Wednesday 21 October 2015

Is it time for a Knowledge Management certification standard?

Knowledge Management has appeared as a line item in the Quality Standard ISO 9001:2015. But is it time for a KM Standard?

I think it is.

The reason behind my view is that I have seen so many KM initiatives failing for the same reasons, and a (simple, principles-based) standard would help avoid this waste of time and effort, and also avoid the bad press that "failed-again KM" can generate.

It's not as simple as that though

There are various KM standards already. I was involved with the British Standard Institute Guide for KM, published in 2001; there is an Australian standard for KM published in 2005, and an Israeli standard, published more recently in 2013.

The British and Australian standards have been more “best practice” guides than standards, representing the immaturity of the topic at the time. Since then two things have happened
a) There has been a longer time for KM to establish itself, and so to allow us to look at the common factors for long term KM success in organizations, 
b) The new clause in the ISO 9001 standard at least makes the point that knowledge must be considered as a resource and managed as such, if an organisation is to achieve the 9001 quality standard.
The value a certification standard can add to the market is to provide a minimum definition of what “managed as such” in the previous sentence entails.  There is some guidance on this in the new 9001 standard, but not enough.

There are other renewed standards efforts under way.

  • There is a committee set up to develop a new British Standard. I am on that committee for my sins.
  • The American Institute of Information Management is working on a KM standard.
  • A working group has been set up to develop an ISO standard for KM, as part of the family of HR standards. I know that HR is not the ideal home for KM, but there is no ideal home for KM in the ISO stable. I am on that working group, for my sins.

Is a certification standard an option at all? 
You can guess, from my membership of the working groups and committees, that I believe it is. When I talk with others who have been working KM for a long time, I already see a convergence of views at a principle level. I believe that a common model for KM principles is emergent but not yet synthesised.

I would suggest we know enough now to be able to define – not a standard set of practices – but a standard set of principles for the good management of knowledge. The challenge will be making this generic enough to apply to all scales of organisation and to all industries (Industrial, Legal, public sector, development sector etc etc), but I think this challenge can be met.

By “standard set of principles” I would include things like

I also believe that deriving such a standard, even at principle level, will require a huge amount of time and patience, but at least it has the backing of ISO, and a good committee in place.

 I am not so sure that we can provide a certification standard for KM implementation, and I would personally steer clear of descriptive maturity models, but in terms of creating a standard set of principles which define effective KM and which every organisation can aim for – I believe we know enough now to do this.


Unknown said...


I am completely with you on this. I'd say we have been at the point of standards for some time in the UK. Attending a KIN peer assist yesterday just reinforced my belief again. It is really encouraging to see KM in 9001, even if it doesn't go far enough yet. Learning about KM is a fun learning experience and one that I am still enjoying but unless standards and certifications are put in place, KM will continue to be a inconvenience or personal crusade in most organisations. Many business leaders will use the words Knowledge and Management together but when asked to give their top 10 priorities, knowledge would not feature for the vast majority.

Ultimately knowledge is a resource that is critical to the success of any collective and therefore government must step in to ensure that it is being managed appropriately, even if the individual businesses do not perceive the direct benefit.

Lisandro Gaertner said...

I don't believe a certification would be good because they are mostly about practices and not ideology. As you said, KM is about principles, sure, but KM is something more. It is an ideology, not just a code of conduct. I don't believe in KM certification as well as I don't believe in Philosophy certification. Would you believe in someone who has an "existencialist club" card? After all majoring in Philosophy doesn't make you a philosopher.

Christian DE NEEF said...

If we look at the history of ISO 900x quality standards, it appears that some organizations complied with the standard because they needed to (to be able to get business from government for example) whilst others did the effort because they actually “believe” in quality. The first category has never achieved anything more than administrative compliance. On the other hand, the companies that worked on quality management initiatives because it was part of their values, have achieved remarkable success. Possibly, they would have been successful even without the ISO standard. I'm afraid that a KM standard would go the same path: it's not about the standard, it's about believing KM is at the heart of managing your organization!

Nick Milton said...

Christian - I would like to answer your points in a blog post tomorrow, if that is OK?

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