I3 UPDATE / Entovation International News

a free monthly briefing on the knowledge agenda

No. 44 October 2000





David J. Skyrme


David Skyrme Associates


Contents - Main Feature - Previous Feature - Knowledge Digest


Knowledge Associations

Jerry Ash, The Forbes Group

My hat's off to you, David, because you raised every conceivable issue facing professional and trade associations as well as if you were a seasoned association management consultant. Of course, you are an expert because you are (and have been) a champion associations member (five at one time).

I've been managing associations off and on through the 1980s and 90s and have spent the past few years as a strategic management counselor with The Forbes Group, the leading counselors to senior association management in the U.S. Capital. At the same time, I have been an eager follower of the Knowledge Age phenomenon.

Through this period I have continuously called to the attention of my association clients the fact that the Internet has broken their locks on professional knowledge, torn down the business world silos that supported their narrow focuses, opened limitless outside avenues upon which to form networks and pursue learning, and elevated knowledge as a commodity that is now so valuable that entrepreneurs voraciously compete with associations to provide services that were once left to associations by default.

That said, I also counsel them that associations do still have enviable strengths that can be capitalized on as the knowledge-driven world unfolds. But they must know that everything has changed and that they must become as quick and agile as the best of their members if they are to remain relevant -- for it is their members who are out there on the frontlines of political, social and economic change.

It is with these thoughts that I launched Association KM-Net in January and recruited ultimately 320 senior association executives into an e-mail discussion group. It is fair to say that these people, who represent a broad cross section of the American business and service sectors, were mostly curious and cautiously contemplating whether they should get smart and get busy on this KM thing. A handful were actually engaged in specific knowledge work projects.

As a companion to the discussion group, I added a web page and began publishing EZines primarily to connect the members to the wealth of KM information on the Internet and to keep dialogue going. With so few of them knowledgeable about knowledge, it was clear that discussion would not be spontaneous!

By April, I knew we had to get more "experts" into the group and at the same time my association management mentor, Bruce Butterfield (president and CEO of The Forbes Group) suggested I ought to think about exploding KM-Net into a much larger forum and turn it into an association. The idea excited me; and, I was never one to let a good idea lie around. So, the Association of Knowledgework (AOK) was born and by August it was operational.

I give you this insider history in order to reach your major challenge:

"Knowledge associations," you said, "should be in an ideal position to apply some of the tools and techniques of knowledge management - creating valuable knowledge-bases for the KM community, validating knowledge quality, establishing thriving knowledge exchange networks and trading platforms, influencing the wider business community - by creating a thriving knowledge-based service business and setting a leading example for other professional associations. At the moment," you said, "I don't see any of the current KM associations taking that leadership position - but you may disagree. It could be that until KM is much more widely accepted as a distinct discipline that there is little need for specialist KM networks or associations? It could be that KM is so generic that sharing KM knowledge is adequately addressed by existing professional associations or networks? It could simply be that knowledge professionals do not see the benefits of joining a knowledge association? Let's hear your views."

In one paragraph, you have summarized what keeps me awake at night. I have few of the answers, but I am a practiced observer of the association scene, and I don't see existing associations bridging the gap between their silos and the silos of other association in order to connect their narrow memberships with the interdisicipinary practice of knowledge management. In time, AOK will answer the rest of your questions one way or the other. Does AOK (or any other KM association) have a chance of filling this gap? Here's what I know so far:

We have begun by building a framework where a natural community can form -- a community, I might add, of individuals-not-corporations from all disciplines and from all points on the social/economic/political scale. Though we begin with a patchwork of low-end, low-priced technologies, we are using high touch to make AOK a virtual place where real people meet. In our first month of open enrollment we have attracted 110 new members from outside the association community (and I am so pleased about this) from around the world (Thank you, David, you helped). Some of these new members are icons in the field. Many of them are holders of a variety of KM job titles. The dialogue has leapt up the scale a number of notches. We just signed an agreement with a major new KM affiliate in Australia and exchanged logos on our home pages http://www.knowledgemanagement.com.au.

Are we truly International? Well, I deliberately left "international" out of our name, because I've seen too many US associations claim to be "international" when they are not. But I'm pleased that one of our first CoP moderators is in North Wales and we have the potential of another for our Higher Education CoP in Belarus. The member applications are coming from around the globe and, David, we couldn't be parochial if we wanted!

Still, time will tell whether there is a need for AOK or whether AOK will mature into the quintessential example of a knowledge-based business. But I can say this -- We are building from the ground up primarily on the intellectual capital of our members and I am deeply committed to being one more leader who will use every resource I have -- or am given -- to advance the cause of knowledge work. I'm an association strategist who is putting his money (my savings) where his mouth is. AOK will slowly prove or fail to prove what I've been preaching.

Community and advocacy -- that's always been the mission of an association. In history, associations have always begun at the "kitchen table," with a few believers surrounding a single visionary. This is not the kitchen table -- it's the computer table, and I may not be a "visionary," but I have the dream and I treasure the few who are accompanying me at the beginning of this journey. What a great time to enterprise!

Jerry Ash
Senior Counselor, The Forbes Group
Chief Executive, Association of Knowledgework (AOK)

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© Copyright, 2000. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.

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