Defining Knowledge Management

Defining Knowledge Management (KM)

Although Knowledge Management (KM)  intersects with records management, document management, IT, and digital asset management along with other disciplines, its emphasis is on connecting people with knowledge -- which, in many cases, includes both digital assets and technology. But KM extends far further: KM requires organizations to think about knowledge in more abstract forms, not only knowledge contained within documents, spreadsheets, reports, publications, or other types of digital assets.

When we work with clients to develop and implement a KM strategy, one aspect of our work includes establishing an organization-specific definition of Knowledge Management. Developing and implementing a knowledge management strategy is a multi-staged process. We start by assessing the current environment, then shift into thinking about the future state -- what do we want KM to look like in the future? In conjunction with these two phases, we establish a definition for knowledge management which connects KM with an organization's overall mission, direction, priorities, and culture.

During the assessment, we introduce the concept of knowledge management in its broadest form to begin to understand how knowledge is created, captured, shared, collected, and re-used throughout the organization.

As a starting point, we define knowledge management as:

The process of systematically capturing, describing, organizing, and sharing knowledge – making it useful, usable, adaptable, and re-useable.

Knowledge Management is about ensuring that knowledge — both in people’s heads and in the form of knowledge assets – is used to its fullest potential within an organization. It is about helping organizations ensure that they can best take advantage of its internal expertise, skills, and know-how. It includes helping organizations respond to the challenge, “we don’t even know what we know” – a common issue as organizations become more complex and work becomes distributed across locations and silos. It’s about supporting the flow of knowledge across boundaries and silos in order to foster creativity, spark innovation, and enable the development of new knowledge.

We use this working definition to explore various issues related to the connections between people, knowledge and information, processes, and the technology infrastructure. Through the course of the KM assessment, we are able to hone in on current challenges with knowledge flow between people, silos, and systems. Using the knowledge we glean through the assessment, we are able to start to craft a vision for the future -- and in the process, establish an organizational definition of knowledge management and start to build a framework for knowledge services within an organization.

More on related topics: What is Knowledge Management and Why Knowledge Management?