I’m currently participating in an interesting discussion begun by Tim Kannegieter, a KM manager for the New Zealand Army Training Group. Tim is working on a Ph.D. thesis that has to do with characterizing boundaries as a way to select the most appropriate KM technique for a particular situation. He suggested that there may be a list of viable and/or accepted approaches to KM that the profession could agree upon in lieu of a definition of knowledge management. How the approaches are actually applied to specific circumstances or problems would vary, of course. Joe Firestone has written about applying KM techniques to problem solving here, and he raises the question of whether a conception of KM must precede approaches to KM. I don’t see Joe’s ideas or applications of KM techniques to be in conflict with Tim’s attempt to categorize KM approaches (which could then be applied to problem solving), even though they are presented differently. Richard Vines suggested referring to these approaches as “lenses” through which KM can be viewed based upon different conceptual sensitivities. That’s an appealing idea, since it enables us to also talk about the types of outcomes that each approach or lens might achieve.
Describing the different approaches or lenses of KM lets us move past the need to define KM before starting to apply it to situations. It appeals to me, and aligns with my own concept of a unified theory of knowledge management, which I haven’t yet published. Eventually KM needs to be defined, but until it can be defined in a widely accepted way, this list gives us a way to discuss KM as the large set of tools and methodologies it comprises. It is a good beginning. Here are the approaches described so far. We are going to post the list on Wikipedia so anyone interested can have a say in the editing and related discussion, too, so if you have anything you’d like to contribute, please join in!
Technological approach – Treats KM as an information processing problem and is primarily characterized by technology solutions. Its theoretical basis is derived from cybernetics (information theory). Its appeal is that it builds upon an established powerbase and infrastructure in organizations. Its weakness is that it does not address the tacit aspects of knowledge processing. Some examples might include: search engines, RSS, authentication, knowledge bases, data warehouses, collaboration tools, posted message boards, email listservs, social media like instant messaging, Twitter, LinkedIn, content and author evaluation systems. Sociological approach – Treats KM as an social learning problem and is characterized by community and narrative based solutions. Its theoretical basis is derived from practice theory. Its appeal is that it addresses the tacit side of knowledge. Its weakness is that it does not address transactional aspects of knowledge processing. Some examples might include: storytelling, community facilitation, cultural distinctions, case studies, norms and mores. Cultural approach – Treats KM as a problem of developing an appropriate culture, and is characterized by change management techniques. Its theoretical basis is derived from human resource methodologies. Its appeal is … Its weakness is that it cannot happen without top-down leadership and technological support. Some examples might include: incentives, reward systems, training programs, multicultural customization, multilingual translations. Networking approach – Treats KM as expertise location, and is characterized by methods or technologies that enable people with knowledge to be found by people who need the knowledge. It’s theoretical basis is derived from person to person shared expertise, such as native tribal rituals. Its appeal is that it permits situation specific knowledge transfers. Its weakness is that it is impossible to categorize everything any person knows, so profiles or documentation will always be incomplete. Examples include: group member profiles, social network analyses, peer-to-peer technologies, social media like Facebook pages, communities of practice, watercooler conversations, project team collaboration, lectures, web site live help chat. Intellectual Capital approach – Treats knowledge as an intangible asset with value to the organization, and is characterized primarily by valuation techniques. It’s theoretical basis is derived from financial models and algorithms. Its appeal is that it assigns tangible value to intangible assets such as knowledge, expertise and customer relationships. Its weakness is that most generally accepted accounting procedures do not permit inclusion of intangible values, so management tends to discount it. Examples include: knowledge markets, knowledge asset valuation, ROI, processes, skills, reputation, attitudes, innovation, branding, patents. Complexityapproach – Treats KM as a sense making problem and is characterized by ?? solutions. Its theoretical basis is that of complex adaptive systems. Its appeal is that it addresses intractable problems. Its weakness is that it can be hard for management to accept loss of control? Examples include: … (We are still working this one out.) Economic approach – Treats knowledge as a cost management challenge, and is characterized primarily by efficiencies of scale. Its theoretical basis is derived from economics (??). Its appeal is that… Its weakness is that… Examples include: after action reviews, process documentation, Kaizen, Six Sigma (??) (We are still working this one out.)
Other categories suggested so far also include:
Anything Goes approach – Neuroscience approach – Its theoretical basis is derived from evolutionary epistemology. Management approach – Knowledge Processing approach – Linguistics approach – Its theoretical basis is derived from communication disciplines. Decision interruption approach – Expectations gap approach – Ecological approach -
I found myself mixing both KM methods/activities and examples of the kinds of knowledge they deal with. That may muddy the waters a bit, but the list is still a working draft, so we’ll see where it goes. Share your comments or additions!