…is an oxymoron. You can’t have knowledge without people or, to put it another way, why would you want knowledge without people? Can you imagine an organisation that contains no people? That doesn’t sell anything to anyone, or buy anything from anyone, or do anything for anyone? What will we all be doing? Wondering around Second Life looking for virtual people to talk to? 🙂

Most knowledge-based systems that fail do so because they try to eliminate the human element of the system. Someone has a vision of the ultimate knowledge database, containing all the information you could ever need. No need to chance the opinions of those pesky humans with their biases and irrational behaviour. Let the computer provide the answers. It’ll be rational, reliable and it will present the results in a nice tidy chart…

I thought we had moved on from such ridiculous notions until I picked up the Saturday Times and read the headline “Pick a doctor by computer ‘fiasco’“. (Full article is available online). It seems that some bright spark in the NHS believed that, in order to prevent bias and favouritism in the allocation of placements for junior doctors, a computer database should replace interviews in the selection process. You can read the full article on line and a more detailed follow up article “Online selection of new doctors ‘grossly unfair’“. In wanting to take out the human element – the biased interviewer – it seems the system was designed to allow self-interviews instead. Of course, when we interview ourselves, we are completely unbiased and rational… (I can recommend some useful ‘brain’ books if you actually think that last statement is true.). Spot the flaw in the system:

The applicants fill in a form online. It is divided into six sections with each requiring two answers, of up to 75 words… passing exams counts for only one sixth of the total possible score and is valued equally with, say, how convincingly an applicant can argue that he or she matches the General Medical Council’s Principles of Good Medical Practice, or how persuasively he or she can pretend to leadership or teamwork qualities… No interviews will be conducted, nor will answers be checked.

Beautiful. Just when we though the tyranny of numbers had finally been outed… Do you think the designer of this system got their job by being matched to it by a computer? I think not. Imagine political leaders being selected using such a form. When it comes to describing their own leadership skills, what would Stalin have written compared to Gandhi? And who would the computer have awarded the most points to? The mind boggles…

I wonder just how many placements in the past have been suspected of bias in favour of the “old boy” network. Surely the best approach is to find a way to handle the exceptions rather than replace the entire system. For starters, if the “old boy” network really does exist, it will still be alive and well. Of course, nobody received help with filling in their forms… did they?

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