened to the troubadours, and why they thought things had not improved. The knowms assembled the results of this feedback, and worked out where the mission could be improved. Each season, they called together the wise council, and presented their findings. After appropriate discussions, the council would then charge the knowms to make the agreed changes to the mission.



What Do You Think Are The Main Unanswered Questions Or Challenges Related To This Field Of Work?: 

The challenge remaining is: who are the serfs and the wizards in any organisation today? This may sound like a fairy story – but it is a reflection of eight years’ experience in a KM team at Telstra, a large communications and IT provider in Australia. I have found that a way to make this experience more readily applicable is to express it in a metaphorical way – as a fable. Everything reflects reality – the climate change was the emergence of new product technology. The wizards are the product managers; the serfs the sales force. The scrolls are the online documents, the town criers the web news and emails, the troubadours the podcasting, and the mummers the interactive learning. Of course, the knowms are the amazing KM team! (Refer

What Was The Purpose Or Motivation For Assessing This KM Initiative?: 

The knowms were keen to ensure that the mission was achieving its desired results. The king needed to ensure the continuing prosperity of the kingdom, and requested regular progress updates. The wizards needed to be advised of the value of the extra work they were being asked to do, and the serfs needed to know that the improvements were benefitting them and their families.

What Would You Do Differently Next Time?: 

The knowms gathered some time later to discuss the mission, and what they had learned. One suggested that they could have achieved more by actually engaging more of the serfs to assist with spreading the new knowledge. This had not been thought possible at the time, as the serfs were so busy working on their farms. Another stated that the scrolls in the town libraries could have been made more accessible to the serfs, by being organised in a way that helped the serfs to find information more quickly; the serfs themselves could have helped with this process. A third suggested that the assessment process itself may have been more thorough if they had asked the serfs to tell stories about their work, rather than just asking questions.

What Were The Most Important Lessons Learned About The Assessment Process?: 

At each seasonal council meeting, the knowms found that needs were changing. Some techniques of spreading the new knowledge did not work as well as before, and new techniques became viable. They developed new techniques as they were able to. On one occasion, a group of mummers came in from another kingdom, and they worked with them to develop a play-act of some new farming techniques. As the mummers performed their new play-act across the kingdom, they had the serfs join them on stage to act out the new ways. The knowms arranged for harvest competitions to be held, with prizes awarded in the market places for the best crops and the healthiest animals. They posted notices of major achievements, and did all they could to make the new ways of farming popular with all the people. They also arranged for the most helpful wizards to be recognised by the king for their work. It also seemed each season that new and more compelling methods of reinforcing the need for the mission and its benefits were needed – both with the wizards and the serfs. Left alone, many could easily go back to their old ways.

What Advice Would You Give To Others Based On Your Experience?: 

Some knowms were sent to other kingdoms to provide advice on similar problems. They talked about the importance of using a wide range of tools for spreading new knowledge. They said that the new farming ways had to become as accepted and understood as traditional ways were. They emphasised the importance of understanding both the needs of the serfs and the motivations of the wizards. They advised that everything must be done to meet the needs of the kingdom, and that all participants needed to take full responsibility for their parts in this. Finally, they stressed that working with the people themselves was paramount – that people were more important than scrolls and musical instruments, and even more important than the ivory tower.

Describe The KM Initiative: 

Once upon a time, in a remote kingdom, the serfs who farmed the land were beset by a problem. The rainfall was decreasing, the crops and pastures were failing and the cattle were dying. In this kingdom, there also lived a community of wise and knowledgeable wizards in an ivory tower. They knew that the climate was changing; they researched the problems, and began to discover solutions. The serfs went to the ivory tower and asked for help, but the wizards spoke in their own arcane language, which the serfs found difficult to understand. They tried to follow the wizards’ advice, but they could not get the results they needed. The king could see that the people were suffering. He summoned a council of wise people, including wizards, serfs and troubadours. Amongst the troubadours there was a group with special skills of learning and communication called “knowms”. They understood both the wizards and the serfs. The council sent a team of knowms out with a mission – to help the wizards and serfs work together to improve the farms. The knowms went to the ivory tower, and talked to the wizards. They wrote out new scrolls in a language the serfs could understand, and showed the wizards how to do this themselves. They also talked to the serfs and others, and assessed the best ways to distribute the new farming ways. The knowms taught songs to the troubadours about the new ways, and sent them out to the taverns and markets in the towns and villages to sing to the people. They took summary scrolls out to the town leaders to store in the town libraries. They asked the town criers to announce the news around the towns. As the serfs applied the new knowledge, they also told others about their successes. As the knowms continued their work, they ensured that new knowledge was distributed as it was developed, and that the scrolls were kept up to date.




This case was submitted as part of the KM Impact Challenge in 2011. The challenge was sponsored by USAID's Knowledge-Driven Microenterprise Development project, as a key part of the project’s Assessing & Learning component, which sought to improve the understanding of how investing in learning can increase and extend the overall impact of USAID's development efforts.

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