KM definitions from my perspective

I linked to the techno-centric description from the US government a few days ago, and both Yigal Chamish and Shawn Callahan rightly complained in the comments that it missed whole aspects of KM that are important to the field.  What follows is not so much my be-all-end-all definition, but my thoughts on how I think and talk about knowledge management.

A variety of people are talking about defining knowledge management, and the slow effort at clarifying the Wikipedia entry on KM continues.  Much of the discussion revolves around trying to figure out how to define something that touches upon so many different aspects of running an organization. 

I'm of two minds in this discussion.  One part of me says, "KM isn't about technology, but technology makes KM much more possible."  This is the part that connects with the techno-centric definitions.  This path takes me into discussions of cool new technologies and the knowledge components therein.  I also know that this is a sore area for many people in knowledge management, as this path by itself makes KM seem like information technology wrapped up in buzzwords.

Another part of me says, "KM is about how people and businesses use the knowledge of their people to get things done."  Said this way, I generally follow a path of discussion around people sharing what they know and what they are doing.  In this mode, I might talk about just how one gets people to share their knowledge and sometimes into a discussion of knowledge itself.

Knowledge comes in many forms, from the books we used in college, to the reference manuals and written policies of business, to written correspondence, to the spoken word, to the skills and expertise that we use.  The interesting thing for me - and in how I like to work with clients - is how we go about using this knowledge (and information) to help move the business forward.  Do we know what we have?  Do we know what value it provides?  Do we know what we want to do with it?  Do we have the processes and tools in place to make it (more) valuable? 

2 Comment(s)

Hello jack, Thank you for mentioning my comment to your post. Indeed, defining KM is a tough issue. Yet, I am trying to figure it out as described here: http://yigalc.wordpress.com/2006/07/15/what-is-km-knowledge-management/.

I will be happy to discuss it,

Yigal

I have experienced that settling on a satisfactory definition "Knowledge Management" is quite a challenge. Why bother? I guess I feel i have to, that i have a professional responsibility to try to help my employer (and the government agencies we do work for) make sense out of such ideas as Knowledge Management.

Most people I work with put KM directly into an IT context. Others try to focus on people or knowledge but that IT thing still lingers in the background (like a bad habit). So, i have seen at least two distinct approaches, one that is mostly technologically driven, the other less so, to a degree, but still very much in an IT context.

Irrespective of what approach we might take, we often seem to make KM a part of a kind of an "Information Management Holy Trinity" for the information-age organization: there's Data (the father, or Source), then Information (the son, or that which is consubstantial to the Source and, simultaneously, a derivative of it), and finally there's Knowledge (the Spirit of Wisdom and its preservation and transmission, guiding all human-information endeavors) which somehow transcends data and information --and yet we insist it can be managed.

In my organization, if the topic of KM comes up, someone eventually draws a pyramid with data-managment on the bottom, information management in the middle, and Knowledge Management up on the top. Intuitively, I guess all this makes sense --certainly makes a neat picture for management. But I've rejected this vision and am left with both trying to explain why it's inadequate and create an alternative definition. So, I've been searching for a different way of looking at KM, one that is independent of any discussion of information technology and instead on how does this thing we like to call "knowledge" get created, used, moved around, preserved, discarded, and so on in an organization (or our society itself).

In order to do this, i've been experimenting with creating a new language to talk about it. So far, the best i've done is come up with a very rough-hewn idea i am calling "Meaning Management". My idea here is that what we really seem to be doing with all this data-information-knowledge is create meaning. This is what we really use to guide our decisions. If an information resource (here i mean data, information, knowledge, whatever; its format is anything from a note on a "post-it", or the WikiPedia, or a conversation with a co-worker) is to be useful in some way it has meaning, and that meaning is created by human relationships (perhaps influenced in some way by information technology). My thinking is that if information is ever made useful, then it is so because of the relationships made in context between people who created that information. Meaning is the key thing we should be thinking about managing --not just data, information, or knowledge. Such Meaning is not possible with relationships and such relationships are not possible without organizational structures of some sort (families, businesses, academic fields, etc).

My idea is really half-baked. But it makes a certain kind of sense to me: i want to get far enough on the outside of this data-information-knowledge business to create a way of describing what's really going on. I think by taking this look at it we might be able to see that things like culture, of one form or antoher, plays a far more significant role in our "knowledge management" and "learning organizations" than we give credit.

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