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What can we do to make KM better?

I’ve been blogging on KM now for about eighteen months and this seems like a good time to take stock. It’s been an interesting journey; one that, at times, has been equally frustrating and seemingly pointless.  Why, pointless?  This is a mature field, even though many people still believe it to be an embryonic phase, and, as such, ownership of the terminology is, in the main, situated within IT; has a concept ever been so misunderstood?

KM is not what I believe it should be, based on the needs of knowledge-intensive organisations, or what it could be, and that feeds my frustration. Abbot wrote a book, ‘The chaos of disciplines‘, in which he says that too often we get so entrenched in our worldviews that we fail to notice that we are saying the same things, just in a different way. We, speaking of the field as an organic collective, seem to pick at sore points of KM like a child picking at a scab that wont heal: endless debates on the meaning of knowledge; the manageability of knowledge; demonstrating value ‘tangible’ through ROI; an obsession with the belief that we, KMers, are wizards who can transform the tacit into the explicit; the role of IT as a solution to the challenges of KM practice.  Why?  If we cannot agree on the fundamentals, then what hope do we have of being taken seriously as professionals?

The problem, from my perspective, is that we are not, as Abbot would see it, saying the same things. There are very distinct differences in the approach to KM in organisations:  object/process, explicit/tacit, Resource Based View/Knowledge Based View, Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom. The problem, organisational KM practice that is managed or, for want of a better way of putting it, entrenched, in IT departments is a recipe for dissatisfaction and potential failure. I don’t get how any organisation can look at their knowledge needs and not recognise that the primary respondent to the need, the active protagonists, are people. It really is that simple. So, how can an organisation possibly stimulate, manage, optimise or create a KM programme without considering organisational learning processes, or Strategic Human Resource Development? How can an IT department/specialist run a KM programme without understanding the principles of Adult Learning Theory, Theory X over Theory Y, Experiential Learning Theory, Action Learning, ‘training’ over ‘learning’, static, adaptive and dynamic organisations, and organisational learning / learning organisations?  The number of discussions that appear on KM threads debating the lack of capability of HR professionals to respond to the knowledge needs of an organisation don’t even consider the evolution of the HR field from legacy HRM (Management) toward HRD (Development) or Strategic HRD (SHRD).

I have never challenged the fact that IT has a place in KM; it is an important enabling tool that allows people to access information, activate it through application and generate knowledge and knowing.  As a mode of information transfer and connector of people it is invaluable, but to rely on it as a KM ‘solution’, well, that’s just wrong. There are serious challenges facing organisations today that KMers can respond to, a sweet spot, and I really believe that something needs to be done to improve the basic knowledge and understanding of this field’s capabilities and potential for the future.  I just hope that we can grasp the nettle, admit that we are perhaps getting it wrong, and move the field forward before it becomes consigned to the scrap-heap of failed fads of the past.

The question I keep asking myself, how do we make KM better?  It’s what drives me forward, but it is also what drives me to frustration…I’ll keep sharing my experiences and opinions one week at a time and we’ll see where we are in another eighteen months…







8 comments on “What can we do to make KM better?

  1. Pingback: What can we do to make KM better? | Private inforation Network

  2. Douglas Weidner
    September 4, 2011

    At least, it can’t be just another fad.
    Focusing on K and K-Intensive activities is just too strategic and important to ignore – to skip over to yet another fad, as you said.

    Q: Can HR be strategic enough? Can traditional trainers mature from mostly tactical to strategic?

    • David Griffiths
      September 4, 2011

      Hi Douglas…

      And therein lies the problem, in that most trainers are people who deal with the smallest element and not the whole.

      I just want to see our field kick on. Perhaps its just been a bad week, but it does seem as if we are constantly dealing with self-imposed inertia; constant battles on the meaning, language and purpose of the field – we need to agree and move on. The Q you pose about HR should, perhaps, also be posed to KMers…

      Q: Can KM become strategic enough? Can KMers mature from mostly tactical, isolated projects to strategic?

  3. Douglas Weidner
    September 4, 2011

    Fundamentally I agree, with these provisos:
    Most KMers have done one strategic initiative (repository) and think that is it!
    I believe many small, k-intensive, change management initiatives need to be in the mix as well.

  4. Stephen Bounds
    September 5, 2011

    Hi David,

    You say “I have never challenged the fact that IT has a place in KM”. Well, I do challenge that. IT is no more and no less important in KM than the telephone system or the four-ring binder.

    If the group-of-people-that-looks-after-PCs-and-servers are still calling themselves “IT” or even “ICT”, then the KM function should run far, far away.

    In my company, I work in the Information Services Branch, which brings traditional IT under the same umbrella as Information Management. Information Management *is* a viable place to launch KM initiatives – although it still tends to focus on artefacts rather than people.

    Ideally of course, KM would have its own corporate experts since I believe that you can do HR and IM without understanding what KM is about. However until we, as KM people, get our own sales pitch right these are the best two places to launch initiatives. (Finance is a third, slightly less-preferred option.)

    • David Griffiths
      September 6, 2011

      Hi Steven, I agree with you here – the problem, as I’ve talked about in previous blogs, is twofold: Organisations understanding the need for strategic KM experts and the apparent dearth of KMers who could fill those roles if they were developed. I also agree with you, in that KMers need to get the sales pitch right; unfortunately, it also goes back to my last point, in that it comes down to the individual KMers qualifications and expertise in responding to the need for strategic KM in orgnisations.

      • Stephen Bounds
        September 6, 2011

        Ultimately, we in KM have a credibility problem. The only way to fix that is with real, hard work on theory and research that can provide a better model to address the intractable problems of knowledge loss and organisational collapse.

        Patrick Lambe is doing great work in this space, but there needs to be so much more of it!

  5. Md Santo
    September 6, 2011

    Hi David,

    Should you visit URL Those are my version in replying or commenting your inquiry.

    Happy viewing!

    Md Santo – founder

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