There has not been a better time in the last 10 years to be involved in knowledge management than now. Across many sectors, employers are reawakening to the fact that KM is a worthwhile way of developing creativity in their organisation and maximising the value of what their staff know.
HM Government has published its Knowledge Principles for Government and the NHS is making great efforts led by Health Education England to strengthen Knowledge Management in the Library and Knowledge Services of each Trust. In the private sector, after a slow-down in interest in Knowledge Management from 2005 to 2015, there is renewed talk of managing knowledge as an asset; and with KPMG and CILIP reviving Sir Robert Hawley’s committee publication on Information as an Asset: The Boardroom Agenda (1995), a similar approach for managing knowledge as an asset cannot be far behind. It reflects the revival of interest in knowledge management that in 2018 the British Standards Institute plan to adopt, as its first UK standard on KM, ISO 30401 Human resource management — Knowledge management systems – Requirements.
Which kind of knowledge management is your kind?
In the midst of this revival of interest, library and information professionals will be looking for sources of guidance on knowledge management. And at first glance they will not be disappointed – three substantial books on KM have appeared in the last year! Nick Milton and Patrick Lambe had The knowledge manager’s handbook published by Kogan Page in 2016, as ”a step by step guide to embedding effective knowledge management in your organisation”. A short time later, Anthony Rhem’s Knowledge management in practice was brought out by CRC, and Guy St Clair’s Knowledge services: a strategic framework for the 21st century organisation was published by De Gruyter.
Between them, the 3 books amount to just shy of 1000 pages of encyclopedic information on the what, why and how of knowledge management. As a consultant with, some would say, the luxury of reading all of them, I am extremely grateful to all four authors – they fill gaps in my understanding, and provide many new perspectives on how to conduct organisation wide KM initiatives: there are plenty of “ahah!” and “of course!” moments in each of them.
But what is the time pressured, yet interested, library and information professional to do with such a cornucopia?
The first thing to notice is that all three deal with knowledge management as an organization-wide programme, with little to help librarians or information managers identify an element of knowledge management that they can experiment with – perhaps to test whether their team has the aptitude to lead knowledge management in their organisation, or to offer their board of directors a low-cost demonstration of some of the power of KM.
If that is the practical level of knowledge management that interests you for now, you are probably better using Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell’s Learning to fly : practical lessons from some of the world’s leading learning organizations (2004), which provides a more pragmatic, smaller scale, less stringently systematic approach. When I was a knowledge manager for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and later for the General Social Care Council, I found that I could gain rapid success for recognizably KM techniques, such as communities of practice and after action reviews, by following their guidance and checklists at both of these very different organisations.. The problem of course is that the last edition is 13 years old – and a lot has happened, in artificial intelligence and data management particularly, which impacts on the relationships tyro knowledge managers can expect to find as they experiment away.
That Milton and Lambe, Rhem, and St Clair are less pragmatic than Collison and Parcell is not a criticism of course – their legitimate goal is to describe how thorough Knowledge Management or Knowledge Services programmes implemented fairly stringently across an organisation can manage existing knowledge, encourage a culture of creativity and sharing, and to some extent proof it against future uncertainties. Within this strategic context, St Clair is perhaps closest to home for librarians and information professionals. He advocates a synthesis of information management with knowledge management and strategic learning which gives LIPs an identifiable stake in the leadership of such programmes.
Milton and Lambe, and Rhem are particularly generous with case studies; if you want to prepare for discussions at work about strategic knowledge management with an eye to your library or information unit leading at least part of it, and can recognize your sector in the contents pages and indexes that are available in the LOOK INSIDE! feature on their Amazon pages, you might be better spending time with these two. Oil and gas, telecoms, law, health care, research institutions, financial services and insurance are all well represented.
Most people will find St Clair ‘s Knowledge services the most readable and thought provoking: it is part of De Gruyer’s Current Topics in Library and Information Practice. It’s not a light read, but I did find the thinking aligned with what forward-thinking librarians and information managers tend to wonder about – particularly what might be possible if creative partnerships with other services in the organisation can be made to work.
So my recommendations?
- If you want the most detailed description and explanation of knowledge management programmes, chose Rhem, A.J. (2017). Knowledge management in practice. Boca Raton: CRC Press. My goodness, it is encyclopedic!
- If what you need is less a reference book, more a readable guide to strategic knowledge management, chose Milton, N. and Lambe, P. (2016) The knowledge manager’s handbook: a step-by–step guide to embedding effective knowledge management in your organisation. Kogan Page.
- For a challenging and ultimately satisfying discussion of what is possible, as well as how to do it, when KM, IM and strategic learning come together, chose St. Clair, Guy. (2017). Knowledge services: a strategic framework for the 21st century organisation. Boston, De Gruyter .
What’s coming up for Knowledge Management?
The three books I’ve listed are all about what knowledge management looks like now, and what knowledge services could be in current organisations. If the programmes for the premier KM and IM conferences this Autumn are any indication, here are four things which knowledge management will be concentrating on with renewed intensity soon:
- Knowledge sharing for addressing the world’s problems. It’s not just that knowledge cafes provide such a potent ethos for discussing societal problems. Social media and mobile technologies make it so much easier to share significant events and ideas in real time.
- Nicole Mathison of EY was talking at Knowledge Management Australia last month about “Surviving and thriving in a disrupted world: an exploration of the role of knowledge practices”
- This year’s European Conference on Information Systems was headlined “Information systems for a smart, sustainable and inclusive world”
- Knowledge management for better government. Of course it’s not just the UK government service that is hoping better use of knowledge will help public servants to be as creative as they need to be in the modern world
- The theme for the US Digital Government Institute 930 conference in September is “Federal, State and Local Knowledge Management professionals have been working on turning information into knowledge since the 1990s…The benefits [should] result in improved communications, operations, decision-making and agency mission capabilities”
- The role of KM in decision-making. New data and forms of analysis make it possible to analyse exactly what part knowledge plays in decision making, for better or worse
- Does knowledge management enhance decision-making speed? ask Giampaoli and Ciambotti at the European Conference on Knowledge Management in Barcelona 7-8 September
- Joan Baiget is leading a discussion on the intriguing topic of wisdom management at the same conference!
- Knowledge engineering and artificial intelligence. Ontologies will be used in new and creative ways in this new area
- The Knowledge Science, Engineering and Management Conference in Melbourne focussed this August on formal semantics and formal logic
- Watch out for the programme of the International Joint Conference on Knowledge Discovery, Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management due to be held in Funchal in November (IC3K 2017)
So all told, 2017 is a great time for knowledge management! Thinking and writing is richer than it has been for a long while, and with the speed of take-up these days, the questions that are being asked at technical conferences today, may be of vital concern to your organisation first thing tomorrow!
Dion Lindsay has a wealth of experience introducing knowledge management programmes into organisations. He worked as a government librarian until 2001, and then in a number of roles in the charity and regulatory sectors before becoming a consultant and trainer for Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd). He blogs at https://nkmtblog.wordpress.com/ and tweets @dionl
K & IM Refer 33 (2), Autumn 2017