Knowledge management

From New World Encyclopedia

Knowledge Management (KM) is a range of practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute and enable the adoption of insights and experiences. Such insights and experiences comprise knowledge, either embodied in individuals or embedded in organizational processes or practices. An established discipline since 1995, KM includes courses taught in the fields of business administration, information systems, management, and library and information sciences. More recently, other fields such as computer science, public health, and public policy have also started to contribute to KM research. Many large companies and non-profit organizations have resources dedicated to internal KM efforts, often as a part of their 'Business Strategy', 'Information Technology', or 'Human Resource Management' departments. Several consulting companies also provide strategy and advice regarding KM.

Knowledge management efforts typically focus on organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, and continuous improvement of the organization. KM efforts overlap with Organizational Learning, and may be distinguished in its greater focus on the management of knowledge as a strategic asset and a focus on encouraging the exchange of knowledge. KM efforts can help individuals and groups share valuable organizational insights, reduce redundant work, reduce training time for new employees, retain intellectual capital as employees turnover in an organization, and adapt to changing environments and markets.

History and research

Precursor: Michael Polanyi's "tacit knowledge"

One of the central themes of knowledge management is the explicit statement of implicit or tacit understandings held by individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions. Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) was an important figure who brought to the forefront this idea of implicit understanding. During his time, he criticized the dominant positivist account of the philosophy of science and pointed out the existence of "tacit knowledge," or implicit knowledge, within scientific theories. Polanyi's concept of "tacit knowledge" also foreshadowed the concept of paradigm held by Thomas Kuhn.

Knowledge management as an interdisciplinary discipline

Knowledge management

KM efforts have a long history, to include on-the-job discussions, formal apprenticeship, discussion forums, corporate libraries, professional training and mentoring programs. More recently, with increased use of computers in the second half of the twentieth century, specific adaptations of technologies such as knowledge bases, expert systems, knowledge repositories, group decision support systems, and computer supported cooperative work have been introduced to further enhance the such efforts.

A broad range of thoughts on the KM discipline exists with no unanimous agreement; approaches vary by author and school. As the discipline matures, academic debates have increased regarding both the theory and practice of KM, to include the following perspectives:

  • Techno-centric with a focus on technology, ideally those that enhance knowledge sharing and creation
  • Organizational with a focus on how an organization can be designed to facilitate knowledge processes best
  • Ecological with a focus on the interaction of people, identity, knowledge, and environmental factors as a complex adaptive system akin to a natural ecosystem

Regardless of the school of thought, core components of KM include People, Processes, Technology, Culture, Structure, depending on the specific perspective. Different KM schools of thought include various lenses through which KM can be viewed and explained, to include:

  • community of practice[1] [2]
  • social network analysis[3]
  • intellectual capital[4] [5]
  • information theory
  • complexity science


Different frameworks for distinguishing between knowledge exist. One proposed framework for categorizing the dimensions of knowledge distinguishes between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. Tacit knowledge represents internalized knowledge that an individual may not be consciously aware of how he or she accomplishes particular tasks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, explicit knowledge represents knowledge that the individual holds consciously in mental focus, in a form that can easily be communicated to others.[6] Tacit knowledge or tacit knowing is the concept Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) conceptualized.[7]

Early research suggested that a successful KM effort needs to convert internalized tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge in order to share it, but the same effort must also permit individuals to internalize and make personally meaningful any codified knowledge retrieved from the KM effort. Subsequent research into KM suggested that a distinction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge represented an oversimplification.[8]

A second proposed framework for categorizing the dimensions of knowledge distinguishes between embedded knowledge of a system outside of a human individual (e.g., an information system may have knowledge embedded into its design) and embodied knowledge representing a learned capability of a human body’s nervous and endocrine systems[9].

A third proposed framework for categorizing the dimensions of knowledge distinguishes between the exploratory creation of "new knowledge" (i.e., innovation) vs. the transfer of "established knowledge" within a group, organization, or community. Collaborative environments such as communities of practice or the use of social computing tools can be used for both knowledge creation and transfer.


Knowledge may be accessed at three stages: before, during, or after KM-related activities. Different organizations have tried various knowledge capture incentives, including making content submission mandatory and incorporating rewards into performance measurement plans. Considerable controversy exists over whether incentives work or not in this field and no consensus has emerged.

One strategy to KM involves actively managing knowledge. In such an instance, individuals strive to explicitly encode their knowledge into a shared knowledge repository, such as a database, as well as retrieving knowledge they need that other individuals have provided to the repository[10].

Another strategy to KM involves individuals making knowledge requests of experts associated with a particular subject on an ad hoc basis. In such an instance, expert individual(s) can provide their insights to the particular person or people needing this [11].


A number of claims exist as to the motivations leading organizations to undertake a KM effort. Typical considerations driving a KM effort include:

  • Making available increased knowledge content in the development and provision of products and services
  • Achieving shorter new product development cycles
  • Facilitating and managing innovation and organizational learning
  • Leveraging the expertise of people across the organization
  • Increasing network connectivity between internal and external individuals
  • Managing business environments and allowing employees to obtain relevant insights and ideas appropriate to their work
  • Solving intractable or wicked problems
  • Managing intellectual capital and intellectual assets in the workforce (such as the expertise and know-how possessed by key individuals)

Debate exists whether KM is more than a passing fad, though increasing amount of research in this field may hopefully help to answer this question, as well as create consensus on what elements of KM help determine the success or failure of such efforts[12]


Early KM technologies included online corporate yellow pages as expertise locators and document management systems. Combined with the early development of collaborative technologies (in particular Lotus Notes), KM technologies expanded in the mid-1990s. Subsequent KM efforts leveraged semantic technologies for search and retrieval and the development of e-learning tools for communities of practice[13]

More recently, development of social computing tools (such as blogs and wikis) have allowed more unstructured, self-governing or ecosystem approaches to the transfer, capture and creation of knowledge, including the development of new forms of communities, networks, or matrixed organizations. However such tools for the most part are still based on text and code, and thus represent explicit knowledge transfer. These tools face challenges in distilling meaningful re-usable knowledge and ensuring that their content is transmissible through diverse channels.

See also


  1. Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder, Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge - Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice, Working Knowledge, Harvard Business School, 3/25/2002. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  2. Kibum Kim, Philip L. Isenhour, John M. Carroll, Mary Beth Rosson, and Daniel R. Dunlap. TeacherBridge: Knowledge Management in Communities of Practice, Center for Human-Computer Interaction, Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  3. Kristina Groth, Using social networks for knowledge management, Department of Numerical Analysis and Computing Science, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. Retrieved November 17, 2008
  4. Chun Wei Choo, Nick Bontis, The Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital and Organizational Knowledge, (Oxford University Press USA, 2002. ISBN 9780195138665)
  5. Lt Col Robert D. Pridgen, Observations in Knowledge Management: Leveraging the Intellectual Capital of a Large, Global Organization with Technology, Tools and Policies, Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows Program. Retrieved November 17, 2008
  6. Maryam Alavi, Dorothy E. Leidner. REVIEW: KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT AND KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS: CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS AND RESEARCH ISSUE, MIS Quarterly 25 (1)(March 2001): 107-136. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  7. Michael Polanyi. The Tacit Dimension. (1966) Reprinted (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1983), Chapter 1: "Tacit Knowing".
  8. Alexander Serenko and Nick Bontis. Meta-Review of Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital Literature: Citation Impact and Research Productivity Rankings, Knowledge and Process Management 11 (3)(2004): 185–198. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  9. Tom Sensky, Knowledge management, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 8 (2002): 387-395. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  10. Naphtali D. Rishe, Rukshan Athauda, Jun Yuan, Shu-Ching Chen. Knowledge Management for Database Interoperability, 1High-Performance Database Research Center, School of Computer Science, Florida International University. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  11. Dave Snowden, Complex Acts of Knowing - Paradox and Descriptive Self Awareness, Journal of Knowledge Management, Special Issue, (July 2002). Cognitive Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  12. T.D. Wilson, The nonsense of 'knowledge management', Information Research 8 (1) (October 2002). Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  13. Francisco J. Ricardo, Hypertext and Knowledge Management, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2001. Retrieved November 17, 2008.

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