How Do We Know What We Know?

By Stuart Robbins, Advisory CIO for the California Technology Council

In a time of alternative facts and contrarian theories (the earth is flat, the moon landing was staged in Hollywood, Elvis is still alive in a bunker beneath Graceland), how does an organization leverage the knowledge of its’ members/employees?

Setting aside, for the moment, the epistemological debate (What is knowledge?) and before the discussion moves into the realm of Artificial Intelligence, imagine the following scenario:

A group of like-minded executives (with diverse backgrounds and extensive experience in a wide variety of businesses and technologies) are gathered for their annual program review and strategic planning session.  Mid-agenda, one of the attendees poses this quintessential question: How do we know what we know?

The groups’ instinctive response is to quickly identify the perfect software platform, one that is easy-to-use yet robust, open yet secure, into which the group’s unique information can be deposited and then made available on the web to a broader audience of members and partners, with all of the features one might expect from such a platform: single sign-on, search, database connectivity, 24/7 accessibility.  The popular portal vendors are then reviewed (Wordpress, Disqus, Jive, FirstSearch) along with familiar alternatives (LinkedIn groups, Google Docs) and someone even mentions Documentum...

Stories are told.  Collaboration is applauded. A core team is identified to determine Next Steps.

Problem solved?  

Actually, this imaginary core team (operating without a budget and minimal time because they all have other jobs) begins to unearth some of the many Lessons Learned by members who have wrestled with this common business problem for 20 years:

  • People and process first, THEN technology
  • Trust (among those expected to share what they know) is essential
  • The answer is already “in the room” but (please) don’t ask the same question again and again 
  • Focus upon the unique (Don’t re-create the wheel or re-design the Carnegie  Library)

The CTC has launched a core team to do exactly this: identify the CTC experts, facilitate the method/means to leverage their business wisdom - not only for each other’s benefit but for the benefit of our members, and finally, identify the simplest technological path forward to ensure that wisdom is made available to those we serve.

Our journey has just begun.  Stay tuned for our updates, along the way...  


To learn more about Stuart's effort on this project, email him at