Monday 15 June 2015

The "KM nonsense" index

There is a simple index you can calculate to determine whether any article supposedly about Knowledge Management is really about KM at all. I call it the "KM Nonsense" index.

The title of the index comes from the excellent paper by TD Wilson entitled "the nonsense of knowledge management". Wilson makes two points - one is the old argument that "tacit knowledge cannot be managed" (an argument that I suggest doesn't mean that KM is an oxymoron, or that KM is nonsense), and a second point, that much of what is presented as Knowledge Managament is what he calls "search and replace marketing" from Information Management.

It is the "search and replace" aspect that we measure in the KM Nonsese Index. Here is how you calculate the index.

  • Take any article or document published under the name "knowledge management".
  • Count (separately) the number of times the words information, data, and knowledge are used.
  • Eexclude the title of the document, the name of the thing being described, or the word being defined.
  • Look at the percentage of those counted words which are "information" or "data", as opposed to "knowledge".

Any article which is rebadging or replacing "information management" with "knowledge management" will have a high incidence of the word "information" in the content and a low incidence of "knowledge".

Here is an example, taken several years ago from the Internet (the original is no longer retrievable)

"Knowledge management is a way of deliberate compilation, transfer, preservation and management of information within companies, in addition to systems designed to extract the most from that information. It refers specifically to utilities and methods made to preserve data and information held by individuals who make up the establishment. It is at once a software bazaar and a section of consultancy work related to fields such as competitive intelligence.  

If we exclude the phrase being defined (in bold and italics), we see three references to information, one to data, and none to knowledge. The nonsense index is 100% - all of the references are to data and information. You could easily replace the instance of "knowledge management" with "information management" and the article would make as much (if not more) sense.

Or take a PowerPoint I read recently. The title of the Powerpoint was "knowledge and information management" and this title was repeated three times on three slides. "Information" was then mentioned 88 times in the PowerPoint, and "data" 60 times. Knowledge was not mentioned at all, except as part of the title. So the nonsense index is 100%, and the title of the Powerpoint should have read "Information management".

As Wilson states -

In many cases, 'knowledge management' is being used simply as a synonym for 'information management'. This has been referred to by David Weinberger, citing Adina Levin as the originator, as 'search and replace marketing' in reporting the KM Summit of 1998...."Do you become a KM vendor simply by taking your old marketing literature and doing a search and replace, changing, say, "information retrieval" into "KM"? ... The software industry has become particularly prone to search and replace marketing, with almost everything from e-mail systems to Lotus Notes groupware being re-branded as 'knowledge management' software.

if you suspest such rebranding and "search and replace marketing" has occurred, apply the KM Nonsense Index and see if you are correct!


Anonymous said...

First of all, it's important to read all the articles already wrote about that subject. A lot of people who cite Polanyi's personal knowledge concept never read it completely. Stephen Gourlay has several good articles revising tacit and explicit knowledge concepts and Rafael Capurro has an excellent article: Skeptical KM. A must read!

Christian DE NEEF said...

I'm confident the index works... with articles about information management! (and it works on articles covering (true) knowledge management too, of course)

However, what I see happening these days is not so much information management being relabeled as KM (that was 5-10 years ago), but much more everything social being branded KM! So should there also be a "KM nonsense" index built around the terms "social" and "network" ??? ;-)

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