(Bonanno, K 2003, ‘Knowledge management: a people process’, in M Nimon,(ed.), Connecting challenges: issues for teacher and children’s librarians, Auslib Press, Adelaide, pp. 26-33.)
Knowledge Management: What is it?
Defining Knowledge Management (KM) is akin to an old fable of the blind men and the elephant, where each person touches a different part of the elephant’s body and arrives at their own perception of what the elephant looks like and really is. In the past three years a number of writings on knowledge management concepts for schools and learning organisations has emerged (Bonanno 2002; Hay and Eustace 2001; Hanson 2000; Hanson 2001; Todd 1999a, 1999b, 1999c, 1999d, 1999e; Todd 2001).
In the early 1990’s Information Systems (IS) and Information Technology (IT) combined to provide a ‘fire hose’ effect of Data (D), a basic building block of knowledge. Information Management (IM), as a concept, emerged to effectively cope with the combination of IS, IT and D to give leverage to the emerging ‘learning organisation’ model for schools, “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together” (Senge 1992, p.3).
However, IS + IT + D = IM does not automatically equal Knowledge Management, but it is a crucial forerunner and a primary enabler of KM practices. KM is more than technology.
So, what is KM? Here are four definitions that may help to shed some light on how KM is viewed by industry. Mullins, of Platinum technology, Inc. states:
“Knowledge management encompasses management strategies, methods, and technology for leveraging intellectual capital and know-how to achieve gains in human performance and competitiveness.”
“Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, managing and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. These information assets may includes databases, documents, policies and procedures as well as previously unarticulated expertise and experience resident in individual workers. Knowledge management issues include developing, implementing and maintaining the appropriate technical and organizational infrastructures to enable knowledge sharing, and selecting specific contributing technologies and vendors.”
“Knowledge management can be defined as the harnessing of a company’s collective expertise to the right people at the right time. It’s not a product but a process – the process of gathering, managing, and sharing employee’s knowledge capital.” (Mullins n.d.).
Hemamalini Suresh (2002, p.3) ventures this definition:
“Knowledge management (KM) is a process that helps organizations find, select, organize, disseminate, and transfer important information and expertise necessary for activities such as problem solving, dynamic learning, strategic planning and decision making.”
In summary, KM is about cognition, the dynamics of communication and human relations, behavioural science, organisational strategy, and the process of capturing the collective knowledge of the organisation, analysing it and transforming it into a form that is easily recognised and useable. It is about bringing people together to create an environment, both culturally and technologically, which will enable knowledge sharing. KM enterprises should emphasise People involvement rather than Information Management involvement.
Knowledge exists in people.
Knowledge types (K – Objects)
Broadly speaking there are two types of knowledge – explicit and tacit.
Explicit knowledge is available in some documented form and, quite likely, already exists within the organisation. This explicit knowledge can be either individual or collective. For example, an individual explicit K-Object could be in the form of a word-processed document for a unit of classroom work. A collective explicit K-Object could be the school’s strategic plan or a policy document. Explicit knowledge is already embedded in the culture and provides a good starting point for a pilot project on KM.
Tacit knowledge is experiential and localised in people’s heads; skills, experience, insight and intuition. This type of K-Object is harder to capture and, given the right processes, could possibly be converted to explicit K-Objects. For example, a teacher responsible for a particular class may plan the year level excursion and never consider consulting with other teachers about what they do when they plan for their year level excursion. An explicit K-Object could be developed to document the processes and procedures that would reflect a whole school approach to this aspect of extra curricular activity. To a large extent, it is dependent on the willingness of the ‘originators’ to want to share.
Barth (2002) raises an interesting point about the transfer of tacit to explicit in that it ceases to be knowledge; that it is, once again, information and only becomes knowledge “when apprehended in the mind”. This tacit knowledge is person specific and enriched by the individual’s understanding and expertise. When it is processed and collated it becomes ‘information’. This information is then documented. When it is contextualised within the organisation, and found to be valid and useful for enhancing the organisation’s operations, e.g. decision making, strategic planning, it becomes explicit knowledge.
Both explicit and tacit knowledge represent the K-Assets of an organisation and are knowledge about products, processes, technologies and practices. These K-Assets contribute to the successful functioning of any organisation and create value for the end-user.
Drivers of KM
Natarajan and Shekhar (2001, pp.75-76) indicate the key technological elements that are driving KM forward.
The most significant and familiar technologies are network applications, Internet, intranets, search and navigation tools, groupware and collaborative software and information management systems. These utilities assist us in our current efforts to focus on organising, leveraging and sharing existing knowledge. As the technology and our skills mature we will be better able to generate new knowledge and uncover tacit knowledge.
Synergies for KM development
Because KM is not about creating a single solution for some specific set of problems or issues one has to acknowledge the dynamics of creating an environment, both culturally and technologically, which enables knowledge sharing.
As we are aware, technology plays a significant role, but we need to add to this the culture of the organisation and its population, the economics involved in a KM project, and the politics of an organisation contemplating embracing KM.
Basically, there has to be a reason for embarking on a KM project. An individual or a group of people suggests the idea of a KM activity. As organisations consider where they are at and where they would prefer to be; a knowledge gap analysis, identifying what one has and what one doesn’t have to achieve the future objectives of the organisation, is a usual starting point. The critical success factor is being able to map the territory and visualize the end point.
Where should school X be in 2005? How can it utilise K-Assets to make informed decisions about its operational and strategic directions?
This presents the first challenge – how to change the methodology for servicing the needs of an existing and future client group in this new world of technological change and growth. Novins and Armstrong indicate that organisations are faced with a new way of thinking about knowledge. Managers “look for guidance to the only model they know: making individuals knowledgeable.” In fact, they question the educational system, which encourages us “to think in terms of domains of knowledge, and the mastery of them over time.” One suggestion is to focus on the origin rather than the domain. They ask the question: “What knowledge are we hoping to share, and with whom?” (Novins and Armstrong n.d.).
Tobin advocates that any KM project must have several champions if it is going to succeed. These are the people who believe in it, are passionate about it, have the ‘get up and go’ to do it, and have the clout to make things happen. If you have only one champion, and that person leaves, the project may lose momentum and die.
“What I like to see ….. is a dual-sponsorship: one at the operational level and one at the executive level. So if an operations manager decides the company really needs knowledge management, that manager should find somebody on the executive staff that will agree to support the vision.” (Tobin 2001)
Various technology tools and systems are needed to harness or mine, store and retrieve, disseminate and generate K-Objects. Identifying what one has and what one needs engages the economics of an organisation and places it in a competing mode with other organisational projects.
Groupware, as a Knowledge Management tool, is a good starting point. Groupware is “an umbrella term describing the electronic technologies that support person-to-person collaboration.” (Coleman 2000a) Coleman (2000b) advises that it is important to identify the problem / issue for which a knowledge solution is required before selecting the groupware software. Avoid the cart before the horse syndrome!
The major component here is the organisation’s population; the people ‘energy’. Will the effort of engaging in a KM project provide attractive and productive benefits?
The challenge is how to re-engineer the mindsets of the ‘knowledge workers’ and enable individual and corporate K-sharing to happen. A KM project includes the setting up a knowledge organisation. This means addressing issues from organisational structure, values, managerial systems, employee satisfaction levels, and formal and informal information communication systems.
Many organisations have realized that successful KM projects depend on the commitment of the top management line, and the contribution of their middle managers and in-house experts. Even so, be aware that ‘management’ have often built their careers on mastering the hierarchical ladder and may wish to ‘hoard’ their knowledge. Also, employees are being asked to shift their mindset from a system where being a tower of knowledge was rewarded to a system where they are rewarded for sharing their expertise. Consider pay increments linked to how well you coached a colleague?, or, how well you informed other teachers about what you learned at a recent conference?, or, how well you shared with parents and documented the way that you did this? A very sensitive issue is the intellectual ownership of knowledge. People feel that ‘knowledge is power’, so if they give up their knowledge, they give up their power. Explicit knowledge is more likely to be the intellectual property of the organisation. However, tacit knowledge, being difficult to capture and code, effectively remains the intellectual property of the individual. The individual leaves the organisation and takes the knowledge with them. A KM industry leader has suggested the need to incorporate “exit interviews.” (Svetvilas 2001) The purpose of the interview is to find out why they are leaving and what knowledge they are taking with them. Maybe a ‘smart’ person has walked out the door because their intellectual capital wasn’t leveraged or rewarded?
Denning, Pommier and Shneier (2002) advocate that “communities of practice are the heart and soul of knowledge sharing….the formation of professional groupings where people come voluntarily together with others to share similar interests and learn from others’ skills has become the common feature of knowledge organizations.”
Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO)
For Communities of Practice to be effected it may well be necessary to have a knowledge evangelist in the role of Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO). Most of the Fortune 500 (listing of the 500 largest industrial corporations in the USA) now have CKOs and even have knowledge workers working for them. If KM is about technology and also ‘about cognition, the dynamics of communication and human relations, behavioural science, organisational strategy, and the process of capturing the collective knowledge of the organisation, analysing it and transforming it into a form that is easily recognised and useable,’ then the CKO will need to have a multi-perspective approach to KM. The fable about the blind men and the elephant comes into play. The KM ‘elephant’ looks very different to the information technology co-ordinator, the teacher librarian, a school administrator and a principal. In reality, a school may need to combine the skills and expertise of all of these personnel to effectively manage, share, value and measure the outcomes of a KM project.
Would a preferred future be to have a CKO in middle management who was supported by a committed group of knowledge officers, i.e. people seen as the catalysts in each division who ensured that the benefits and importance of K-sharing was understood and exercised, and a group of knowledge managers, i.e. people responsible for ensuring the content is validated, collated, updated, relevant and useful?
The methodology used to approach KM projects needs to assume a certain chronology of processes. Natarajan and Shekhar have developed a four-phase methodology (2001, p.185), which schools could consider.
1. K-Need Identification
2. K-Acquisition Framework
3. K-Net Design
4. K-Net Implementation
1. K-Need Identification
An underlying principle behind any knowledge strategy is that a school needs to know if the presence or absence of a specific KM project will have an effect on its overall business. Is KM the way to go or is another approach a better solution to accomplish the goal?
a) Link the school’s strategic plan to knowledge-based strategic activities.
b) Identify the knowledge-based strategic activities that will help achieve the objectives of the school now and, more importantly, in the future. Do an ‘as-is’ analysis or a fresh analysis of knowledge requirements. Understanding how knowledge exists and how it is used is an important factor. Ask, ‘What do we know, who knows it, and what do we not know that we should know?’
c) Translate the knowledge-based strategic activities into a process. What needs to be done, who is going to do it, by when, and is it worth doing?
d) Identify the K-Objects required for each knowledge-based strategic activity.
e) Rate the K-Objects in order of importance to be acquired.
f) Address change management issues, e.g. create a ‘vision’ of nurturing a Community of Participants in Best Practice, involve people who are going to be using the K-sharing environment, don’t make decisions in a vacuum, update job descriptions. Creating the right culture before implementation is crucial.
At some point in the above process it will be important to select one K-based strategic activity as the pilot project.
Tobin (2001) warns that “knowledge management is a strategic endeavour, not just a project…..you are never really done; you initiate it and you build it and then its online and you maintain it.”
2. K-Acquisition Framework
Once the knowledge gaps have been determined and the knowledge-based strategic activities identified the next step is to work out how and from where you will acquire the K-Objects and how you will make them accessible.
a) Identify what you already have, either as individual or collective K-Objects, e.g. documents, databases, presentations, spreadsheet files
b) Identify what you may need to acquire or create
c) Determine how you will code/classify/categorise the K-Objects. In addition to the focus on origin as espoused by Novins and Armstrong, other knowledge classification they suggest might include:
i. “Recipient: who is likely to need to use it?
ii. Applicability: How broadly does the knowledge apply? Is it local or global in nature?
iii. Transferability: How easy is it to impart the knowledge to others, and how difficult for them to apply correctly?
iv. Richness: How much is the knowledge dependent on its context, and how much meaning would be lost through simplification?
v. Currency: How old is the knowledge? How timeless?
vi. Trustworthiness: Is it easy to test? Does it come from a reliable source?” (Novins and Armstrong n.d.).
In summary, Novins and Armstrong indicate the real insight is achieved at the levels of applicability and transferability.
d) Create a Knowledge Map (K-Map). A K-Map tells you where to go and what to find. It ensures you don’t get lost in the maze and functions similarly to the Yellow Pages or a directory listing.
e) Develop policy, style guides to standardize K-creation for viewer friendly use, and templates.
f) Involve school management personnel
g) Set management and user expectations, i.e. How will you know you have achieved your goal?, How will you know if K-sharing is really happening?
3. K-Net Design
This is the phase where the school considers the technology and tools that will support the KM projects. Bear in mind that no one vendor currently provides a complete and comprehensive suite of products. The general consensus is that the best KM project will need a meld of different products, software and services.
a) Identify the KM applications, e.g. search and retrieval applications, on-line learning applications, messaging applications.
b) Select the appropriate technology to deliver the processes and procedures for implementation, e.g. knowledge capture, storage, dissemination, retrieval, updating and archiving.
c) Determine the infrastructure requirements in terms of hardware, network and software. Also, consider the infrastructure for people skilling in terms of training and support.
d) Identify the appropriate KM tool(s), if needed. An evaluation grid may be useful as you capture the information on the various KM tools or web-based tools. Hay and Eustace refer to various software applications designed to support Knowledge Management (2001, pp.28-31).
e) Record the technical specifications for the KM rollout.
4. K-Net Implementation
In this phase the school is seeking the ‘buy-in’ from the people within the organisation. Ultimately, implementation leads to internalisation and assimilation of the knowledge processes as part of everyday activities. It is the dependence on people that gives life to a KM project. With the backing of the people behind the project many benefits can be obtained. On the other hand, non-acceptance will lead to disaster.
a) Make sure there is sufficient content available in the knowledge directories/repositories.
b) Catalog/classify the K-Objects so that it reflects the nature of the school
c) Determine access rights, but bear in mind the need for free-flow of knowledge and content
d) Consider the people combinations, e.g. knowledge workers for each division who have roles and responsibilities and encourage sharing
e) Communicate the benefits, e.g. collective wisdom, invaluable intellectual property that has long-term strategic value, building institutional memory to facilitate better management and decision making, renewal and enrichment of knowledge workers
f) Celebrate successful KM projects
At this point there appears to be another phase, K-Enhancement. This next phase encompasses the refinement of existing knowledge and the acquiring of new knowledge as a school reflects on the outcomes of the initial K-based strategic activity. The question, ‘What knowledge do we not have, but we should have’ will guide the strategic planning process and provide an opportunity for the knowledge workers and knowledge managers to have input.
The path continues “…moving upwards and outwards in ever increasing spirals as we build knowledge and embrace the technology to assist us in our endeavours (Bonanno 2002, p. 3). The application and leverage of the K-Assets provides a potential environment within which new knowledge can be created, moving the organisation through the phases of K-Need Identification, K-Acquisition Framework, K-Net Design, K-Net Implementation and K-Enhancement again and again.
Knowledge Management (KM) may be currently seen as a Holy Grail or even over-hyped. Because KM has become a recognized business discipline, and has absorbed a large amount of industry investment and human resources, it is quite likely that it is here to stay KM is a dynamic combination of people (communication, communities and cognition), process (KM practices, core activities and strategy) and technology (tools and infrastructure).
Reflecting on this combination and applying the KM phases, schools may be better positioned to envisage the strategic opportunities of transforming information and knowledge into action.
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