Knowledge management

Knowledge Management (KM) refers to a range of practices and techniques used by organizations to identify, represent and distribute knowledge, know-how, expertise, intellectual capital and other forms of knowledge for leverage, reuse and transfer of knowledge and learning across the organization.

Knowledge Management programs are typically claimed to be tied to specific organizational objectives and are intended to lead to the achievement of specific targeted results such as improved performance, competitive advantage, or higher levels of innovation.

Knowledge Management is an evolving discipline. While knowledge transfer (an aspect of KM) has always existed in one form or another, for example through on-the-job discussions with peers, formally through apprenticeship, the maintenance of corporate libraries, professional training and mentoring programmes, and — since the late twentieth century — technologically through knowledge bases, expert systems, and other knowledge repositories, KM programs claim to consciously evaluate and manage the process of accumulation, creation and application of knowledge which is also referred to by some as intellectual capital. KM has therefore attempted to bring under one rubric various strands of thought and practice relating to:

intellectual capital and the knowledge worker in the knowledge economy

the idea of the learning organization;

various enabling organizational practices such as Communities of Practice and corporate Yellow Page directories for accessing key personnel and expertise;

various enabling technologies such as knowledge bases and expert systems, help desks, corporate intranets and extranets, Content Management, wikis, and Document Management.

While Knowledge Management programs are closely related to Organizational Learning initiatives, Knowledge Management may be distinguished from Organizational Learning by its greater focus on the management of specific knowledge assets and development and cultivation of the channels through which knowledge flows.

Approaches to Knowledge Management

There is a broad range of thought on Knowledge Management with no agreed defintion current or likely. The approches varying by author and school. For example, Knowledge Management may be viewed from each of the following perspectives:

Techno-centric: Focus on technologies, ideally those that enhance knowledge sharing / growth, frequently any technology that does fancy stuff with information.

Theoretical: Focus on the underlying concepts of knowledge and truth.

People view: Focus on bringing people together and helping them exchange knowledge.

Process view: Focus on the processes of knowledge creation, transmission, transformation, and others.

Organizational: How does the organization need to be designed to facilitate knowledge processes? Which organizations work best with what processes?

Ecological: seeing the interaction of people, identity, knowledge and environmental factors as a complex adaptive system

In addition as the discipline is maturing we see an increasing presence of academic debates within epistemology emerging in both the theory and practice of knowledge management. UK and Australian Standards Bodies have both produced documents which attempt to bound and scope the field but these have received limited take up or awareness.

Schools of Thought in KM

There are a variety of different schools of thought in Knowledge Management. For example the Intellectual Capital movement with Edvinsson and Stewart, a body of work derivative of information theory associated with Prusak and Davenport. Complexity approaches associated with Snowden (see Cynefin). Narrative with Denning, Snowden, Boje and others. One school takes forward the ideas of Popper (McElroy & Firestone). They are many and various and it would be envidious for an enclopedia to list one without covering the others,. Readers are commended to the reading list

Key concepts in KM

Tacit versus explicit knowledge

A key distinction made by the majority of KM practitioners is Nonaka's reformulation of Polanyi's distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge. The former is often subconscious, internalised, and the individual may or may not be aware of what he or she knows and how he or she accomplishes particular results. At the opposite end of the spectrum is conscious or explicit knowledge - knowledge that the individual holds explicitly and consciously in mental focus, and may communicate to others. In the popular form of the distinction tacit knowledge is what is in our heads, and explicit knowledge is what we have codified.

Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) argued that a successful KM program needs to, on the one hand, convert internalised tacit knowledge into explicit codified knowledge in order to share it, but also on the other hand for individuals and groups to internalise and make personally meaningful codified knowledge once it is retrieved from the KM system.

The focus upon codification and management of explicit knowledge has allowed knowledge management practitioners to appropriate prior work in information management, leading to the frequent accusation that knowledge management is simply a repackaged form of information management. (Eg Wilson, T.D. (2002) "The nonsense of 'knowledge management'" Information Research, 8(1), paper no. 144 [Available at]

Critics have however argued that Nonaka and Takeuchi's distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge is oversimplified, and even that the notion of explicit knowledge is self-contradictory.[1]

A third kind of knowledge is embedded knowledge. Embedded knowledge is a knowledge that is embedded in a physical object but not in an explicit way, that is, it requires other knowledge to be extracted. For example, the shape and characteristics of an unknown device contain the key elements to understand how that device can be used.

Knowledge capture stages

Knowledge may be accessed, or captured, at three stages: before, during, or after knowledge-related activities.

For example, individuals undertaking a new project for an organization might access information resources to learn best practices and lessons learned for similar projects undertaken previously, access relevant information again during the project implementation to seek advice on issues encountered, and access relevant information afterwards for advice on after-project actions and review activities. Knowledge management practitioners offer systems, repositories, and corporate processes to encourage and formalize these activities.

Similarly, knowledge may be captured and recorded before the project implementation, for example as the project team learns information and lessons during the initial project analysis. Similarly, lessons learned during the project operation may be recorded, and after-action reviews may lead to further insights and lessons being recorded for future access.

Ad hoc knowledge access

One alternative strategy to encoding knowledge into and retrieving knowledge from a knowledge repository such as a database is for individuals to instead access expert individuals on an ad hoc basis, as needed, with their knowledge requests. A key benefit of this strategy is that the response from the expert individual is rich in content and contextualized to the particular problem being addressed and personalised to the particular person or people addressing it. The downside is, of course, that it is tied to the availability and memories of specific individuals in the organization. It does not capture their insights and experience for future use should they leave or become unavailable, and also does not help in the case when the experts' memories of particular technical issues or problems previously faced change with time. The emergence of narrative approaches to knowledge management attempts to over a bridge between the formal and the ad hoc, by allowing knowledge to be held in the form of stories.

Drivers of KM

There are a number of 'drivers', or motivations, leading to organizations undertaking a knowledge management program.

Perhaps first among these is to gain the competitive advantage that comes with improved or faster learning and new knowledge creation. KM programs may lead to greater innovation, better customer experiences, consistency in good practices and knowledge access across a global organization, as well as many other benefits, and KM programs may be driven with these goals in mind.

Considerations driving a knowledge management program might include:

making available increased knowledge content in the development and provision of products and services

achieving shorter new product development cycles

facilitating and managing organisational innovation

leverage the expertise of people across the organization

Benefiting from 'network effects' as the number of productive connections between employees in the organization increases and the quality of information shared increases

managing the proliferation of data and information in complex business environments and allowing employees to rapidly access useful and relevant knowledge resources and best practice guidelines

facilitate organizational learning

managing intellectual capital and intellectual assets in the workforce (such as the expertise and know-how possessed by key individuals) as individuals retire and new workers are hired

a convincing sales pitch from one of the many consulting firms pushing Knowledge Management as a solution to virtually any business problem, such as loss as market share, declining profits, or employee inefficiency

KM enablers

Historically, there have been a number of technologies 'enabling' or facilitating KM practices in the organization, including expert systems, knowledge bases, software help desk tools, document management systems and other IT systems supporting organizational knowledge flows.

The advent of the Internet brought with it further enabling technologies, including e-learning, web conferencing, collaborative software, content management systems, corporate 'Yellow pages' directories, email lists, wikis, blogs, and other technologies. Each enabling technology can expand the level of inquiry available to an employee, while providing a platform to achieve specific goals or actions. The practice of KM will continue to evolve with the growth of collaboration applications available by IT and through the Internet. Since its adoption by the mainstream population and business community, the Internet has led to an increase in creative collaboration, learning and research, e-commerce, and instant information.

There are also a variety of organizational enablers for KM programs, including Communities of Practice, before-, after- and during- action reviews (see After Action Review), peer assists, information taxonomies, coaching and mentoring, and so on.

KM roles and organizational structure

Knowledge management activities may be centralised in a Knowledge Management Office (KMO), or responsibility for knowledge management may be located in existing departmental functions, such as the HR (to manage intellectual capital) or IT departments (for content management, social computing etc.). Different departments and functions may have a knowledge management function and those fuctions may not be connected other than informally.


From India, Nasik
Kamadana Pradeep
Hr Professional
Human Resources Director

Hi Shyamali,
Very Very..........Good contribution.
I have not come across such an exhaustive article on "Knowledge Management" so far.
Wish to see many more such invaluable contributions from you.

From India, Hyderabad
Some artcles on the same.
From India

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