Tuesday, 18 August 2015

How is Knowledge Management defined?

After my previous post on Knowledge Management definitions, I received pointers from Boris Jaeger to many more sources of KM definitions. During a spare few hours in Glasgow Airport I went through these sources looking for keywords. The results and analysis are discussed here.

I went through over 300 definitions of Knowledge Management provided by readers of my previous post, and noted whether the following words appeared in each definition.
  • Knowledge
  • Experience/expertise
  • Intellectual (as in intellectual assets)
  • Wisdom
  • Innovation
  • Information
  • Data
I did my best to remove duplicate definitions, though it was hard to keep track among so many (especially so many similar definitions). The matrix above represents the frequency of appearance of individual words and pairs of words.
  • For example, 98 definitions used solely the word "knowledge", as in "the term knowledge management describes the generation, storage, control and provision of knowledge within a company". 
  • 5 definitions include "knowledge" and "experience" as in "the formalisation of and access to knowledge, experience and expertise"
  • and so on.

There were many examples of 3 or 4 words appearing in the same definition, but seldom the same 3 or 4 words.
Knowledge/information/data/experience    2 definitions
Knowledge/information/intellectual             2 definitions
Knowledge/information/data                       1 definition
Knowledge/information/experience             1 definition
Knowledge/intellectual/experience              1 definition
Information/data/wisdom                            1 definition

These are not included on the matrix

Definition clusters

The matrix shows what we might call "definition clusters" which I have marked on the matrix in colours, with green, amber, red representing how much I personally support these definitions.

The Knowledge/experience cluster

The green cluster contains the definitions I personally prefer, which define KM in terms of knowledge and (to a much lesser extent) experience and intellectual assets.

The KID cluster

In the orange cluster, top right, we see definitions which mix the terms Knowledge, Information and Data. I feel these definitions should be treated with caution, as they blur the boundary between KM, IM and DM.

The intellectual cluster

The orange cell is where we see definitions based on "intellectual assets" or "intellectual capability" (an example would be "leveraging intellectual assets to improve performance"). I see what these definitions are getting at, but worry that they leave open the question "what is an intellectual asset" and they run the risk of focusing on patents and intellectual property.

The information/data cluster

In the red cluster we see definitions that do not use the term knowledge at all, for example "KM is a system that affords control, dissemination and usage of information". Such definitions are, I suggest, just plain wrong and should not be used.


N Milton said...

I have many thoughts about this, but I'll restrict myself to four.

(1) I suggest any definition of KM should also define knowledge. If it does not then it smacks of tautology (e.g. "KM = the M of K"!!).

(2) Rather than focus purely on nouns (although "intellectual is an adjective!), why not also look at verbs? Surely the "doing" part of a definition is as important as the "subject/object" parts.

(3) You caution against the blurring of KM, IM and DM. While I agree that any definition of KM should clearly distinguish itself from IM and DM, we should never forget that the purpose of KM (and other methods/strategies) is to solve organisational problems in the most effective and efficient manner. In my experience, this can often mean a blurring of the boundaries between KM, IM and DM within the delivered solution.
To illustrate this blurring in practice, I suggest many (perhaps most) people would say that knowledge becomes information once it's been documented. Hence, writing down a lesson learnt, for example, and making that available to people becomes an issue of IM. I would also suggest that making that LL available to the right person at the right time requires some sort of clever search or presentational technique which becomes an issue of DM.

(4) Every definition is a simplification. It becomes even more of a simplification when it involves complex systems. And there aren't many systems that are more complex than organisations and the human mind!!!

Nick Milton said...

Thanks! (The above comment was not by me, by the way)

1) I think KM is far easier to define than knowledge! Trying to define knowledge before you define KM is like trying to define an electron before you define electronics.

2) This would be a very useful exercise! Maybe if I have another 6-hour airport layover I may have a go.

3) I completely agree. However the purpose of the activities you describe is in service of giving the recipient more knowledge, even if they have to internalise it themselves. Not all information is knowledge, not all knowledge is information, and to blur the two is, I suggest, the beginning of confusion!

4) Yes indeed.

N Milton said...

I confirm that I am "the other" Dr Nick Milton (i.e. the one that works for Tacit Connexions and who wrote the book "Knowledge Acquisition in Practice").

In response to your comments on my comments, Nick, here are some more comments...

1) I wholeheartedly agree that KM is far easier to define than knowledge! The former really just needs the word "knowledge" with a bunch of verbs. I challenge your analogy as being, perhaps, a little simple. Everyone in science and technology knows the difference between the electron and other sub-atomic entities (e.g. proton and neutron). But for KM, half the battle (actually, far more than half!!) is getting people to understand the K in KM and not the M. Hence, I believe a decent (and useful) definition of KM should include a definition of knowledge (however hard it may be). I suggest that people who have used words such as "wisdom", "experience" and "intellectual assets" (etc.) in their definitions of KM are trying to do this in an ill-defined and round-about way.

2) I look forward to the fruits of your next airport layover!!

3) Yes, I agree that it's the beginning of confusion. Which is why I believe it's so important to get knowledge defined before doing the simpler task of defining KM!

Nick Milton said...

Thanks Nick

Boris said...

Thanks, Nick from Knoco ;-) If anybody else wants to play around with the definitions, here is the link to the lists:


Maybe you use the definitions (or at least some of them) to define your own definition of KM by reflection and discussion. Would be a good starter for any KM initiative...

If you guys know of any other such lists, don't hesitate to contact me, so I can add them to the list of lists (boris.jaeger@jaegerwm.de)

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