We welcome Tim Wieringa as a guest blogger to Green Chameleon.
Since 1999, my work has been related to Knowledge Management (KM). Already then, KM was a term that was not well recognised; at the time, we did not label our KM-related consulting services with Knowledge Management. Today I am holding an official position in Knowledge Management, still many people do not grasp the term and have a clear understanding of it. “Knowledge Management” seems to be fuzzy and not specific enough; it does not refer to daily (work) life topics.
In my comprehension, the field of Knowledge Management has a few clearly distinguished topics. With this article, I want to suggest that professionals in Knowledge Management should define a limited number of disciplines, that are concrete, easy to grasp, specific, and well-understood by people inside and outside the field of KM.
Here is a suggestion to split Knowledge Management into five disciplines.
One: Information Management & Search
This might be the classic part of Knowledge Management; the collection, storage, and distribution of information, documents, books, and intellectual property. Instead of information management, we could also call it document management and library management. Related to this is the topic of taxonomies, tagging, and other forms to classification.
Separately, but within the same discipline, I would like to mention the chapter of search; a rather large topic. Related to this is indexing and semantic categorisation.
- knowledge libraries in large corporations that allow global access to documents across departments and subsidiaries
- social bookmarking tools that classify websites and allow other users to share them
- search engines that are indexing vast collection of documents and websites
Knowledge does not only exist in final documents, books, website, etc. People are working together to create this information. People need to be engaged in conversations and encourage to share what they already know, in order to achieve more and to innovate. For me, this discipline has two major aspects: 1) establishing a knowledge sharing culture; provide management support, etc. 2) provide supportive collaboration tools; e.g. project management, task management, wiki tools.
- contact relationship management (CRM) tools that efficiently share and store relevant information to customers, suppliers, and business partners
- corporate wiki tools that allow the capturing of experts’ knowledge and allow collaboratively develop this knowledge
- project management tools that allow disperse teams to share information, have discussions, and manage tasks & deadlines
Three: Workflow Definitions
In my experience, when we design workflow definitions, or process definitions, and flowcharts for a series of job activities, then we can influence how information is captured, stored, and distributed. This might not be commonly understood as part of Knowledge Management, but workflows of customer complaints processes or order processing flow contain a lot of important information and knowledge. With the right procedures and processes, this knowledge can be captured and shared more efficiently.
- the right design of a costumer complaints process can ensure that the sales departments receives more information about the customers and the research & development department gathers important input on how to improve the products
- project management methodologies can include processes to capture project reports which are automatically shared in a knowledge library
In collaboration, people are working together to share documented knowledge. More important than that is the exchange of tacit knowledge. Again, we need to engage people in conversations; typical platforms are communities of practice, forums, and social networking tools. The main aspect of networking is talking to each other; other elements are expert profiles, white pages, and connections.
- social networking platforms allow to publish a personal profile, exchange thoughts, and keep in touch with colleagues and friends
- in online discussion forums questions are answered by a broad community; the answers are then available for the entire community for future reference
Five: Training & Learning
This is another classic in knowledge management. I would assume that in most cases, knowledge is transferred by schools, trainings, and other form of learning platforms. Training and learning is a rather formal transfer of knowledge. Today, this is not a one way transfer anymore. In many areas, the lecturer is capturing experiences from the audience. Popular concepts are case studies, workshops, etc.
- corporate induction seminars gathers all newcomers in a company at one time and provide them an introduction at the same time; this could also be done with e-learning tools
- professionals in a specific field of interest gather regularly in conferences to exchange their latest findings and discuss about it
- training programs for ‘Efficient Meetings’ (just as an example) can be conducted in two parts: a) a brief introduction to the latest findings for this topic, b) a discussion among the participants on how these findings could be applied in their environment
Beside these five disciplines, there are other topics which are very closely related to Knowledge Management; topics that are necessary for Knowledge Management but might also be applicable in other areas. These disciplines are Psychology of Behaviour, Change Management, etc.
Conclusion & Benefits
Most of these disciplines are very closely linked. For example, people collaborate on documents, or procedure are defined in network. Still, this separation could help to make dismantle the myths about knowledge management and make it more approachable.
All of the five disciplines have the following benefits:
- enable and cultivate conversations between people
- streamline the flow of information in a structured and informal way
- efficient sharing of written knowledge and knowledge in the heads of people
- safe time in accessing a large amount of knowledge
- avoid re-inventing the wheel
Overall, Knowledge Management supports smarter decisions making and innovation.
If we separate Knowledge Management in these five disciplines, the outside world would have a clearer understanding of this field; because people are more familiar with these specific topics, the acceptance of KM could be higher.
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