Knowledge Hub: A response.

Knowledge Hub: A response.

My colleague Dave Briggs has posted an interesting challenge about the Knowledge Hub – the new community platform for local government – questioning whether it is reaching the parts that the legacy platform used to reach and particularly its relative lack of activity and fairly laboured user experience.

I wasn’t too sure whether or not I should contribute to the discussion, given that I probably have more insight on the history of this project than most people, and as the lead consultant and architect for the project over two years until October 2011, I’m party to some information that I can’t (or shouldn’t) make public.

However, in the light of the comments and feedback I’ve seen on Dave’s original post, I feel compelled to correct a few assumptions.

The original thinking and concept for the Knowledge Hub, which I articulated in a Knowledge Management Strategy paper I was commissioned to produce in 2008 for the Improvement & Development Agency (IDeA, now part of the LGA), was to leverage emerging social web technologies to provide better opportunities for collaboration across local government, encourage innovation and break down the silo’d working practices that were becoming prevalent on the legacy CoP platform.

The fundamental design concept was to map every user’s social graph (people and relationships) against their interest graph (the topics and themes they followed, e.g. housing, environment, planning etc.). I wasn’t to know it at the time, but this is precisely the thinking behind Google+ and specifically Google+ Circles.

Of course, each person’s social and information graph could span both internal (to Knowledge Hub) and external (the web) environments. Consequently the design incorporated facilities to link to conversations happening on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, together with external blogs and RSS feeds. The aggregated feeds would be stitched together using a ‘filterable’ activity stream that included internal (Knowledge Hub) conversations. The user would then see relevant information (i.e. people and topics they had chosen to follow) coming to them rather than having to go out and find it.

Since all content would be tagged (some automatically), aggregated streams would show topics that were trending (similar to what Twitter has recently released as Tailored Trends), thereby helping to manage the information torrent. The system would also support powerful semantic search across all of this content.

The original specification also included support for the development of mobile and web apps, using tools that would enable non-technical users to create these apps, similar to the facilities provided by iBuildApp, but specific to local government data and services.

I noted that one comment referred to local government still being wedded to long and confusing email chains. This was also a consideration in the original design specification, and a feature was included to enable blogging direct from email, i.e. the user didn’t have to learn to use any new tools to create a blog post – they could do it all from their email account.

An important point to note was that the community of practice facilities (as currently being debated on Dave Briggs’ blog) were meant to be a step on the way, and not an end in itself, which is what I think the Knowledge Hub has become. The unfortunate conjunction of original concepts and vastly cut-down capabilities (per the original specification) has resulted in a just-about-adequate user interface (UI), but a fairly hostile user experience (UX). If you’re not sure about the difference between UI and UX, check this blog I posted a while back.

To my mind, this is proving to be the biggest drag on user engagement and activity. Knowledge Hub is a complex system, but a good UX design will ensure this complexity is hidden, and that navigation and actions become intuitive. This can be achieved by being aware at all times about what a user is trying to achieve (e.g. filing a document, writing a blog) and ensuring that:

  • links and sign-posting are contextually relevant
  • each process has a logical flow
  • there are no dead ends
  • action links are defined by verbs (e.g. write a blog, file a document)

If experienced social network/social media users like me, or Dave Briggs, find the environment a little confusing, I can only sympathise with users who are only just starting to embrace the world of the social web.

Since I doubt there will be any major changes made to the UI or UX, the effort falls on the Knowledge Hub support team and community facilitators to ensure that users understand how to get the best out of the system. And this will be hard work.

Going forward, I would encourage the LGA think about re-convening the Knowledge Hub Advisory Group. These were highly experienced knowledge, information and data professionals who helped me to shape the original specification and acted as critical friends throughout the procurement, architecture and design stages. They were disbanded when I left the project and all subsequent strategic design decisions were folded into a small in-house project team. A case of  “none of us are as smart as all of us” perhaps!

I hope I’ve gone some way to setting the record straight on what Knowledge Hub was meant to be. Community of practice facilities were just a small part of a much bigger idea, sadly not realised.

Other blogs in this sequence:






7 thoughts on “Knowledge Hub: A response.

  1. Dave’s post certainly struck a chord with me. Our experience of the CoP had been OK rather than great but I was hoping that the KHub would move us onto a higher level – instead it seems have been a case of two steps back. This post is helpful and reveals a more compex picture than I would have picked up on (and the techie bits will remain beyond me to be honest) – problem is, as you imply, I think, that Joe and Jane Public Sector simply will not engage if the KHub isn’t quick, easy and instinctive to use.

    What I was hoping for is exactly what you describe above:

    “…the design incorporated facilities to link to conversations happening on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, together with external blogs and RSS feeds. The aggregated feeds would be stitched together using a ‘filterable’ activity stream that included internal (Knowledge Hub) conversations. The user would then see relevant information (i.e. people and topics they had chosen to follow) coming to them rather than having to go out and find it.”

    Yes! A sort of super yammer / facebook for the public sector. Spot on!

    Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to look anything like that at the moment.

    My view is that the UI (now I’ve learnt the term!) should be the priority – and should be much simpler. Yammer, facebook and google+ all seem to be using the same basic single stream and with good reason I think. Perhaps if this can be got right then all the other goodies that the KHub can deliver might become visible.

    Unless I’ve missed something of course….

  2. Thanks for the comments Dave and good points. I think the four parallel activity streams on the home page is just one area for overhaul. Coming to this page as a first-time user must be pretty daunting!

  3. Hi Steve, yes, I remember clearly the concept but KHub seems to have suffered as a result of being tossed about like flotsom – I tried to stick with it in the hope it would rediscover its purpose, but it seems to have ended up on a remote and isolated island by mistake. Now I don’t even visit. Is it possible to have web althemiers and foregt the real business justification? Perhaps what it lacks is an enduring belief in itself – why was it created. The need still exists, perhaps even more so now.

    1. Hi Gordon, great to hear from a fellow journeyman! I think your right – it has painted itself into a corner (I love mixing these metaphors!), but it’s a moot point whether that is by mistake or by design. The need does still exist, and we spent long enough on the technology procurement to have some confidence that it could be delivered. However, I don’t see much appetite (or budget?) to deliver to the original spec, and maybe local gov needs to think about what it can do for itself, i.e. bypassing the apparent constraints at LGA.

  4. I’ve just posted this response to comments on Dave’s blog:

    “Lots of good points being made in the discussion thread – open vs. closed, digital natives vs. newbies, and Paul’s deep and philosophical points about knowledge. I doubt I have answers to all of these points, but speaking as an information and knowledge professional with more years behind me than I care to admit, and (unfortunately) a bit opinionated, I would only note the following.

    1. Knowledge repositories are places where knowledge goes to die. They may still be relevant to researchers but are a place of last resort for knowledge workers. Knowledge workers want instant access to information and knowledge, and increasingly rely on search engines to find it.
    2. It’s never been easier to connect with people with same/similar interests, or to find answers from “experts”. Anyone who is not yet fully engaged with the social web is at a distinct disadvantage.
    3. The days of expensive enterprise social software systems (such as Knowledge Hub) are numbered. More and more work can be done using (mainly free) Web2.0 tools. Private/closed environments are becoming niche and specialised, driven mainly by organisations who have compliance and regulatory requirements.
    4. There is a growing market for products and services that help us manage the information torrent. All of the key social networks now provide aggregation, trending and personalisation capabilities. (This had a downside in that by limiting what we want to see we’re all becoming far more parochial).
    5. There’s no such thing as privacy on the web – get over it!
    6. The web has been with us for almost 20 years; social networks for over 10 years. Any workers (managers, staff) who still claim to be digital technophobes in 2012 are a lost cause. Focus effort on those who see the benefits of on-line interaction.
    7. The future is mobile and ‘appified’ (meaning, less and less use of the web, and more and more use of mobile apps).

    Perhaps this has strayed onto wider issues than just the Knowledge Hub, but it does pick up on my earlier point about user experience. We come back to those products and services that are easy to use and provide some value. If the Knowledge Hub meets your needs, then great. If not, you need to question why and/or look for alternatives.”

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