Very few people can claim to have influenced the course of information and knowledge management practice in Australian Government more than Kate Muir. Born in 1948, Kate rose above the challenges of her childhood to become a high-flyer in the Australian Public Service, appointed to the position of Assistant Secretary in Centrelink at the age of 48.
Around this time, a small group of committed folk were looking for people who could kickstart government interest in the new but rapidly evolving discipline of “knowledge management.” As Shawn Callahan recounts the story:
The idea of developing actKM arose in response to the burgeoning KM literature, including numerous case studies that focused entirely on private sector companies … In search of expertise from the public sector, a meeting was held with Kate Muir [in] late 1998. The idea was to build a [community of practice] focused on KM in the public sector. Kate was the perfect person to act as co-founder of such a community. She was a senior and respected manager in the Australia public service and was a prominent and effective proponent of KM. Indeed, she was one of the few people in the Australian public service to include the term ‘knowledge management’ in her title.
Over the next 20 years, actKM and its mailing list became the largest virtual knowledge management community in Australia, and highly influential internationally. Community members were very active and often participated in long, detailed arguments – sometimes attracting the gentle ire of Kate who would remind people that these debates were all very well and good, but wouldn’t actually fix anything.
Indeed, the actKM mailing list was my own introduction to Kate in 2007. When seeking out like-minded folk after completing postgraduate studies, I became very fond of all the strong personalities communicated through text. I felt I knew them all well despite having met very few of them in person.
Kate’s pragmatic impatience shone through in her writing, along with her tendency to tie most of her points to a personal anecdote or story (of which she had a seemingly inexhaustible supply). When Kate offered to work with me on my knowledge management consulting in 2014, I didn’t hesitate for a second before accepting.
A wonderful mentor and a friend, Kate was always fighting the good fight. As president of the Women in Information and Communications society for many years, Kate mentored local women in their work journey through the still male-dominated ICT industry. She also lectured at the University of Canberra for almost 2 decades, working with her many academic partners to improve and expand the quality and breadth of their information and knowledge management offerings.
Kate Muir passed away in October 2020 after the onset of a short and sudden illness. I will remember her as a long-time friend of the knowledge management community in Canberra and across the world; a staunch advocate of fighting for the right thing no matter what; and as someone who was always, always unafraid to call out stupidity and thoughtlessness wherever it was found. Like all of the best people, you always knew where you stood with Kate. Her passion and compassion were endless and inspirational.
The KM community is poorer for Kate’s absence, but I don’t believe she would want anyone to stop and feel sorry. A pragmatist through and through, we can honour Kate’s memory just by ‘getting on with the job’ and making things better for others, individually and jointly, in small ways and large ones, every single day.