Tuesday, 16 September 2014

How the Nuclear Industry governs KM

There are some industries where the need for Knowledge Management is so obvious that the discipline has been adopted passionately, and implemented rigorously. Perhaps the type example is the Nuclear industry. 

The international governing body for the industry, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), has published a host of documents on Knowledge Management, including a guidance note for KM in Nuclear Installations. Regular conferences are held on the topic, and the industry has its own certification program for knowledge managers.

Just last week, it was announced that the international School of Nuclear Knowledge Management (SNKM) was celebrating its tenth anniversary.

The school's certificate programme is jointly organized by the IAEA and the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and is held in Trieste, Italy (see picture above).
 "Aimed at preparing the participants for implementing knowledge management programmes in nuclear science and technology, the School provides an opportunity to gain practical and theoretical skills and learn from renowned specialists in the nuclear field. Through programmes like SNKM, the IAEA works with its partners to create opportunities for developing this knowledge and building capacities within Member States, helping to ensure the safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy."

Why such success with KM?

 The business proposition for Knowledge Management in the Nuclear Industry is a clear one. The business driver is Safety, as the consequences of safety breaches are so terrible. Also the life of a Nuclear project - from design to build to operate to decommission - exceeds the working life, and the effective memory, of any single person.  Reliance on expertise is insufficient - knowledge must be consciously managed.  Also there is little competitive pressure between the Nuclear operators, and the barriers to cross-industry knowledge transfer are lower than, say, in the Oil, Legal or Consulting sectors.

Knowledge Management is therefore clearly needed, and can be possible at an industry level.

As a result, the Nuclear industry has developed an impressive set of governance elements, including

  • A coordinating body (the Nuclear KM section of the IAEA)
  • The definition document described above
  • Supporting reference material
  • Training and certification
  • Regular knowledge transfer conferences

A model for others

There are perhaps few industries which can emulate what Nuclear has done. However the governance elements used by the industry are entirely appropriate for use within a mature KM organisation. 

If you aspire to fully embed Knowledge Management in your organisation, as the IAEA has done for Nuclear, then you also will need
  • A coordinating body (your own KM team)
  • A Knowledge Management policy
  • Supporting reference material
  • Training in KM
  • Regular knowledge transfer between your different operating units.

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