Re: [xmca] From epistemic hospitability to material intelligence

From: Bruce Robinson <bruce who-is-at>
Date: Sat Oct 27 2007 - 13:41:17 PDT

Worthen, Helena Harlow wrote:
> All of these hover around my central interest, which is the often unspoken (sometimes called "tacit") knowledge that people working develop and share about how to get the work done. For example: a class which we have been asked to teach in November will take place at a plant where the workers are represented by the grainmillers' union. This is an old plant. Under the original management, the workers essentially ran the plant -- they had the knowledge and the means to run the plant efficiently and safely. Then the plant was sold and new management came in. This new management took an adversarial position against the union and attempted to take over control of the work without fully understanding how it was done (without exploring the social practices related to the working knowledge of the plant?). A bitter, non-productive culture developed. Now another new management has taken over, and this new management has gone to the union and together they have approached us to teach a class to the supervisors that is essentially about getting them to respect the working material knowledge that the workers have developed. "Leave us alone and we'll run the plant better than you can ever do it," the union is saying.
> I would appreciate a continuation of this discussion of this topic.
> Thanks -- Helena Worthen
> _

I'm very interested in topic of tacit and 'on the job' knowledge both
from the union point of view and also its relevance to information
systems. The story you tell could be repeated a hundred times and is one
of the major reasons for information systems failures, particularly in
national government where the list is particularly long. How many
millions of pounds has been wasted on the assumption that consultants
know better than workers how to do their jobs (or that if they don't,
that they know how to get rid of the workers' skills and / or their
jobs). As you're probably aware, recently the field of knowledge
management has appeared in management theory and it tries to get tacit
knowledge out in the open and written down (not possible really) so that
management can appropriate it.

I'd be interested to know how your course works out. I have a vague
memory (most of my memories are vague) of having read a paper about the
failure of technological changes related to grain elevators - that would
be back in the early 90s - but can't recall the details at the moment.

I too would be interested in continuing this discussion.

Bruce Robinson

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Received on Sat Oct 27 13:48 PDT 2007

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