Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Why Knowledge Sharing is not the same as Knowledge Management

"Knowledge sharing" is increasingly used as a synonym for Knowledge Management, but as a synonym it is inadequate. There are at least four other major elements of Knowledge Management in addition to sharing, and a focus only on sharing does not deliver the full potential of KM.

I think people prefer the team "knowledge sharing" for three reasons;

  1. Sharing is a softer word than management; people sometimes distrust the concept of management (unnecessarily, I believe) 
  2. Sharing is a concept that fits more neatly with social tools
  3. There is an oft-repeated opinion that because Knowledge is intangible, then it cannot be managed, and that the term "Knowledge Management is therefore an oxymoron.
I deal with the linguistic argument in this blog post (there are plenty of management disciplines that cover intangibles, and if KM is an oxymoron, then so are risk management, safety management etc), and I defend the Management term here. However even if the term "knowledge sharing" is easier on the ear, it still doesn't suffice. 

There are at least four other main areas of Knowledge Management which need to be considered. These are as follows.

Knowledge Creation

Before Knowledge can be shared, it has to be created. Knowledge Management deals with the creation in two ways. The first is through Innovation. Process and roles for innovation need to be part of your Knowledge Management framework.

The second approach is team reflection. Processes such as After Action Review and Retrospect lead a team to reflect on performance, reflect on experience, and identify the new knowledge. Processes such as these lead individuals to become conscious of their knowledge, and allow the team to collectively make sense of what has happened. These KM processes allow us to know what we know, and if we don't know what we know, we can't share it.

Knowledge re-use

Knowledge doesn't add value until it leads to action. Therefore merely sharing knowledge is not enough - the knowledge needs to be applied (often it needs to be adapted before it becomes adopted).  Knowledge Management addresses re-use through promoting a culture of continuous performance challenge, through processes such as Peer Assist, and through the introduction of governance processes such as Knowledge Management plans.

Knowledge synthesis

Over time, more and more knowledge is created and shared. Some of it is duplicated, some of it is contradictory, some of it rapidly becomes out of date, and much of the time the knowledge consists of small pieces - observations, insights, lessons.  There eventually comes a time when the relevant community of practice comes together to make sense of all this knowledge, and to synthesise it into a single set of guidance; a wiki, a procedure, a guidance note or a knowledge asset. Sharing without synthesis rapidly leads to overload and "deknowledging".

Knowledge seeking

Sharing is generally Knowledge Push, which needs to be balanced by Knowledge Seeking or Knowledge Pull. The need for Pull is a common theme in this blog, and readers requiring more background should go here. Knowledge Push and Knowledge Pull equate to Knowledge Supply and Knowledge Demand, and more KM implementations fail through lack of demand than lack of supply.

When we look at Push and Pull, therefore, "Knowledge sharing" covers only half of the equation, and it covers the half which is less of a problem. In this circumstance, "Knowledge sharing" can even become a dangerous term. What is primarily needed is not Knowledge Sharing, but Knowledge seeking.  If you are looking for the 20% of KM that adds 80% of the value, then choose Knowledge Seeking. If you can generate a real demand for knowledge in your organisation, all else will be much easier.

So please a) don't feel you need to abandon the term "Knowledge Management", and b) if you do, don't replace it with "Knowledge Sharing"; a term that covers only 20% of the KM landscape, and not the 20% that adds the most value either. 

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