Wednesday, 28 April 2010


KM and content management, the turf war



There's a strong overlap between content management and KM, and you can get into a sort of turf war over this overlap. See for example this post by Mary Abrahams on "Librarians vs Knowledge managers"

Sometimes the content managers stake a claim for KM, and in these cases, KM becomes a matter of documentation, of taxonomies, of search engines, and loses sight of the tacit knowledge, of communities of practice, of peer assist and AAR.

Sometimes, it seems, KM people stake a claim for content managment. Mary quotes Morgan Wilson, a law librarian, as describing the outcome

"KM ends up cannibalizing the library, creating a two tiered system in which the
library is definitely subordinate. The library remains responsible for
reference, document delivery and training; time intensive activities which KM
doesn’t want to be burdened with. Cataloging remains with the library by
default, but it is not appreciated or understood by the KM masters and is
marginalized. KM takes on several higher status activities which the librarians
used to be responsible for: liaising and outreach with the users in the practice
groups, developing the research section of the intranet, working on new ICT
projects and managing the library staff. Because KM is taking on additional
work, it needs more people. The trouble is that KM professionals are lawyers and
are not cheap. To balance the books, the library is shrunk."

The turf-war zone is shown in the venn diagram above, and is defined by two observations

1. Not all knowledge is recorded. I have described recorded knowledge as "explicit knowledge" above, to follow common practice, although this is not the sense in which the term was orginally used.

2. Not all documents and content are explicit knowledge. In fact, very little content is explicit knowledge. Much of it is information, which informs you of things, but doesnt give you know-how, or the ability to make correct decisions, or take correct action (see my post on data/information/knowledge) The explicit knowledge is the advice, the tips and hints, the how-tos, the guidelines and checklists, the procedures and manuals, the training and e-learning material.


So both the content managers/librarians and the KM people can legitimately stake a claim on the overlap area - those few documents or pieces of content which are both knowledge and content. And when they use this claim to expland their empires, then we get into trouble.

So how do we solve the issue? Simple - we work together. Either we sit in one team, which is what my South African colleague Ian Corbett did in De Beers (where the cyber-librarian was a key part of the KM team), or we have two teams but with a common framework and aligned strategies. We don't fight each other, as this puts both content management and KM equally at risk.

11 comments:

  1. Thanks for the mention, Nick. Your Venn diagram highlighted an interesting thing for me -- explicit knowledge is rather small when compared to non-knowledge information and tacit knowledge. This suggests that there is more than enough turf for everyone. In writing my post and then reading yours, I found myself wondering if information professionals have overemphasized the value of wrestling explicit knowledge into databases and the like. Perhaps we all should limit our focus on the explicit and think harder about how to use the other bigger (and potentially richer) sources of information.

    - Mary

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  2. Hi Nick,

    I enjoy your posts. I am a librarian who has practiced in a KM role in major organizations, and I am totally with you on the fact that this is a team effort...I would not limit it to just KM team and librarians, however, but would include the other disciplines that must be seated at the table to enable KM efforts to thrive - including but not limited to leadership, operational subject matter experts, training/learning folks, IT, and human resources.

    The one issue that I'm running into with your analysis above is that, as a librarian, I've made it a point to become knowledgeable in both realms of tacit and explicit exchange, using and teaching others about facilitation processes for building trust in communities, helping to organize and blend codified and contextual knowledge in meaningful ways on KM projects, etc. My work as a librarian is not limited to documented knowledge, and as social technologies and mashups come more and more into the mainstream, I think it will take more cross-training on the part of all of us to help people make sense out of and organize the shear mass of knowledge that's being exchanged.

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  3. Thanks Dianna

    I would say that if " as a librarian, you are using and teaching others about facilitation processes for building trust in communities, helping to organize and blend codified and contextual knowledge in meaningful ways on KM projects, etc" then you are definitely moving into the KM realm.

    Maybe we then need another definition or another role description that moves beyond librarianship or content management, to describe the totality of what you are doing.

    I totally agree about the need for cross-training, and my ideal would be to set up a single team that is accountable for all aspects of information and knowledge, contains all the skills needed, and gives equal weight to all the aspects.

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  4. The problem with the old debate about CM and KM and tacit explicit is that, IMHO, it perpetuates a fundamental misunderstanding of what KM is. By seeking to make the differentiation between the two we tacitly endorse the view that there is more of a link between KM and CM than there is, say, between KM and HR or KM and any other defined professional group.

    This to profoundly misrepresent what KM is. KM is not a specific “profession” owned by a group who undertake this role for an organisation. It is an approach to management that applies across any and all in an organisation. So a librarian should be a knowledge manager, so to is an accountant and the office receptionist, and anyone else for that matter.

    We need to amend our thinking to see knowledge as a verb and not a noun. Until this happens then KM will always be, rightly, derided as just information management on steroids.

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  6. I am very interested with this title and I have already learnt a lot from it. In my views, thinking how to incorporate together CM and KM or even and HM as said by Tim is losing our understanding of KM. And might end up saying it is just a fashionable management practice.

    If we think of the Knowledge Based View of the firms, we think of knowledge becoming 'the' essential resource and leverage on it.

    When we want to think of KM as related to others professions we might lose the focus of KM

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  7. Hi Cathy

    I both agree and disagree with your comment!

    I agree that we need to be clear on the focus of KM, and the value of KM in (as you say) "leveraging the knowledge resource".

    However I disagree that we should not "think of KM as related to others professions". We cannot view KM in isolation. In any organisation it needs to fit into the set of organisational management systems, alongside content management, IM, IT, data management, project management, risk management, HR, quality management and so on. KM has to exist as one of many management systems, and therefore the boundaries, overlaps and "white spaces" between the various systems are important.

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  8. One more thing I'd like to add here is the observation that, given the rapidly evolving world of social, integrated technologies, knowledge of all types is being shared concurrently rather than breaking down into these silos. This is, in fact, on its way to becoming the new paradigm, yet it is flowing along channels that defy "capture" in the traditional sense of the word and we are wrestling with what this means and how to deal with it. Witness the current dialog over whether the U.S. Library of Congress should be cataloging Twitter. Things being exchanged on Twitter are not all content, information resources or stories and experiences, but rather any combination of all of these - and yet, sometimes it's just seemingly mindless "chatter," a la "I'm in the airport having a smoothie."

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  9. I'm new to this blog. My passion is to ensure dynamic access and capture for previously undocumented (tacit) organizational knowledge or cultural heritage assets. I study the tools for accessing, providing information dissemination and facilitating interoperability of knowledge collections. The right info in the right context. Happy to have found you.

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  10. I really don't know yet about getting together CM and KM, but in my opinion, there is a real good potential in transforming those librarians into organizational information specialists. Putting them into the organization's top projects might create the linkage to KM, by creating value to the KM potential clients. Teach them to unveil the "hidden explicit" and seek for the tacit.

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  11. Great chart...pictures tell a thousand words

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