Knowledge management

Here is a summary of a recent Mind Tools article about knowledge management that I found interesting.

What is knowledge?

Data is a specific fact or figure, without any context; information is data that’s organized; knowledge builds on the information to give us context (remember this from library school?).

There are two different types of knowledge, explicit and tacit:

Explicit knowledge includes things that you can easily pass on to someone else by teaching it or writing it into a record. This kind of knowledge can be captured in a staff handbook or workflow.
Tacit knowledge is less concrete. It may relate to the best way to approach a certain person for their help or co-operation, or how to unjam the photocopier. This type of knowledge is usually acquired by experience.

Why is knowledge management important?

Sharing information within a team or department means that when a person is away on holiday or off sick, or moves to a new job, their knowledge persists in the organisation.
As well as time and cost savings, an environment which fosters the sharing of ideas can help increase innovation, build trust and improve relationships.

Implementing knowledge management

There are two different ways of managing knowledge: using technology-based systems, or using softer systems.
Examples of technology-based systems include a co-authored staff handbook or wiki. It is easy to access this information, but it takes effort to keep it up-to-date. Good for capturing explicit knowledge.
Examples of softer systems are shadowing or mentoring. Better for sharing tacit knowledge.
A successful knowledge management strategy should try to use both approaches.

Tips for implementing knowledge management systems

  • Identify tacit knowledge, then brainstorm ways of sharing it
  • Start with a small team to avoid information overload
  • Some people may feel uncomfortable about sharing their hard-won knowledge, so make knowledge exchange part of the organisational culture and find ways to reward people for sharing it freely
  • Make the processes of capture or sharing easy. Easier participation makes for increased involvement and success
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3 Comments

  1. It’s when I read about things such as “knowledge management” that I realise how much librarians have missed out on an awful lot. As far as I can see from all that I’ve read and heard, “knowledge management” is simply information management but taking account of the wider resources within a community or organisation.

    The distinction between information and knowledge given in the Mind Tools article is pretty ropey to say the least. The example given seems to involve just adding an extra bit of information and calling it knowledge, but without demonstrating how it is qualitatively different to the example labelled “information”.

    My theory about the development of “knowledge management” can be demonstrated using the following formula:

    OKS + NBJ = ISS

    To translate this into English, some bright sparks realised that by using their Old Knowledge and Skills (OKS) but with New Business Jargon (NBJ)they could generate Increased Salary and Status (ISS).

    Let’s call information “knowledge”, let’s call classification “taxonomy”, lob in a bit of technology – now we can pretend that it’s all terribly new, cutting edge and exciting and of course absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with libraries, library science, classification or any old boring stuff like that.

    Well, it clearly works for aspiring management bods, but by no means everybody else. That’s why I’ve spent 2 years with people coming in past the sign on our door which says “Knowledge Centre” (NOT my idea!) and asking me where the Library is!!!!!

  2. Hi David, thanks for your comment. I appreciate that some people aren’t comfortable with these terms, even if they value the underlying idea.
    The bit I found most useful was encouraging shadowing and learning by doing to complement what you can glean from a staff handbook.
    Just today we found an example of a skill (book repair techniques for loose pages) in our small team that might be learned more effectively by having the expert person demonstrate it, and letting the others have a go, rather than just adding another section to the staff handbook.

  3. Very good post. A lack of understanding of what knowledge is has been one of the primary reasons for many failures within KM.

    The only point I would make is that although firms do indeed seem to manage knowledge using technology and/or softer systems, KM is really just about the softer systems. Technology is a supporting function – and often a very important one – but it can never perform KM on its own (while a focus on the organizational/people/cultural aspect of knowledge can).

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