Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) Part 5: Curate to Add Value

Why Curate?: Digital curation can connect ideas and people like never before. Curation is the critical step in personal knowledge management that adds value to the noise of information. The masters of this craft have spent years experimenting with the purpose, skills, and tools of curation. Hear how some curators describe their work in this video (courtesy:

Curation is an effective means to build a strong relationship with a niche audience of passionate people to engage, not a marketing strategy that caters to gain a broad audience of readers by virtue of quantity and breadth.” – Robin Good in “What Makes A Great Curator Great?”

We often hear “If you’ve seen one foundation, you’ve seen one foundation.”  Finding relevance can be a challenge in a field with few staffing standards or curriculum frameworks for mutual reference. The big message broadcast style of grantmaker annual reports and websites are also limited in their relevance to individual learning. Curation feeds the back channel flow to “narrowcast” ideas that are of interest to people who care about your specific work or issues. Curation skills, practiced by many, could advance professional learning in ways that traditional publishing, marketing, and one-size-fits-all training could not.

More than just collecting:In practical terms, Beth Kanter once described curation as “finding great stuff amid the noise, annotating it, organizing it, and adding your wisdom or perspective and sharing a collection of curated links in a context or time that adds value.” Since good curation is more than simply collecting and reposting, it requires focus, critical thinking, and competence. Beth designed the curation routine below, based on Harold Jarche’s Seek, Sense, Share framework. Each box includes one or more skills that you can improve with practice. If you cannot follow such a process on a daily basis, start out by trying it on a weekly basis.


Focus: Parts two and three of this series described how you can improve focus by aligning purpose, goals, filters, and networks. Next, having a plan to share what you learn with your team or your network will help you stay focused and on-task. Evaluate whether new content will advance your understanding or progress toward a goal – or is it just another distraction. Is the content biased? Is the source reliable? Is your own bias causing you to avoid content that conflicts with your current ideas? Who is your potential audience and where will you find them? What format(s) will best communicate your curated information? These questions should determine the tools you use rather than letting tools limit your abilities.

Critical Thinking: As you find reliable and useful information, think of how you can add value for yourself and others. Tagging and annotating your bookmarks will organize them for easier retrieval and sharing. Putting your “social” bookmarks online makes them accessible by others and on any of your devices.

Sense-making advances the content by adding to its current context, categorization, and narratives. How would you categorize the material in a way that has more relevance to you? How has (or could) the content be better understood or used in your context? What stories can help you make your point?

Sense-making can be enhanced in many ways. Engage experts or peers in dialogue. Compare and contrast two or more perspectives. Introduce a new perspective from another context. Use metaphor to explain a complex concept. Create a visualization to help the brain make sense. Create a mind map to relate concepts and identify gaps in understanding. Apply the information as a real-world experiment. Evaluate assumptions and results thru reflective journaling. Share all of this sense-making to get feedback and insights from others. The continuous flow of PKM helps you make sense from different angles.

Adding value is a key way curation differs from collection. By choosing the right time, place, and form in which to share, you can increase the value of your content:

collecting v curation
One common obstacle to gaining competence is the fear of being judged or criticized. The disrespectful tone often found on social media makes this fear hard to overcome. But nobody knows your job or your interest area like you do. Your abilities and experience give you all the credentials you need to question the status quo or share an original thought. And if you cannot create an original thought, present the thoughts of others in new ways or to new audiences – always giving credit, of course. Improve your judgment by scanning more than you share. Watch and learn from other good curators. Experiment and fail with tools to boost your flexibility. Expertise will grow thru exposure and experience.See Harold Jarche’s post “Ask What Value You Can Add” for more ways to add value.

Curation as a Workplace Role: Curation can have value beyond personal learning. John Dillon sees benefits in designating a full time curator who is “dedicated to transforming organizational knowledge into explicit employee resources.” In addition to the important roles of an IT professional or an HR learning specialist, a curator positioned inside the work team could have a better sense what tools and information will meet the latest needs of peers, workflows, and shifting organizational goals. Are curation skills worthy of a full-time position? Wasn’t there a time when companies hired filing clerks to manage that era’s information? Informal learning expert, Jay Cross (recently deceased), agreed that a dedicated curator “saves enormous amounts of time, keeps teams on the same page, and equips everyone with the latest insights.”

In a summer 2014 SSIR article, “Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World”, the authors (from consulting group FSG) called for foundations to “invest in relentless sensing activity – developing the ability, structures, and systems to scan for how various forces intersect and interact with one another.” I believe personal curation practice, as an element of PKM, can help those abilities, structures, and systems to emerge at multiple levels of an organization.

The next post in this series will examine some of the tools available for capturing, tagging, annotating, and sense-making. Please comment below or contact me if you have comments or lessons learned worth sharing about using such tools.

Chad Gorski

Chad Gorski is grants and finance coordinator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland. Follow him on Twitter @chadgorski.