Wednesday 13 May 2009

The confusion continues

Another daft definition of KM, to continue my rant from my previous post. Here's one I found on the web today

Knowledge management is a way of efficient assembly, alteration, preservation as well as control of data inside businesses, alongside systems made to make the most from that information. It points specifically to utilities and techniques made to preserve information and information compiled by individuals who make up the establishment.

A definition that, in two sentences, mentions data once and information three times, and knowledge not at all (other than in the term being defined). Is it any wonder there is so much confusion between information management, data management and knowledge management, with definitions such as this?

For a better definition, see the definition video on our page of knowledge management videos


Gary Colet said...

Having met with a few organisations that are interested in joining KIN, I was struck by the absence of the term 'Knowledge Management' in our discussions. Whilst all these firms are doing interesting and innovative things around organisational learning and knowledge sharing, none of them have 'KM Teams' or 'KM Programmes'. I discussed this with two organisations that I met recently; one a top recruitment consultancy (no, I was not going for a real job, though it did cross my mind) and the other an international NGO/charity. Both confirmed that knowledge sharing, knowledge transfer and other related techniques were central to their collaboration and change programmes. It was the 'KM' term they had problems with. One told me " 'Knowledge sharing' is something everyone here has an immediate and common understanding of. 'Knowledge Management' is a much more obscure concept, is interpreted in a variety of ways, or even worse associated with a failed information database project".

I absolutely agree with your premise that knowledge can be managed. Techniques and interventions for transferring and sharing knowledge are well proven. However, your effort to come up with a common definition for Knowledge Management underlines the problem for me. If someone can't envisage what you mean without a formal definition in front of them, you are starting with a handicap.

A KIN member organisation that I was with today has a sophisticated knowledge sharing programme underway, simply but effectively 'branded' as SHARE. They are considering dropping the term 'knowledge management' as the sub-brand as they realise it simply didn't add anything.
Also posted on

Nick Milton said...

Personally I think that dropping the M-word is a cop-out. Not as far as branding is concerned - you could call it "bicycle sandwich" as far as I am concerned, so long as it contained the same elements - but because it takes your attention away from the management component, and taking attention away from the management component is where many KM failures stem from.

Management is how we organise work in companies, and if we don't organise it with knowledge in mind, we lose huge value. What doesn't get managed, doesn't get done, and that's true for KM as much as anything else. See for more details

Also the use of the term "knowledge sharing" is a real backward step. "Knowledge sharing" is not the real problem - knowledge seeking and reuse is much more of an issue. Concentrate on sharing, and you concentrate on only half the picture. You concentrate on creating a supply, without creating a demand. See for more details.

I mean - how far would you get with financial management if you called it "money sharing"? How far would you go with project management if you called it "work sharing"? How far would you get with risk management if you called it "risk sharing"? In each case, you lose sight of an integrated management approach by concentrating only on one aspect.

I don't think you resolve the issue of what KM means, by using weaker terminology. You just shift the issue (as nobody will agree on a definition for "knowledge sharing" either), and lose value on the way.

Nick Milton said...

PS I would also point out that the confusion mentioned in my blog post is over the meaning of the term "knowledge", not over the use of the term "management"

Blog Archive