Is an asynchronous knowledge cafe possible? Part 3

Hi all

This is a much longer than usual blog. Apologies for that but not for the very interesting message from Juanita.

I had an exchange this morning with Juanita Foster-Jones about asynchronous cafes in another medium. I’ve reproduced it here with Juanita’s permission. Comments?


From Juanita

Interested in this. I haven’t participated in knowledge cafes but I have participated in asynchronous communities of practice – which I think is quite similar. One example of this is SCOPE community of practice. This is a group of educational learning technologists led by Sylvia Currie who would have themed asynchronous discussions. Format of these has been along the lines of

  • A discussion topic is announced, with a moderator that is set to run over a finite period of weeks
  • Moderator may make a presentation, either live webinar or recorded or just put some resources in the discussion area with notes
  • Questions may come from the participants or moderator and are discussed over the period of the topic
  • Participants can join in to the bits that interest them, share resources, and their may be live events throughout
  • Group wikis and resource banks have been created as a result of these

What makes this work is the clearly defined time. Yes it is asynchronous but you have a limitation on this. This means you get a body of people together over a set period, so have posts coming in and chance to interact with a known group and know you will get a response. This helps build the community, you have shared understanding, a common purpose to the discussion.

In terms of knowledge cafes isn’t the whole point that it is real time? That it is face to face?  If it is just about knowledge sharing that can be done online, asynchronous ways, but maybe not in the same format that you have for a face to face or video based online gathering.

E.g. Break out rooms – these might be break out discussions over a period of a few days within the larger programme. Different discussions in different rooms. The point with break outs in face to face is to break a large group into smaller ones so every one can talk. But in an asynchronous discussion then it is easier to have your say, because you can think, write and post and not be talked over/have a short time to get it all in.

Coming to a consensus and feedback into main group – again in asynchronous if you assign people roles e.g. for/against/moderator/note taker you can all come up with an agreed summary of the discussion. Or this could be done on a wiki page which is then shared with wider group.

As with any activity that you are taking from face to face into online I would say focus first on what you are wanting to achieve from it, and then think about which technology would best allow that. You may find it is a combination.

Juanita Foster-Jones

My reply

That’s fascinating, Juanita – I really like the idea of a hybrid feature in a community of practice. Beyond that:

1. You’re right that breakout room discussions are one of the key features of knowledge cafes. But there are many aspects of the breakout rooms, in either the face to face cafes or in the digital cafes that David Gurteen has been running this Summer. The trick seems to be to identify all those aspects and imagine/discover whether they are critical to the success of knowledge cafes (which are synchronous). Without them (as we would have to be in asynchronous) would knowledge cafes work so well?

For example:

  1. Spontaneous – it might be that not knowing until seconds before you start having the conversation who it is you’ll be talking with means you are relaxed enough to access or communally create ideas which don’t come if one thinks too much.
  2. Face to face – it might be that body language as people react in the moment during the discussion provides inspiration to the participants. Interestingly,  the David Gurteen digital cafes allow even more observation of body language than is possible in the full discussion that happens after the breakout sessions
  3. No record – In face to face the conversations aren’t recorded, which again might remove some inhibitions and the temptation in the second etc round of breakout discussions to check what exactly was said earlier and build on that

2Answers to  “what are we trying to achieve” are usually deliberately absent in face to face or digital knowledge cafés other than perhaps “to have an inspirational conversation”.  You would think that would make it unattractive in a work environment, but in fact they have been really well appreciated onsite (see David’s website), with plenty of evidence that they turn out to be very useful in unpredicted and thoroughly business- like ways. It’s hard enough to keep a strong sense of purpose from arising in face to face cafes – it would be next to impossible in asynchronous, I think.

3.     It isn’t even the purpose of knowledge cafes to reach a consensus: it can be just as valuable to come up with a variety of ideas and recognise them.

Best wishes and thanks


Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)

07540 659255 / 01604 686797

twitter: @dionl

Is an asynchronous knowledge café possible? Part 2

Thanks everyone for contributing – it has been a really interesting discussion so far, and of course the opportunity to comment is still there for everyone!

Effect of asynchronicity on café breakout/table discussions

So far we’ve concentrated on the effect of asynchonicity on the breakout/table discussions. We think that contributions to the conversation would tend to be more thoughtful and refined, and less spontaneous, with the extra time asynchronicity would provide us (David, RobR, Mike). That might mean this alternative model would be more appropriate for discussions that need tangible advances (RobR) rather than “pure” conversation. Mike also wonders whether we need a name other than café for this kind of interaction, and that makes me think this might be where the value of the café as a process could start to be defined, if we wanted to do that. RobS wonders whether the more considered nature of the asynchronous would make people less interested in contributing, and whether that’s a hint towards what holds people together in discussions.

I’ve been wondering about the other stages as well.

  • In asynchronous the participants probably wouldn’t hear the presentation/talk at the same time. Does it make a difference to people’s appreciation of what is said, and the value of their later contributions, if they are aware of others listening?
  • What if the participants chose not to listen to the talk? That would surely devalue the post talk discussions?
  • Would participants in each breakout room have to be aware of who else was going to be there, and would that change the nature/value of the discussion, with issues of deference, ego and so on? It might be possible for participants to be anonymised to avoid that!
  • Would a participant’s experience of contributing be devalued by not being heard while they were doing it?
  • Would the existence of an audio/visual record, which participants in later rounds could refer to, spoil the effect of open-hearted discussion?

Some (Mike and Chris) have suggested we might give this a go in real life. Well I hadn’t intended to, but why not?

But before that

I wonder if there’s anything more we can get out of this as a thought experiment. Does the imagining we’re doing right now help gently work out what is so unique, and so valuable, about the synchronous digital knowledge cafés most of us experienced earlier this year?

Very best wishes all


Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)

07540 659255 / 01604 686797

twitter: @dionl

Is an asynchronous knowledge café possible?

After a period of experimenting, David Gurteen ran his first commercial Zoom Knowledge Café in April 2017. I was fortunate to be involved in the experiments and the commercial Café, and they set me wondering.

Ten years ago, with just about everyone else, I didn’t believe a knowledge café could work digitally – there were too many technical and psychological features that were suited only to face-to-face conversation. And yet now the digital café seems to work very well. Here’s my blog post about the April event to demonstrate that


So while we’re in the mood to be surprised, what about synchronicity – is that essential, the way we thought face- to- face was?
Today I’m pretty sure an asynchronous knowledge café just wouldn’t work. Surely people couldn’t join in, leave and re-join whenever they wanted, and record their contribution even if there was nobody in the café right then? And that’s what an asynchronous café would be.
Wouldn’t it break some of the principles from which knowledge café benefits derive, and anyway technology wouldn’t support it. But those are the same class of objections I had to the idea of digital knowledge cafes, and they work now!

Wouldn’t it be good if asynchronous did work?

Just think: with digital cafes we don’t have to get everyone together in the same place – with asynchronous cafes we wouldn’t even have to get them together at the same time.

I want to be very clear about this: I’m a great fan of knowledge cafes, and I don’t want to make things awkward with the outlandish idea of asynchronicity. In fact, it’s because I like them so much that I want to understand them better, and this sort of thought experiment seems very unlikely to do them any harm, while helping us explore them.

Would you like to join in thinking about this?

Here are the essential stages of a knowledge café, extracted from .

What truly would NOT work in a digital asynchronous mode, where people could come and go, listen and contribute as their own time priorities allowed them?

  1. Gather 12-24 people to have a conversation
  2. Have someone make a 15-20 minute presentation to the participants on a topic that matters to them
  3. Divide the participants into smaller conversation groups of 3 or 4 and invite them to talk amongst themselves about a question set by the speaker
  4. After an appropriate time (in synchronous mode this would be 20 minutes or so), rearrange the conversation groups and invite them to discuss again
  5. Repeat at least once more
  6. Have all the participants come together for a further 20 minutes, where they continue the discussion

Let’s see if each step could be arranged so participants could join in when they wanted. And if anything needed to change to make that possible, would it destroy the effectiveness of a café?

Please contribute by commenting below, and let’s see if we can explore the essence of a knowledge café by discovering what “harm”, if any, the asynchronous challenge would do.

Best wishes all


Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)

07540 659255 / 01604 686797

twitter: @dionl

New Public Commentary dates for British Standard on Knowledge Management (updated 20170913)

I promised in my last post about BS ISO 30401 Human resource management –Knowledge management system (2 September 2016) that I would blog with any updates I spot.

For most of the time since the draft ISO 30401 was passed to National Standards Organisations for review, the public commentary dates have been showing on BSI Standards Development site as 10/08/2017.

In fact that has been delayed while the ISO working group consider the pre-consultation draft: it seems the date for release of the draft for Public Comments in the UK is now 7 December 2017.

The publication date has been moved now to 4 January 2019! Let’s hope it has been waiting for. It bothers me that such little public sense of urgency signals that a sense of enthusiasm is missing. Not among those of us who teach, consult or implement Knowledge Management – come on committees!

On the plus side, there will still be an opportunity for public comments in the winter and early Spring, which we all thought had passed.

Here’s the link to the appropriate page on BSI’s website

Dion Lindsay
Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)
07540 659255 / 01604 686797
twitter: @dionl

New public comments dates for British Standard on Knowledge Management

I promised in my last post about BS ISO 30401 Human resource management –Knowledge management system (2 September 2016) that I would blog with any updates I spot.

For most of the time since the draft ISO 30401 was passed to National Standards Organisations for review, the public comments start date has been showing on BSI Standards Development site as 08/02/2017, and finishing in April 2017.

In fact my great contact at BSI’s great Knowledge Centre has emailed me to let me know that was an error: it seems the date for release of the draft for Public Comments is 10 August 2017, with public comments closing on 11 October.

The publication date for the standard has been moved now to 5 September 2018.

So though the eagerly awaited release of the final, approved standard is put off by a few months, there will still be an opportunity for public comments, which we all thought had passed.

Here’s the link to the appropriate page on BSI’s website!

Dion Lindsay

Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)

07540 659255 / 01604 686797

twitter: @dionl

Kwik Fit and Knowledge Management: a morning in the life

A great experience this morning combining Kwik Fit Plus, observation windows, and Rhem KMAnthony Rhem’s Knowledge Management in Practice. Time for new tyres so off to Kwik Fit Plus Northampton 10 miles away, to beat the rush with a 9 am appointment

KM and the art of Car Driving

As I often do, musing on how experienced driving does mirror elements of knowledge management that I teach and use in helping organisations.

  • Data: what I’m reading on the dashboard
  • information: gantries telling me traffic conditions ahead
  • knowledge: anticipating that the car in front is driving too fast for the bend he can’t yet see

Kwik Fit Plus and team work

Lots of signs of team work and flexibility: staff in badged fleeces, receptionists Kwik Fit Plus Northampton

moving in and out of the service areas to keep communication going, able to answer my questions about the quality of the tyres I’m having fitted.



Serious KM Questions

Settle down to read The Case for Implementing Knowledge Management (Rhem, Anthony (2017) Knowledge Management in Practice. Boca Raton: CRC Press , pp 19-33). Like a lot of the book it’s an addictive read with sometimes a breathless pace and enough knowingly left unsaid to keep me engaged.

By the time I’ve read 6 pages I have some questions I’m desperate to find answers for (index annoyingly little help – in a book about KM!), and ideas for at least a couple of blog posts:

  • how close can we convincingly get to calculating ROI for KM? (always closer than I thought)
  • are that many KM initiatives software based?

Observation wall

To give the ideas a little settling time, I watch the Kwik Fit fitters through the observation wall.

A mesmerising mix of technology, process and humanity. A small screen tells each fitter what’s the next process (and prevents moving on until the last one is performed). Everything – tools, car, tyres, screen are ideally placed to keep the momentum up.

And I get a view of my car from the ground that bonds me better with the beast that I drive every day. I’m sure that kind of familiarisation speeds the adoption of information to useable knowledge!

The fitters are working in quite a small space, but never even look like in holding each other up. Each tyre goes on like the last one.

Job done.

My FocusI make up a mnemonic to remember the questions I want the answers. Back at the office. I know – I’ll write a blog post – it’s been a fruitful morning already of practical KM thinking…


Dion Lindsay
Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)
07540 659255
01604 686797
twitter: @dionl

Is it possible to run Knowledge Café’s digitally?

I was privileged to be one of the participants in David Gurteen’s experiments with Zoom video conferencing back in January 2017.

David is famous for having designed the Knowledge Café process, teaching it and running Cafes around the world.

David thinks Zoom ( ) might be the answer to the urgent “how do we do Knowledge Café’s digitally?”

And judging by the pilot training course he ran last Thursday, I think he’s right.

I and 15 other invited participants, from 3 continents, took part using our own laptops. The activity took place on the cloud, with a small software download to each person’s laptop to make the communication work.

Mimicking a face to face Knowledge Cafe

In the initial interactions, the Zoom functionality will be very familiar to anyone who has taken part in a webinar.

But the familiarity soon fades. At first look Zoom’s overwhelming difference is that it allows the key features of a Knowledge Café to be mimicked faithfully in a digital environment:

  • Mimicking the speaker presentation: in “gallery” view, each participant can see and hear the speaker and all the participants, each in their own video window, displayed simultaneously
  • Mimicking small group conversations: the host (David in last Thursday’s case) can allocate participants to groups of 3 or 4, and the gallery view is replaced with a view of the “breakout room” the participant is in – the room consists of 3 or 4 simultaneous video windows with full interactive video and audio
  • Mimicking the whole group conversation – gallery view again

Can digital provide an even richer Knowledge Café?

I said that Zoom’s key difference AT FIRST LOOK is it’s ability to mimic a Knowledge Café, and the point is not that it might not be able to live up to it – I’ve taken part in 4 hours of digital Knowledge Café’s now and the technology seems robust and reliable (the only likely limiting factor is the broadband uploading minimum speed of 1.5 mbps which shouldn’t be a problem in most business environments).

The point is that there are extra features that might make a digital Knowledge Café even richer than the face-to-face variety. To name only two for now:

  • In the plenary sessions every participant gets to see each of the others in face-on mode – each in a separate video box in a “gallery” array. For anyone interested (as I am) in body language this means it’s possible to see everyone’s reactions equally – which can’t be done round a long table or in a conference hall
  • There is a chat facility which runs alongside the video conferencing, which in our experiments in January and our training last Thursday we used pretty thoroughly. We were able to share notes and ideas without disrupting the flow of the plenary sessions


This was excellent training in running digital Knowledge Cafés: as a participant I had very little to learn to make it work, and I gather from David as the host it was the same for him.

None of us knew of any other video conference service with the same “gallery” and “breakout room” facilities, which are so essential to a digital Knowledge Café.

I am keen to blog more about my experience of digital cafes, and would love to read your questions.

Please comment/post questions below or get in touch at

Dion Lindsay

Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)

07540 659255 / 01604 686797

twitter: @dionl

What counts as Knowledge Management software?

Running a workshop last Thursday on Practical Knowledge Management for Information Professionals reminded me that perceptions of Knowledge Management are changing where it matters – the coalface/workplace. And this is at least partly under the pressure of sales-driven talk about the KM capabilities of just about every piece of business software.

So what counts as KM technology?

The point shared by all Knowledge Management theoreticians (and every practitioner that I know of), is that KM recognises there are more intellectual resources than data and information involved in decision making, and KM tries to make those resources available in useful ways. Those extra resources can include the expertise, experience and the sheer “nous” of the decision maker, and of those people he or she consults.
Knowledge can even wonderfully include what is discovered and used collaboratively before it has time to be documented!

So when I see a platform, or piece of software, claiming to deliver KM benefits, here are 3 things I look for. If it has any of these I (as MD of Real Knowledge Management) tentatively add it to my list of KM products and promise myself I’ll investigate further

1. Does it enable decision makers to access the tacit knowledge of the organisation so they can apply it to the context in which they are working?
2. Does it provide people working together on a particular problem, opportunity, invention or whatever, with the ability to discover more than the data and information already publicly available in the organisation?
3. Does it help the individual, or the team, apply the intellectual resources they’ve gathered, to the particular context they’re working on so that they make better decisions?

In a post in the near future I will be listing some KM products and explaining why they qualify!

Dion Lindsay
Managing Director
Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)
07540 659255/01604 686797

Knowledge Management Standards have an important role to play

There’s good news for Knowledge Managers, HR strategists and Communications experts. The draft ISO 30401 Knowledge Management Standard has completed its work group drafting stage[1]. For the rest of this year it will be reviewed by National Standards Organisations including the British Standards Institution.

I will be blogging about developments in the National Standards Organisations review of ISO 30401 as I become aware of them – let’s hope by this time next year we have a modern BSI publication on KM to add to the current suite!

In the meantime, for all you KM enthusiasts and stalwarts, BSI KM publications (written in the early 2000s) are still available and they still provide fascinating hints and food for thought about what is important in KM:

  • PAS[2] 2001:2001 Knowledge Management was based on PricewaterhouseCooper’s experience, and takes a strongly human-centred view
  • PD 7502:2003 Guide to measurements in Knowledge Management includes a chapter on Return on Investment for KM, and a few pages on linking KM measures to reward, which was a hot topic in 2003 and has never really gone away
  • PD 7506:2005 Linking knowledge management with other organisational functions and disciplines. A guide to good practice among other things reviews the case for treating KM less as a function and more as a competence. Industry experience this century has shown the tendency for KM to be seen as a change management function, with the ‘loss’ of KM departments as KM practices have become established.

It’s a shame that BSI publications remain so expensive (£200-£250 for non BSI members), but for Knowledge Managers and others in organisations with budgets to cope, these are still great scene setters. A full list of BSI Committee KMS1 – Knowledge Management Systems publications is available at

Dion Lindsay

Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)

07540 659255 / 01604 686797

twitter: @dionl


[1] For this news I am grateful to Ron Young of Knowledge Associates

[2] PAS documents are commissioned by industry leaders to satisfy a perceived immediate business need, PD (Published Document) is a catchall category including but not restricted to formal Standards

Drowning in data or waving?

How true is it that we are drowning in data? There is a lot of data which is the incidental creation of processes – if I pay with my credit card a computer somewhere has a record, if I buy a bus ticket the ticket machine will hold the data for a while, if a pupil says “here sir!” an entry is made in a real or virtual roll.

But I don’t think it’s justifiable to say we are drowning in data, however much of it there is. It can lie there, somewhere in cyberspace, without us trying to swim in it. Surely it’s only when we try to do something with the data (viz turn it into information) that we can be said to be drowning – then we find we can make more patterns of the data than we can deal with, and that’s where we have overload.

I understand and share the frustration – yes it would be interesting, and likely enough beneficial, to turn more of our data into information and, with only a brief nod to turning it into knowledge, act on it.

But to say there is too much data is like saying there are too many atoms. So there’s a trace for every action, and probably even for every thought. But the need to do something with it, and therefore the feeling of drowning in it, is at worst a simple restlessness, and at best an urge to understand and predict the future better than we used to, for the sake of business or personal happiness. Either way the solution is in our hands: resist our completist urges on the one hand, and prioritise what we want to use data for on the other.

Don’t let us make an enemy of data!

Dion Lindsay

Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)

07540 659255

01604 686797