Top-down vs. Bottom-up KM: Insights from the Katrina response

“The messiness of the web often deals with the messiness of disasters better than centralised systems which can fall over under pressure!”

A Facebook friend posted this today, reminded me of these early thoughts I had back in the aftermath of Katrina along similar lines. But back then we didn’t have Twitter, we didn’t have Facebook and Instagram and … and … and….

And just now on the TV news feed: “People are resorting to Twitter and Facebook because the 911 system is overwhelmed.” Not just to connect with the centralized authorities, but to connect with – and help – each other.

Brett's Phrontistery

Watching, listening to, and reading about the response to Hurricane Katrina I have noticed that, in general, the “official” response of government has been almost universally denounced as slow and insufficient while the “un-official” responses of individuals and various organizations have been praised as rapid and, at times, heroic.

Though there is still a lot of analysis to be done in terms of what worked and actually made a difference, at first glance these two ends of the response spectrum provide some real world, real time insight into the question of what type of organizational culture and knowledge management is better – that which is designed top-down or that which is “grown” from the bottom up.

Instead of the term “better”, I think the term “more appropriate” is, well, more appropriate. The two different styles of KM are best used in the circumstances they are best suited for. In a…

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