Tuesday, 16 January 2018

What is a knowledge product?

The concept of a Knowledge Product is a common one in the development sector, and is used as a label for many types of document.  But what makes a product a "knowledge product"?

Many organisations working in the development sector create what they call "Knowledge Products". The African Development bank, for example, has a whole suite of economic briefs, working papers and economic reports published under the heading of "knowledge products". These are written by specialists in the Bank, for the education or reference of future Bank programs and for wider society. The main mechanism of "knowledge transfer" regarding these products is "dissemination" - publishing reports to target audiences, often on web-hosted repositories.

Other organisations are looking at the same topic, and wondering if Knowledge Products could be defined as a project output, for example.

But what does the "Knowledge" in the term mean? Are these reports "products of knowledge" or are they "products that aim to transfer knowledge to the user"?

If we are to use knowledge products as a component of a KM Framework, then surely they must follow the second definition, not the first?

Dr. Serafin Talisayon, in his lecture notes, suggests that

A knowledge product is something that enables effective action by an intended user, client or stakeholder of a government agency or a non- government or development organization.  

This is the second definition. A Knowledge Product must carry knowledge, and must enable action by the reader (knowledge is, after all, the ability to take effective action).  It must be actionable.


  • Therefore a project report is not a knowledge product. Even if it contains a detailed history of the project, the reader does not know whether to copy this history or not. 
  • A lesson learned report IS a knowledge product, providing the lessons  
  • An economic summary of a region is arguably not a knowledge project. One could read the report, but still not know what action to take. 
  • A summary of best practice, or recommended practice, is a knowledge product, provided that the description of the best practice is detailed enough, and provides enough contextual background, that people can act on it in their own context.  

We can see in this list from ITAD several knowledge products - lessons, findings, insights. The list quoted above from the African Development Bank seemed to have a looser definition of Knowledge Product, mixing in a whole variety of reports - lessons reports mixed with briefs and working papers.

If we are to follow Dr Talisayon's definition, then writing Knowledge Products requires a lot of care if they are to be usable and used. To quote this blog from the World Bank,

KM should be conceived less as a purely technical information-based area and more as a communication and behaviour-change area ... Knowledge producers need to package the product in a way that can be easily applied, while the users need to be “persuaded” to conceive knowledge as a practical tool that can be applied in their field.

If we are to translate the concept of Knowledge products from the Development sector to the Industrial sector, we would do well to bear this in mind, and use the term "Knowledge Products" only for items that are expressly written to convey knowledge, with the user in mind.

So a set of project reports on a website is not a collection of knowledge products. A wiki containing guidance, good practice and lessons is a knowledge product.  In an ideal world, every project should produce knowledge products which are used to grow and evolve the knowledge base in the organisation.

Knowledge products, if treated the right way, can be a core component of a KM Framework. 


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