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Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Chief Knowledge Officer, The Knowledge Management Institute of Canada; Senior Advisor, Knowledge Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Husky Energy

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Defining "Knowledge Management" (Yet Again)

Even though I have been involved in the KM field closing on 15 years, I still find myself "returning to the well" to refine my definition of "knowledge management" based on what I see in the marketplace.

For years, I struggled with the term because I knew there was a long held misconception out there that you could actually "manage" knowledge. This misconception led practitioners and organizations to focus their KM energies solely on technology and content (data and information) and completely ignore people, process and learning.

To address this misconception  I published an article in 1999 titled "The New World"  in which I put forward the following definition:
Knowledge Management is a construct of Information Management (technology, content) and Knowledge Building (people and process)
In those days I saw the "knowledge building" side of the equation as the more important and least understood, so I added a further statement:

Knowledge Building is the highest level of Knowledge Management.
Knowledge Management refers to the managing of Information (simple storage, retrieval and access). Knowledge Building is the creation of new knowledge and expertise beyond what currently exists.
To help organizations understand how to move from "managing information to "building knowledge" I included the following:
In order for organizations to move from managing information to building knowledge, they must first be willing to construct a culture which supports the value of a defined theory of learning developed through a collaborative approach to knowledge sharing 
Wow, what a mouthful! - no wonder organizations were confused about what Knowledge Management was.

As time went on and KM gradually started to garner some interest within the broader business community, I found myself needing to develop a KM "elevator speech" which would serve to capture the attention of busy executives: 
KM is about getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time
This worked reasonably well in terms of getting some immediate attention, however it also led people to again see technology as the solution and resurrected the misconception that KM was all about "knowledge repositories".

Recently there has been a movement within KM circles away from technology as the solution to an organization's knowledge challenges towards culture as being the critical component for creating an effective knowledge age organization.

While I was delighted to see this shift in thinking, I began to see the pendulum swing too far the right (or left depending on your perspective) with organizations believing all they needed to do was promote more effective means for sharing knowledge e.g. Wikis, Blogs, Cafes etc. and this would translate into a better culture and somehow this would miraculously lead to tangible benefits for the organization.


Here's a new definition I offer up for consideration and comment:
Knowledge Management is a strategic, business discipline for managing the cultural conditions necessary to ensure the effective capture, transfer and translation of knowledge from those who know, to those who need to know, in support of the defined goals, objectives and outcomes of the organization.

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