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The problem with ‘certified’ KM training

***December 2012 update – Visit our updated KM education site,, and watch our video on the Certified KMer myth***

I want to be clear at the outset of this blog that this is not an attempt to discredit any organisation involved in KM education.  It is intended as a statement of observation that looks to pose questions on the progression of professional KM education.

Let me ask you this:  Would you hire a finance manager without a CPA qualification?  Would you have the confidence in their competence?  I’ll take a guess that your answer is, probably not!  I am not suggesting for a moment that KM can be governed in the same way as the public accounting field.  My aim is to highlight the fact that perhaps more attention needs to be given to the education and experience required to work in the KM field.

I believe that education and experience is a fundamental issue for KM.  For me, informed by research, such as our global KM Observatory survey, dissatisfaction in KM can often be linked to poor knowledge and understanding of what the concept is actually about and how it is being delivered.  We need benchmarks for education and experience if the field is to mature.  A ‘Certified’ Knowledge Manager qualification is both needed and in demand.  However, outside of the formal education route, there isn’t an accepted global, or even regionalised, benchmark qualification.

We have a field that is devoid of an accepted definition; high in dissatisfaction; experiencing diminished application as a strategic management tool; and struggling to demonstrate value.  Surely it is time to address these issues at a higher level.  Surely it is time for a body of people to take a grip of our field and provide a qualification framework that will help define the scope and scale of the field and bring credibility to the function in organisations.

There is some excellent work being done to progress KM on the academic front; for example, see the work of Kent State University or Bangkok University.  However, this, in my opinion, is not enough when it comes to the body of professionals that work under the title of ‘Knowledge Manager’.  There are organisations providing ‘solutions’, offering ‘Certified Knowledge Manager’ training: for example, KMPro and KM Institute, the latter claiming:

KM Institute’s knowledge management training programs are the de facto standard worldwide today because they focus on the practical application of KM techniques. KM Institute is also the only organisation offering a standard curriculum in the Americas, Asia, Australia, Middle East and Europe. This makes it invaluable to global organisations who can rest assured that their knowledge workers get the same training and resources, wherever they are located

I have no problem with ‘Certified Knowledge Manager’ qualifications, if they are really are what they say on the tin, ‘Certified’ – against a set of industry standards that frame the education and experience of the person ‘certified’.  I do not believe that it is wise to promote a “de facto standard” for our field that does not apply a framework to assess the ‘graduates’ competence.  Perhaps what we are actually speaking of, in this case, is more an accreditation certificate; such as that offered by Cognitive-Edge.  Going back to the CPA example that I used at the outset of this blog, compare the certification framework for the ‘de facto‘ standard for accountants with that of the organisation mentioned above.  Also, a de facto standard would seem to mean that it has been adopted by industry and academia across the world.  This is most certainly not the case.  The proof?  The Russel Group Universities are 20 of the UK’s top Higher Education Institutions, “committed to the highest levels of academic excellence in both teaching and research”, and none of them recognise the ‘worldwide de facto standard’ for course credit or even entry.  How many of the 283 KM vacancies, from around the world, advertised on Twitter during the period between March 2010 and June 2010, requested this de facto industry standard qualification as either an essential or desirable requirement for employment?  None!  How about the number of companies currently advertising KM jobs on ‘’?  Are you getting the sense that there is a theme here?

You might argue that we cannot have an accepted benchmark qualification due to the breadth of concepts that fall under the KM umbrella, especially when considering the dualism of people and technology (I believe that we need to start thinking in terms of duality and a good education programme could lay the foundation for this).  I would argue that this is exactly why we need leadership in this area.  We need to frame the field and a benchmark qualification could assist in achieving this.  I also believe that we have a duty of care to those who hold a ‘certified’ qualification to ensure that it is just that; a certificate where they have demonstrated their competence and can truly refer to themselves as ‘Certified Knowledge Managers’

Our field needs credibility.  Where is the credibility in producing ‘Certified Knowledge Managers’ who do not have to demonstrate competence to gain ‘certification’?  Take a look at organisations such as the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development for examples of industry standard qualifications in Human Resource Management/Development – qualifications that are recognised by, and delivered in, Higher Education Institutions.  In fairness KM training organisations, such as KMPro, are working towards competence based qualifications, evidenced in their exam preparation guidance, issued by their own KM Certification Board.  However, even here, we do not have an industry standard.  There is no agreement on curriculum content or even exactly how KM should be operationalised in an organisation.

I might be expecting too much and I am happy to accept accusations of idealism, when perhaps I should be pragmatic, but knowledge will continue to be a vital resource for organisations and, therefore, this issue will not go away.  A lack of consensus on content and standards across academic and professional bodies breeds  inertia and that just doesn’t seem good enough.  Institutions such as Kent State appear to be moving the field in the right direction.  However, until we find an acceptable professional benchmark qualification for our field, there is an ongoing risk to the credibility of operational KM.

18 comments on “The problem with ‘certified’ KM training

  1. krismcg
    August 9, 2011

    Totally agree. Everyday I am faced by people who demand a response that is based in Knowledge Management, but do not accept one’s professional opinion on the topic due to a lack of tertiary qualifications. The field is treated like a ‘nicety’ and ‘brand name’ without substance. People understand ‘data’ and ‘information’ but not the concept of ‘knowledge’ and its various applications.

    • David Griffiths
      August 9, 2011

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. In our experience the presenting problem, or the fact that, “The field is treated like a ‘nicety’ and ‘brand name’ without substance”, is brought about by this: “People understand ‘data’ and ‘information’ but not the concept of ‘knowledge’ and its various applications.”

      The question is, what are we going to do about it?

  2. guystclair
    August 9, 2011


    Here’s my comment at the Gurteen Knowledge Community at LinkedIn:

    Thank you for the post and the link to the full blog.

    This is a subject of great interest to many of us in KM/knowledge services work, and I refer you to a couple of resources available at our site.

    In the first, “KM/Knowledge Services Certification” (, posted just a couple of weeks ago, we raise the issue and offer some thoughts from our perspective and our observations with clients and colleagues.

    In the second, we bring up the work of the Knowledge Management Education Forum (see the KMEdu Hub LinkedIn Group for more on their work). In our post, we described the Forum’s recent meeting “KM Education Forum: Educators Seek Consensus at First Annual Summit” ( Our post included a link to SMR’s report on the Forum’s meeting.

    Perhaps these resources will contribute to the discussion. Thank you for your thoughtful comments about this important subject.

    • David Griffiths
      August 9, 2011

      Hi Guy… Thank you for contributing to the blog and good to hear from you

      I agree with you…these are positive steps and it is good to see the work going into this area.

      My only concern is that for this to be taken further the work needs to incorporate global views. There has been good research in the past that has failed to ‘take hold’ because the views that informed it were limited (a good example is the work of Holsapple & Joshi (2004) looking into a KM ontology – too bias towards Northern Hemisphere thinking). Too many ‘general’ KM models/standards (some governmental) have also fallen away, evidenced by their lack of application in organisations, due to a lack of consensus – we have to try and overcome this. Invite leading thinkers together, don’t wait for them to become aware of the initiative, and drive the field forward — I did say that I am an idealist!

      The body of experts needs to encompass representatives from international Universities such as Singapore, Monash and Hong Kong (just as an example), as well as a diversity of practitioners, such as David Gurteen, David Snowden, Neil Olonoff, John Bordeaux, Sergio Storch and Patrick Lambe – to name but a few; if this is already happening, then I applaud the forum and look forward to seeing the outcomes.

      Ultimately, I believe that forging a set of standards will frame our field and improve practice.

  3. Pingback: SMR International » KM/Knowledge Services Education and Certification – The Discussion Continues

  4. borisj
    August 10, 2011

    Would it make a difference if you offer a degree named “Certificated…” to make a distinction between certificate and certification?

    In Germany it woud not! Both, certificated and certified have the same meaning, which is certified. One company e.g is offering a Certificate in KM and the degree you get is Certified Knoweldge Manager

    • David Griffiths
      August 10, 2011

      Hi Boris,

      For me it is the substance behind the ‘certificate’, regardless of terminology. If we are going to declare someone to be a ‘Certified Knowledge Manager’ then there has to be a qualification framework with a set of standards relating to experience and education. If those standards do not exist then the credibility of our field suffers.

      At the moment private organisations are declaring that they are the de facto standard for our field and that their ‘graduates’ are ‘Certified Knowledge Managers’; there is no requisite knowledge or experience to support this certification, it is purely driven by attendance. An under/post grad degree in KM does not mean that you are a ‘Certified KMer’, it means that you have a level of competence, as set out in the qualification framework. For me, as I set out with the CPA example, a ‘Certified KMer’ needs a blend of experience and education awarded against a benchmark standards; I also believe that such a qualification framework will assist in setting boundaries for the field – this, in turn, will allow us to become more focused in developing measurement and quality assurance processes; we can grow from there, but, in the first instance, we need to set boundaries for the field.

      Just my opinion…

  5. Baoman
    August 10, 2011

    A few points and I don’t mean to sound too dogmatic if it comes across that way, so apologies in advance.

    It is entirely possible (and some may say desirable) to hire a ‘finance manager’ who does not have an accounting qualification. It is done rather frequently here in Hong Kong, the world’s 3rd financial centre after New York and London. I’ve worked inside a finance department at a large multi-national and the key qualities for good financial management are not necessarily evident from a basic accounting qualification. Many finance managers have an accounting qualification but having the qualification is not what has made them successful managers in the financial arena.

    By analogy the same can be said for knowledge management. I have a good degree in KM but that is not what qualifies me to be a qualified knowledge manager. Twenty something years of work experience in knowledge, information and records management at a multi-national consumer goods product corporation, a large airport construction project and a hotel/casino company is a whole lot more relevant to my ability to ‘do knowledge management’. When that work experience is combined with my KM degree then someone may say I’m ‘well qualified’ in KM. I may be qualified but I still may not be able to do ‘good’ KM.

    I’m not dismissive of short courses on knowledge management. They can give out certificates and diplomas. The participants should sit exams and those exams should be difficult enough to require some serious study. There is no harm in route memorization of some KM concepts, definitions and so on. These people have learned something and it may be very useful when combined with their past work experience and the work they will do in the future.

    What I can see as the major problem with KM inside organizations is that there is not a KM Department with a range of expertise. It is not analogous to a Finance Department with junior, middle and senior levels, some of who may have accounting qualifications. Typically there is only 1 or 2 KM people embedded in Information Technology, Information Management or Human Resources Departments. They are looked on as the internal KM experts. Maybe you have a good one and maybe you don’t. It is really a question of luck. Organizations may try to bring in external KM expert consultants and that may help but too often these external experts come, talk and leave and their impact is not meaningful.

    I have no real solution besides saying that for KM to be taken more seriously there needs to be on-the-job experience combined with education. There needs to be mentoring and coaching about KM skills between levels of internal staff that will become more skilled over time. They probably won’t be ‘real KMers’ in the beginning but will eventually get there over time.

  6. Douglas Weidner
    August 10, 2011

    David, et al
    I’m Chairman of the International Knowledge Management Institute (KM Institute), which claims, as you’ve noted, to be the de facto standard for KM certification.

    This claim is based on a number of pertinent points, the realities of an emergent profession and the lack of any credible international standards body such as you seek..

    Market dominance – A key point is the number of CKM certifications I have personally instructed or that have been provided by instructors I’ve trained, compared to any other provider since the beginning of CKMs more than ten years ago. The number will exceed 4,000 by end of 2011, based on the number of already scheduled private classes in the Fall 2011, including large military command units in Europe (US AfriCom, US Army HQ and USAF), Hawaii (PaCom), and the Singapore Armed Forces. More Fall 2011 examples: a large Saudi firm in Riyadh, and public classes in 1) Malaysia, with attendees from throughout the South and East Asia, in 2) Canada, and 3) two already oversubscribed workshops in Washington DC with international students from around the world. It is just a simple fact, some organization (in this case the had to step out and lead. The world famous and accepted Project Management Institute (PMI) was established for many decades before it developed an accepted PMBOK(r) and equivalent certification, the Project Management Professional (PMP).

    Standards – This present KM Institute program was initially designed to exceed the Learning Objectives for CKO, as researched by the US Government in 2000-2001. It is modular in design and can be enriched to incorporate the next generation of standards, such as those which will evolve from the KM Education Forum. The KMEF is possibly now the largest and most credible such KM education and training standards body, including representatives from around the world, both academics and experienced practitioners. Standards can evolve in many ways – standards bodies and even the combined input of thousands of past certificants. Oh, and interestingly, one of the experts you would like to see involved in such standards, Neil Olonoff, is already a CKM.

    Assessment – the eCKM, which is a self-paced, interactive video/multimedia version of the workshop CKM does have a traditional assessment – 163 questions, while the workshop now has an end-of-workshop project, as well as exercises throughout the week.

    Way Forward – interested parties should join the KMEF, and help to create such standards. The KM Institute is committed to expanding and enriching its offerings, subject to the KMEF outcomes for “Roles & Responsibilities”, resultant competencies, and recommended curricula for universities and trainers. But in lieu of that result, the KM Institute has already expanded its offerings to include:

    * A KM Awareness Series ™ curriculum based on the same KM standards used for KM team member certification and the evolving KMBOK(tm). The awareness series is now being offered as a site license for organizations commencing their change management inspired KM awareness campaign, including a ‘Train-the-Trainer’ program for those organizations which would prefer to customize the content and deliver in-house themselves.

    * a core KM Certification – Certified K Practitioner (CKP)(tm) – now being offered as part of the workshop, including pre-workshop study. It is also offered as eCKP(tm).

    * KM Specialty Certification (CKS-Specialty) – This will be the future, big KM training opportunity, for expert KM practitioners to develop very specialized courses. We invite participation from any of your readers who are both experts in a KM domain and have already developed some robust content that can be re-purposed to ‘e’ for international delivery.

    • David Griffiths
      August 10, 2011


      You know that I do not have any problem with what you are attempting to do and, if you look back on other posts, I fully support a move by KMI to improve standards within the KM field. However, I am interested in qualifications that improve the quality of standards within our field.

      I am not going to hide the fact that I believe that the title of ‘Certified Knowledge Manager’ is an overstatement of competence; given the existing framework for demonstrating that competence. I also consider it to be, when considering the strategic and operational demands of the KM function, a misleading qualification for employers and also for those holding the qualification – it impacts our credibility as a field and an organisation’s satisfaction in outputs. My opinion, if you are going to ‘certify’ the competence of a person to hold a position then that certification needs to account for education and experience against a validated framework. Do I believe that this can be achieved in one week (or the equivalent in self-paced engagement), no. We haven’t even begun to talk about internal and external validation processes to assess curriculum and standards, but you can see my point of view.

      Does it change the fact that you are providing a service that attempts to progress our field? No, not at all. Will my opinion count for anything when people consider your courses? No, probably not.

      I am also going to be transparent, in that I believe the claim of being the de facto standard for KM training/development worldwide is a misrepresentation of reality. That is just my opinion and I am happy for readers to weigh up the argument and make up their own mind. I realise that you are a private company and this is about establishing market position, but I just do not believe this claim to be true. If we are going to talk of thede facto standard in the way you have set out, then I would argue that the post grad (MSc) in Knowledge Management module from the University of Edinburgh (5,000+ graduates in the last 10 years from over 60 countries) would be the de facto industry standard; which it clearly is not. I am genuinely sorry if this sounds confrontational, but I need to ask, how many global universities currently accept your de facto industry qualification for credit at postgraduate level? For example, I am not aware of any in the UK that do, but I am willing to be told otherwise.

      I would also suggest that there is a conflict of interest between yourself as a ‘for profit’ private enterprise and the improvement in competence required to progress the field – which comes first, revenue generation and growth or quality standards? If it is the latter then I, in my role at the University of Edinburgh, would be the first to put my hand up to work with you, and any other partners, to develop an accredited (professional) ‘Certified Knowledge Manager’ course – this does not have to be based in the UK and we are happy to work in collaboration with anybody as long as the focus is on standards. That invite goes to any readers who are interested in this topic. The University is serious about improving practice and if others are of a similar mind and want to collaborate, then our interest is there. But we are interested in qualifications that can be delivered by any ‘accredited’ organisation, against a set of quality assured standards, which opens competition in the field.

      I fully support the work of the KMEF. However, as I have said on various forums, this is a global problem that will require a global solution, otherwise there will never be consensus – people might argue that there never will be. There is precedent for this… Look at the extensive work of Holsapple & Joshi (2004) into a universal KM Ontology. It wasn’t taken up globally and for good reason, the research didn’t engage the global KM community. You said to join “KMEF, and help to create such standards. The KM Institute is committed to expanding and enriching its offerings, subject to the KMEF outcomes for “Roles & Responsibilities”, resultant competencies, and recommended curricula for universities and trainers” – has KMEF approached top global universities engaged in this field; for example, Monash, Singapore and Hong Kong? If not, how can anyone expect to deliver a ‘global’ solution? If they have, then, fantastic, I for one will be looking forward to the outcomes. Further proof that this needs to be a global engagement can be found in past ventures to develop common frameworks for the field: The British Standards Institution (2001, 2003), Standards Australia (2001), Wissensmanagement (Bournemann, 2003) and the European Committee for Standardisation (2004). We need to ask ourselves why we haven’t adopted these frameworks and learn the lessons from our reflections.

      The bottom line is that I am passionately driven to try and improve awareness of the issues in our field and to bring about positive change. This is not an attack on the work of KMI, this is a call for much needed improvement in quality standards. I am willing to be called an idealist and I am willing to be criticised for my stance, but a downturn in KM usage and a pervasive feeling of dissatisfaction tells us that something is rotten with the state of KM and I want to see us change that. Will my opinion change things, probably not, but it is worth a go.

      • Douglas
        October 3, 2011

        “revenue generation and growth or quality standards? If it is the latter then I, in my role at the University of Edinburgh, would be the first to put my hand up to work with you, and any other partners, to develop an accredited (professional) ‘Certified Knowledge Manager’ course…”

        Count me in…that’s why we are involved with KMEF and have contributed our “Roles & Responsibilities Model.” KM Institute ( does not seek additional revenue from me teaching CKM in US and international public and private classes. I’m doing my annual max already. (Admittedly, we are profit motivated, and our “KM Awareness Campaign” and associated in-house train-the-trainer program have unlimited potential outside the resolution of KM standards.)

      • Douglas
        October 3, 2011

        Which of “the British Standards Institution (2001, 2003), Standards Australia (2001), Wissensmanagement (Bournemann, 2003) and the European Committee for Standardisation (2004)” are non-profit and which are for profit?

        It shouldn’t make a difference, but were they actual standards bodies? You mentioned the KM Certification Board. In your knowledge is it a standards body?

        Did you know I taught a private CKM class to HK Polytechnic Professors, certifying about eight or ten of them many years back?

        Let’s combine forces rather just talk about this issue.

  7. Pingback: The problem with ‘certified’ Knowledge Management training | KMedu Hub - Knowledge Management education and training worldwide

  8. Pingback: KM/Knowledge Services Education: The Discussion Continues » SMR

  9. Pingback: The problem with ‘certified’ KM training | weiterbildungsblog

  10. Bob Hilarides
    September 14, 2011

    I agree with your definition of the problem, but am not sure the solution to focus on is Certification. Client at a major beverages company said to me yesterday, “we’ve tried several renditions of KM, but none have stuck.”
    My answer to him was that they were not integrated efforts, crossing technology, culture, process and strategy. KM players who have vested interests in their own view of the solution (based on what they have to offer, of course) need to acknowledge that technology can’t do it alone…nor can even the coolest new social computing applications…or exclusively people oriented sharing/COP solutions.
    So the issue is the greater underlying problem you highlight in the last paragraph, the inability of industry players to agree on what the best practices are. How can we certify if we can’t agree on what skills and capabilities are the key to success. Especially when the needs of different companies are so vastly different, from greater document management to more strategic perspective to more collaborative working. Certification today is like automating a mediocre process. It may also imply that KM is an end, as opposed to a means of supporting business strategies that drive financial results.

    • Douglas
      October 3, 2011

      Agree. Let’s focus on defining today’s already proven solutions (methodologies based on past disciplines–change mgmt and case studies) which include a substantial portion of change management often overlooked by KMers.
      In all fairness, I have attempted the university accredited route and am presently of the opinion unless proven wrong…800 years of tradition unhampered by progress. Please prove me wrong on that.
      If a university is looking ahead to the K Age, they would do many things differently.

  11. Pingback: The problem with ‘certified’ KM training | Knowledge Sharing |

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