Sunday, November 02, 2014

What Does Knowledge Based Problem Solving Mean?

I attended an event yesterday with about 200 other people, which was focused on making Chicago a better place for kids to grow up. Great speakers, including one from UCAN who hit the nail on the head when he said, "We need consistent funding, and we need if for 10-15 consecutive years."

When I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 the mission was to "gather and organize all that was known about successful non-school tutor/mentor programs and to apply that knowledge to expand the availability and effectiveness of these services to children throughout the Chicago region". Read it here.

I've attended events like yesterday's for more than 20 years. With 50 people in the room few get to talk, or express deeper understanding of problems or solutions. Even in breakout sessions, the person taking notes does not capture, or communicate, most of what was said. I remember when the Wallace DeWitt Foundation was giving out huge grants to cities in the early 1990s. The decision making was based on what people could bring to the table from their own experiences, not all the information that was available to them. I think that's still the case.

I've often tried to explain the purpose of the information I collect, by using the analogy of a "hospital operating room" where the operation is performed in an amphitheater where hundreds of others are watching. I found this graphic in a Wall Street Journal ad, and it communicates the idea visually.

I hope you'll follow this progression of thinking, because it applies to helping cities like Chicago solve complex problems.

1) At the start of the "operation" two people are bent over a patient (a problem like violence?). As long as the expertise they both have is enough to do the operation, they continue. (This photo is from an improvisation workshop in spring 1993, during the first year operations of the Cabrini Connections program I founded and led until 2011.)

2) However, as usually is the case, something occurs where the two doctors on the floor, don't know the answer. They say to the audience, "Do any of you know how to solve this problem?" Someone says "I do" and they join the two on the floor. As this continues to happen, new ideas are brought to the operation and the group on the floor grows.

3) At some point, no one in the amphitheater knows the answer. However, someone says, "I know someone who does know the answer. I'll find them and invite them to join the group." Once that happens, the operation continues.

4) Eventually, a problem will arise that no one knows the answer, or knows anyone else who has ever dealt with that particular problem. Someone high in the gallery says, "I'm starting a PhD course at the local university. I'll look into this and when I find an answer I'll bring it to the group." Several people, in universities, or in business, could be doing research on that problem.

I've been looking for people with experiences and information that could help people in Chicago build systems of support that help youth in poverty move through school and into jobs since I launched the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993. I'd been doing this informally since I started leading a tutor/mentor program at the Montgomery Ward Headquarters in Chicago back in 1975. Below is a map of the information in my "knowledge" library.

This information has been growing for 20 years. It's been available to leaders in Chicago and other cities for that long. It went on the Internet in 1998. Yet, too few seem to value the role information has to support innovation and problem solving. That means when I go to events where people are gathering to "solve the problem" of education, violence, workforce development, health disparities, etc, few are even aware that my library exists.

The process does not effectively capture the knowledge of everyone in the room, or of others who may be in other cities and countries. Yet anyone could be building a web library, with links to ideas and resources they find valuable, and with links to other web libraries. This concept is outlined in the PDF showing the goal of a "Tutor/Mentor Learning Network" which I've been trying to build since 1993.

The critical idea in this PDF is that since few of us have advertising dollars, we need to take daily actions that draw attention to everyone in the network of information and ideas, not just to our own organization, no matter how powerful we are. As speakers have emphasized over, and over, "No one can solve this problem by themselves."

I've devoted one entire section to collaboration, knowledge management, visualization, innovation, etc. You can enter it via this map. This section could be curriculum for school, or non-school, youth programs, where volunteers from business and universities help youth learn these skills, and learn to apply them in their own efforts.

One set of blog articles that I point to focuses on "online learning, MOOCs, etc." The ideas in these sections can help enhance the process and group is using to solve Chicago's problems, regardless of if the connect with me or not.

Below is another visualization that I've created to illustrate the role knowledge, or work done by others, can take in supporting the constant improvement of work everyone is doing to help youth born in poverty move through school and into jobs and careers.

Using Ideas to Stimulate Competition and Process Improvement - Concept Paper by Daniel F. Bassill

I've hosted a Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference every six months since 1994 to help draw attention to information in this library, and to encourage people represented by the links I point to to connect, share ideas, and build relationships with each other.

The next is Friday, November 7 at the Metcalfe Federal Building in Chicago. If you care about the same issues as I focus on, I hope you'll attend. If you have the ability, I invite you to become a sponsor. Help me continue to build and share this knowledge library, and keep it freely available to Chicago and other cities.

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