Initial Knowledge Work Framework  

One of the primary goals of Work Literacy is to establish a common framework that can be used to provide practical advice to knowledge workers that is linked to what they do day-to-day. In considering this goal a bit more, Michele and I (through considerable discussion and some debate) have come up with what we somewhat want around this framework:

  • It needs to be tied to common knowledge work tasks so that it is clearly linked to daily activity.
  • It must be easy to tie this to a variety of different kinds of knowledge work.
  • It must be easily presented in presentations, papers, blog posts, workshops.
  • It must tie to knowledge work skills, methods and tools that are clearly applicable and can be used as the basis for learning / doing.
  • It should allow us to organize and group particular methods / tools. For example, we want to solicit methods that people use (such as the recent post around Google search skills) that we can group and organize in some way.
  • It should focus on what is most likely to have immediate value for knowledge workers.

Are there major gaps in these goals around the framework?

With that as a backdrop, the current Knowledge Work Framework I’ve been using in presentations and workshops is that I start with an exercise to identify the different Knowledge Work Roles / Functions that each person plays. For example, my personal Knowledge Work Roles / Functions are:

  • Small Business Owner
  • Manager
  • Expert / Speaker / Writer
  • Soccer Coach
  • Family Vacation Planner
  • Fine Dining Planner
  • Meeting Organizer

Then I provide a list of Knowledge Work Task Categories:

  • Scan – Staying up-to-speed on a topic.
  • Find – Includes Evaluate, Narrow / Adjust
  • Keep / Organize / Refind
  • Leverage / Present
  • Network
  • Collaborate
  • Learn
  • Improve – Continually evaluating and improving your work and learning skills.

that are really just prompts to help spark people to think through particular kinds of Knowledge Work Tasks that they perform in a given role. Knowledge Work Tasks are horribly messy in comparison to these categories. They will include things like:

  • Find a comparison of tools that will fit a particular need.
  • Find someone who can help me know if this tool is right for our company.
  • Share pages on different tools with my team.

From these tasks, I then explore what their actual needs are relative to each of the categories at a slightly higher level. For example, do you need to Scan? If so, what are the characteristics of your scanning activities.

Next I have them identify challenges they currently face and new strategies for overcoming those challenges. Thus, the basic structure is:

Task Category




New Strategies

Keep / Organize / Refind        
Leverage / Present        

Like most of this topic, this is horribly messy as compared to the above structure. The categories can’t really be pried apart such as I’ve done here. Knowledge work tasks exist at all kinds of levels of granularity and almost never fit perfectly into one category. For example, there are collaborative scanning approaches that result in keeping / organizing.

What I like about this framework is that it allows me to have conversations about this topic at a few different levels. It ties to specific tasks. It allows me to discuss new strategies and tools in the context of specific work tasks. And it also gives me an opportunity to help people think through important evaluation of their actual needs around knowledge work activities.

I’ve found this to be a pretty effective vehicle for working through with small groups of knowledge workers. And I believe it can be a good framework for self-evaluation.

The initial knowledge work framework stops here. The remainder of this is commentary on the framework and additional information that may relate to the framework.


The Challenges

Here are a few thoughts around the challenges that I see relative to this framework …

First and foremost, I’m not sure what to think about skills vs. task categories. Much of the work (that I list below) uses skills as the basis. Certainly, I believe we need to at some point determine what skills are needed for different types of knowledge workers. This framework would seem to intersect with skills at some point, but I’m not at all sure where that is.

What about all of the other categories?

  • Synthesize
  • Innovate
  • Visual Thinking

Honestly, this is part of our debate. I would claim that it’s impossible to create THE list of knowledge work task categories.Still some kind of starting point is important. For right now, I’m landing on the side of coming up with a subset to focus on for now.

So part of what we’ve done is starting to decide what to ignore for now …

Ignoring Base Skills

Clay Spinuzzi in What Do We Need to Teach About Knowledge Work? also includes capabilities such as Project Management, Time Management, Rhetoric and others. I’ve specifically not included Time Management in my list of skills and I’m not sure I can justify its exclusion. I consider this an essential skill and am a big advocate of people using something along the lines of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and personalizing it for the way that works best for you. In some ways, this is possibly a precursor to where we should be with all of these topics. While I consider this an essential skill, it somehow feels out of place with the rest of this list. So, I’ve not included these skills. I will be curious to see how this evolves over time.

Ignoring Vertical Skills

I’ve also tried to keep these skills defined in ways that go across many different verticals. I’m hoping that experts in particular verticals such as Richard Hoeg / Engineering and Doug Cornelius / Law will be able to weigh in on the applicability of this list to their vertical. Does this list work across these verticals? Doug Cornelius, Richard Hoeg – any comment?

Ignoring Knowledge Worker Types

Thomas Davenport in Thinking for a Living does a good job identifying different types of Knowledge Work. For example, he distinguishes work based on complexity (routine vs. interpretation/judgment) and level of interdependence (individual vs. collaborative), those who create knowledge vs. those who package knowledge, type of idea, cost/scale, and others. Most workers are quite unique in their particular job functions and most workers perform a variety of different kinds of knowledge work activities as part of their job. In fact, individuals perform different types of knowledge work at different times. I act as an owner of a business, expert, vacation planner, etc. at different times. We are hoping to define common core knowledge work skills here and then look to differentiate the skills based on different knowledge work types later.

In the approach I currently use in a workshop, I ask attendees to break their lives down into different knowledge work roles and then look at the above tasks relative to those roles.

Additional Information

There’s a bunch of stuff out around information literacy, digital literacy, 21st century skills, PKM, PLE, PWLE, etc. In commenting on this framework relative to the goals, it is good to consider what else is going on in these areas. I’m also interested in identifying if and where this information would fit. And if it doesn’t fit, then what does that mean?

Nancy White has defined the 8 Competencies of Online Interaction as:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Online communications
  3. Learning Together
  4. Facilitation
  5. Intercultural Antennae
  6. Tolerance for Ambiguity
  7. Ability to Switch Contexts
  8. Technical Skills

Wikipedia page on Information Literacy defines similar literacies:

  • Tool literacy, or the ability to understand and use the practical and conceptual tools of current information technology relevant to education and the areas of work and professional life that the individual expects to inhabit.
  • Resource literacy, or the ability to understand the form, format, location and access methods of information resources, especially daily expanding networked information resources.
  • Social-structural literacy, or knowing that and how information is socially situated and produced.
  • Research literacy, or the ability to understand and use the IT-based tools relevant to the work of today’s researcher and scholar.
  • Publishing literacy, or the ability to format and publish research and ideas electronically, in textual and multimedia forms (including via World Wide Web, electronic mail and distribution lists, and CD-ROMs).
  • Emerging technology literacy, or the ability to ongoing adapt to, understand, evaluate and make use of the continually emerging innovations in information technology so as not to be a prisoner of prior tools and resources, and to make intelligent decisions about the adoption of new ones.
  • Critical literacy, or the ability to evaluate critically the intellectual, human and social strengths and weaknesses, potentials and limits, benefits and costs of information technologies.

Wikipedia’s Page on PKM has considerable overlap with my current definition.Skills associated with personal knowledge management.

·Reflection. Continuous improvement on how the individual operates.

·Manage learning. Manage how and when the individual learns.

·Information literacy. Understanding what information is important and how to find unknown information.

·Organizational skills. Personal librarianship? Personal categorization and taxonomies.

·Networking with others. Knowing what your network of people knows. Knowing who might have additional knowledge and resources to help you

·Researching, canvassing, paying attention, interviewing and observational ‘cultural anthropology’ skills

·Communication skills. Perception, intuition, expression, visualization, and interpretation.

·Creative skills. Imagination, pattern recognition, appreciation, innovation, inference. Understanding of complex adaptive systems.

·Collaboration skills. Coordination, synchronization, experimentation, cooperation, and design.

Paul Dorsey talks about the Seven Information Skills which serves as a pretty good foundation:

(1) Retrieving information. Retrieving information involves gathering information not just from print and electronic sources, but through experimentation and oral inquiry, as well as a broad range of more discipline-specific techniques. Capabilities required range from the low-tech skills of asking questions, listening, and following up to skills in using search tools, reading and note-taking. Concepts of widening and narrowing one’s search, Boolean logic, and iterative search practices are an important part of the effective exercise of this PKM skill as are social skills required for more effective oral inquiry. Also, as the literature on information literacy emphasizes, considerable effort should be placed on framing inquiry even before information retrieval commences. The effective use of Internet search engines and electronic databases in the inquiry process requires technology skills as part of the repertoire of PKM skills.

(2) Evaluating information. This skill is closely related to the skill of retrieving information. Strategies of information retrieval should be based on practices that select data and information that pass some evaluative tests. However, evaluation also takes place after retrieval as the quality and relevance of various pieces of information are judged as they relate to the problem at hand. We recognize that difference disciplines tend to emphasize disparate evaluative criteria as they determine quality and relevance. The greater availability of information in the current information-rich environments makes this skill of far greater importance in the electronic age. The intelligent use of some crude electronic tools, such as “relevance raters,â€Â? can be relevant to the effective evaluation of information.

(3) Organizing information. Organizing information is a central part of the inquiry process focused on making the connections necessary to link pieces of information. Techniques for organizing information help the inquirer to overcome some of the limitations of the human information processing system. In some ways the key challenge in organizing information is for the inquirer to make the information his or her own through the use of ordering and connecting principles that relate new information to old information. Elementary skills of synthesis and analysis are central to this process. Technological skills in organizing information have become ever more important as electronic tools such as directories and folders, databases, web pages, and web portals provide the inquirer with ever more powerful tools to make connections.

(4) Collaborating Around Information. The interdisciplinary literature on effective teams and groups is replete with principles for effective collaborative work. Listening, showing respect for the understanding of others’ ideas, developing and following through on shared practices, building win/win relationships, and resolving conflicts are among those underlying principles. Within collaborative inquiry, partners in inquiry need to learn to have their voice heard and to hear other voices. Both cultural and more nuts-and-bolts practical issues need to be attended to. The availability of new electronic tools for collaboration to support both synchronous and asynchronous communication requires a whole new set of procedures for efficient information exchange.

(5) Analyzing Information. The analysis of information is fundamental to the process of converting information into knowledge. At the same time, this is the most discipline-specific information skill since the models, theories and frameworks that are central to analysis are frequently tied to the academic disciplines. Analysis builds on the organization of information, but goes beyond it in its emphasis on the importance of respect for standards in public communities. This skill addresses the challenge of extracting meaning out of data. In some disciplines, electronic tools such as electronic spreadsheets and statistical software provide the means to analyze information, but the human element is central in framing the models that are embodied in that software.

(6) Presenting Information. Key to the presentation of information is audience; this means, as in the case of analyzing information, that understanding disciplinary communities—often an important audience–and their norms and standards are of central importance. An effective presentation assumes not only an understanding of audience, but a clear understanding of the purpose of the presentation as it relates to audience. The history and theory of rhetoric provides an abundant literature for guidance in the exercise of this skill. The emergence of new electronic tools and venues for presentations, through computer-based presentation tools and web sites, makes attention to this information skill even more important.

(7) Securing Information. Securing information is frequently neglected as an information skill. However, the centrality of intellectual property issues and the multiplicity of security issues arising from the explosion of electronically networked environments make security issues more and more salient. Securing information entails developing and implementing practices that help to assure the confidentiality, integrity and actual existence of information. An appreciation of intellectual property issues of copyrights and patents is very important. Such practices as password management, backup, archiving and use of encryption are other important elements for the effective practice of this skill in electronic environments.

In What Makes an Effective Knowledge Worker, David Gurteen talks about habits; skills; attitudes; behaviors; values; mindsets that are found among effective knowledge workers.

  • connect people with people
  • connect people with ideas
  • are good networkers
  • do not follow the rules
  • have strong communication skills
  • like people
  • feel good about themselves
  • motivate others
  • are catalysts
  • ask for help
  • demonstrate integrity
  • are self reliant
  • open to share
  • are not afraid
  • are goal oriented
  • are able to identify critical knowledge
  • add value to the organization
  • have strong subject expertise in a specific area
  • network for results
  • trustworthy - can be trusted and trusts others
  • make decisions
  • are not insular
  • do not conform
  • push the boundaries
  • assume authority - ask for forgiveness, not permission
  • strong belief in the value of knowledge sharing
  • are informal active leaders
  • take a holistic view
  • are catalysts, facilitators and triggers
  • good listeners - they listen first
  • do not need praise
  • see the wider picture
  • work well with others
  • do not have a ‘knowledge is power’ attitude
  • walk the talk
  • prepared to experiment with technology

Most of these map fairly directly onto the framework somewhere.However, other items (e.g., do not follow rules) do not necessarily map onto any of them as of now.

Clay Spinuzzi -What Do We Need to Teach About Knowledge Work?

… we need to teach our students these skills to prepare them to thrive in knowledge work environments:

Rhetoric. Knowledge workers need to become strong rhetors. Rhetoric, which is too often glossed as “lying,â€Â? is the study of argumentation and persuasion (Aristotle 1991) – and net workers sorely need to understand how to make arguments, how to persuade, how to build trust and stable alliances, how to negotiate and bargain across boundaries. The study of argumentation and persuasion includes the choice, prioritizing, and organization of supporting information and conclusions. Rhetoric was deployed in modular work, but in more limited ways due to the silos and compartmentalization that characterized that form of work organization (Alberts & Hayes 2003). In knowledge work, which is intricately and unpredictably connected, with everyone on the border, workers could find themselves doing this rhetorical work with nearly anyone. As a result they should self monitor and become rhetorically sensitive (Galanes & Adams, 2007, p, 144-145). Self monitoring is the ability to see how others perceive their communication cues and appropriately adjust their behavior. Rhetoric sensitivity is the ability to moderate communication within a specific context in which the rhetoric might change depending on the discipline, culture, and purpuse (requiring knowledge of the various silos and compartments within an organization and among stakeholders).

Time management. And because everyone is connected, because black boxes are in short supply and of short duration, anyone can potentially lay claim to another’s time. Networks overlap and can be reconstituted unexpectedly, and the result is heavy work fragmentation. Workers must be able to adopt or adapt ways to deal with work fragmentation, including genres and rules that allow them to create their own stable transformations for prioritizing, organizing, and achieving work. That might involve learning popular time management techniques (Allen 2003) or participating in online communities that face similar problems (Spinuzzi 2003, Ch.6); they certainly will involve examining, evaluating, adapting, and adopting the local innovations that coworkers have developed.

Project management. Similarly, when everyone is potentially interconnected, border-crossing is constant and collaboration across functional groups becomes more pervasive. Consequently, workers must take on more of the work that used to be done by managers: planning projects, developing strategic and tactical understandings of their projects, becoming aware of the other projects in which their collaborators are embroiled, and an understanding of the impact of their work on the organzation. They need to become aware of and manage the “working spheresâ€Â? (Gonzalez & Mark 2004) in which they operate, the overlapping work activities that largely share the same tools but different rules, communities, and divisions of labor.

Adaptability. Workers must be ever more adaptable. Being on the border means having to learn horizontally as well as vertically, having to understand others’ work and social languages and genres, having to forage expertly for information (Amidon 2005; Senge 1994; Tuomi-Gröhn, Engeström, & Young 2003). It also means learning how to assess sources and arguments, learning how to determine who to trust and when, learning how to persuade others to lead one through the hidden passes of the organization. It means opportunistically adapting technologies for one’s own use and purposes (Sumner 1997), and discarding them when they no longer fit. Adaptability, to put it in a nutshell, means being agile enough to splice new components into a relatively stable system.

Black-boxing. Black-boxing (Latour 1999) – loosely speaking, the procedure of drawing complex assemblages together under a relatively simple interface and conceptual rubric – is a vital but often neglected part of knowledge work. The black boxes we inherit from modular work, such as divisions depicted in organizational charts, teams assembled by managers, and communication systems and knowledge bases, are constantly being opened in knowledge work. If managers try to “lockâ€Â? these black boxes, the boxes will leak, or else work will grind to a halt. Instead, knowledge workers must develop ways to produce stabilizing regimes. Let’s call these sorts of black boxes “liaisons,â€Â? “APIs,â€Â? and “aggregations.â€Â?

• Liaisons are workers or positions that develop to provide stable connections across groups. For instance, Nardi & O’Day’s “gardenersâ€Â? (1999) and Zuboff & Maxmin’s “advocatesâ€Â? (2003). Managers can look for, cultivate, and support such relationships.

• APIs, like the application program interfaces used in programming, consist of routines, protocols, and tools that allow simple interactions to generate complex effects. APIs in knowledge work might include genres and other boundary objects. When managers see APIs fail, they should concentrate on either improving or substituting the API. That is, managers should learn to trace the genres (Spinuzzi 2003), the regular information flows, and see if they are being transformed easily and well.

• Aggregations are bottom-up characterizations of large sets of information, enabled by “applications that aggregate individual work practices in order to depict relations among the work of group membersâ€Â? (Hart-Davidson, Spinuzzi, & Zachry, in press). They are enabled through infrastructure that might include “tagging,â€Â? in which individuals characterize parts of a large data set for their own use. Tags start out as idiosyncratic, but a “folksonomyâ€Â? or emergent set of shared categories typically emerges as a second-order effect (Hart- Davidson, Spinuzzi, & Zachry, in press). This sort of infrastructure trades control over characterization for insight into emergent understandings of work.

Strategic thinking. Above, I advocated project management skills for workers, not just the managers who have traditionally learned them; workers now need to achieve “topsight” almost as much as managers do. Without resources for strategic thinking, workers can become bogged down in a reactive tactical stance. Since workers are forging their own unpredictable and largely uncontrollable connections, managers who control strategic information too tightly can find that workers have routed around them and left them behind. More than ever, managers must provide a persuasive vision for each project and sufficient feedback for workers to see – and take ownership of – that project. And workers must be able and equipped to take these projects on.

Training. And that brings us to training. Too often, workers receive support for vertical learning through multiple channels – formal training, documentation, schooling, etc. help them to master their trades, fields, and disciplines. But support for horizontal learning, learning across workplace boundaries, is restricted to informal, contingency-oriented channels (Tuomi-Gröhn, Engeström, & Young 2003). Managers should find ways to support , and workers should be prepared to achieve, horizontal learning across boundaries, through formal as well as informal training and materials. And writing instructors should particularly focus on supporting continuing learning of the sorts of skills that I mentioned above: rhetoric, time management, project management, and adaptability.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills Defines a Framework consisting of:

Learning and Innovation Skills

Learning and innovation skills are what separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century and those who are not. They include:

• Creativity and Innovation

• Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

• Communication and Collaboration

Information, Media and Technology Skills

People in the 21st century live in a technology and media-driven environment, marked by access to an abundance of information, rapid changes in technology tools and the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. To be effective in the 21st century, citizens and workers must be able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills, such as:

• Information Literacy

• Media Literacy

• ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) Literacy

Life and Career Skills

Today’s life and work environments require far more than thinking skills and content knowledge. The ability to navigate the complex life and work environments in the globally competitive information age requires students to pay rigorous attention to developing adequate life and career skills, such as:

• Flexibility and Adaptability

• Initiative and Self-Direction

• Social and Cross-Cultural Skills

• Productivity and Accountability

• Leadership and Responsibility



Other Information Pieces -

21st Century Literacies

Review and Analysis of 21st Century Skills (PDF)

The Big 6

Additional links on