The Inquiring Organisation – Chun Wei Choo

Although I claim to be an information scientist in reality I am an information practitioner. Like so many intranet, search and knowledge managers I have to observe closely and then scale up in an effort to find some generic approaches to solving the very complex challenges that organisations face in managing information and knowledge. May be because of my original training as a chemist I am constantly looking for answers to ‘why’ certain approaches to information management seem to work within some form of information culture. Then in 2013 I came across a paper on information culture and organisational effectiveness by Professor Chun Wei Choo of the University of Toronto. In this paper he described result, rule, relationship and risk taking cultures and their impact on organisational effectiveness, and I have used this model many times in the period since its publication. In 2015 a paper was published by Thasi Elaine Vick et al on Information culture and its influences in knowledge creation that built on Professor Choo’s model, which brought together knowledge management and information culture.

Now Professor Choo has published The Inquiring Organisation – How Organisations Acquire Knowledge and Seek Information which sets out the underlying principles of information and knowledge management from the perspective of the epistemology of organisational learning and information seeking. The book commences with a very well structured introduction which it is essential not to skip over – in effect it is a handbook to the book. In Part One the fundamental principles of organizational epistemology are presented, which provide an inclusive approach to the inter-relationship of knowledge and information that is not built on that invidious triangle of data, information and knowledge, topped out with wisdom. As is the case with the entire book there are relatively few case studies but those that are presented are analysed in considerable depth.

Part Two addresses organisational information behaviour. (I reviewed a book on this subject recently). There have been many models of information behaviour, of which Professor Choo selects those by Carol Kuhlthau, Brenda Dervin and Tom Wilson to examine in considerable detail. I cannot emphasis how important I regard an understanding of information behaviours to the delivery of satisfactory information and knowledge management services. There is also a consideration of Robert Taylor’s work on a taxonomy of information use, an approach which I have found very useful in building use cases for intranets. In this section of the book Professor Choo builds on his 2013 paper referred to above and the later paper by Thasi Elaine Vick. He presents an integrated model of organisational information behaviour based on information needs, information seeking and information use. There is also a chapter in internet epistemology that at first did not seem to fit with the rest of the book but several readings later I now understand why it was included.

This book is very well structured, both in the overall journey towards the final chapter on The Inquiring Organisation but also the introduction that sets the scene and thoughtful codas at the end of each chapter than pull together lessons learned ready for the continuance of the journey in the next chapter. There is a very well selected bibliography and a good index.

Professor Choo’s book rewards careful reading, because the evidence he presents and the insights he gives will provide you with an invaluable set of lenses with which to view aspects of information and knowledge management. In much of his writing his initial training in engineering comes through, with a very grounded approach to the analysis ofthe case studies and a sure understanding of how organisations work. In many respects he presents a unifying theory of information and knowledge management, and I would suggest that the KM community would do well to consider what Professor Choo has to say. After all the root of the word ‘epistemology’ is the Greek word epistēmē, meaning “knowledge”. It may take you nine weeks to read and consider the nine chapters but at the end I am certain you will say to yourself “Now I understand”. The benefits to both you personally and to your organisation will be significant and long lasting.

Martin White