I get asked all the time what Knowledge Management is. Less often what Knowledge is – but I’m going to get into that a little bit first, without getting at all philosophical on you, promise.
I like to think of knowledge as usable information. It’s what you get when you combine what you can measure and observe (aka data) with context and experience, and then apply it to achieve your aims.
Knowledge can also be broken down into three different types of knowledge: Explicit, Implicit and Tacit. From the perspective of a business or organization, here is what we’re talking about for each…
Explicit knowledge: These are the documented practices of your organization; its policies, procedures, templates and forms.
Implicit Knowledge: This is the stuff that hasn’t been written down, but could be articulated as the set of tasks, rules of thumb and techniques associated with the functions in your organization.
Tacit Knowledge: This is the deep, sometimes unconscious, know-how of experts within your team, if you ask them how they knew how to solve a certain problem they might shrug and tell you they ‘just know’ or trusted their instincts or gut.
Think about it like driving a car. The explicit knowledge are the rules of the road and the mechanics of operating the vehicle. The Implicit knowledge is what is gained through practice lessons and tips and tricks from instructors and more experienced drivers. The Tacit knowledge is knowing that you want to get away from that car over there that keeps straying too close to your lane, or suspecting that the large truck you’re overtaking isn’t aware you are there – it’s the instinct years of driving builds in you that we all know new drivers don’t possess.
Knowledge Management, as most people think of it now, has been around since the 90s. It started out in big corporations like GE and BP, and morphed out of ideas like Organizational Learning. Suddenly there were Knowledge Management departments and Chief Knowledge Officers. Terms like communities of practice, knowledge bases and knowledge brokers started popping up. There has been lots of work and research done in this field – though very little with smaller enterprises and organizations. But it’s really not a new concept. There is a long rich tradition of knowledge sharing and transmission in our histories. Within the Islamic world, as far back as the 7th century, leaders in cities such as Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus were amassing texts from all around the world, translating them into Arabic to further scholarship and study in fields such as astronomy, medicine and geography. So sharing, transferring, and categorizing knowledge is nothing new. And that’s exactly what knowledge management is all about…
KM is the practice of
- Applying your knowledge…
…collectively and systematically.
Knowledge Management in Practice
So what does KM actually look like – what forms does it take? In practice, at it’s core, KM is about:
- Knowledge Repositories – this is the technology bit and the objective here is storing knowledge and making it accessible. These are knowledge bases, wikis, hubs of information, shared drives, intranets, extranets, google sites and google drives. All are forms of Knowledge Repositories.
- Knowledge Transfer Processes – here, the focus is on the capturing of knowledge from the people who have it and how to ensure that the knowledge is accessible and useable to the people who need it.
- Knowledge Culture – this is building an environment where people think strategically about how knowledge is collected and transferred in a collaborative way and where at all levels knowledge sharing is valued and prioritised.
So there you have it. My quick primer on Knowledge Management Basics.